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Communal Riots- Unstitching the Secular Fabric

Communal Riots- Unstitching the Secular Fabric

By Soumyajit Kar

Edited by Namitha Sadanand, Senior Editor, The Indian Economist

Since independence, communal riots are, without doubt, one of the most serious maladies plaguing Indian society and polity. The recent unrest in Trilokpuri, East Delhi was testimony to how immature we still are, as a people, when it comes to adapting to a complex mosaic of communal beliefs and practices. Our complicated historical footprint and composition makes us susceptible to communal violence, because we have seen so many religions come and reside in India, often taking over the locals by force. Nevertheless, the settlement and ingraining into the ethos of a pan-Indian culture was rather fast. And in the centuries before we were colonized, recorded history doesn’t speak of any dramatic rioting based on communal issues. It was limited to religious de-patronizing by the monarch, which led to the destruction of places of worship. It seems, independence and the sudden surge of nationalism turned the tables on us.

The horrendous rioting which transpired along the eastern and western frontiers with Pakistan, right after independence, made the orchestrators of the constitution sensitive to the need to harbor a harmonious society for all religions- which was and still is, our major understanding of the word ‘secularism.’ There has been a lot of theorizing and sociological research on the cause of such widespread riots. If we look at the history of independent India, we have had one of the gravest communal riots killing thousands of people and inflicting shame on the lives of millions. What or who is to blame for that? Well, while nationalist beliefs were being consolidated, the urge to solidify the idea of India and make it homogenous became popular; many freedom fighters capitalized heavily on this ideation and mobilized the masses. It worked wonders in the short run- we waged a unified ‘non-violent’ war against the colonizers and became free in 1947. However, after independence, harboring the idea of a uniform culture became problematic. Who to promote and who to sideline? A lot of religious and social groups couldn’t identify themselves with every other Indian and an intricate existential crisis gained momentum; thus, the cornerstone of the damage was installed. More importantly, if we carefully study the history of nationalism, it inherently tends to make the people impervious and eventually intolerant to other cultural influences. Precisely the case with Indians- what we banked on a few decades ago, played a boomerang prank on us and came back. The intolerance characterized itself in expression of religious violence and religious fundamentalism- the root cause of all unrest in the world. The way politics manifests and meanders its way through these riots is another interesting development in ‘secular democracies’. Electoral politics breeds on vote banks, and this system facilitates vote banks on the basis of caste, religion and language. Communal rioting and the minority appeasement that follows them, is basically investing in a fertile vote bank. So no person is actually interested in eliminating the root cause of the religious violence. It’s just a means to profess a prolonged love for the ‘chair.’

It is really great to be a secular country. But not just in words adorning the most voluminous constitution of the world; in practice too. Honestly, I do not have a foolproof solution to the religious violence, but we can surely prevent the negative chain effects they initiate and the unethical way political parties utilize them. Agreed, that utopia in a country that has people practicing eight major religions is absurd, but then a psychological cleansing is imperative. We need to be better judges and stop religion from making all the difference. After all, healthy communities stitch the yarn to a truly secular nation.

Soumya Jeet Kar is currently a student of Economics, at St. Stephen’s College. Being a hardcore Bengali and Calcuttan, he is a voracious foodie who loves to cook and eat. He is also passionate about books, mainly thrillers and off record; he also loves to write, {not laughing out loud}. Having been trained in Indian Classical Music, he is rather proud of his refined taste in music and the performing arts. Email him at [email protected].

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