ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Revisiting Communalism and Fundamentalism in India

This comprehensive review of the literature on communalism - and its virulent offshoot, fundamentalism - in India considers the various perspectives from which the issue has sought to be understood, from precolonial and colonial times to the post-Independence period. The writings indicate that communalism is an outcome of the competitive aspirations of domination and counter-domination that began in colonial times. Cynical distortions of the democratic process and the politicisation of religion in the early decades of Independence intensified it. In recent years, economic liberalisation, the growth of opportunities and a multiplying middle class have further aggravated it. More alarmingly, since the 1980s, Hindu communalism has morphed into fundamentalism, with the Sangh parivar and its cultural politics of Hindutva playing ominous roles.

This survey has been prepared as part of the UGC sponsored project on promoting the social sciences in India. EPW is grateful to the authors for writing this survey.


Communalism has been commonly understood in the l­iterature as conflicts over secular issues between religious communities, particularly between Hindus and Muslims.1 Deliberations around communalism have, to a large extent, linked it with the colonial period in India and with particular religious communities, such that the concept has a­cquired a definite and definitive association. It is true that there were struggles in the precolonial period, but they cannot be said to have taken the form of full-blown communalism.

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