The Danish Peace Academy

Mahatma Gandhi on Problem of Communalism

By: Dr. Ravindra Kumar

Communalism is one of the most serious problems that India has to face after her freedom from colonial rule in the mid of 20eth Century. This problem, which has existed among the followers of two principal religious communities- Hindus and Muslims – many times raised a great challenge before the secular structure of India. In the name of religion such acts have been committed that are no doubt shameful and a act of fleeing from the message of Mahatma Gandhi who lead the country to the door steps of freedom through non-violence, the sacred human value. Mahatma Gandhi devoted his entire life for propounding communal harmony. He whished in ‘India of his dream’, “I shall for an India, in which the poorest shall feel that it is their country in whose making they have an effective voice; an India in which there shall be no high class and low class of people; [and above all] an India in which all communities shall live in perfect harmony.”

But it is unfortunate that after independence to this year, i.e. up to the year 2004, there have been over five thousand communal riots in India, and most of them occurred between Hindus and Muslims. After all, why have there been riots in such a large number? In other words, what is the reason for them? Whether is it one reason or are there many reasons? What is the impact of such riots on common man? What situation is created at national-international level due to these riots? These are the questions we become curious to get an answer to. Along with this we want to know, how to get rid of this problem. Come let us try to find answers to these questions pertaining to the problem of communalism in India. But prior to it, let us know and understand the meaning and definition of communalism.

Not only in India but also all over the world, scholars and subject-specialists have defined communalism in different manners. And, all these definitions, unfortunately, do not reveal the complete meaning or sense of communalism in clear-cut terms. However, Richard C. Lambert, who has given the definition of community according to the conditions prevailing in the country, provides us a correct picture regarding the position of communalism in India.

According to Richard C. Lambert, “The word Community is used in India for the unequal social units.” It may be said that communalism is the negative aspect of the community. That is to say, when the people of a particular community care only for their own narrowly concerned interests, through the means of their religious faiths, old customs and conservative practices, disregarding the interests of whole society, then it may be termed as communalism.

In general, following four main things can be found in a state of communalism:
· Negativeness;
· Narrowness;
· Unfair means; and
· Disregard to the interests of society.

The unfair means that are adopted in a state of communalism, neglecting the interests of society, instigation on the basis of religious sentiments is the main among them, which can be observed clearly in communal violence that occurred during the last 57 years in India.


India has a history of communal riots. The problem of communalism, especially relating to the modern age, and seeds of which were sown during the 19th century, is a gift of colonial rulers to India. In other words, the colonialists played the main role in starting communal tension in India in the 19th Century. Along with this, some people from a particular religious community were also involved in this act, who keeping aside the interests of entire Indian Society and filled with narrow-minded thoughts, joined hands with the colonialists. They were also in favour of bargaining with the colonialists for the benefit of their co-religionists. It was an easy task for them. India is a country of diversities, a land of different religious communities and sects. In such a country, if the government protects the people of a particular community who are ready to fulfill their own interests even by spreading communalism, what can be difficulty for them? They can do so without any fear.

Towards the end of the 19th century, Bal Gangadhar Tilak, who was one of the great political leaders of India at that time, started “Ganesh Pooja” and “Shivaji Mahotsav” in Southern India, especially in Maharashtra and its nearby regions, with the aim of creating awakening among the masses. I hope, even today, nobody can believe that while starting “Ganesh Pooja” or “Shivaji Mahotsav” programmes, he would have contemplated about Hindu-Muslims, or there would be any thought in his mind in the interest of Hindus – his co-religionists. He was one who always thought and worked for Indians, Indian nation and Indian nationalism. The programmes related to “Ganesh Pooja” and “Shivaji Mahotsav” was not initiated to support the interests of Hindus. However, both “Ganesh” and “Shivaji” were associated with the emotions of a number of Hindus.

A procession connected with the above programme was passing through the streets of Mumbai in the year 1893. When it reached near a place of prayer of another religious community, it was pelted with stones. The quarrel ensued between those participating in the procession and attackers, and finally resulted in a communal riot. Similarly, another incident occurred in the coming year, i.e. in 1894 at Pune. Behind both these incidents was the support of colonial rulers to the narrow-minded people involved in the acts. From here, started communalism, which was also evident on some occasions in the Gandhian era of the national liberation movement of India?

Mahatma Gandhi, as I have already said, was committed to communal harmony. He was of the firm belief that if the followers of two principal religious communities – Hindu and Muslim walk hand in hand, come forward together to solve the problems, small or big, become identical to nationalism, only then the progress of the country will be possible in real sense and the cultural heritage of India will be protected. According to his firm belief, Mahatma Gandhi entered in the “Yajna” of national freedom along with others, whether they were Sikhs or Buddhists, Parsis or Jains, Christians or Muslims, or his own co-religionists. He, as all know, accepted ahimsa as both, means and goal. He made it the basis for achieving freedom for India. In my opinion, ahimsa holds its due place in all religious communities. I do not believe that it does not help the followers of any community to perform his or her duty. Rather I believe that it is ahimsa alone that assists to enable us to fulfill our duties in the best possible manner.

But it was unfortunate that many people could not become identical with the firm and true message of Mahatma Gandhi pertaining to non-violence. Even then, he, time and again, repeated his message of ahimsa till the last breath of his life; worked for communal harmony declaring it a value supplementary to non-violence. He, time and again, conveyed suggestions for peace brigade and for volunteers to work for harmony. These suggestions are more or less important even today for a country like India.


After independence there came a change in social, political and economic conditions of India, which was quite natural. There were many reasons for change in social conditions such as: the provision of equality before law, equal opportunities to all to get job etc., and above all, liberalization of the ownership of land. The change in political conditions mainly depended on adopting a democratic system for which all adults [men and women] of the country got the right to choose their representatives. Similarly, there was a definite change in the economic conditions as well. The freedom of earning livelihood by fair means, without any fear or pressure, was given to everyone. And, all rich or poor, so-called high or low, became entitled to government jobs without any distinction. All these things were truly symbolic of change in economic conditions.

With these unprecedented changes, the best atmosphere of communal harmony should have been created in India and according to the expectation of Mahatma Gandhi this country should have become an example in this direction. But this did not happen. Then, what happened? The same I have mentioned in the beginning. Communalism has become a serious problem in India and it has greatly damaged the country. After independence, there have been many reasons behind this problem. Along with this, it has also undergone numerous changes. Besides two religious communities, two sects of the same community, or even between sub-sects, you can we the atmosphere of conflicts. Even then, most of the problems of communalism in India revolve around Hindus and Muslims, which is a matter of great concern.

In my opinion the reasons for the problem of communalism in India are mainly two – silent and apparent. Side by side, there is also a third different reason that can be observed in several other countries of the world.

The reasons, which I have termed as silent, must be analyzed very carefully in relation to the problem of communalism in India. Among these reasons is the large number of unemployed youths that comprise nearly ten per cent of the total population, i.e. ten crores, illiteracy and poverty is the main. Perhaps, you know that there are twenty-five provinces and seven union territories in India. In some of these provinces, even after fifty-seven years of independence, fifty or even more percent people are illiterate. Also in the entire country 26 per cent people live below the poverty line. Poverty, illiteracy and unemployment create a lot of compulsions, especially before younger generation. That is why, many from younger generation, because of lack of right thinking, remain unemployed and in a state of poverty, get involved in the evil like communalism. In this context, as I have already mentioned, a minute and careful analysis is necessary. After this analysis certain remedial steps must be taken. The efforts being made for uprooting poverty, illiteracy and unemployment are not as fruitful as they should be.

With reference to communalism whatever apparent reasons are discussed generally, among them the first one is religious, and the second one is political. Third one is socio-economic and the fourth one is international. In the first, i.e. religious, its fundamentalism should be considered responsible for communalism. Malevolence like reactionary attitude, traditional bourgeois and conservative approaches etc. are mainly behind fundamentalism.

After all ‘Our belief alone is true’ and ‘rest is untrue or incomplete’, we find this kind of mentality of fundamentalists. As per this mentality, when the followers of any religious community, sect or sub-sect indulge in their activities, they certainly come in conflict with others. Reason is quite evident. They do not have tolerance, which is absolutely necessary for a country like India – a land of different religious communities. They become the cause of confrontation, malice and struggle.

Politicians also have played a villainous role in creating serious communal situations in India. There was politics at the root of painful division of India in 1947 in the name of a particular religious community. But even after paying a heavy price in the form of partition, in many riots provoked thereafter, we can find the involvement directly or indirectly, of political parties or their supporters. Along with this for the sake of vote bank, the policy of appeasement, selection of candidates on the basis of community, sect, sub-sect and caste, and flaring up religious sentiments at the time of elections, led to the rise of communalism. These practices are still continued and the country is bearing heavy loss because of it. We can witness many adverse results of these practices.

Economic and social reasons can be found mainly in competition among the people living at lower and lower-medium levels and in the involvement of professional hooligans, speculators and the anti-social elements in communal riots. This involvement is, purely for economic gains and to attain overwhelming influence on society. I find the above-said realities and reasons in riots occurred a few years back in my own city and also in other cities like Mumbai.

External elements also have a role in worsening the problem of communalism, and making it serious. I may not mention the name of any particular country in this regard but scholars and those who think on this problem from time to time are quite aware of this fact.

The main reasons for involvement of external elements or their role in riots are as follows:
· To create an atmosphere of instability, so that it becomes socially weak;
· To hope for gaining sympathy from minorities;
· To try to weaken the economic structure of a foreign country; and
· With the aim to conceal their own incompetence.

Besides above-mentioned facts there can be more - silent or apparent – reasons in all areas, which create communalism or enhance it, or make it serious. There are also some such reasons that rise instantaneously and result in communal disturbances or in riots of serious nature. Other that silent and apparent, the third reasons, that I have mentioned earlier, will come before us in brief in remedial suggestions by me, and I do hope that we will understand it.


In India, since the year 1947 up to the year 2002, the amount of property that has been lost in communal riots, with that, if not more, at least 2 crores and fifty lacs people could easily be given employment; the problem of housing and education of the same number of people could be solved. Due to the communal outbursts the occupational activities were affected, and that would be considered as national loss. With this loss the day-to-day problems of crores of people could be solved and their life could be made happier and more peaceful. But it is unfortunate that wealth and property, lost in riots, was burnt without any aim in a country like India in which crores of people are under poverty line. What should be done so that such situations are not faced? I once again appeal that if at all three levels-individual, community and government – something in a concrete manner is done stage by stage, the country would be free of communalism.

Let us, first of all, discuss the steps to be taken at individual level. India has a population of more than one hundred crores, in which 12 or 15 crores are Muslims. More than 80 crores are Hindus. It is possible that, due to differences with Hindus, such a large number of Muslims will disappear? Certainly not. Then, will they leave the country? It is also not possible. Most of the Muslims, more than 90 per cent of them, are Indians, i.e., they are born here. This country belongs to them too, and living here they have to build their future. There is no doubt about it. They have no other alternative other than this.

More than eighty crores Hindus cannot dream of a truly progressive India advance on the path of peace without co-operation of Muslims and other communities. It is only possible when all from majority and minority communities walk hand in hand.

Each and everyone have to make a balance between his or her own religious community and national interests, he or she has to unite with nationalism, and then should move forward. The teachings of a religious community may be great, but the followers of the community concerned should understand that nationalism is greater. If they do not become familiar with this fact, they will be away from national stream; they will suffer.

This fact relates not only to India but also to many other countries of the world.

Each and every religious community has been founded on the basis of certain values that were best and necessary for circumstances of the country and times. Goodness like adjustment with others, or co-operation, or consistency can be found in their teachings. But by not moving according to the teachings of their religious community those who depend upon fundamentalism and conservative practices, or those who use their co-religionists taking advantage of their poverty, illiteracy or innocence, are dishonest towards their own self, their co-religionists and also towards those great leaders who founded the religious community. Everyone must understand this fact also. Along with this, leaders of all communities, by knowing it, must come forward for an atmosphere surcharged with harmony, in which lies their welfare too.

Policies like appeasement, fun and frolic with the sentiments of people for individual and party interests, and selection of candidates on the basis of religious community or sect by keeping aside the qualifications, one, certainly, does the things against national interest or nationalism; are reflections of lower national thinking. That is why; these kinds of acts should be stopped at government level and also at the level of political parties. There is a great need to work towards eradicating the problem of unemployment among the youths, illiteracy and poverty and that too with honesty and without any discrimination. This will help in solving many problems, and will create awakening. The result will be in checking on communalism to a great extent. That is why it is expected that a lot of work have to be done at government level in this direction.

Thus, in order to get rid of the problem of communalism in India, there is a need of collective efforts. All will have to discharge their duties. If we do so, definitely harmony will prevail. Everybody will prosper. This must be done; this was the dream of Mahatma Gandhi for a free India.

Kumar, Ravindra: Gandhi: An Embodiment of Indian Cultural Heritage.


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