Communalism: A Dangerous Ideology

  • Communalism, in a broad sense means a strong attachment to one’s own community. In popular discourse in India, it is understood as unhealthy attachment to one’s own religion.
  • It’s an ideology that, in order to unify the community, suppresses distinctions within the community and emphasizes the essential unity of the community against other communities.
  • In this way it promotes belief in orthodox tenets and principles, intolerance and hatred of other religions and thus, divides the society.
  • Positive aspect of communalism stands for the affinity of an individual towards his own community involving efforts for the social and economic upliftment of his community.
  • However, in negative connotation, it is an ideology which emphasises the separate identity of a religious group in relation to other groups with a tendency to promote its own interests at the expense of the others.

Communalism is a dangerous ideology that promotes the false belief that one group, particularly one religious group, has more differences than similarities with outside groups.

An Ideology

Communalism, like most ideologies, is a school of thought shared by a specific group of people. Specifically, communalism is the shared belief within a particular culture that promotes religious and secular isolation from another group. In other words, communalism is a form of segregation, only it’s segregation that the group being segregated actually chooses. In theory, there are many different reasons a group could become communalist, but typically these groups resort to isolating themselves based on religion.

A communalist group believes that their loyalty should lie within the group that they’re a part of above any other loyalty, like nationalism (or loyalty to a country), because their ideals and beliefs don’t match those of other groups. Many communalist groups even believe that they’re a nation of separate confederacies rather than part of the country in which their members actually reside.

Often, the trouble with communalism is that each group denies the fact that they have more commonalities with other groups than they have differences. This can result in groups becoming hostile to one another, which has given communalism negative connotations. But it’s important to remember that it’s not always the groups themselves that originally instituted the ideology of communalism. In India, for example, much of the communalism (and resulting inter-group conflict) between the Muslims, Sikhs, Hindus and Christians was initially promoted by the British. Seems like a strange thing for a government to do, right? Let’s explore why.

Colonization & Government Control

Communalism didn’t really become an ideology until the British colonization of India, making it a fairly modern concept. It got started after the British realized that when they promoted nationalism, minority groups might realize they had shared interests, become more dominant, and resist British control of India, which could have led to another revolt like the Revolt of 1857. So instead of promoting nationalism, the British encouraged groups to essentially isolate themselves from and reject other religious groups.

This is not an uncommon practice even today, and even outside of colonial governments. For example, the American political system, especially during political campaigns, is notorious for promoting fear in an effort to win votes. Candidates often exploit the differences between cultures, effectively dividing the population. This is especially dangerous because it can evolve into fundamentalism.

Progression of Communalism

Minorities ended up being shut out of government, since education was essential for government positions and Hindus were more educated than Muslims. With fewer men in government and trade and industry, the minorities continued to be exploited and controlled, which made them feel a greater need to protect themselves as a group, tightening the influence of communalism.

Communalism is a shared ideology within one group that promotes the isolation of that group from others. Essentially, it’s a form of self-segregation that hinges on a group’s belief that is has more differences than similarities with other groups of people.

In India, communalism was originally promoted by the British colonizers after the Revolt of 1857 in an effort to keep groups from joining together to fight British rule. Within India today, the concept of communalism is apparent in divisions between Hindus, Christians, Sikhs and Muslims.


Drishti IAS

About Rashid Faridi

I am Rashid Aziz Faridi ,Writer, Teacher and a Voracious Reader.
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