Communalism (South Asia)

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Communalism is a term used to denote attempts to construct religious or ethnic identity, incite strife between people identified as different communities, and to stimulate communal violence between those groups. [1] It derives from history, differences in beliefs, and tensions between the communities. [2] Communalism is a significant social issue in India, Bangladesh, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. [2] Communal conflicts between religious communities in India, especially Hindus and Muslims have occurred since the period of British colonial rule, occasionally leading to serious inter-communal violence. [3]


The term communalism was coined by the British colonial government as it wrestled to manage Hindu-Muslim riots and other violence between religious, ethnic and disparate groups in its colonies, particularly in British West Africa and the Cape Colony, in early 20th century. [4] [5] [6]

Communalism is not unique to South Asia. It is found in Africa, [7] [8] the Americas, [9] [10] Asia, [11] [12] Europe [13] and Australia.[ citation needed ]


The term came into use in early 20th century during the British colonial rule. The 4th Earl of Minto was called the father of communal electorates for legalising communalism by the Morley-Minto Act in 1909. [14] The All-India Muslim League and the Hindu Mahasabha represented such communal interests, and the Indian National Congress represented an overarching "nationalist" vision. [15] In the runup to independence in 1947, communalism and nationalism came to be competing ideologies and led to the division of British India into Pakistan and the Republic of India. British historians have attributed the cause of the partition to the communalism of Jinnah and the political ambitions of the Indian National Congress. [16]

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Hindus are people who religiously adhere to Hinduism. Historically, the term has also been used as a geographical, cultural, and later religious identifier for people living in the Indian subcontinent.

Hindutva ("Hindu-ness") is the predominant form of Hindu nationalism in India. The term was formulated as a political ideology by Vinayak Damodar Savarkar in 1923. It is used by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP), the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and other organisations, collectively called the Sangh Parivar.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Partition of India</span> 1947 division of British India into independent India and Pakistan

The Partition of India in 1947 was the change of political borders and the division of other assets that accompanied the dissolution of the British Raj in South Asia and the creation of two independent dominions: India and Pakistan. The Dominion of India is today the Republic of India, and the Dominion of Pakistan—which at the time comprised two regions lying on either side of India—is now the Islamic Republic of Pakistan and the People's Republic of Bangladesh. The partition was outlined in the Indian Independence Act 1947. The change of political borders notably included the division of two provinces of British India, Bengal and Punjab. The majority Muslim districts in these provinces were awarded to Pakistan and the majority non-Muslim to India. The other assets that were divided included the British Indian Army, the Royal Indian Navy, the Royal Indian Air Force, the Indian Civil Service, the railways, and the central treasury. Self-governing independent India and Pakistan legally came into existence at midnight on 14–15 August 1947.

Shuddhi is Sanskrit for purification. It is a term used to describe a Hindu religious movement aimed at the religious conversion of non-Hindus of Indian origin back to Hinduism.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Two-nation theory</span> Political ideology that, in the Indian subcontinent, Hindus and Muslims are separate nations

The two-nation theory is an ideology of religious nationalism that influenced the decolonisation of the British Raj in South Asia. According to this ideology, Indian Muslims and Indian Hindus are two separate nations, with their own customs, religion, and traditions; consequently, both socially and morally, Muslims should have a separate homeland within the decolonised British Indian Empire.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Indian nationalism</span> Territorial nationalist movement

Indian nationalism is an instance of territorial nationalism, which is inclusive of all of the people of India, despite their diverse ethnic, linguistic and religious backgrounds. Indian nationalism can trace roots to pre-colonial India, but was fully developed during the Indian independence movement which campaigned for independence from British rule. Indian nationalism quickly rose to popularity in India through these united anti-colonial coalitions and movements. Independence movement figures like Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru spearheaded the Indian nationalist movement. After Indian Independence, Nehru and his successors continued to campaign on Indian nationalism in face of border wars with both China and Pakistan. After the Indo-Pakistan War of 1971 and the Bangladesh Liberation War, Indian nationalism reached its post-independence peak. However by the 1980s, religious tensions reached a melting point and Indian nationalism sluggishly collapsed. Despite its decline and the rise of religious nationalism; Indian nationalism and its historic figures continue to strongly influence the politics of India and reflect an opposition to the sectarian strands of Hindu nationalism and Muslim nationalism.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Muslim nationalism in South Asia</span>

From a historical perspective, Professor Ishtiaq Ahmed of the University of Stockholm and Professor Shamsul Islam of the University of Delhi classified the Muslims of South Asia into two categories during the era of the Indian independence movement: nationalist Muslims and Muslim nationalists. The All India Azad Muslim Conference represented nationalist Muslims, while the All-India Muslim League represented the Muslim nationalists. One such popular debate was the Madani–Iqbal debate.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Pakistani nationalism</span> Nationalism as applied to Pakistanis

Pakistani nationalism refers to the political, cultural, linguistic, historical, [commonly] religious and geographical expression of patriotism by the people of Pakistan, of pride in the history, heritage and identity of Pakistan, and visions for its future.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Communal violence</span> Violence between ethnic or other communal groups

Communal violence is a form of violence that is perpetrated across ethnic or communal lines, the violent parties feel solidarity for their respective groups, and victims are chosen based upon group membership. The term includes conflicts, riots and other forms of violence between communities of different religious faith or ethnic origins.

Religious violence in India includes acts of violence by followers of one religious group against followers and institutions of another religious group, often in the form of rioting. Religious violence in India has generally involved Hindus and Muslims.

The cow protection movement is a predominantly Indian religious and political movement aiming to protect cows, whose slaughter has been broadly opposed by Hindus, Buddhists, Jains, Zoroastrians and Sikhs. While the opposition to slaughter of animals, including cows, has extensive and ancient roots in Indian history, the term refers to modern movements dating back to colonial era British India. The earliest such activism is traceable to Namdhari (Kooka) Sikhs of Punjab who opposed cow slaughter in the 1860s. The movement became popular in the 1880s and thereafter, attracting the support from the Arya Samaj founder Swami Dayananda Saraswati in the late 19th century, and from Mahatma Gandhi in the early 20th century.

Bangladeshi nationalism is an ideology that promotes the territorial identity of Bangladeshis. The ideology emerged during the late 1970s, popularized by former Bangladesh President Ziaur Rahman. The history of nationalism in the country dates back to the colonial era, when the region started witnessing anti-colonial movements against the British Empire. Soon, a sense of religious nationalism began to emerge which was later revolutionised into ethnolinguistic nationalism. Following independence of Bangladesh in 1971, leaders like Ziaur Rahman began to promote Bangladeshi nationalism which was based on territorial attachment of Bangladeshis. Politically, Bangladeshi nationalism is mainly professed by the center-right and rightist political parties in Bangladesh, led by Bangladesh Nationalist Party.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">National Congress (Pakistan and Bangladesh)</span> Political party in Pakistan

The Pakistan National Congress (PNC), later known as the Bangladesh National Congress, was a political party that mainly represented the Hindus and other religious minorities in Pakistan. The party championed secularism in the Muslim-dominated state, and its electoral and organisational strength was mainly based in East Bengal.

Jamaat-e-Islami is an Islamic movement founded in 1941 in British India and was a political party till 1947 following partition of India by the Islamic theologian and socio-political philosopher, Syed Abul Ala Maududi.

Sabrang Communications is an organization founded in 1993 that publishes the monthly Communalism Combat magazine and that operates KHOJ, a secular education program, in schools in Mumbai, India. Communalism Combat is edited by Javed Anand and Teesta Setalvad. The Khoj programs try to help children to get past identity labels.

During the Partition of India, violence against women was an extensive situation. It is estimated that during the partition between 75,000 and 100,000 women were kidnapped and raped. The rape of women by males during this period is well documented, with women also being complicit in these attacks. Systematic violence against women started in March 1947 in Rawalpindi district where Sikh women were targeted by Muslim mobs. Violence was also perpetrated on an organized basis, with Pathans taking Hindu and Sikh women from refugee trains while one accused that he witnessed armed Sikhs periodically dragging Muslim women. It has been estimated that specifically in the Punjab, the number of abducted Muslim women was double the number of abducted Hindu and Sikh women, because of the actions of coordinated Sikh jathas who were aided and armed by Sikh rulers of the 16 semi-autonomous princely states in Punjab which overlapped the expected partition border, and had been preparing to oust the Muslims from East Punjab in case of a partition. India and Pakistan later worked to repatriate the abducted women. Muslim women were to be sent to Pakistan and Hindu and Sikh women to India.

There have been several instances of religious violence against Muslims since the partition of India in 1947, frequently in the form of violent attacks on Muslims by Hindu nationalist mobs that form a pattern of sporadic sectarian violence between the Hindu and Muslim communities. Over 10,000 people have been killed in Hindu-Muslim communal violence since 1950 in 6,933 instances of communal violence between 1954 and 1982.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Opposition to the partition of India</span> Political viewpoint in South Asian politics

Opposition to the partition of India was widespread in British India in the 20th century and it continues to remain a talking point in South Asian politics. Those who opposed it often adhered to the doctrine of composite nationalism. The Hindu, Muslims, Christian, Anglo-Indian, Parsi and Sikh communities were largely opposed to the partition of India ..

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Composite nationalism</span> A concept about the Indian nation

Composite nationalism is a concept that argues that the Indian nation is made up of people of diverse cultures, castes, communities, and faiths. The idea teaches that "nationalism cannot be defined by religion in India." While Indian citizens maintain their distinctive religious traditions, they are members of one united Indian nation. This principle opposes attempts to make Hindu nationalism, or any other religious chauvinism, a supposed requisite of Indian patriotism or nationalism. Composite nationalism maintains that prior to the arrival of the British into the subcontinent, no enmity between people of different religious faiths existed; and as such these artificial divisions can be overcome by Indian society.


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