Communal Violence and Assertion of Identity - Indian Social Institute
COMMUNAL VIOLENCE AND ASSERTION OF IDENTITY 17 Politicization of religion has continued to erupt in continual, communal violence in India. No doubt the idea of a two-nation theory was encouraged, even supported by the departing British Government, but the fact remains that India has not been able to resolve the hardening differences arising between the Hindu majority community and the Muslim minority community. Communal violence in India continues, which is not only based on religious communalism but also other forms of communal violence based on ethnic, language and regional criteria. Though the immediate reasons may vary in different cases, one of the major underlying causes is a crisis of identity as perceived by a community. Communal violence in recent times a. Hindu-Muslim violence With the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi and the subsequent banning of the communal organization, the RSS, by Sardar Vallabhai Patel, the first Home Minister of free India, communal violence was held in check. Clarifying the facts, Irfan Habib upheld that while Sardar Patel did not hold the RSS guilty of the assassination of Gandhiji, he held it responsible for creating the communal atmosphere that led to the assassination (Vyas,2009:14). The initial, turbulent years of India as a nation saw no major issues of communal violence and Pandit Nehru, with his emphasis on “unity in diversity”, his astute leadership and a strongly emphasized secular, democratic, inclusive basis for India, managed to steer India on the path of economic growth and development through the Five Year Plans, the Green Revolution, Panchayat Rule, Tribal Development Approach and so on. Many of the controversies that emerged in this early period were settled without too much conflict, except perhaps the demands of the South for a separate Dravidistan, on the basis of resentment of imposition of Hindi as the national language. Other dissenting issues like the Privy Purse and the re-organization of States on the basis of ethnic/language/cultural lines, were managed effectively and contained any potential communal clashes. This thrust of Pandit Nehru of unity in diversity is being seriously challenged today. The constant appeasement of the minority Muslim community by the Congress as perceived by the RSS, led to a perceived threat to the majority Hindu community. The decades of the 1980s and 1990s saw the emergence of a powerful right wing of Hindu movement in India. In
18 SOCIAL ACTION VOL. 60 JANUARY – MARCH 2010 1980 the Jan Sangh changed its image to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and in 1984, the Bajrang Dal, a militant wing of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), was formed. In the 1984 general elections, the BJP won a mere two seats, but five years later it won 86 seats. In 1990, the BJP pursued the old demand, first politically exploited by the Hindu Mahasabha in the 1850s and reactivated in 1949 (Jaffrelot,1996:91-92), to construct a “Mandir” at Ayodhya on the site where Babur had constructed a mosque in 1528. It announced the Rath Yatra, to be led by Mr. L.K. Advani, from the ancient temple of Somnath in Gujarat to Ayodhya in U.P., the claimed birth place of Ram, and so symbolically liberate India for the Hindus. It was hoped that the Yatra would consolidate the Hindu vote and capture power at the centre. The destruction of the Babri Masjid at Ayodhya on 6 th December 1992 on the basis of the Hindutva ideology, once again ignited fears in the Muslim minority community and resulted in religious communal violence, as evidenced in the Hindu-Muslim riots that immediately followed and the subsequent bomb blasts in Mumbai in 1993. The continuing expression of Hindutva politics in the following years, as continued by Chief Minister Mr. Narendra Modi in the carnage in Gujarat, subsequent to the burning of the train at Godhra, only led to the hardening of the communal divide between Hindus and Muslims. India has subsequently suffered several attacks by the Taliban and its allied fundamentalist forces – the attack on Parliament, the bomb blasts in the trains of Mumbai to name just a few – as a continued Muslim response to the fundamentalist, hardline, Hindutva ideology. b. Sikh identity. The demand for a separate Sikh identity and subsequently for a separate, sovereign Sikh nation, began as early as in the 1920s and grew in force after Independence, when the Sikhs began perceiving a threat to their identity as a separate religious group from the majority Punjabi Hindu population, with which they were being closely identified. Tat (true) Khalsa reformers sought to reinforce a Sikh identity, clearly distinct from a Hindu identity. Hindu politicians, on the other hand, did not see this as a legitimate demand, as they saw Sikhs as Hindus. The active work of the Arya Samaj, founded by Swami Dayanand Saraswati, in Punjab, further increased the perceived threat by the Sikhs to their identity.