The INDIAN JOURNAL OF SOCIAL WORK Volume I MARCH 1941 Number 4 ...
INDIAN JOURNAL OF SOCIAL WORK
Volume I MARCH 1941 Number 4
THE INTER-COMMUNAL CONFLICT IN INDIA
In the opinion of many there is little hope for any real progress in India until a
satisfactory solution is found to the communal problem. In this article Dr. Asirvatham,
who is Reader in Politics in Madras University, analyses the primary and subsidiary causes
of communal conflict and suggests steps which may be taken towards developing a healthy
IN the national life of India to-day there is no problem which calls for a
more immediate and lasting solution than the problem of the inter-com-
munal conflict. Even the problem of British Imperialism, or of the
princes, or of the federation-to-be pales into insignificance when compared
Mahatma Gandhi is considered the greatest living Indian to-day because
he has given us a profound sense of national self-respect. But the man who
can find a permanent solution to the problem of national unity will be con-
sidered even greater than he. Posterity is certain to regard such a man the
greatest saviour of India in modern times. National self-respect becomes a
mere sentiment, devoid of all reality, if it is not augmented by national unity.
80 long as national unity is lacking and communal strife is rampant, we shall
continue to be a subject people and an object of derision to the outside
The problem of communalism is on the whole peculiar to India. It is
true that many of the smaller European countries, South Africa, the United
States, and Canada have their problems arising from the presence of minorities
in their midst. But these minorities are linguistic, racial, religious or
political. In India, on the other hand, the communal problem is all these and
The chief communal problem in our country is between the Hindus and
Muslims. In the Madras Province, however, it is between the Brahmins and
non-Brahmins, although it has never reached such proportions as the Hindu-
Muslim problem in North India. A further communal problem all over the
440 E. AS1RVATHAM
country, and particularly in the southern province is the problem between the
caste Hindus and the so-called Depressed Classes. The Christians of India as a
whole have not been much affected by communalism, although it must be said
in the interest of truth that in some parts of India, Indian Christian leaders
have at times tried to make common cause with the Muslims and Depressed
Classes against the Hindus. In some instances they have joined hands
with Anglo-Indians for purposes of social intercourse and the securing of
The Hindus form the bulk of the population of India. According to
the 1931 census, out of a total population of 353 millions, fully 68 per cent are
Hindus, 22 per cent are Muslims, 1.7 per cent are Christians, and a still
slighter percentage are Sikhs. Statistics show that the Mohammedans in-
crease faster than the Hindus. Further, Hinduism not being essentially a
missionary faith, has been steadily losing its numbers to both Christians and
Muslims. The Sikhs, being confined largely to the Punjab, do not constitute
a serious problem for the rest of India.
The Hindus largely predominate in the centre and south of India. In
the Madras Presidency they are no less than 88 per cent. They are in the
majority in Assam, Bihar, Orissa, the United Provinces, the Central India
tracts, Rajputana and Bombay. The Muslims practically monopolise the
North-West Frontier Province, Baluchistan, and Kashmir and are considerably
in excess in the Punjab, Eastern Bengal and Sind. They form about 32 per
cent in Assam, 15 per cent in the United Provinces and 11 per cent in Hydera-
bad. There are more Hindus living in Indian States governed by Muslim
Princes than Muslims living under Hindu Princes.
Seriousness of the Problem.
There is no doubt that the inter-communal
problem is becoming more and more serious every day. It threatens to lead
to a permanent civil war. The present generation of Indians have the respon-
sibility of either making the future of India or of marring it for years to come.
A wrong step taken at this juncture will lead to such awful results that one
shudders even to think of it.
At the bottom of the inter-communal problem is a profound sense of fear
and suspicion and gross misunderstanding. The Muslims do not trust the
Hindus and the Hindus in turn distrust the Muslims. The Muslim fear is that
the Hindu is very clever, and possibly cunning, and that by the art of palaver,
will keep the Muslim down as a hewer of wood and drawer of water. The
Hindu fear is that the Muslim is fanatic and bigoted and that, with the help
of the sword, he will strive to establish military supremacy over the whole of
India, making it a part of the larger Islamic world. Both these fears are
ill-founded and are based on old prejudices.
THE INTER-COMMUNAL CONFLICT IN INDIA 441
CAUSES OF COMMUNAL CONFLICT
The primary causes of communal conflict are economic, political and
psychological. The secondary or subsidiary causes are social, cultural, and
religious. Even to-day the communal conflict is confined largely to the educated
classes living in town and cities. But a good many selfish political leaders are
dragging the masses into the picture in order to advance their own interests.
In many parts of India, the Muslims occupy an infer-
ior economic position to that occupied by the Hindus. In the Punjab and
Bengal, where the Muslims form a comfortable majority, we are told that,
from the point of view of wealth, Muslims are behind the Hindus, many of the
landlords and money lenders being Hindus. In Bengal the Hindus pay more
than half the taxes, although they form only 43 per cent of the population.
In some forms of business, however, the Muslims are the entrepreneurs,
Hindus work for them. This is particularly true in the leather industry, tan-
ning, and beedi
manufacture. In towns and cities a good percentage of Muslims
are shop-keepers and traders. In the skilled trades, arts and handicrafts, the
Muslims have on the whole a better showing.
In many of the Government services, the Muslims are behind the Hindus
both as regards numbers and influence. This disparity is due largely to the fact
that Hindus took to western education much earlier than did the Muslims. In
competitive examinations for Government Service the Muslims have made a
poorer showing than the Hindus. One possible reason for this is that the Muslim
on the whole is not such an apt pupil as the Hindu, the high caste Hindu hav-
ing had a much longer tradition of book learning. To remedy this inequality
the Government of India introduced some years ago a system of communal
representation into the central services, according to which 25 per cent of the
posts were reserved for Muslims and 8$
per cent for Anglo-Indians, Indian
Christians, etc. For some years now there have been nominated to the I. C. S.
a certain number of Muslims who take the competitive examination at Delhi,
but who do not come out in the list of successful candidates. In the
provincial governments too, there is the communal rotation and nomination to
such posts as those of the Naib-Tahsildar and Deputy Collector.
Of late the problem of communal representation in the services has
taken a very serious turn in Bengal. Implementing a resolution of the
Legislative Assembly that 60 per cent of Government appointments hereafter
should be given to Muslims, 20 per cent to the Depressed Classes, and 20 per
cent to the rest, the Bengal Ministry decided to reserve 50 per cent of Govern-
ment posts to the Muslims. The Muslim argument in support of this position
is that the Muslims hitherto have had less than their share of the loaves and
fishes of office and that, in the name of efficiency and under the guise of com-
442 E. ASIRVATHAM
petitive examinations, many incompetent Hindus have been appointed to
responsible posts. It is further argued that book knowledge is not everything
and that what is required of an administrator is capacity to understand human
beings, to enlist their co-operation, and to execute orders. While all this may
be true—and there is no proof that any community has a monopoly of these
qualities—, as Macaulay and Trevelyan foresaw nearly a century ago, nothing
can really be an effective substitute for a right type of competitive examination.
The real position appears to be that the Muslims of Bengal, finding themselves
in a strong position, want to turn the tables on the Hindus.
The economic struggle is so keen that certain forms of business and
petty industry are monopolised by members of one community or another, and
no one from outside is given a chance to get into the close preserve. Not
long ago the beedi
manufacturers in a certain city put considerable pressure on
their workers to change over to the faith of their employers, if they wanted to
continue in employment. Disputing the oft-expressed claim that the com-
munal problem is essentially a religious one, Sir Sikandar Hyat Khan, the
Prime Minister of the Punjab, has recently said : "The communal problem is
not a religious problem, but is really a mundane, material problem."
The successive instalments of self-government, granted
from time to time, have not been an unmixed blessing. They have accentuat-
ed communalism and whetted the selfish desire to grab all that one can for
one's self and one's community. The Muslims have been quick to realise that
political power is passing from the hands of the British to Indian hands. They
contend that in the present circumstances of education, wealth, and general
progress, self-government really means government by the Hindu majority.
Because of this fear, the Muslims have been anxious to safeguard their
position by such devices as separate electorates, weightage, and nominations
to district boards, municipal councils, etc.
The pernicious system of separate electorates was first introduced as an
experimental measure after the Morley-Minto Reforms of 1909. But the
Montagu-Chelmsford Reforms and the Government of India Act of 1935 have
widened and strengthened it. The Macdonald Award of 1932 was really a
reward to the faithful. As things stand at present, a progressive individual
who wants to cut across the artificial communal barriers fixed by separate
electorates cannot do so without altogether foregoing his civic right to exercise
the vote. An Indian Christian, for instance, has to vote in the Christian con-
stituency, and for a Christian, whether he likes it or not. He is not allowed
to vote in the general constituency. Nor is a non-Christian permitted to seek
election from a Christian constitutency.
-Separate electorates which are in existence to-day for elections to the
THE INTER-COMMUNAL CONFLICT IN INDIA 443
provincial and central legislative chambers are spreading even to local and
municipal elections. Very recently separate electorates have been re-intro-
duced into the Calcutta Corporation on the plea that the Muslims, who form
only 25 per cent of the city's population, require special protection. Strange
as it may seem, in the Province, too, where the Muslims form a majority,
separate electorates are in existence. In the city, the minority is to be
protected against the majority, but in the Province the majority is to be pro-
tected against the minority. Surely a case of "Heads we win, tails you lose!"
Separatism is fast becoming the bane of Indian politics. It has spread
from the legislatures, district boards and municipal councils to administrative
services, and now threatens to invade even the cabinet system of government.
It is argued by some that, in the place of a homogeneous ministry repre-
senting the majority party in the legislature and the country, there should be
a composite cabinet, representing the different religions and other such
interests in the Province and the country, holding office for a fixed term of
years. Such a change, we are afraid, will not serve the true interests of
minorities any more than communal representation has served their interests
in the legislative field.
At the present moment there is very little of nobility or magnanimity
in Indian politics. It is supercharged with selfishness of the worst kind. The
situation has reached such a pass that vociferous minorities are able to hold up
the progress of the whole country by threats of sabotage. It is a clear case of
a tyranny of the minority over the majority. It is easily forgotten that
if minorities have their rights, so has the majority. Majorities and minorities
have a meaning only in reference to genuine differences as regards social,
economic and political principles, policies, and methods. But majorities and
minorities based on religious, caste, and class affiliations have no abiding
place in politics.
Some of the minorities suffer both from an in-
feriority and a superiority complex. The inferiority complex arises from the
realisation of the fact that they are not.so clever and nimble-witted as some
others, particularly the Brahmins. They are not so good as their rivals
as regards book learning, capacity for hard routine work, and ability to
The superiority complex in the case of the Muslims arises from the fact
that some centuries ago Muslim kings ruled India, although with the help of
both Muslim and Hindu ministers and administrators. The Muslims some-
times argue to themselves that from the point of view of physical strength and
prowess they are superior to the Hindus, and, therefore, there is no reason
why they should be deprived of their innate right to rule.
444 E. ASIRVATHAM
To sum up, the primary causes of inter-communal conflict are the in-
stinct of self-preservation, lust for power, and determination to find a place in
the sun. To these are added certain subsidiary causes.
SUBSIDIARY CAUSES OP COMMUNAL CONFLICT
(a) Social and Cultural.
The social and cultural cleavages between
the communities are becoming wider every day. Till a few years ago the
Muslims, who on the whole do not observe caste restrictions, had no hesitation
in accepting food and water at the hands of the Hindus. But now the
division is becoming more and more clearly marked, as one can see in separate
restaurants for different communities, particularly in the railway stations.
For this state of affairs the Hindus are largely to blame. Whatever merits
caste may have had in the past, caste as meaning anti-social restrictions has no
right to exist to-day. One can understand the feeling of a vegetarian in not
wanting to eat with a non-vegetarian. But distinctions other than vegetarian
non-vegetarian are meaningless.
Even in such matters as dress and the style of dressing one's hair, the
communities are drifting apart. Comparatively insignificant matters such as
cow slaughter and music before mosques, which can easily be kept under con-
trol, provided there is commonsense and goodwill on both sides, are allowed
to become the occasions for bloody communal riots. Hindu participation in
Muslim festivals and Muslim participation in Hindu festivals is becoming less
and less frequent. The Hindi-Urdu controversy is made to do service to
communalism. Inter-marriage between the communities is rare. Relatively
speaking, there are more inter-marriages between Hindus and Christians and
between Muslims and Christians than between Hindus and Muslims. There is
a fundamental social equality among the Muslims which is not so clearly
marked among the Hindus.
Instead of being a unifying factor, religion in India is
on the whole a divisive factor. The Muslim looks down upon the Hindu as
an idolater and polytheist. Hindu pantheism makes no appeal to him. The
Hindu, on the other hand, looks upon his own religion as highly philosophical
and exceedingly tolerant, and so broad-based as to include every religious faith
and sect in India. Mohammedanism, he believes, was well suited for the
nomadic conditions which prevailed in Arabia in the early days, but is too
elementary to suit modern times.
Hindu worship is mostly individualistic and at times noisy. Muslim
worship, on the other hand, is corporate, quiet, and orderly. Sacrifice of cows
and goats which forms a part of Muslim worship is repellent to the high caste
THE INTER-COMMUNAL CONFLICT IN INDIA 445
Many a Muslim feels that Mecca is his spiritual home, and to the extent
to which his ultimate loyalty is to a place and to a people outside India, he
gives the impression that he is not fully rooted and grounded in India.
WHAT IS THE SOLUTION ?
Multiplication and exaggeration of differences in all trivial matters and
the nursing of grievances, whether genuine or imaginary, are not ways along
which communal harmony can be achieved. Our starting point should be the
wholesome conviction that geographical and historical conditions have destin-
ed that Indians of all descriptions should live together in harmony and unity
on a basis of mutual understanding and accommodation. Our motto might
well be: Each community its own social, cultural, and religious existence
within well-defined and reasonable limits; all the communities one State. We
do not want a Hindu Raj, a Muslim Raj or a British Raj, or any combination
of these. We want an Indian Raj.
If our national leaders would only realise that our very existence as a
country and a people is at stake, they would not indulge in propagating such
untenable propositions as "India, a land of two nations," or a "confedera-
tion of Hindu India and Muslim India." Instead of confining the area of co-
operation to members of their own caste, class or community, they would ex-
tend it to include the whole country. India does not want leaders who fan
the communal flame and make an amicable settlement difficult of attainment
by their exaggerations and half-truths. She wants men and women filled with
a passion for national self respect, unity, strength, and justice. Once the
necessary psychological attitude, viz. " the will to co-operate, " is adopted,
problems which appear to be insoluble are bound to vanish into thin air. Em-
phasis on minority claims and interests is capable of endless multiplication
until India becomes a congeries of innumerable tribes, sects, and self-seekers,
and no majority is left. Questions such as the creation of a Tamil province or
an Andhra province, protection of the rights of non-Brahmins, etc., should all
be approached from the angle of national unity and solidarity.
It is too late in the day to argue that the different communities of India
belong to different racial stocks and that they can never live in peace. The
fact of the matter is that a considerable percentage of present-day Muslims
and Christians are converts from the Hindu fold and are flesh of their flesh and
bone of their bone. Even supposing that there is racial heterogeneity in
India, it must be remembered that there has also been in the past a great deal
of racial intermixture. What science teaches is that no race is pure anywhere
in the world ; all are mongrels—except perhaps the Jews. If it be true that
that the Celt, the Saxon, the Dane, and the Norman have coalesced into the
446 E. ASIRVATHAM
modern Englishman, and the blood of every conceivable European nationality
has entered into the blood-stream of the modern American, it is absurd
to claim that the Hindu and Muslim can never unite on the racial plane
and form a strong nation.
In India we must cultivate the habit of mind which says that racially we
are one. History shows that even assumed racial relationship has acted as a
cementing factor. The psychological feeling that we are one is much more
important than the anthropological proof that we are one. From whatever
part of India we may hail and whatever be the religious community or caste to
which we may belong, we feel more at home with fellow-Indians, than say
with the Chinese, Japanese, British, Germans, or Russians. This may be an
irrational and mystical feeling. But it is there, and we must make the most
of it if Indian nationality is to become strong and vigorous. We shall do well
to cultivate a little bit of Coueism or auto-suggestion in our daily life and
contacts. We should develop that habit of mind which says : "Every Indian:
the Pathan, the Punjabi, the Bengali, the Gujerati, the Mahratta, the Andhra,
the Tamil, and the Malayalee is equally my brother."
A wholesome affection and love for the country which gave us birth is
undoubtedly an important corrective to exaggerated communalism. No Indian
child should be allowed to grow up without developing an intense love for his
village, district, province, and country. Indian mountains and rivers, plains
and valleys, historical monuments and ruins should rouse the tender feelings
of every Indian. Indian legends and stories of heroes and heroines should
become the common property of all. If it be true that a naturally defined
territory or geographical unit is an essential condition of nationality, it must
be confessed that we have not made full use of the existing geographical
unity. Except for some cracks in the Himalayas, India forms a distinct
geographical unit marked off from the rest of the world. Therefore it seems
altogether futile to speak of dividing India into Hindu India, Muslim India,
Sikh India, and Christian India. India is our national home and the bound-
aries are clearly marked. This does not mean that there are barbed wires
around it or a Maginot or Siegfried line shutting out foreigners. The gates
are left open to all friendly people who are willing to come and identify them-
selves completely with us.
Communalism can further be combated by stressing the unity of ideas
and ideals which underlie Indian culture. The consciousness that we have a
mission to perform to the rest of mankind can help us to forget our differences
and work together for a common purpose. Greece at the height of her glory
made a great contribution to art, literature, philosophy, and politics. Rome
made her contribution to law, order, and practical administration. In modern
THE INTER-COMMUNAL CONFLICT IN INDIA 447
times Great Britain has contributed the immortal plays of Shakespeare, wise
statesmanship, and the art of governing people through much bungling.
America has made valuable contributions in the utilisation of matter for the
alleviation of human suffering. India, too, can make her great contribution
to mankind when she becomes the master of her soul. She can demonstrate in
no uncertain terms the victory of the spirit over matter and the power of truth
and non-violence in all human relations. There is already a common allegi-
ance to the ideals behind charka—the ideals of simplicity, purity, truth, non-
violence, and concern for the toiling masses. To these passive virtues we
should add active, rugged virtues such as bravery, courage, frankness in
speech and action, and service to others.
One of the primary causes of communalism being econ-
omic, some of the ardent spirits in the country believe that socialism may be the
way out of our difficulty. When the State provides for the needs of every one
who is able and willing to work, it seems reasonable to hope that the present
keen struggle for existence will come to be greatly modified, if not cease alto-
gether. To reward people according to the socially useful labour performed
may be the best form of social justice, but the world has not yet devised the
necessary machinery for the realisation of this end. The hope that Russia
may be able to lead the way has been dashed to the ground by her recent un-
provoked and aggressive activities. Even if socialism may not be possible in
our day, a much larger degree of social justice than what obtains to-day is an
absolute necessity. Among other things, it may help to assuage communal feel-
ings. We should work for a state of affairs in which family ethics will take
the place of " jungle ethics. "
A drastic reduction in salaries attached to government posts may prove
to be a blessing in disguise. The huge salaries paid to our public servants are
altogether out of keeping with the poverty of the country. Great Britain does
not pay its Ministers and civil servants as lavishly as does India. The salary
of the Japanese Prime Minister is roughly 1/5 th of that received by Indian
Prime Ministers in non-Congress provinces. If an all-round salary cut is
brought about, it is possible that there will not be the same scramble for
government posts as at present, and consequent communal squabble. Govern-
ment service should become a vocation which a person takes up out of a
sense of duty. The satisfaction of rendering public service should become a
reward in itself.
The economic causes of communalism may be partially removed by the
opening up of other avenues of making a living besides government posts.
448 E. ASIRVATHAM
The gradual industrialisation of the country and the revival of cottage indus-
tries on a large scale are steps in the right direction. There should be a chain
of swadeshi shops and industries all through the country, employing Indians
of all descriptions solely on the basis of efficiency and expert knowledge.
As regards communal representation in public services, it should be
borne in mind that it is necessary to keep in proper balance the right of each
community to its legitimate share of public posts and the right of the nation
at large to receive its money's worth. Other things being equal, there should
be a due proportion between the strength of any one community in the country
and its representation in the services. But it must be remembered that the
right of the citizen to be safeguarded against inefficient and worthless officials
is much greater than the right of every caste and community to its exact
mathematical percentage in the services.
(2) Political and National.
It is the paramount duty of every parent
and teacher to inculcate in boys and girls a healthy national outlook so that
when they grow up they will instinctively place the national good above
their own narrow or selfish good. Willingness to sacrifice for a common cause
and mutual trust should become a part of their nature.
The majority community should give ample proof of its sincerity in
striving for the welfare of the minorities. The minorities in their turn should
give up their attitude of fear, suspicion, and jealousy and the habit of reading
motives even into the most innocent of acts. Both the majority and minority
communities should strive to abolish separate electorates which are a blight
and a curse, and the futility of which even their keen advocates have come to
realise. All that separate electorates have succeeded in doing is to divide
India into numerous warring communities and to place a premium on fanati-
cism, bigotry, and personal and group selfishness. If the transition from
separate to joint electorates cannot be made all at once, joint electorates with a
reservation of seats may be tried as an intermediate stage. In localities where
members of one community or another are found in large numbers, by a slight
re-drawing of the boundaries of the constituency it is possible to obtain roughly
the same representation for the minorities as obtains to-day under separate
electorates.1 The good citizen should vote for a man not because he belongs to
the same caste or community, but because, in his judgment, he is the best
available candidate for the office in question. Even if separate electorates
are retained for some time longer, opportunity should be given to progressive
individuals of all communities to vote in a general constituency. The present
arrangement is such that, instead of pulling up the backward to the level
A suggestion which I owe to Mr. V. Devika Char, M. A,, a research student in the
University of Madras,
THE INTER-COMMUNAL CONFLICT IN INDIA 449
of the progressive, the progressive is dragged down to the level of the
People should he trained to realise the fact that there is a political
etiquette just as much as there is a social etiquette. Party Government ought
not to mean partisan government. No one has a right to sling mud upon
one's political opponents. Hitting below the belt is unworthy of political
parties as well as of individuals. Keeping on repeating a lie till it appears
to be true is a game which even a party politician will do well to avoid. Ne-
gative criticism is not only injurious to the general welfare of the country but
also corrodes the soul of the person who makes it. If a community has a
genuine objection to the Wardha Scheme of education, to a national flag or a
national song, it is the duty of that community to evolve something better
which will meet with the general approval of thoughtful people among all
To allay the fears of minorities, certain fundamental rights may be in-
coi'porated in the preamble to the constitution, remembering at the same
time that the best safeguard is the mutual good will and commonsense of the
communities. While fundamental rights cannot be enforced in any effective
way, they can give to all concerned considerable psychological satisfaction.
Leaders of all communities should put their heads together to evolve a
national dress and national headgear. This does not mean that there should
be no local or provincial dress. All that it means is that one need not be tied
down to it slavishly, especially in these days of rapid transport, frequent
travel and abundant social intercourse. Attempt should be made to cultivate
an Indian cosmopolitanism as regards food, drink, and social customs in
general. In all these matters, the guiding principle should be, "Prove all
things and hold fast that which is good."
A national language is undoubtedly an absolute necessity. Seeing that
spoken Hindustani is the nearest approach to a national language, every effort
should be made to popularise it. Whether the Urdu or the Devanagri Script
should be used is immaterial to most of us. Perhaps both scripts might be
used; or better still the Roman script might be adopted. The use of a
national language does not mean the destruction of the principal provincial
languages. Every Indian child should be given a thorough grounding in his
own mother tongue and a working knowledge of a national language as well
as of an international language like the English. Such an accomplishment is
not difficult of realisation when we remember that Indians are good linguists
and that children in many of the smaller European countries learn three
languages with great ease and are able to write and converse in all of them.
Voltaire once boasted that the French language and literature had made
450 E . A S I R V A T H A M
more conquests than Charlemagne. National language and literature make
for pride and reverence. A well-known English Professor, J. H. Rose,
considers common language to be the most powerful political influence.
According to another authority, Joseph, language is the most obvious element
of nationality. More than any other factor of nationality, a common language
can break down the barriers of sectionalism in India.
Reference has already been made to the necessity
of cultivating that frame of mind, especially among the educated, which looks
upon every Indian as a brother and fellow-worker in the national cause.
Sectionalism and communalism will die an instantaneous death if our com-
munal leaders possess a vivid realisation of the low status to which they
have reduced themselves and their country in the eyes of the outside world.
Whether we belong to the martial north or the " benighted " south, whether
we belong to the " H i n d u n a t i o n " or the " M u s l i m n a t i o n , " we are all
given the position of helots once we leave the shores of India. We are looked
upon as " a brand of niggers " or a mere appendage of Great Britain; and for
this state of affairs we have none to thank but ourselves, No nation on earth
will stand the humiliating position assigned to the countrymen of ours in South
Africa, Kenya, the Fiji Islands, Ceylon, and even Burma. Yet we stand help-
less because we are disunited and are unwilling to think and act in terms of
nationalism, even when Great Britain has declared her willingness to set us on
the road to freedom.
To perpetuate communalism—whether practised by a majority or a
minority—is to brand ourselves as an inferior and semi-civilised people for all
time to come. There can be no doubt that communalism is a negation of na-
tionalism. We cannot be both communalists and nationalists. Communalism
means a perpetuation of fissiparous tendencies. So long as communalism
takes the form of a healthy family pride and means greater effort for the
educational, social, and cultural uplift of the members of one's community,
without standing in the way of the development of others, there may be no
objection to it. But if it means, as it often does, the dividing of India into
warring communities, each community trying to secure as much as it can for
itself at the expense of others, and each one sticking its tongue out at the
others, there can be no justification for it. Communalists often draw a false
analogy between family devotion and devotion to one's community. It is
conveniently forgotten that those who benefit by communalism are often the
most selfish and bigoted members of their community who use their communal
cloak for the advancement of their own ends.
(4) Social and Cultural.
It is the duty of every educated Indian to
encourage social intercourse and inter-dining between members of all com-
THE INTER-COMMUNAL CONFLICT IN INDIA 451
munities and no community. It is high time that Hindu ' cha '
were replaced by wholesome Indian ' cha.'
There is no justification in
this day and generation for such exclusiveness as indicated by " F o r Brahmins
only" in cafes and restaurants.
Strenuous attempts should be made to bring about a cross-fertilisation
of cultures. Those who study Urdu as their mother tongue might be compelled
to study a little Hindi and vice versa.
Hindus should be encouraged to study
the great Muslim poets and writers and the Muslims to study the great Hindu
poets and writers. Popular lectures should be arranged emphasising the
nearness of Islamic and Hindu cultures as they have developed side by side in
While not actively encouraging inter-communal marriages, we should
not do anything to discourage them so long as they are rooted in a unity of
mind and spirit and take place under proper auspices. Until the whole of
Indian society becomes inter-marriageable,
caste and communalism in some form
or another are likely to continue. More than other countries India needs a
practical demonstration of the Brotherhood of Man rooted in the Fatherhood
The policy of segregation in streets and wards and the setting up of
parallel institutions are most deplorable. The various communities of India,
through the centuries in which they have lived in close proximity with each
other, have so interpenetrated one another that it is both undesirable and un-
workable to separate them geographically, socially or culturally.
Communal schools should be replaced by national schools. If, during
the transitional period, it is necessary for communal schools to continue, such
schools should receive no government grants unless they are willing to admit
at least 25 per cent of their total strength from other communities. Indoctrin-
ation of pupils in any religious or sectarian creed should be prohibited in all
State-aided schools—the proper place for such teaching being theological
schools and colleges. When special grants are given for the education of
backward communities, the children should, as far as possible, be required to
study in public, as against separate communal, schools.
Attempt should be made to stamp out communal riots by strong action,
knowing as we do that such riots quite often begin in a lie or false propaganda.
Unfounded rumours of kidnapping or stabbing are frequently the cause of
communal riots. It is necessary that those who bring about such riots should
be given an exemplary or deterrent punishment, while, as a matter of fact,
they are often let off easily in order to allay communal feelings. Goondas,
or organised bands of rowdies, in every community should be liquidated.
For the prevention of communal riots and the promotion of communal
452 E. ASIRVATHAM
harmony, there should be standing committees of men and women belonging
to different communities whose chief business will be not to act as advocates
of their respective groups, but to keep the contending parties in good relations
with each other. These committees may be co-ordinated under a provincial
department of administration on communal harmony. Members of these
committees should be people of wide sympathy, free from prejudice, com-
manding the confidence and goodwill of every one in the neighbourhood.
They will be the "bridge-builders" between the communities, solely concerned
with the creation and maintenance of a neighbourhood spirit.
If communal riots are to be kept under check, it is very essential to curb
the propaganda press. While a certain amount of latitude may be allowed as
to where facts end and propaganda begins, restraint must be placed upon
newspapers which make scurrilous attacks upon individuals, distort facts, and
fan the communal flame.
There can be no doubt that for the most part religion,
as it is practised in India to-day, is a divisive factor. This does not mean,
as is often supposed, that religion is the curse of India. The curse is
irreligious and unworthy views of religion. Religion " t r u e and undefiled"
brings men together. But religion meaning shibboleths and catchwords,
outworn rituals and ceremonies, drives people apart. The true meaning of
religion is that it is a perpetual reminder of man's imperfection. We as a
people cannot be said to make any progress so long as we fail to distinguish
the essentials of religion from non-essentials—the essentials being love of God
and love of man or, to state it a little more concretely, a passionate devotion
to brotherhood, justice, freedom, truth, and non-violence. What God re-
quires of every one, whether he be a Hindu, Muslim, Christian, Sikh or Parsi,
is " t o do justice, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with G o d . " It is
obvious that cowslaughter and music before mosques are not such heinous
crimes as murder or theft. Righteousness and brotherhood are more essential
than ceremonial correctness or conventionality.
In the interest of national unity and communal goodwill, it is time to
call a halt to proselytism, but not to genuine conversion which is the fun-
damental right of every individual. Although law cannot prevent or regulate
proselytism, sound public opinion can and should. Hinduism's difficulty
should never be regarded as the opportunity of Islam, Christianity or Sikhism.
The Hindus, in their turn, should set their own house in order as regards
caste, untouchability, temple entry and social customs in general which do
not fit into modern conditions, remembering that caste and untouchability are
the parents of communalism.
We should learn to use commonsense or rational methods in studying
T H E INTER-COMMUNAL CONFLICT IN INDIA 453
Scriptures and in approaching religious questions. Blind partisanship and
bigotry have no justification to-day. We have no right to reject religion just
because some religious people have been bigots or fanatics. God requires not
outer conformity but inner surrender. He calls for circumcision of the heart,
and not circumcision of the flesh. The different Scriptures of the world
contain the Word of God in varying degrees, but it is high presumption to
claim that God's revelation is found closed between the covers of any single
book. The common cry "Religion in d a n g e r " has no meaning. It is not
religion which is in danger, but the so-called religious people who are in
danger of losing their souls. Any religion which has truth and vitality in it
and meets the deepest desires of men's hearts can be trusted to defend itself.
The educated and cultured people of India can do much to promote
communal harmony by a respectful and sympathetic study of each other's
religions. It is their business to arrange for periodical inter-religious gather-
ings and conventions where the best in all faiths can be studied and pondered
over. Only by such methods can true tolerance be promoted—not tolerance
which is another name for indifference, but tolerance born of mutual sym-
pathy, study, and understanding. The French proverb says " To know all is
to forgive a l l . "
If within living memory, Hindus have endowed Muslim mosques and
Muslims have endowed Hindu temples, is it impossible to expect such frater-
nisation to-day 1
An enlightened priesthood in all the communities is a paramount
necessity of the day. Special attention should be paid to the proper training
of priests, moulvis, and pandits in view of the fact that half-educated and
fanatical priests can easily rouse people's passions into a frenzy.
While sectarian and religious indoctrination in schools is to be con-
demned, children should be given the best possible moral and spiritual
training. For this purpose the various Scriptures and songs and devotional
literature of India along with the lives of the great men and women of all com-
munities should be freely used.
Every enlightened Indian will do well to avoid the specious argument,
"I am a Hindu, Muslim or Christian first, and afterwards an I n d i a n . " In
ordinary circumstances the two loyalties—loyalty to one's religion and loyalty
to one's country—do not clash. If and when they do clash, the good citizen
should prefer the higher loyalty to the lower. When the highest principles of
one's religion come into conflict with the claims of one's family, caste,
community or nation, one should undoubtedly decide in favour of the former.
One should obey God rather than man. But there is no justification for the
wide-spread belief that a good Hindu, Musalman or Christian should consider
454 E. ASIRVATHAM
every public question first from the point of view of his own community and
only secondarily from the angle of the nation. It is a shame that in recent
months even fresh taxation measures in the legislatures have been examined
exclusively from the point of view of the members of one community or an-
other and supported or criticised solely from that point of view.
Communalism and provincialism are two of the greatest stumbling
blocks in the path of India's national progress. In whatever constitutional
changes that may be made in the near future, special care should be taken not
to abandon the degree of centralisation which we enjoy to-day. To substitute
confederation for federation, as some suggest, is to undo the good work of the
past and to open the flood gates of separatism-sectionalism and communalism.
Mere condemnation of communalism and provincialism will not destroy them.
We must study and ponder over them in order that we may remove their root
causes and substitute for them a healthy nationalism which has for its motto
" l i v e and help others to l i v e " as well as a healthy feeling of racial integrity
which will enable us to look upon all Indians, irrespective of their physical,
linguistic, and religious differences as equally our brothers.
It is fortunate that Indian nationalism, even to-day when the nationalist
fever is high, is not the aggressive type of nationalism found in the Western
world. It is midway between the European concept of aggressive nationalism
and the federal concept of world citizenship. The problem for the future is to
reconcile the claims of legitimate nationalism with the demands of interna-
tionalism. This task can be undertaken only by those who are absolutely free
from communal inhibitions and national and racial prejudices.