Defining Ethnicity :

  1. Literally speaking, the word “ethnos” means nation, and the word ‘ethnicity’ is developed from it. However, “ethnicity” is not defined as nationhood It is defined as a collectivity of people of a distinct nature in terms of race, descent and culture. Thus, an ethnic group is a social collectivity having certain shared historicity and certain common attributes, such as race, tribe, language, religion, dress, diet, etc. A combination of them in a group makes it an ethnic group, which is perceived as such by its members and by members of other groups. One may call this self-perception ethnic consciousness for status and for recognition as a distinct social entity.
  2. Ethnicity is not a static or pre-ordained category; it is a manifestation of the common economic, political social and cultural interests and their protection by certain members in a plural society. Thus, ethnicity, at times, is used as an instrument of mobilization for realizing social economic and political goals. Ethnicity is a cultural phenomenon, and as such no culture is “superior” or “inferior”. Culture belongs to a people, and they endear it like any other people. E. B. Tylor defines culture as “that complex whole which includes knowledge, belief, art, morals, law, custom and any other capabilities and habits acquired by man as a member of society”. “Culture is the man-made part of the environment”.
  3. Therefore, all ethnic entities are cultural groupings, and therefore, they enjoy the same position in terms of the normative orientations of different sets of people. The Constitution in India declares sets of people. The Constitution of India declares that India is a secular state in which distinctions and discriminations based on caste, creed region, language, religion, etc., are not allowed The people have been given ‘fundamental rights’ according to which, primordial or inscriptive considerations do not find any place in modern India.

Ethnic Group :

  1. An ethnic group may be defined as a distinct category of the population in a larger society whose culture is usually different from that of the society. The members of such a group are bound together by common ties of race or nationality or culture. In other words, an ethnic group is a group of people having common racial religious, linguistic or national characteristic.
  2. An ethnic group may think that it is a living being of a unique kind Its members generally think in terms of a real or factious commonality based on common ancestral, cultural heritage, language, religion and even economic interests. Internally, all ethnic groups are stratified despite their claim of commonality in all respects. Ethnicity has become a very sensitive aspect of India’s social fabric, resulting in ethnic cleavage, conflict, violence and hatred Are ethnic group’s classes? Are they the same groupings as of caste groups? A plural or multi-ethnic society like India would have an overlapping of ethnic, caste and class groupings. Continuality of these groupings is important to distinguish among ethnicity, caste and class; as three bases of social ranking and identification.
  3. A given country consists of various communities; and facts about their origin and migration help understand the history of its civilization. The present population of India is over 1250 million. About eighty years ago, Sir Herbert Risley noted that there were 2378 main casts among the Hindus in India. Certainly, this number must have reached over 3000 by this time due to the processes of fission and social mobility. Marriage among different caste groups takes place in accordance with the rules of caste endogamy, clan exogamy and avoidance of relations. in father’s and mother’s sides. Besides these caste groups, there are other communities, such as, Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, Parsis, Jains and many tribal groups, who limit marriage and social interaction to their own groups.

Nature of Ethnic Conflict :

At times, ethnic groups tend to operate as diametrically opposed groups due to a clash of their real or supposed interests. Such a clash of interests may also take the form of communalism.

  1. Some groups may take undue advantage of their large numbers or of superior of social origin to corner a major share of the national resources. The other communities with smaller populations may feel deprived of what they feel are their ‘legitimate claims’. Situations of mutual distrust disaffection and distance may arise between various ethnic groups. Ethnic groups are called “primordial collectivities”.
  2. One perspective is that “relative deprivation” is the root cause of all ethnic strife.
  3. The lacks of distributive justice, differential accessibility to resources and cultural differences have been considered the main causes of ethnic problems.
  4. Sometimes ethnic conflict is due to the distinction made between “outsiders”and “insiders’. “We” (insiders) against ‘they” (outsiders) is an attitude found in all societies. Immigrants are treated as ‘foreigners’.Such a problem arises when Assamese, Bengali, Gujarati, Oriya, Hindi, Kashmiri, Punjabi, Urdu, Marathi and Sindhi speaking people consider each other different in the national context Members belonging to one state often consider members from other states as outsiders. They would not like them to seek employment in their state.
  5. Sub-regions, cities, towns and even villages are often used for drawing a line between the insiders and the outsiders. The question is: can we call it ethnicity? The answer is a clear no. India is a poly-ethnic society having distinctions based on race, caste, language, religion and territory.


  1. The most striking feature of India’s current socio-political scenario is the ‘explosion’ of communalism in the face of new Economic policy and Globalization. It is threatening the very social fabric of Indian society. Communalism is a highly complex phenomenon in pluralistic India.The academics from different disciplines in vague, some based on certain static pre-conceived notions while others on the basis of the ever changing sociopolitical dynamics. In some of these definitions communalism has been explained as ‘above all an ideology’, to some others, ‘a false consciousness’, ‘a struggle for scarce resources’, ‘competition for jobs’, ‘an instrument of ruling class politics’ and so on. On the basis of its highly intolerant anti-democratic nature, it is also seen as a precursor to fascism.
  2. Among the plethora of definitions, W .C. Smith’s (1979) definitions presents a fairly generalized and popularly accepted scenario. “Communalism is that ideology which has emphasized as the social, political and economic unit of the group of adherents of each religion, and has emphasized the distinction, even antagonism, between such groups.” Communalism can be said to have had more than a hundred years old history, affecting aspects of the socio-cultural and political life of India in myriad ways. During certain times, it lays dormant, while being potentially explosive. Bipin Chandra (1987) in his acclaimed work on Communalism argued that, “Communalism was the false consciousness of the historical processes of the last one hundred fifty years, because, objectively no real conflict between the interests of Hindus and Muslims existed”. It was a false view of history.He further argues that “Communalism was an expression of and deeply rooted in the interests, aspirations, outlook, attitudes, psychology and point of view of the middle classes in a social situation characterized by economic stagnation and the absence of vigorous struggle to transform society-the communal question was petty bourgeois question par excellence ‘.
  3. K.N. Pannikkar said that “communalism is a state of consciousness … which primarily draws upon certain assumptions of distinct cultural identity for members professing the same religion”.
  4. Gyanendra Pandey suggested that “communalism is a form of Colonialist knowledge, which in its Indian usage, means a condition of suspicion, fear and hostility between members of different religious communities”
  5. All these definitions broadly touch upon the antagonistic relationship whether “imagined” or real between the two major religious communities such as Hindu-Muslim, Hindu-Christian, Hindu-Sikh, Muslim-Sikh relations.


  1. Violence between religious communities in the form of riots, pogroms or terrorism draws our attention in a dramatic manner but the underlying and long term cause of this violence is the spread of communalism. As Bipin Chandra remarks, while the communal riots give credibility to the basic communal ideological precepts among the ordinary people and enlist further support for communal politicians, it is communal ideology and politics, which the communal politicians and ideologues preach in normal times, which form the real basis on which communal tensions and violence occur. In other words, communal ideology and politics are the disease, communal violence only it’s external symptom. “Communal riots and other forms of communal violence are only a concrete conjunctural manifestation of the communalization of society and politics. Communal ideology leads to communal politics and psychology differentiation, distance and competition along religious lines” (Chandra).
  2. Communalism and communal violence are the products of the overall social economic and political situation of the society. Communal violence has been, by and large, an urban phenomenon where the deprived and poor people have been involved But more than religion, it is communal propaganda; rumour mongering and communal mobilization have been responsible. Any type of violence and lawlessness provides an opportunity to the interested people to indulge in loot and plunder largely for economic reasons. But the recent happenings (of 2002) in Gujarat have shaken all the sensible, justice loving, democratic and secular people of the country. The involvement of the state in a communal violence has never been so blatant and naked It was virtually a state-sponsored violence against the minority community as brought out by several citizens organizations and forums. Some of these reports even described it as ‘ethnic cleansing’ done under state supervision. Significantly, the dirty work of violence is left to a certain type of communalized militant youth especially belonging to the dalit and backward castes, and sometimes to the tribal groups, while the ideological work evolves with great subtlety. This may be an intelligent tactic on the part of communal leadership to divert the attention of the traditionally deprived sections from their problems. It may also be a ploy of blocking the deprived sections of the society from finding a rightful place in the power structure which till now has been tightly held by the upper social strata.
  3. But in the Gujarat carnage the involvement of the upward mobile, prosperous middle class in loot and plunder is a phenomenon that required an urgent analysis by the sociologists. Indian State was conceived in a secular, non-communal manner. In the secular-democratic state an important rule was assigned to politics and the political parties. Unfortunately elections in independent India became ends in themselves and narrow self and political interests rather than larger national interests became more important In this scenario, the communal implications of the numbers game in a pluralistic society became apparent The political parties conceive of their interests in terms of caste and religion.
  4. “Such an ethnic orientation of the numbers game has two prominent features. One is the rise of new political organizations that are sometimes blatantly and sometimes not so blatantly communal This happens on the local levels or starts at that levels and then moves up” (Rajni Kothari, 1998).Shiv Sena is a blatant example of this but there are many others too. The capture of political organizations by cultural and sectarian organizations is also a case in point What starts as non-political organizations take on political roles. Rajni Kothari gives the example of R.S.S.and Jamat-e-Islami of this phenomenon or process. Such organizations declare that they have nothing to do with politics but they go on spreading their tentacles. So that, in course of time, political organizations like parties, trade unions and professional associations like those of students and teachers even women’s organizations, become increasingly dependent on sectarian and communal organizations which are not opposed to be political

Measures to Contain Ethnic and Communal Violence :

  1. If the surging tide of communalism is not reversed it will swamp the country. Before independence, it was easy to argue that communal violence was the result of the British policy of divide and rule. Now the reality is more complex. Religion has come to be politicized and politics has come to be criminalized Unless all communities consider themselves a part of one nation, the containing of communal disharmony will remain difficult.
  2. A country that prides itself on the secular character of its policies has to be wary of politicians who speak only for their own religious community. It has to expose and alienate the bureaucrats who consider secularism only as a theoretical possibility.The police can no longer afford to allow communal issue to foster in the manner that it has. Initiating the process of decommunalizing the people at all levels, say, by bringing home to them that communal assumptions are false, by explaining to them the socio-economic and political roots of communalism.
  3. Communalization of the state and of the political elite in power has to be checked because it leads to inaction against communal violence, and covert or overt political and ideological support to communalism by the state apparatuses, including the media under state control.
  4. The communalization of civil society also needs to be checked because it leads to more communal riots and other forms of communal violence. People with communal ideas and ideologies pressurize the government to act in a manner which is always against the principles of secularism. The secular state, the secular party in power and the secular power elite many a time succumb to the pressures of these communal people. It is here that intellectuals, political parties and voluntary organizations can be most effective.
  5. The role of education, particularly emphasizing value-oriented education both in schools and colleges/ universities, is important in preventing communal feelings. Education based on new cultural ideologies can protect the young people against philosophies and ideologies of hate. Particularly harmful in the Indian context has been the role of teaching of history. Communal interpretation of history, especially of the medieval period forms the bedrock of communal ideology in India. Teaching of history along scientific lines in educational institutions has to be a basic element in any ideological struggle against communalism.
  6. The media can also prove to be significantly useful in preventing communal feelings. Communal press can be banned the legal action can be taken against communal writers. The ideology that economic development, industrialization, growth of capitalism and the growth of the working class would automatically weaken and ultimately eliminate communalism should not be overplayed This economic reductionist approach of the left parties and organization like Naxalite only increases communal poison. It is not being suggested that modern economic development is not needed in our society. What is being pointed out is that economic development alone cannot contain communalism. It is not class struggle which increases communalism but communalism surely hampers class unity. Communal violence is more prevalent in developed states like Maharashtra, Punjab and Gujarat and in developed cities like Mumbai, Ahmadabad Jamshedpur and Kanpur.
  7. Peace Committees can be set up in which individuals belonging to different religious communities can work together to spread good will and fellow-feeling and remove feelings of fear and hatred in the riot-affected areas. This will be effective not only in diffusing communal tensions but also in preventing riots from breaking out.
  8. The state has to plan and use new strategies in dealing with communal violence. India’s experience in recent years confirms the utility of this step.Whenever strong and secular administrators have used or threatened the use of strong steps, riots either did not occur or were of short duration. For example, strong police and army intervention prevented repetition of riots in Calcutta in November 1984 and in Mumbai in January 1994. When the anti-social elements and religious fanatics and people with vested interests realize that the government is not partial and the police are serious in putting down communal violence with all the force at its command, they immediately cease spreading communal frenzy.
  9. This also calls for non-communalizing law-enforcement agencies.The role of media is immensely heightened during the course of communal violence. Newspapers can pour oil over the troubled waters or extinguish the raging fire. The fear and hatred can be checked if the press, radio and TV report events in a way conductive to soothing the frayed nerves of people instead of inflaming the temper further.The media can contradict rumours in a sober manner. A careful restraint has to be exercised in reporting the number of persons of different religious communities killed or injured.
  10. The government in power has to treat the extremist communal outfits as its immediate targets and cripple their capacity to disrupt law and order. The secessionists in Kashmir, the militants in Punjab, and other extremist organizations of Hindu, Muslim and Sikh communalism have to be dealt with by the state through its law and order machinery. The small insecure communities always look to government or move towards communal parties for protection.The communalism of the 1980s and 90s has placed a clear responsibility at the doors of the secular state squarely to confront the communal elements who have emerged as merchants of death.
  11. Today, communalism is on the march and secularism is on the regret, and the state is on the defensive.The state was on the defensive in post-Blue Star Operation phase, on the retreat on Shah Bano case, and under siege on Mandir-Masjid issue in Ayodhya in 1992 and Hazratbal siege in November 1993 and in Charar-e-Shrief shrine siege in May 1995 in Kashmir and Gujarat riots in 2002. In all these situations, Sikh, Muslim, and Hindu communalists were on the offensive. The challenge of Hindu, Muslim and Sikh communalism has to be met by the Indian State at political and ideological levels both with short term and long-term strategies.
  12. The government is also facing the problem of the emergence of religion-based politics as a central factor in public affairs and elections, although election results in several states in the last five-six years have proved that the people have rejected such policies. Apart from these measures, it is necessary to look at the real problems of the religious minorities in terms of employment, literacy and getting them a fair share of representation in every field Efforts are needed for the development of the minority communities and removing their mass illiteracy and unemployment Secular structures have to be promoted and preserved Vigorous attacks need to be launched on religious institutions which foster communalism. Suspicions between communities must be rigorously weeded out A common civil code in the country is the need of the day.There should be no special laws for specific communities and so special status for any state. The reservation policy has to be reconsidered Political manipulation has to be tackled Politicians interfering with police functioning and disallowing arrests of trouble makers have to be severely dealt with. Public opinion and mass enlightenment have to be brought about to make secular values functional.

Along with these measures other measures that should be undertaken by the government to contain communal violence are :

  1. Posting of secular-minded police officials in riot-prone areas.
  2. Setting up of special courts to try communal offences.
  3. Providing immediate relief and adequate financial assistance to victims of communal riots for their rehabilitation.
  4. Taking severe action against all those who incite communal tensions or take part in violence.

Thus, multipronged measures are needed to contain communal tensions and bring about communal harmony in the country. We have not only to fight religious communalism but have also to contain political communalism which is more degrading and dangerous. A vast majority of Muslims and Sikhs in India have no appetite for communal violence, and this is also true of the sentiments of most Hindus. The members of the Muslim and Sikh communities are convinced that the growing communal tension can be stopped if politicians are somehow prevented from exploiting people for their narrow ends. The Muslim on the street is slowly recognizing the exploitative intentions of politicians. Religious sloganeering does not affect him so much now. He no longer harbours a sneaking desire to seek economic redress across the border. He feels far more secure here.


  1. In modern society religion is a fantasy for someone and for others it is an artistic delight sometimes for others it is a ray of hope, still for others it’s a proof of personal decision, for many others its respect for self and society. In modern society religion is not man’s unquestionable faith in god rather it’s a form of experience that offers a man guidelines for self-conduct.
  2. RELIGIOUS REVIVALISM in India can be understood on demand supply phenomena. Though India glorifies secularism, importance of religion has increased manifold in personal life of people.As a result new sects and cults have emerged Leaders of these sects and cults aggressively campaign their religion using different means. They lure customers and ensure their importance in the market of religion where supply is very low as compared to demand Ashish Nandy writes that this is the region why sadhus are not successful in India and successful in West.
  3. The theory of religious revivalism in contemporary times is spelled out by Campbella who introduces two concepts, Endomorph and sociomorph, indicating that religious revivalism is greatly dependent on childs psychic adoptability to immediate institution like family and community. A child who fails to adjust commands and demands of these institutions in early childhood stage, do have a tendency to stand more committed to religion. A child who suffers from maladjustment lives in his own world develop his independent views to the existential values, ultimately constitute his own culture, get number of supports and reinforces religion in a society that was one’s secular.
  4. He further asserts that religious revivalism is greatly a response to threat to ones family and community or even larger society of which he is a part In a multi-cultural society growing cultural hostility when experienced by child during his childhood or early adulthood he becomes more possessive about religion. So while holding secular position he is bound to reinforce activities endorsed by religion. This idea can largely be applied to Indian society, where common experience shared by children in childhood intensify their association with religion. Hence many educated youth in support of their religion don’t hesitate to take militant action, even though they have to sacrifice their life for it All these illustrations sufficiently imply that religion is making appearance in a big way in the life histories of the societies. Communist Russia has broken on the basis of religion, America is emerging as a risk society living under the threat of religious terrorism. New Age religions are mushrooming in less populous highly developed Scandinavian countries. Every year hundreds of communal conflicts take place in India.
  5. These incidents sufficiently indicates that in a country like India, religious revivalism is a challenge to modernization and social transformation. Commenting on it Bainbridge advocates that the conventional theory of modernity speaking out secularization and happiness has found out no place in present empirical world So role of region in human society is not predictable, it is dynamic and variable. One is not always secular because it is not a rule of law. It’s a creative act and its discourses are only by the creative mind of the artists. The people who are secular at one point of time are outnumbered by people those who want religious revivalism. Thus we live in a paradoxical time, whether like it or dislike, we are bound to be affected by religious revivalism, directly or indirectly.

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments