Why Is Communal Violence So Common in India? A Way Forward


India: Government Policies, Actions Target Minorities | Human Rights Watch

by MD Tabrez Alam and  Dr Afroz      6 April 2023

Nothing Good ever comes of Violence- Martin Luther

Communal violence, characterized by conflicts and tensions between religious or ethnic groups, continues to be a significant problem in modern India. As present Indian PM Mr Narendra Modi once said from Red Fort speech “Be it caste or communal violence, they stall the growth of the nation. Let us affirm that we will be free from these tensions” (15th Aug 2014,HT)

Understating Communal Violence

India, a diverse country with multiple religions, languages, and cultures, has been a reason for frequent communal violence. The intertwining of identity, politics, and religion in India creates a fertile ground for violence. One of the significant reasons why communal violence occurs in India is because of political agenda. The political parties in India often use religion and regional identity as a tool to gain support and win elections. This leads to the creation of a divide between communities and often results in religious fanaticism and hatred towards one particular community (Ashutosh Varshney, 2002).

Another reason for frequently happened communal violence in India is the lack of education among the masses. Illiteracy often leads people to follow religious leaders and blindly spread hate towards other communities. In recent times, social media has also been a catalyst for the spread of misinformation and propaganda, leading to communal tension and eventual violence. In addition, poverty and economic divide also play a crucial role in communal violence. During economic distress, people tend to blame other communities for their problems, leading to a rise in communal hatred and violence. The paper also examines the state’s role in mitigating or exacerbating communal violence and stresses the need for political and administrative reforms to address the underlying issues. Ultimately, the paper argues that addressing communal violence requires sweeping structural changes and a move towards a more inclusive and pluralistic society.

Reaching to the Roots

The root cause of communal violence in India lies in social polarization and religious chauvinism fuelled by political mobilization, poverty, and inequality. Furthermore, how communal identities are constructed and reinforced in India’s socio-cultural fabrics that have been interplay a crucial role in perpetuating inter-community hatred and violence (Paul Brass 2003). Further, it can be understood by mapping the rise of identity politics as Afroz Alam opines “the use of identity politics is good so long as it empowers the marginalized people, but if identity divides the people it is not in the favour of any community particularly minority who remain numerically inferior. The moment they will articulate their identity powerfully, there will be counter assertions that leads to competitive communalism. The only way to assert one’s identity is as a citizen identity. By asserting particular each Hindu Muslim identity push in confrontational position and that is neither helpful for community nor for the nation (Afroz Alam, 2022).

Festivals used as a tool for violence

Recent riots in India during Ram Navami have caused significant damage to Muslim institutions, as Madrasa/Mosque has been vandalized and burned, leaving Muslim communities shaken and traumatized. Ram Navami is a Hindu festival that celebrates the birth of Lord Rama. The festival is celebrated with great zeal and enthusiasm across India. However, the festival has become a source of communal tension in recent years, with violence and vandalism erupting in many parts of the country. In 2023, a spate of riots broke out during Ram Navami celebrations in different parts of India, including West Bengal and Bihar. Muslim institutions and businesses were targeted by violent mobs that set fire to mosques and looted shops (The Hindu, Indian Express, India Today, 31 March 2023).

The impact of these riots on the lives of Muslims has been devastating. Many have lost their homes, their businesses, and their entire livelihoods. The psychological trauma of being the victim of communal violence has also taken a toll on the mental health of Muslim communities. The consequences of these riots are much more than just material damage; they have harmed the social fabric of the communities, which takes years to repair. The violence and vandalism have created an atmosphere of fear and mistrust, which has deepened existing fault lines between Hindus and Muslims.

Looking to the Stats and facts

Since the 1950s, thousands of people have been killed in Hindu-Muslim communal violence/riots, and our independent India has not yet witnessed a violence-free country. In our country, the conflict between these communities is entirely communal. What, however, causes communal riots in India? India is dominated by two major communities, Hindus and Muslims. The Muslim community in India is the second largest religious community, making up nearly 14.2% of the population after Hindus (PIB, GoI.). As a result, cases of violence between them are not uncommon. According to government data, more than 2,900 cases of communal violence have been registered in the country in the last five years. According to a report in the Indian Express, “A total of 378 cases of communal or religious riots were reported in 2021, 857 in 2020, 438 in 2019, Union Minister of State for Home Affairs Nityanand Rai had said, citing data from the National Crime Records Bureau, 512 cases were registered in 2018 and 723 in 2017 (Indian Express, 7th Dec 2022). While after that, there have been riots in many parts of Indian states and that continue happening frequently.

Causes and Consequences of Riots

Conflicts between different religious or ethnic groups cause communal riots in India. This conflict can result from social, economic, ethnic, religious or political reasons, and a minor incident can become a massive riot. There is a strong possibility of riots in a society suffering from social discrimination and many violent clashes between them. Dalit and backward sections of society have been marginalized for centuries due to violent ethnic conflicts (Ziyauddin, 2022). It is well known that the outcome of communal riots is always negative, affecting the law and order situation, causing loss of life and property, and widening the gap of fear and mistrust between different communities and the social fabric of the nation- They tear the weft to pieces. At the same time, they also destroy those moral values which are very important for a healthy society. Therefore, there is an urgent need for the government and the citizens belonging to the common interests and collective activity of the society to stop these riots and promote harmony and brotherhood among the various communities in the country.

Bad Governance fails Government

Democracy contains high possibility of peaceful resolution and political practitioners have greater responsibility to resolve any forms of crisis by their wills and capacity. Ironically, the social permutation and combination are being used to advance their own political momentary gain. While in principle governance requires exercise of authority for the common well being of citizen but nowadays power and authority are being exercised to fulfil ruling government aspirations, it serves political master instead of enforcing polity (Ahmed Raza, 2022).  The ongoing contemporary crisis in India is destabilising socio-economic development of country by this political governance that stalls swift response in times of crisis. The failure of law enforcement agencies and the judiciary system to hold those responsible for such acts accountable also plays a role in the frequent occurrence of communal violence. Those responsible for stoking communal tension and carrying out acts of violence often go unpunished, giving rise to a sense of impunity.

Ways to Tackle

Communal conflict can be reduced by imposing stricter law and order as per secular law and secular mindset. Rioters are not to be categorized as Hindus or Muslims. He should be treated as a criminal and punished as such. Both the Hindu and Muslim communities should work together to identify and expose the rioters. If general Hindus and Muslims continue to support the rioters, the riots will not end. For a long-term solution to the problem of communal clashes based on religious differences, inter-religious harmony must be established at the intellectual, emotional, spiritual and ideological levels. Communal violence can be reduced through impartial administration and Supreme Court directives on police reforms, which the state government must implement. Peace committees should be made mandatory in all areas, and meeting frequency should be increased. Civil societies or non-governmental organizations (NGOs) must assist in restoring ordinary people’s trust in their neighbourhoods, police, and local administration. Another way to defeat communalism is to eliminate all politicians who use riots to gain political advantage by not voting for them. People have been misguided and manipulated for a long time in order to incite violence. The rise of recent routine communal violence in festivals must be taken as awakening call. Therefore concrete steps must be taken to prevent such incidents from repeating. The need for greater societal inclusion and inter-communal dialogue is required to address the issue of communal violence in India. Advocacy groups and civil society organizations must unite and promote communal harmony and tolerance. Education and awareness campaigns geared towards eradicating illiteracy and spreading knowledge about different cultures and religions can also go a long way in finding a lasting solution.