SURANJAN DAS *
Communal Violence in Twentieth Century Colonial Bengal: An Analytical Framework
Communalism in the context of Hindu-Muslim antagonism in India is usually viewed in terms of the political experience. It was hoped both by the British and Indian ruling classes that the division of the subcontinent along religious lines would restore communal amity which had been badly shaken during the 'prelude to the partition*. But this was a fond hope. The spate of communal violence after the assassination of Mrs. Gandhi and the recent killings in U.P., Gujarat and Delhi have reinforced doubts in many quarters about the secular foundations of India's political structure. Similarly, East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) had witnessed spates of Hindu-Muslim riots in the post-1947 period which caused periodic influx of Hindu refugees across the borders to India and very few Hindus now inhabit that country. Communalism thus continues to be a live issue in the sub-continent. This has tended to make most of the studies on the topic highly subjective. The present paper seeks to highlight aspects of continuity and change in communal violence in twentieth century colonial Bengal which have implications for understanding the pattern of contemporary rioting in the sub-continent.
Studies on Communalism in India tend to fall into one of several competing stereotypesóranging from the colonial to Muslim, Hindu and secular versions. Many of these works rely on one of two extreme positionsóthe 'pre-colonial golden age* of Hindu-Muslim relations, or a fundamental Hindu-Muslim rift as a fact of history. In such projections, communal and religious conflicts are considered at the same level. But despite connections between religion and communalism, religious and communal identities are not identical.1 The former concerns personal allegiance to a set of practices and dogmas, often in search of a reward from the transcendental reality. Communalism, on the other hand, entails individual commitment to special interests of a religious community for gaining worldly advantages at the expense of
* Dept. of History, University of Calcutta, Calcutta.
Social Scientist, Vol. 18, Nos. 6-7, June-July 1990