Communal Violence: Definition and Meaning

The phrase "communal violence" was first used by European colonial authorities in the early 20th century as they struggled to control escalations of violence between various religious, ethnic, and racial groups in their colonies, particularly in Africa and South Asia. The terms ethnic violence, non-state conflict, violent civil disorder, "minority unrest, mass racial violence, inter-communal violence, and ethnoreligious violence are also other terms for community violence used in various parts of the world.

The perpetrators of communal violence feel solidarity for their own communities and select their victims based on membership in those organisations. Communal violence can cross ethnic or community boundaries. The phrase refers to disputes, riots, and other acts of violence between groups belonging to various religions or ethnicities.

Meaning of Communal Violence

Communal violence occurs when members of two different religious or ethnic communities turn on one another, motivated by animosity, emotional rage, exploitation, societal prejudice, and social neglect. The high level of cohesiveness between one group and another is based on conflict and polarisation. The "enemy" community members are the targets of the attack. In communal riots, there is typically no leadership that could effectively manage and limit the riot scenario. Thus, it may be claimed that resentment, wrath, and retribution are the key driving forces behind community violence.

History of Communal Violence

The political elite in post-British India is preserving the bloody legacy of the Middle Ages only for their own political purposes and the benefits that such riots provide. The majority of India's pre-mediaeval invaders settled there and assimilated into the nation's rich culture. The Islamic conquests, however, were unique. Under the pretext of religion, the conquerors committed mass murder, forced conversions, and the implantation of a foreign Arab-Turkic-Persian civilization.

As a result, there has always been animosity between the two main religions. The hostility between the two communities has only grown as a result of the establishment of Pakistan in the name of religion and the inability of Indian governments to close the gap between the two groups after independence. These conquerors extolled their faith as the last and ideal religion of God, claiming that it was their divine right to subjugate the non-Muslim globe and impose their culture on the local populace.

This invasion mindset ran counter to the conquered people's spiritual convictions, resulting in a divide that was never bridged. One cannot help but concur that this was a clash of civilizations between the ruling class and the ruled, not only a religious one.

The conquerors had previously been successful in their goal in Persia and other Gulf nations, and they had rejected Judaism and Christianity as imperfect forms of Islam, but the locals in India had a different reaction, and the ruled persisted in their resistance throughout. Since that time, Indian society has continued to be permanently divided along sociocultural lines between the two communities.

V. S. Naipaul, a Nobel Prize laureate, wrote in his book Half a Life that "Islam has had a disastrous effect on converted peoples. You must erase your history and your past if you want to be converted. It must be stamped on, and you must declare that "my ancestral culture does not exist; it is irrelevant."

Hindus' attitudes towards both the previous and new rulers underwent a significant shift following the end of imperialist Islamic rule in 1857 and the transfer of power from the Muslims to the British. While "the Hindus looked upon British rule as deliverance from Muslim yoke and considered English education a blessing, the Muslims, in their eagerness to preserve their religion and religious views, rejected English education. The British emperor disliked mediating the dispute between the two populations.

They viewed the entire situation as one of law and order, placing emphasis on racial harmony in order to avert a breakdown in law and order and nothing else. Post-Mogul historians frequently discussed the Indo-Arab composite culture of this region but neglected the people's damaged psyches. Despite more than a thousand years of coexistence, Hindus and Muslims have always maintained a social distance from one another.

The Khilafat Movement, which was established by Muslims to fight the British for the restoration of the Ottoman Empire, was joined by Hindus at Mahatma Gandhi's invitation; however, this unity was only momentary. Communal violence scenario as it exists today: Although India is a secular state according to its constitution since independence there have been occasional outbreaks of widespread violence. Conflicts between communities and politics based on religion have risen in recent years.

Reasons of Communal Violence

Following are the major reasons of communal violence −

  • Historical Factors − The two-nation idea and India's partition history led to a sense of distrust and communalism among the various groups of people.

  • Political Factors − The British "divide and rule" strategy and later "identity politics" practiced by political parties have encouraged intergroup conflict.

  • Economic Factors − Many Indians have struggled to accept liberal ideas and a scientific and technological mindset.

  • Socio-Economic Factors − The lack of representation of the Muslim minority in public services as a result of educational backwardness contains the seeds of inter-communal violence.

  • Cultural Factors − Conservative and fundamentalist ideologies are supported by orthodox community members.

  • Social Media − Greater amounts of fake news and hate campaigns are responsible for the growth of riots and tensions within communities.

  • Lack of Strong Action − The factors also include police inaction or inaction that is not swift or strong.


Communal violence can be reduced with impartial administration and state government adoption of the Supreme Court's police reform orders. It should be mandated that peace committees be established everywhere. The common people's faith in the neighborhood police must be restored through civil society organizations or NGOs.

The perpetrators of communal violence feel solidarity for their own communities and select their victims based on membership in those organisations. Communal violence can cross ethnic or community boundaries.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q1. When did communal violence start in India?

Ans. Mumbai experienced one of the earliest significant communal riots in August 1893, which resulted in roughly 100 fatalities and 800 injuries. The years 1921 through 1940 were a very challenging time period.

Q2. Which are the biggest riots in India?

Ans. The "Great Calcutta Killing," also known as the Calcutta Riots of 1946, were four days of violent between Hindu and Muslim. Between August 16 and August 19, 1946, 5,000 to 10,000 people died and about 15,000 were injured.

Q3. What is the role of the police in communal violence?

Ans. The police's job in cases of inter-communal violence is to apprehend troublemakers, disperse rioters who have gathered in one location, guard against looting and arson, stop the spread of rumours that could incite members of other communities in other districts and states, and uphold public order.

Q4. What are the major communal violences in India?

Ans. The notable incidents include the riots in Gujarat in 1969, the anti-Sikh riots in 1984, the riots in Bhagalpur in 1989, the violence in Kashmir in 1989, the burning of the Godhra train, the riots in Gujarat in 2002, the riots in Muzaffarnagar in 2013, and the riots in Delhi in 2020.

Updated on: 08-May-2023


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