Social Scientist. v 18, no. 205-06 (June-July 1990) p. 49.

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Seminar on 'Communalism in India': A Report

Social Scientist organised a three-day seminar (29-31 March 1990) on 'Communalism in India*. Introducing the theme of the seminar K.N. Panikkar remarked that the context of the seminar was 'the alarming increase in communal tensions and violence and a visible decrease of secular space* in the recent past. An effective intervention in such a social situation was dependent on a proper understanding of it. It was also essential that the community of intellectuals make this understanding socially available.


The first session of the seminar was on 'Communalism: Legacy of History', in which papers were read by Romila Thapar, Suranjan Das and P.K. Dutta. These papers are published in this issue (Nos. 205-6) of Social Scientist. According to Thapar, the expression of Communalism resulted from an interaction between religious communities and the mobilisation of people for political action. She emphasised the relevance of understanding both the historical legacy, i.e. the legacy of the early past, and historical evidence for analysing the question of identity. The most disturbing aspect of Communalism was that whereas in the early twentieth century it was one of th^ methods of political mobilisation, now it is a way of looking at the totality of Indian reality.

In her presentation Thapar highlighted the linkages between two perspectives—the theories of communal ideology and the historical perspective (which she felt historians either ignored or gave little emphasis to). These perspectives dealt with ideas related to the Hindu religion and community. The historical legacy of these ideas was basically a periodisation of Indian history. The early writing of Mill and others referred to three such periods—the period of Hindu civilisation, Muslim civilisation and the British period. With the national movement the terms used were changed to the Ancient, Medieval and Modem Periods. Even when 'real questioning' began from the 1950s by Marxist historians, the line of demarcation based on dynastic change remained, despite the change in nomenclature. The basic questioning pertaining to the reasons for different periods of India's history was never asked and thus never answered. And so communal ideology fed on the notion of the glorious past of he 'Hindu period' to premote separateness.

In response to the presentation by Romila Thapar, Shahid Amin referred to the uneasy relationship between popular remembrance and historian's history. He felt that we require to know how the-past is

Social Scientist, Vol. 18, Nos. 6-7, June-July 1990

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