Culture is currently at the centre-stage of communalism; it is being invoked and appropriated for communal mobilisation. Is this potential inherent in common cultural identity and cultural practices on the basis of self-perception? Or is this the result of the attribution of a constructed cultural homogeneity? The notion of Hindu and Muslim cultures, for instance. The communities, both majority and minorty, are received as homogenous, despite sharp cultural differences within each 'community*. In fact, homogenous religious communities based on uniform religious and cultural practices never existed in Indian society. Yet, belief in the existence of culturally homogenous communities is being consciously constructed. Culture thus becomes a symbolic force to unify and mobilise those professing the same religion. What gives credence to comrriunalism is an imagined cultural homogeneity defined in broad religious terms.
The absence of cultural homogeneity in religious communities casts doubt about the notion of majority and minority. Are there common religious faith and practices for all memebers of a 'community'? For instance, the tribals, the Brahmins and so on hardly share the same religious rituals and faith. Even if the sharp disparity in their material conditions of life is overlooked—contrast the Hindu Birlas with the semi-starved, semi-clad Hindu villagers of Bihar—their cultural and religious belonging is too diverse to accommodate them within the same community umbrella. Yet, judging from the rapid spread of communal influence in recent times it appears that the attempt at homogenisation has fairly succeeded in creating religious community consciousness.
In this context some dimensions need to be expored. First, cultural areas Susceptible to communal manipulations; second, cultural movements contributing to communal consciousness; and third, the role of cultural media. The essays in this number attempt to conceptualise
* Centre for Historical Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.
Social Scientist, Vol. 18, No. 10, October 1990