Communalism is formed out of two words: common which means deriving out of some commonality and ism which is a system of ideas or ideology. At global level, in virtually all existing societies, communalism exists in one form or the other. Usually, communalism is confused with it being related to religion only, but religious communalism is only one aspect of communalism.
At conceptual level, it refers to an ideology which involves use of some common identity for the satisfaction of either individual or a group of interest. Commonly, it is given a negative connotation mainly on account of the manifest or latent tension it generates between the communities. In this way, most likely, the identities like language, religion, race etc. are used leading to various types of communalism like linguistic communalism, religious communalism, caste communalism, ethnic communalism.
In India whenever it is referred, it is used in the context of religious communalism. Thus, it means use of religion for the satisfaction of some group or individual interest. It manifests itself into either the manifest tensions like individual conflicts or rioting at the broader level. At the latent level, it exists in the form of stress between the communities leading to a volatile situation.
India has been a party to many communal riots. Some of the worst communal clashes in India are:
- Assam riots in 2012: It was a kind of ethnic communalism which witnessed clashes between the Bodos of Assam and the Muslims who had migrated to Assam from Bangladesh. The illegal immigration of Muslims to Assam was blamed to be the reason of these clashes. Indian Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh was blamed for not dealing with the flood of immigrants. The native Bodos felt that their culture and existence were under threat due to this mass mobilization of Muslims.
- Gujarat riots in 2002: It was a series of incidents which started with the famous Godhara train incident which saw the burning of many Hindus in a train. This resulted in subsequent communal clashes between Hindus and Muslims. The Gujarat government was alleged to play an active role in it and no steps were taken by the government to cope with the clashes in the state.
- Bombay riots in 1992: It was again a riot between Hindus and Muslims. There were many causes of riots which included the demolition of Babri Masjid, aggravation of Muslim sentiments by the Hindus who were celebrating this with celebration rallies and the insensitive and harsh approach of the police while handling the mob which was not initially violent.
- Anti Sikh riots in 1884: This was the riot which broke out in North India after the murder of the Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi by her Sikh guards. It was a clash between the Hindus and Sikhs of North India. Indian National Congress was allegedly involved in these clashes.