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Communal Violence and Assertion of Identity - Indian Social Institute

Communal Violence and Assertion of Identity - Indian Social Institute

COMMUNAL VIOLENCE AND

COMMUNAL VIOLENCE AND ASSERTION OF IDENTITY 15 backgrounds and religions into a common territory. The Post World War I Europe saw the unification of territories into nations that took place based on language, people and culture, whereas in Asia, including India, the unification of territories into nations took place largely from demands for liberation from colonial rule after World War II. E. Kedourie, H. Kohn, A. Hastings, E.Gellner and others have discussed these processes in detail. The concept of nation is seen by E. Kedourie as imported from Europe and not indigenous to the non-European world. A. Smith contrasts between a territorial nationalism as emerged in Europe and an ethnic nationalism which emerged from a need to preserve a cultural identity, as happened in the colonized nations ( D’Souza, 2002:36-38). Huntington sees societies united by ideology or historical circumstances but divided by civilization either come apart, as did the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia, or subjected to intense strain as in India and Sri Lanka (Huntington,1997:28). It must be remembered that India as a political unit did not exist prior to Independence. In fact, the British and other colonial powers (Portuguese, Dutch, French) had used antagonisms and distrust between the different ruling kingdoms and peoples of India to consolidate their control over the land. Even later, they played one community against the other in order to maintain their dominance. Political exclusiveness between the Hindus and the Muslims existed even during the freedom struggle as seen from the fact that no Muslim was on any political organization or committee. Rather, as soon as the Muslims became politically conscious, they started separate organizations of their own from 1856 onwards (Majumdar,1965:297). The differences between the two communities were highlighted when legislation for local self-government was introduced on an elective basis and the Muslims demanded separate representation as a minority community (ibid:302). The birth of India as a nation in 1947 was marred by such communal distrust, which erupted into violence of unprecedented proportions, the scars of which remain till today. During the freedom struggle in India two sharp divergent views had emerged: one as expressed by the secular, democratic, inclusive forces headed by the Congress under Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru. B.G. Tilak, though ideologically a Hindu nationalist, did not create a Hindu organisation inside or outside the Congress, but instead remained within

16 SOCIAL ACTION VOL. 60 JANUARY – MARCH 2010 the Congress Party as an extremist. His mobilisation of the masses on the basis of religious symbolism as early as in 1893 and 1895, in terms of the Ganapati and Shivaji festivals respectively, led to a feeling of alienation by the Muslim population of India. The other view was expressed by the non-secular, communal, exclusivist camp represented by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (R.S.S) and its ideologues. The formation of the right-wing, militant, Hindu political party, the Hindu Mahasabha in 1915, indicated the coming together of politics and religion. They were giving a call for a religious basis for nationalism. The rise of religious nationalism has thus contributed directly to the rise of religious communalism, the idea of Hindu nationalism being constructed between the years 1870-1920. The fears of being subordinated by the Hindu majority – politically, culturally and economically – led to a crisis of identity in the Muslim minority in India. The demands for a separate political identity in the Muslim majority regions was raised as early as in 1940, as Provincial Autonomous Regions. The debate over the role of Muhammad Ali Jinnah during Partition has been recently raised again in the recent controversy over the statements made by Mr. Jaswant Singh. Scholars argue that Jinnah’s role cannot be solely condemned and in fact the violent clashes between the masses, first at Calcutta and then during the Partition, were not what Jinnah had planned or expected and in fact had gone well beyond his control. Pandey agrees that in the emergence of the demand for Pakistan in the 1940s, Jinnah, the leader of the Muslim League, was not intent on partition but sought a compromise, in which the Muslim majority states in the north-west and north-east would act as a counterbalance to a Hindu majority state in India (Pandey, 2007:5). Samad talks of Jinnah working towards a “federation within a confederation” till as late as 1946, with Pakistan as an independent nation remaining a vague concept. Congress intransigence and communal disorder forced partition on the basis of religion (ibid:6). A. Pangariya, Prof. of Economics at Columbia University, also argued that Nehru’s conception of a united, integrated, democratic India representing all communities and that of Jinnah, who was fighting for the interests of a single community, created a deep gulf between the two perspectives of the Congress Party and the Muslim League, which finally led to Partition (Panagariya,2009:16).

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