PUCL Bulletin, May 1993

Communalism and the Human Rights
By V.M. Tarkunde

J.P. Memorial Lecture delivered in New Delhi on 23 March, 93

The 23rd of March is observed by the People's Union for Civil Liberties every year as the J.P. Memorial Day. It was on this day in 1977 that the emergency which had been declared by Mrs. Indira Gandhi on 25th June, 1975, was lifted by the Janata Government which came to power by defeating the Congress of Mrs. Indira Gandhi in the 1977 election. Jayaprakash Narayan played a pivotal role in forging unity of the opposition parties and fashioning the electoral defeat of the Indira Congress. 23rd March 1977 is rightly regarded as the day of India's liberation from authoritarianism, and it is appropriate therefore that the day should be observed to express our regard and gratitude for Jayaprakash Narayan.

The danger of Indian democracy being replaced by a personal dictatorship did not altogether disappear with the lifting of the emergency on 23rd March, 1977. The danger of authoritarianism re-appeared with the success of Mrs. Gandhi in the post-emergency election of 1979-80 and it continued even under the unprincipled regime of Rajiv Gandhi. After Rajiv Gandhi's tragic death, however, the Gandhi-Nehru family has ceased to be in possession of political power and the background.

In the meantime, however, a graver and more serious danger to Indian democracy has appeared on the horizon. It is represented by the growing strength of the Bharatiya Janata Party and the power behind it - the R.S.S. and the Sangh Parivar consisting of such organisations as the Akhil Bhartiya Vidharthi Parishad, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and the Bajrang Dal. They are giving to the Indian people a heady mixture of aggressive Hindu communalism and an equally aggressive Hindu nationalism. In that process they are promoting animosity between Hindus and Muslims. The events which led to the destruction of the Babri Masjid and Ayodhya on 6th December, 1992 show that the forces involved in this communal-nationalist movement have no regard for the rule of law and the institutions of judicial administration. As I will show later, the movement which is being fostered by these forces contains all the essential characteristics of fascism. By promoting communal animosity, the BJP has during a short time of about two years increased its strength in Parliament from 2 to 119 members. During this process, more than 2000 persons have died as a result of communal riots prior to the demolition of the Babri Masjid, and more destructive communal riots have taken place thereafter all over the country. As the Congress (I) is now much weaker than before and the opposition parties are unable to unite to form an anti-communal secular platform, the BJP expects to come to power in the next election. If this happens, the secular democracy in India is liable to be replaced by a potentially fascist theocratic State.

I am of the view that the communalist nationalism which is being propagated by the BJP and the Sangh Parivar represents a far greater danger to Indian democracy than the personal authoritarian rule which Mrs. Indira Gandhi and the Gandhi-Nehru family were likely to impose on the country. A personal authoritarian rule is a lesser danger before it is largely external to the people. Most of the people do not approve of it, although they are usually too afraid to stick out their necks and openly oppose it. It is true that those who are in favour of the status quo are positively in favour of such an authoritarian rule, but they do not form the majority of our people. In course of time, an increasing number of bold spirits come forward to openly oppose the imposition of individual authoritarianism. That is what happened during the emergency between June 1975 and February 1977.

Communalism, however-particularly when it is the communalism of the majority and can therefore take the form of ardent nationalism as well-can find a positive response in the minds of the people who are still prone to religious blind faith and among whom the humanist values of democracy i.e. the values of liberty, equality and fraternity are yet to be fully developed. Communalism in such cases is an internal enemy residing in the human mind and it is far more difficult to eradicate it than an external enemy like an autocratic ruler. Elimination of communalism can be achieved only by a process of socio-cultural change, of this nature is a slow time consuming process. Our difficulty arises from the fact that a theocratic State may possibly be established in the country after the next election and therefore it is necessary that besides a long-term programme of a socio-cultural transformation, we must have a short term programme which would prevent a communal party coming to power in the country in the near future.

In order to decide what we, humanists, democrats and secularists, should do to meet the danger, we must, in the place, appreciate the cultural and socio-economic roots of communalism and aggressive nationalism and must also be aware of the factors which are likely to help or to hinder us in the work which we have to undertake.

Psychology of Collectivism: It is necessary to understand clearly the psychology of communalism as well as aggressive nationalism. Communalism is rooted in one's attachment to one's religion, just as nationalism springs from one's attachment to one's nation. But religiosity does not necessarily lead to communalism, just as nationalism does not necessarily promote enmity or antipathy towards persons belonging to other nations. Communalism (in the sense in which the word is used in the Indian sub-continental) means antipathy of persons belonging to one religion towards persons belonging to some other religion. There are many religious minded persons amongst Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs and those belonging to other religions, who do not fee any antipathy or animosity towards persons belonging to a religion other than their own. Gandhiji, inspite of being a devout Hindu, was obviously a person who was not communalist at all, but I wish to emphasise that there are hundreds and hundreds of Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, Christians and Jews in India who are religious without being communal. Similarly, a person who has attachment to his nation need not feel any sense of antipathy, let alone aggressiveness, towards persons who belong to other nations. Communalism and aggressive nationalism are essentially collectivist phenomena. They arise not merely from one's attachment to one's religion or one's nation, but from subordination of oneself to the communal or national collectivity and one's identification with that collectivity. The psychology of subordination of oneself to, and one's identification with, a collectivity requires further explanation.
Every person in the course of his mental growth develops standards for judging what is good and what is bad. We need not concern ourselves at this stage with whether the standards in a particular individual are derived from social accepted norms or whether they are the result of his independent judgment. What is important in the present context is that in the case of every self-reliant and self-respecting individual, his standards of judgments between what is good and what is bad are based upon considerations of individual merit and not the merit of belonging to a collectivity. A self-reliant and self-respecting Hindu or Muslim would, for instance, judge himself to be good or bad on the basis whether his own feelings and conduct do or do not conform with his own standards of what is good of what is good and what is bad. In other words, he judges himself as an individual and not as a person belonging to any collectivity, such as the religious community or the nation to which he belongs. Since his self-regard is based upon the appreciation of his own merit or demerit as an individual, his approach towards other persons is also based on similar individual standards. If he comes across a person of another religion or another nation, his regard towards that person will result from his appreciation of that person as an individual and not on the basis of whether he belongs to a particular religion or a particular nation. If, however, a person has subordinated himself to, and identified himself with, his religious community or to his nation, and if consequently his self-regard is based on the religious community or the nation to which he belongs, his approach to other individuals will also be based on the community or the nation to which those other individuals belong. Thus, for a communal Hindu, a Muslim is bad because he is a Muslim and not because he is a bad individual. That would be the approach of a Muslim communalist also. Similarly, in the case of a nationalist who has subordinated himself to, and identified himself with, a national collectivity, persons belonging to his nation are good but not persons who belong to some other nation which he regards with a degree of hostility. It is thus that the anger of an individual into a collectivity and his identification with that collectivity leads to collectivist attitudes, including those of communalism and aggressive nationalism.

This explanation about the origin of collectivism, though not in the same words, was given by Dr. Erich Fromme in his famous book Fear of Freedom published in the early 1940s. He explained in that book the psychological origin of fascism and the cause of its aggressiveness. Erich Fromme pointed out that in the feudal order of society in Europe, which was later disrupted by the growth of capitalism, every person had a preordained place in the social structure. The place assigned to him in the social structure provided to him his security of life. An agricultural labourer was then merely a serf, but his social position and means of livelihood were secured by the prevailing social custom. The artisans working in towns were members of their respective guilds and they had a secure position as guild members. When the feudal order was disrupted by the growth of capitalism, the agricultural workers were freed from their serfdom and the artisans from their guilds. But this freedom deprived them of the security of life which the feudal order had provided. The agricultural labourers and the artisans were free to seek employment, but their freedom could result in unemployment and starvation. Freedom, therefore, became an unbearable burden to many of them. The fear of freedom led to their identification first with their religious community and later with their nation. The persons who felt themselves to be weak as individuals could derive psychological strength from being parts of a much larger collectivity, such as a religious community or a nation. Despite being weak as individuals, their strength was derived from the number and cohesiveness of the religious community or the nation. In order to increase the strength of the collectivity, it was felt necessary that the individuals who composed it must subordinate themselves to the collectivity and undergo all the sacrifices to increase the strength of the collectivity. That is why, according to Erich Fromme, "surrender inside and aggressiveness outside" were the characteristics of fascism which developed in Italy and in Germany in the 20s and 30s of this century. Under the Nazis, every German was expected to sacrifice for the nation, but the nation was to be the greatest nation in the world. Self-sacrifice for the nation and the aggression of the nation against other nations were the characteristics of fascism both in Italy and in Germany. Fascism in Germany had the added strength drived from the deliberate fomentation of hatred for Jews.

There is reason to believe that a parallel development has been taking place in India and some of the other third world countries. In India, the system of self-sufficient villages which secured customary employment to agricultural workers as well as village artisans provided security of life to the people as a whole. The disruption caused in this system first by foreign rule and then under an independent India rendered the people free from customary bonds, but increased their insecurity of life at the same time. Unemployment and insecurity of large sections of the people have been increasing in our country on account of phenomenal increase in population and a very lopsided economic development. A large number of young persons, educated and uneducated, remain unemployed, and the number of families living below the poverty line has been increasing all the time. The situation in many respects is similar to the one created by the disruption of feudalism and the growth of the capitalist system in Europe.

(to conclude in the next issue)

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