Social Scientist. v 18, no. 200-01 (Jan-Feb 1990) p. 3.

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Communalism and India's Past**

It is difficult to define community and communalism. The community can be formed on the basis of ethnicity, profession, territorial habitation, caste affiliation, and last but not the least on the basis of religious loyalties. When we think of communalism we think of religious communities. In India communalism is particularly seen in the light of the nature of relation between the Hindus and the Muslims, although in recent times the community organised on the basis of Sikh religion is being given an aggressive identity.

Basically religious beliefs, rituals and practices arise and develop in man's continuous struggle to overcome the obstacles presented by nature and equally so in man's struggle against man on social issues. When people find it difficult to explain the difficulties presented by nature rationally they take to miraculous and superstitious explanations. These give rise to a plethora of gods and goddesses as we have in the Rig Veda where most divinities represent beneficient or malevolent forces of nature.

Again, when privileged groups or social classes find it difficult to maintain their power and privileges based on an unequal share of the produce made available by peasants, artisans and others, they devise superstitious measures to collect taxes and tributes. Similarly when the mass of the people burdened with disabilities fight for social justice they invoke the aid of the god who is credited with the creation of free and equal human beings. Thus religion is used and elaborated by both the privileged and the underprivileged sections of society but more so by the former because the religious ideology of the privileged classes, as can be shown in the Indian situation, is turned into the dominant ideology which is ingrained in the masses of the people.

Religion played the same role in precapitalist societies in ancient and medieval times as various types of ideology play in capitalist and other societies in modern times. Thus the advent of such religions as Buddhism, Christianity and Islam helped to reform and reorganise society and economy on healthier lines. Social norms introduced by

* Formerly Professor of History, Delhi University, Delhi.

** Mamidipudi Venkatarangaiyya Memorial Lecture delivered at the XIV Session of the Andhra Pradesh History Congress, Kakatiya University, Warangal, February 1990.

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