3/5, National Law University, Jodhpur.

Dharti –

Ek sundar kitab, chand suraj ke jild wali,

Par is pe, ye bhukh, pyaas,

Khoon ki syahi-

Ye uparwale ki ibarat hai ya

Insano ki galtiyan

-Amrita Pritam,

Well-known author. …and a human being.


More than ten thousand dead bodies, burnt and destroyed buildings and houses worth more than fifty billion rupees, too much of noise, smoke, fire, commotion, disturbance etc. This is not the scene of a battle field. These are half and incomplete statistics [i] compiled as a result of communal violence during the last ten years in our country which dreams of non-violence as its ultimate objective. These statistics are half and incomplete because basically these are government statistics and whatever the government and whosoever may be its head, figures are always given in percentages and accurate even to decimals. There is a long and unlimited list of cities and towns like Meerut, Moradabad, Nellie, Patna, Bhagalpur, Aligarh, Hashimpura, Bareilly, Surat, Baroda, Bhiwandi where people were killed and burnt alive, bellies of pregnant women were cut open, foetuses were taken out, killed and thrown into fire, old people soaked in kerosene oil and set on fire or burning tyres put around their necks. A sick woman was stripped and taken out in procession. Crowds, victims of harassment and violence, going to crematoriums or graveyards for performing the last rites of their dead were not allowed to come out.


The country which preaches the world the concept of “Brahm Satya Jagat Mithya” has been facing violence and bloodshed, termed as communal violence.


Communal violence – perhaps the most heinous crimes against humanity.

In the year 1849, Arthur M Schlesinger, [ii]  tried to define ‘communal violence’. He said- “Communal violence is a use of criminal force by one community which feels it to be on a higher social stratum, upon another community, in order to be supreme in the specified arena.”

Thus, to understand it in simple terms, communal violence is a kind of violence on a community by another community. To understand communal violence in India, we have to first study the historical background of communal violence in India.



India has always been a country which is known for its tolerance. History tells us that whoever came to India from outside got fascinated and remained in this ‘ocean of humanity’ for getting eternal pleasure at this divine place. Shaq, hoon, pathan, mughal- sab ek deh lo leen. Even in ancient India, there are practically no examples of ‘communal violence’ as such.


The beginning of communal violence in India can be traced back to the rule of Aurangzeb. He was an Islamic fanatic mughal ruler who tried to spread Islam on the basis of violence. He ordered the assassination of guru Teg Bahadur for not embracing Islam. 70 man of janeu was compiled in the historical chandni chowk of New Delhi one single day by his soldiers who had converted the Hindus to Muslims.

Then, of course, the policy of the British imperial rulers in India was ‘diviso et impera’. They always tried to divide the Indian community into narrower interest groups so that they are never united. It served the colonial administration to divide and rule and, therefore, the prevailing religious differences were first used to project the social and cultural variations, and then to promote political divisions by rating Indians basically not as Indians but as members of religious communities. The type of politics approved, tolerated and encouraged by the British imperialism was only "communal Politics". A voter was classified as a Hindu or a Muslim, etc. and so was a candidate and a representative. This was provided for in Minto Morley reforms and Government of India Act. 1935. It is in this historical context that communalism came to acquire the meaning of being opposed to national identity of being against the secularisation process, of being too narrowly and negatively attached to one's own religious community and that too essentially for political benefits. These communal groups started considering themselves as separate nations. The partition of India followed.

Then, also the changing social structure in pre independence time proved to be a great factor in developing unrest and consequently aggressive community feelings in the country. It began with the freedom movement and the INC, enveloping the concept of India in the making. Certain groups believe that their nation exists for the past 5000 to 10,000 years. With the independence there has been a transformation in social relationships, caste structures and gender relationships:

  1. Land slaves were becoming workers
  2. Industrialization was on the rise.
  3. A new educated class has emerged.


In the late 19th century there was a change in the hierarchies:

·        There was a challenge to the authority of the landlord with the commencement of anti-Brahmin movement.

·        Power of the landlord runs parallel to the moral authority of the priest.

·        Shudras no longer wanted to be subordinates.

·        Phules’s movement emphasised on women’s education, consequently their participation in the freedom struggle have made them to deny their subordinate position with regard to men.

This had created unrest among the whole of India. In the process, Muslim-Hindu traditionalists came up to the forefront. Muslim organizations work towards Muslim League. The demand of Muslim League was for a separate nation.  On the other hand, Hindu Mahasabha felt the land belongs to the Hindus. Thus followed the bi-nation theory based on the premise that Hindus and Muslims are two different Qaum.


This has been the history of communal violence in India. Now,  we move on to the reasons of growth of communal violence.





Politics has two sides; one democratic which is based on issues of real life and second one is communal based on religious community that is monolith- having same interests- it is projected that interests of one community are common and are different and hostile to the interests of another community. To carry these interests forward, this kind of politics is harbored.[iii]

It is commonly seen that the victims of communal violence are generally innocent, while the perpetrators go scot-free and gets political/social promotion. The main persons spearheading becomes a hero, while the vulnerable minority projected as a threat to society. This shows that the aggressor is projected as protector of majority community and the victim projected as culprit. Such ‘protector’ in most of the cases is the person having political interests attached to the particular community, who tries to gain repute in the eyes of the fundamentalists; who in turn serve his political designs.

Communal violence leads to a short term and long term polarization of votes. Here, we can have example of 1983 Sikh riots where 3000 Sikhs were killed but still Congress won.  In 1993 Mumbai- Shiv Sena government came to power. In the similar manner during the Gujarat riots in 2002, BJP won. Point to be noted here is that it were basically these parties who are alleged to have lit the fire of communal violence in those areas at that time.



It is well known that no living organism kills another without any biological need. But perhaps, human race is an exception to this. Everywhere in the world, human species is killing members of the same species, and surely most of them are not cannibals!!!!

This is happening because of the intolerance in human being for others’ supremacy and closed mindedness in cases where the others’ opinion is weighted more. Such intolerance comes from a virtual sense of superiority. Due to various reasons man, and a community of men, starts developing a feeling of being better than people of other community and in order to suppress them, they resort to communal violence.



A large group of humans is arguably the most important resource and at the same time, the most dangerous weapon. Such weapon can cause horrible bloodshed if it gets a wrong direction. But, a layman is not like that. Then the question arises that who are the people who fear even home guards in their normal lives but set police vehicles on fire during riots. This is basically, the vulnerable class of the society. Involvement of such huge masses in violence can be attributed to two factors-

a)      Social common sense- average persons in society believe what politicians say;

b)      Broad prevalence of myths- systematically promulgated so that they become part of consciousness of society.

After getting this ‘power of association’, people tend to lose their rationality to a bare minimum and may arrange for killing weapons, petrol bombs etc. within hours. This is common but misplaced thinking that only those people take part in riots who have no work. As we have observed during the anti-Sikh riots of 1984 in Delhi and recent riots in Ahmadabad, Surat, Godhra etc., even prosperous middle class people who are otherwise busy in their normal lives in various official and household jobs like purchasing provisions, sending their children to schools etc are taking part in looting and other unsocial acts. All this is either the changing face of the changing well-off society or it proves that we are taking the retrograde step of returning to pre-historic days.



Analyzing the recent trends, we find that with the beginning of Globalisation since 1980s, there has been a weakening of the nation-state, economically and culturally. This was the starting of the counter revolution. People have lost faith and identity; there is a rise of fundamentalism, racism etc. To ooze out of this feeling of loss of identity or feeling of insecurity of existence, the masses got diverted to communalist thinking. Ghettoisation, as they put it, has increased to a new high. To be more precise, the minority feels insecure about the continuance of their community and they believe that they have to ‘struggle’ for existence.

Also the misinterpretation of sacred verses etc. adds up to such condition.



Leading rights groups in India have jointly prepared a draft bill on communal violence that they feel will safeguard the rights of victims who are mostly members of the minority communities. The draft bill has been submitted to the Congress-led United Progressive alliance government, which in its common minimum programme had promised such a law. [iv] The draft bill has been prepared by four voluntary groups -- Delhi-based Human Rights Law Network and Anhad, Ahmedabad-based Jansangharsh Manch and Mumbai-based Centre for Study of Society and Secularism.

The draft bill proposes a law to stop people from destroying religious structures and a ban on the use of cultural symbols as weapons. It criticises the distribution of trishuls (tridents) by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad. The law calls for punishing policemen who do not register cases or do not investigate communal violence. It wants to hold the police responsible for providing security to the victims. It wants action against lawyers and doctors who discriminate on communal lines. It seeks verification of public prosecutors, who are appointed by the state government, to filter out those aligned with communal groups. It calls for providing more teeth to enquiry commissions. As of now, the state is not bound to act on the recommendations of enquiry commissions. Evidence given before an enquiry commission is not admission as evidence in a court of law.


It is high time now to think of effective steps to curb the demon of communal violence. For that purpose, the following steps might prove to be effective:

(i)                  Strictest possible steps taken by the Election Commission of India against the political parties which try to assume power through inflammatory speeches and communal propaganda;

(ii)                Strict punishment to police personnel found guilty of neglecting their duty, or conniving or encouraging communal violence;

(iii)               Punishment to concerned officers in a locality or district found intentionally ineffective in controlling communal violence or threat of violence;

(iv)              Uncolorization of text books for school going children (no saffronization, crimsonization, or green coloration)

(v)                Making media more responsible in the sense that it should bring out the true picture of the violence and make people know who are the miscreants behind such inhuman acts.

There has to be a movement to make people humane, who should be human not on biological grounds alone, but also on spiritual grounds. The high morals of Indian culture have to be brought to the forefront, which tell us that-

Sarve bhavantu sukhin:; sarve satu niramaya |

Sarve bhadrani pashyantu; ma kashchit dukh bhagbhavet ||

There is a serious need of taking steps to curb communal violence because if communal violence is not treated as a serious crime in our country, there is equally no harm in concluding that our religious impartiality is simply on paper, counterfeit and hollow. And we surely,…… cannot allow that to happen.



ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS (essential part of this article)

I gratefully acknowledge the thoughts and works of Dr. Ram Puliyani, Professor of Bio-medical Engineering at IIT, Mumbai; co-coordinator of the Coalition for Secular Democracy; Secretary of EKTA, Committee for Communal Amity, Mumbai; for inspiring me and providing me food for thought to write on this topic.


[ii] Arthur M Schlesinger, The Crisis of Communal Violence (Houghton Miffin, Boston, 1969), cited from, , Martin Haskell & Lewis Yablonsky, Criminology: Crime and Criminality, (Rand Mcnally College Publication Co.,  Chicago, 2nd ed, 1978), 408


[iii] Dr. Ram PuniyaniAssociation of Communal Harmony, Mumbai, India &