How To Combat Communalism

Communalism, Fundamentalism and Obscurantism

Aloke Mukherjee

It has become a fashion amongst most of the progressive democrats, to use communalism, fundamentalism and religious obscurantism as mutually exchangeable terms expressing as one and the same phenomenon. For one thing even the Marxists of different hues follow suit. They fail to understand that this trend tends to help not only to cover up the sinister ideology of communalism and the activities based on it but also to expand it. As a result a large section of progressive democrats flood the media agitating for the movement against hijab in Iran or opportunity of women’s education in Afghanistan instead of standing against the imperialist conspiracies of "war between two civilisations". More worsening is that their chorus goes on when the same people remain silent on the attacks on the opportunity of education of minorities, especially the minority girls, the most affected ones.

Communalism is an active ideology of an alliance of classes to lead a community against another in violent as well as nonviolent manner. Those community divides may be based on religion, language, ethnic groups or something else. The objective being to suppress the other community as well as to drive a wedge between two communities to serve the interest of the ruling clique. This communal ideology has nothing to do with religion, language or ethnicity, but to utilise differences among them to serve the political, economic and societal interest of a small group.

Since the real objective is to establish hegemony over political, economic and societal life of the country it generally develops basing on majority community. Because of its majority character this majoritarian force is aggressive by nature. This aggression is not always violent, but all-pervasive ideological, cultural, economic and political aggression. So, it can take both violent and nonviolent form. In this situation if democratic forces are weak or fail to carry on their duty properly, the minority people are forced to organise themselves to resist attacks of the majority. This is also one form of community-based organisation, communalism in the broad sense of the term. But in general, this minority communalism is defensive by nature.

Naturally the attitude to treat majority and minority, aggressive and defensive, communalism at par weakens the democratic value. The duty of the democratic forces is to stand by the side of the minority against any attack or attempt to suppress them, by violent or nonviolent method. This will on the one hand weaken the majoritarian communalism and on the other stop minority people to be led towards minority communalism. Any attempt to treat the weak and aggressed at par with the strong and aggressive forces, helps the latter.

In case of communalism, religion is only a weapon to conspire effectively. A small group spreads communalism in the society to establish or to ensure its political, economic and societal hegemony. They do it to divide the oppressed and exploited people on the basis of communal hatred to fulfil their own interests, and to divide the oppressed and exploited people.

Fundamentalism is to obey the religious scriptures and ‘blind’ beliefs based on religious scriptures as unchangeable. Its harmful effects are limited among the people of a particular religion, people of other religions are not affected by it. As a result, those particular people remain bounded by some types of narrow and retrogressive ideas. When a community is led on the basis of such narrow and retrogressive ideas its leaders are always afraid that the shell might burst.

So at the least provocation or any influence of progressiveness the leaders try to unite the people of same faith, so that people do not go outside the orbit. Then communalists attempt to use it in their own interest.

Though fundamentalism and communalism are not one and the same, communalists can utilise it for their gain. It is true not only for minority people but also for the majority. Rather being afraid of progressives within Hindus the majoritarian communalism seeks resort to fundamentalism within that religion. Thus, the Hindu fundamentalists try to enforce caste divide, food restrictions and strong action against 'love jihad'. Communalists accelerate it to lead towards violent communalist activities.

On the other the fundamentalists among the Muslims in their attempt to oppose any effort to ban 'triple talaq' in a haste as attack on religion ends up in mobilisation based on religion.

It is true that the fundamentalists in general want their ideology to be pursued within their religious community. In that sense all fundamentalists are not communal. Attempts are made to remove the difference between communalism and fundamentalism. And the more the majority fundamentalism is drawn in the conspiracy of majority communalism, the more the fundamentalists of minority community try to unite amongst themselves as defensive measure and the communalists working within minorities take the field. The process goes on repeating and communalism gains upper-hand.

Third question is on religious obscurantism. It is blind faith on a particular religion. An obscurantist leads the life believing the religious instructions blindly like a frog in the well. They wish to find liberty through religious rites. Such is their frog-in-the-well mindset that they cannot believe men had stepped upon the moon, even thinking like that is sin. Such people can be found both among Hindus and Muslims. Since they live depending upon religion, in general they do not have liking for other religions.

But if they can be influenced by communal propaganda that their religion is at danger because of another religion, they turn out to be militant communalists.

Even then so long the obscurantists are not threatened by the possibility of attack from some other religion they remain in the shell of themselves. Their obscurantism does not take the shape of communalism.

Yet in the name of progressiveness a strong section of so-called rationalists pinpoint their attack against obscurantists and fundamentalists as soft targets, instead of the communalists who are organised force politically and economically.

Referring to Feuerbach Marx said: Feuerbach, consequently,(in another text it is 'therefore'), does not see that the "religious sentiment" is itself a social product, and that the abstract individual whom he analyses belongs to a particular form of society. [Karl Marx, Theses On Feuerbach, VII, Marx-Engels Selected Works, P 29]

Many carry on hair splitting debates on whether the present rule is Hindutvabadi fascist, or Hindu fascist,or religious fascist or some other type. True 'Without revolutionary theory there cannot be revolution', so such hair splitting is necessary.

But there is no difference among all democrats that today majority communalism is a grave danger. And this danger is being aggravated by the present dispensation of rulers at the centre. Nor is there any difference that in India the main reason of the backwardness of the minorities is lack of education due to historical, social and economic reasons. The Sachar Commission Report brought to the fore that the minorities have been kept backward historically. After the Report was placed the then UPA had to take certain affirmative steps for the education of Muslims. One of them was to introduce scholarships for the religious minority students at the school level. As a result, the number of minority students attending schools increased, important part being number of girl students also increased visibly. One survey shows that nearly 50 lakh students utilised that opportunity, half of which were girls. [The Telegraph, 22 December, 2022]

The present rulers in their two terms have attacked this twice. First, not more than two of a family would be entitled to scholarship. Then making right to education as excuse they decided since up to eighth standard school education is free and government assistance is given, no further assistance is necessary and it is being withdrawn. Their argument is scholarship is being continued from class ix. But the scholarship was to bring the students who are historically backward economicallly and educationally. Any sociallly conscious person will understand assistaances such as fees, books or midday meal have reduced the rate of dropouts but those who are socially, economically and educationally backward need extra assistance.

This is what one may call nonviolent communalism.

Similarly attempts are there to withdraw the Moulana Azad National Scholarship for five years for the minority community students pursuing higher education like M Phil or PhD.

But voices of protest from the democrats are feeble. Many democrats do not keep information of such nonviolent but heinous communalism going on inside the country. But the same people raise their voices on Iran or Qatar. In reality this sensitiveness has two sources: inherent superiority complex which breeds communalism unconsciously and the propaganda machinery of the US imperialists.

Otherwise, the same people of India who are so much concerned on hijab are totally insensitive when arrangements are on to throw a large number of girl students by withdrawing scholarship.

True, fundamentalism and obscurantism should also be opposed. For that the spread of knowledge about the world, society and science is needed within the particular community. Spread of education will enhance it. Communalists are opposed to it.

Communalism essentially leads a section of society against another serving the interest of a particular class or clique in India. That clique is aligned with imperialism, big capital and feudalism. Fight against communalism means to advance towards wiping out that clique. Difference must be drawn among fundamentalism, religious obscurantism and communalism so that the fight against communalism doesn’t get diluted.


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Vol 56, No. 17-20, Oct 22 - Nov 18, 2023