Anurag Pandey "Terrorism or Communalism in Contemporary India"

Updated: Sep 12, 2020

Recent years in Indian politics have witnessed the rise and growth of identity politics in the name of religion. The rise and spread of the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) with its sister organizations in the mainstream of Indian politics is parts of this tendency. As a result, incidents of violence against Minorities (more particularly against Muslims) have become more prominent. The BJP with its sister organizations (like Rashtiya Swayam Sevak Sangh, Bajarng Dal, Vishwa Hindu Parishad etc) want to make India a Hindu nation, and are the main propagators of Hindutva ideology. Hindutva is different from the religion popularly known as Hinduism. Hindutva is the term which was coined by Vinayak Damodar Savarkar which means to ‘unite and militarize’ Hindus against alien religions, like Islam and Christianity. These organizations, together known as the Sangh Parivar, consider Hindus to be ‘primary citizens’ of India and want to make those following ‘alien’ religions secondary citizens. They simply work to convert India into a country of the Hindus, for the Hindus and by the Hindus. Denying the secular-democratic and multicultural traditions of the country, they call themselves the true nationalists? At the same time, the terrorist activities are on the rise and past few years have witnessed the growth of such incidents like Bomb blasts in various places, the attack on Parliament in 2001 and more recently at Taj hotel, Mumbai. The terrorists are also guided by the religious ideology of Jihad, which they define as a Holy war against non-believers or a war against those who are attacking their religion. They call themselves as freedom fighters, liberators, revolutionaries, militants, paramilitaries, guerrillas, rebels, separatists,etc. Debates over these developments in India either focus on communalism or on terrorism. This paper is an attempt to analyze the similarities and differences between these two phenomenons to locate the relationship between them, if any. Communalism: Article 25 of the Indian constitution declares that every citizen of India has a freedom of conscience and the freedom to profess and practice his/her religion subject to public order, health and morality. Though the Indian state is formally secular, religion has acquired a central place in Indian politics. According to Asghar Ali Engineer, ‘Religion can be defined as a system of beliefs and values with associated rituals to give these beliefs and values a concrete forms when these beliefs and values are held in common and rituals are performed in congregation. It gives rise to a sense of commonality and a religious community comes into existence.’ There are found marked differences among/between religions, which are used by communal political elites to spread their ideas among fellow religionist. Since religion appeals to the emotions, it can be used to easily mobilize people on the basis of their primordial feelings. Communalism stresses only those features of religion which are opposed towards ‘others’ rather than those aspects which endorse humanistic and universal principle/s. In this way it becomes easier for the political elites to use the religion to articulate their interests for their objective to capture power. Their primary concern is the transformation of Indian society into a Hindu Rashtra (and not Hindu Nation), by giving the slogan ‘Hindi, Hindu and Hindustan, to form a singular Hindu identity. Hindu identity per se is problematic; those who are not Muslims, Christians, Parsis are, according to them, Hindus. Census further provides them an opportunity to claim India to be a Hindu nation. The strong presence of RSS and other Sangh bodies in civil society further causes the division of masses on communal lines. Therefore communalism in India is essentially an elitist phenomenon, which may be supported on occasions by the middle and lower classes of that particular religion. The middle class may support this ideology because of economic competition from those following other religion/s, and/or because identity crisis or for both reasons. Regarding the lower classes, it is often easier to mobilize them on communal grounds, by projecting the ‘threat/s of others’, due to their educational and economic backwardness. This type of interrelation is generally found in a developing country where economic development is based on capitalism. Capitalist economic development in a developing economy like India produces many complexities both material and psychological. On the psychological plane it brings awareness among the people for not only does education generates a large middle class, the political structure also provides a greater sense of empowerment to voters. In a developing economy like India with a ballot box oriented policy, polarization in the name of religion can enhance bargaining power and therefore enable the community concerned to make a claim for a greater share of scarce national resources. Therefore, for communal political elites in a democratic set up, it is necessary for them to mobilize people on religious grounds to be in power by emphasizing the threat of others (projected or real). Communalism is the ideology which leads to communal violence, causing damage to the lives and property of people. These activities against the ‘other’ can then promote the further popularization of communal ideology among masses. Terrorism Terrorism is defined as the systematic use of terror against any community or state etc. The unlawful and undemocratic act/s of violence or war may also be defined as terrorist activities. A common understanding about terrorist activities is that this behavior is due to the existence of Islamic-extremists or Islamic militants. The attack on the World Trade Center and on the Pentagon in 2001 is recognized by many as well documented example of Islamic terrorism in recent times. The term terrorism and terrorist carries as a very negative connotation and is criticized as immoral, arbitrary, unjustified, etc. Terrorism is a means, it is not a category of persons, it’s a method, and can be used by all kinds of persons, like group/s or party/s. As a means, it threats to physical injuries to innocent civilians. It is not an ideology, it always comes with an ideology, (like belief system etc). Like communalism, it also contains a massage to ‘other groups’, against any state or its people. Generally this is known as nonstate terrorism. Non-state terrorism comes with two directions i.e against ‘Opponents (State) or Public’ to show their presence. There is one more aspect of terrorism, i.e state terrorism. But state terrorism comes with one single direction; it is against the opponents. The activities of Israel against Palestine, U.S war against Afghanistan or Iraq etc can be cited as the examples of state terrorism. Noam Chomsky and Edward S. Herman described in their work (The Washington Connection and Third World Fascism: The Political Economy of Human Rights, 1979) that the difference between non-state and state terrorism is morally relativist and distracts from or justifies state terrorism perpetrated by favored states, typically those of wealthy and developed nations. The purpose of this paper is not to go into the details of state or non-state terrorism, but it deals with the concept How and why the contemporary Sangh activities should be called as terrorist activities and not the communal one.

Communal Violence and Terrorism Communal violence mostly occurs between Hindus and Muslims. Regardless of which side starts the communal violence, it is Muslims who have been the worst sufferers of riots. In the late 60s, 70s and 80s, when riots were not necessarily started by Sangh Parivar, these forces were nevertheless active once the riots had started or they even turned a small issue into a big incident of communal violence. Communal riots that took place from the 1960s to the 1980s followed a particular pattern. They mostly occurred in urban areas, which were industrial belts or trading/commerce centres. Most of these urban centres had a significant Muslim population whose political or economic interests clashed with the Hindus. Examples can be cited of the Aurangabad riots of 1968, Ahmedabad (Gujarat) riots of 1969, Sambhal (Uttar Pradesh) riots 1978, Moradabad riots (Uttar Pradesh) 1980, Biharsharif (Bihar) riots of 1981, Baroda (Gujarat) riots of 1982, Bhiwandi (Maharashtra) riots of 1984, Kota (Rajasthan) riots of 1989, Bhadrak (Orissa) riots of 1989 and so on. But the period of the 90s witnessed a change in this trend. The decline of the Congress and the rise of BJP as an important political force created a shifting pattern of communal violence in India. It is in this period that the Sangh Parivar became much more active in instigating violence. Violence since the 90s is the result of systematic use of religious sentiments of people by the Sangh Parivar for their political gains. The politicization of the Ram Janam Bhumi and Babri Masjid issue and the consequent demolition of the mosque provided the BJP an opportunity to consolidate its (Hindu) vote-bank, while before the 90s, local factors played a very important role in causing communal riots, some of the violence, after the 90s, occurred when the BJP wanted to gain political benefits, Gujarat riots 2002 can be cited as an example of this new trend. What is however communal violence? All violence in the name of religion cannot be termed communal violence. Only those riots in which two or more groups have participated actively should be termed as communal violence. In this sense the Gujarat riots of 2002 and 1992 demolition of Babri mosque, violence against Christians and killing of Graham Stains with his two sons in 1999 cannot be called as communal violence, because here one dominant group/person (Hindus activist/s of Sangh Parivar) undertook a planned pogrom against minorities. This was due to the successful implementation of hate among ‘Hindus’ against minorities by the Sangh Parivar. These riots were directed against minorities to teach them a lesson. Where should we locate these incidents if they are not communal violence? I would like to call these forms of violence ‘Party terrorism’. Here the members of the Sangh Parivar have organized planned and systematic violence against the minority community/s. Some key examples are, the violence of 1992-3, after the demolition of Babri Mosque and the Mumbai Blasts, (there were 300 big or small incidents of violence against Muslims), March 1995 (Madras); April 1995 (Chitradurga; Karnataka); June 1995, (Rankhandi, UP); July 1995, (Palmau, Bihar); May 1998 (Moradabad University Press); July 1998 Bardoli and Sajjeli (Gujarat); October 1998, (Ahwa and Dang, Gujarat); January 1999, (Manoharpur, Orissa); December 2000 (Kolhapur, Karnataka); July 2001, (Moradabad, UP); August 2001, (Amravati, Maharashtra); August 2001, (Ahmedabad, Gujarat); October 2001, (Malegaon, Maharashtra); February 2002, (Gujarat); Feburary 2002, (Kaithal, Haryana); March 2002, (Bhivani, Haryana); March 2003, (Gujarat). If we closely look at the nature of the violence, all of it was deliberately targeted against Muslims. Apart from the killing of Muslims their property was also damaged, looted or destroyed. Women were raped, (even pregnant women were assaulted physically) and their children killed. The Sangh Parivar and Shiv Sena (Maharashtra) organized a pre-planned violence against minority communities, mostly Muslims. There was not an equal or successful retaliation by minorities (Muslims), they neither planed for a reply nor did they organize themselves for revenge. It does not mean to say that communal violence did not occur during this period, communal violence did occur, examples can be cited as April 1995 (Chitradurga, Karnataka); January, 1998 (Kanpur, UP); October 1998, (Munger, Bihar); September 1999 (Surat, Gujarat); December 1999, (Aurangabad); March 2001, (Nalanda, Bihar); April 2001, (Beavar, Rajasthan); June 2001 (Chamrajnagar, Mysore); October 2002 (Sholapur, Maharashtra). In these violence the two groups took active part, although Minorities (mostly Muslims) were the main sufferers. Therefore the pre-planned violence by Sangh Parivar cannot be termed as communal violence. Such planned violence against minorities has an unlawful and undemocratic face it should be defined as terrorist activities. The BJP or other Sangh bodies are located in the secular/democratic Indian polity, but work against this by creating fear among minority citizens, by deliberately targeting and attacking their safety. Their activities against minorities should be regarded as party terrorism and not the communal one in contemporary India.

There were no terrorist bombings in India before 1993 by Muslims. It was the demolition of the 16th Century Mosque (Babri Masjid) in December 1992 that led to the new era of bombing in crowded markets. People now are scared of going outside their respective homes, to go to their workplace by using public transport like buses, metros, etc. They try to avoid going outside at the time of national holidays or to avoid visit the crowded markets. These Muslim terrorists (like the Sangh Parivar) also want to teach nonbelievers a lesson and want to send them a message. They justify their activities by claiming it to be an act of revenge for the Baburi Mosque demolition of 1992 or Gujarat riots 2002. These activities can be called non-party terrorism. Such groups do not work within a secular/democratic framework and they systematically use terror against other citizens. They train their members

(terrorist camps), and spread negative ideas about other religions to justify their activities and to convince their own members.

Just like non-party terrorism, party terrorism is also anti-Indian. They make India weak by denying and attacking the validity of the country’s democratic and secular constitution. They also train their members (RSS Shakhas); they also spread negative ideas about other religions by political or civic functions, which cause hate, lack of dialogue and trust etc among different religious groups. While the purpose of non-party terrorism is to send a message to the state about the anger and frustration of a religious group, the party terrorism is targeted against minorities with the aim of capturing state power. The contemporary party terrorism tries to cash non-party terrorism and vis-a-versa.

Hindus or Muslims: Who are Sensitive and Responsible Citizen?

To address this question one must stand by critically locating the response/s from Hindus and Muslims on these two activities. On the issue of violence against minorities, the response from the majority community or corporate media was far from satisfactory. The majority of Hindus either supported these killings of minorities or mere neutral. Some secular minded Hindus criticized these incidents. But the response was essentially passive. No secular Hindu/s came out of their homes to vocally criticize the incidents through a rally nor did they organize any mass meetings or try to prevent the riots, although there were some independent inquiries, debates in some journals and newspapers. They did not come out forcefully against the party terrorism of Sangh Parivar, primarily because Hindus have no threats from the Sangh Parivar, since the programs of the Sangh Parivar are not against Hindus. Secular Hindus need not fear the Sangh Parivar or its party terrorism. Here the sense of security comes into their minds, this sense of security from Sangh Parivar or party terrorism, is known to be as majority psyche. But at the same time, when the incident of non-party terrorist activities happens, all Hindus come together to criticize it, no matter whether they are secular or Sanghis, although they may differ in their manner of criticism. Why? The majority psyche may not perceive threat/s from the Sangh Parivar’s activity (party terrorism), but it perceives a threat from non-party terrorist activity/s, because bomb blasts can kill anyone. Here the sense of insecurity comes into the minds of Hindus and they become apprehensive. So during the period of violence against minorities Hindus may or may not be united on the grounds to criticize it or not but as far as terrorism is concerned they criticize it wholeheartedly.

Let us discuss about Muslims in India. They are a twice threatened group, from party terrorism (violence against them) and from non-party terrorism (bomb blasts etc.). The Sangh programs are mainly against Muslims and the bombs are not planted for Hindus only, Muslims also have lost their lives in several bomb blasts. This double sense of fear from both terrorism is a part of what can be called the Minority psyche. Although Muslims suffers from both kinds of terrorisms, they are responsible and sensitive citizens as there are several incidents where Muslim organization/s has criticized non-party terrorism and party terrorism. They claim that they are against (non-party) terrorism and that this is against the basic principles of Islam etc. The media covers this criticism and appreciates it as proof of loyalty for otherwise Muslims will be declared disloyal if they do not criticize terrorism. But this very media bifurcates or trifurcates when the matter of party terrorism comes up. It appears that the media does not expect Hindus to criticize party terrorism in a same manner they expect Muslims to criticize non-party terrorism, and if somebody criticizes party terrorism, they run a debating program (by considering it to be communal activities) where secular minded persons and persons from party terrorist groups come together and the debate ends without any constructive conclusion. This is supposed to express how balanced the media is.

The need of hour is to identify the proper meaning of terrorism and communalism and how to properly use these terms. All communalism and terrorisms should be criticized. But the two should also be distinguished from each other when this is appropriate and necessary.

Dr Anurag Pandey

University of Delhi

Delhi. India

Disclaimer: The Article was first published in Milli Gazette, 1-15 April. 221, Vol. 10. No,7. 2009. Indian Democracy is sharing the Link of the article in its original form via Milli Gazette and accept that Milli Gazette has all rights over the content. Indian Democracy does not make any claim over the article and consider it as sole property of Milli Gazette.

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