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Mainstream, Vol XLVII No 10, February 21, 2009

Communalism Most Serious Menace

Monday 23 February 2009, by Ajoy Ghosh

We welcome this Conference. We are deeply thankful for the opportunity that has been given to us to put forward our point of view. We hope that our deliberations will be successful.

I agree, sir, when you say that we need not get panicky. But I would stress that complacency too would be unwarranted.

In the recent period, there has been a pronounced growth of forces that make for national disintegration. The ugly events that occurred in Assam, Jabalpur and other places were bad in themselves. But even more serious was the fact that there was no sharp nationwide reaction against them.

At the very outset I would like to draw attention to certain contradictory aspects of the present situation. India is today, administratively speaking, more united than ever in its history. Economic planning is carried out by a central body. Above all, state power is no longer exercised by the British who were interested in keeping and accentuating conflicts inside this country.

Despite all these favourable factors, it can be denied by none that fissiparous and disruptive tendencies have grown alarmingly in recent years. They threaten one of the most precious heritages of our freedom movement—the unity of the nation.

Why has this happened? How has this happened? The subject is vast and complex. I would like, however, to bring out some points.

It must be admitted that the ideological basis of our national movement was rather weak and its socio-economic content was never clearly defined. The institution of castes retained its hold over vast sections of people. A good deal of the propaganda and agitation carried on during the national movement was permeated by ideas associated with Hindu religion.

Maybe, to some extent, this was inevitable. But India being a country of many religions, we should have made conscioius efforts to combat this trend. Failure to do this helped the reactionaries to keep large sections of Muslims away from the national movement. Also it hampered the growth of modern ideas.

Despite these weaknesses, our national movement grew and became stronger. People following different religions and having divese views got united to achieve a single task—freedom from foreign rule.

This unification, however, could be continued and carried forward only if two tasks were fulfilled:

First, an inspiring objective was placed before the people, the objective of rebuilding the country in such a way as to bring maximum benefit to the vast majority of our people, of putting an end to the staggering contrast between wealth and poverty, of radical reforms in economic, social and administrative spheres.

Secondly, concrete measures were taken for the speedy realisation of these objectives.

Unfortunately this was not done. Inevitably something like an ideological vacuum came into existence. Antiquated and even obscurantist ideas which had never been completely rooted out began to operate once again on the minds of men and were utilised by certain parties and elements to consolidate their own position.

I feel that national integration which we all desire can be realised fully only if an inspiring national objective is placed before the people and a determined fight is waged against powerful vested interests who stand in the way of realisation of this objective. In the final analysis, national integration is a problem of democracy and of far-reaching socio-economic transformation.

Much has been said here about the importance of education in national integration. I agree with that view. But I would stress that education, in order to achieve national integration, must have social purpose and must be linked to such national objectives.

I do not want, however, to deal with this problem at length. I would confine myself to certain urgent issues which have to be backled.

I think it would be conceded by all that of all the menaces that confront us, communalism is the most serious. All communalism is bad but communalism of the majority community is the worst of all. The menace of this communalism, that is Hindu communalism, has grown steadily.

Communal ideas are infiltrating even into secular parties and into the administration. This sometimes leads to complete paralysis of the administration where minority communities are the victim. Jabalpur was an instance.

Remove Genuine Difficulties

Opposition to communalism does not mean ignoring the genuine difficulties from which certain communities suffer. This applies, above all, to the Muslim community. Muslims are the biggest religious minority in India. It must be admitted that even in our secular state they suffer from a number of disabilities—most of which exist not so much in law as in facts of life.

It cannot be denied that discrimination is practised against them in many spheres and that many of their grievances are genuine.

Since objection has been taken that I am digressing from the subject under discussion, I shall not dilate on it further. Nor shall I say anything on casteism just now. We will take that up, as has been decided in the Steering Committee later.

Just now we are discussing the issue of language. I feel that this issue cannot be placed in the same category as communalism or casteism.

Love for one’s mother tongue and the urge of people speaking the same languge to come together in a single State—these are basically healthy urges and have to be recognised as such. Of course this urge can be distorted and given a disruptive form. That is what I would call “linguism”.

It is quite possible to work up linguistic passions, to belittle other languages, to adopt an attitude of intolerance towards them and to deny linguistic minorities their legitimate rights.

Carried to an excess in disregard of broad national considerations, linguistic chauvinism can work havoc. Such things have already happened. Events in Assam are a grim reminder of this menace.

A number of recommendations made by the Chief Ministers’ Conference are good. But that cannot be said about all the recommendations.

It has been suggested by them, for example, that where 60 per cent of the people of a district speak a particular language, that language also should be given official status in that district. I think this percentage is too high. It should be reduced to 33 to 40 per cent.

Hindi as All-India Language

Our position on the issue of language has been made clear on several occasions. We feel that for national and emotional integration, as well as for convenience, there should be one language which is understood by the masses.

That language cannot be English which is understood only by a microscopic minority of our people. It will have to be Hindi. Of course, even after the adoption of Hindi, English will continue as an additional all-India official language for some period. We are, therefore, in favour of extensive popularisation of Hindi and all provision being made for teaching Hindi in all parts of India.

But this does not mean that Hindi is to replace English for all purposes for which the latter is today used. Some of the functions which English performs today will be gradually taken over by Hindi. But most of these functions will have to be performed by what are called regional languages. These are languages spoken by a vast number of people in well defined territories. Many of them have long history, and developed literature.

In order to bring the administration closer to the people in all States, we consider it imperative that the change-over from English to the regional language for purposes of State administration should be speedily effected. But the medium of instruction at all stages including the University stage will have to be eventually the regional language.

If that is not done, if English or Hindi is made the sole language of higher education, then the cause of education will suffer in non-Hindi speaking States. Also the literature in non-Hindi regions will remain underdeveloped. Literature gets developed fully only when it is made the medium of instruction for all stages and all subjects.

We want that every Indian should learn Hindi. At the same time we strongly feel that students in Hindi-speaking areas should learn one other modern Indian language. This would not merely widen their outlook but also help to make Hindi acceptable in non-Hindi areas and facilitate integration of the country.

We cannot also do away with English which has a rich literature on every subject and knowledge of which is essential—espcially for higher studies.

The three-language formula is, therefore, inescapable. I shall say it is inherent in the situation.

We do not approve of the suggestion that the Devanagari script should become the common script for the whole country and for all languges. Of course, no one can object to the proposal which has been made by Smt Indira Gandhi that Devanagari may become an additional script for regional languages. If valuable books in regional languages are published in Devanagari script besides their own script, that will certainly be helpful.

We are not in favour of the Roman script as common script for the whole country.

Now that the majority of States have been organised on a linguistic basis, the question of linguistic minorities as well as religious minorities has assumed great importance. Defence of the rights of the minorities is essential for the development of democracy.

Permanent Minorities Commission

The Special Officer for Lingusitic Minorities under Section 350-B of the Constitution is at present only a reporting agency. He has no powers.

We are firmly of the view tht a permanent Minorities Commission should be set up armed with all requisite statutory authority.

We are in favour of a Code of Conduct for political parties.

We also strongly urge the formation of a body to continue the work of this Conference. It should not be a very big body.

Joint Mass Campaign Necessary

Finally, I would like to stress one point. In the period after the winning of national indepen-dence, the dominant tendency has been to rely exclusively on laws to remove such evils as untouchability, communalism and so on. Of course, laws are necessary.

But they are not enough especially if we bear in mind the deep roots that casteism and communalism have in our country and the way they pervade our social and political life. Many of the laws passed, like laws on untouchability, have remained on paper.

We all remember how in the days of the national movement, Gandhiji developed a nationwide campaign against untouchability. Such campaigns are not undertaken today. We feel that if secular parties come together and carry out united campaigns against evils like communalism and casteism, good results can be achieved.

We know there are deep political differences amongst secular parties on many questions. But we are of the view that despite these differences, we can unite on many issues in order to combat and defeat the forces of dark reaction which are trying to take our country backward and destroy all the precious heritage of our national movement.

We hope our deliberations will be fruitful and this Conference will constitute a major step towards national unification.

[Excerpts from the speech delivered by the CPI General Secretary at the National Integration Conference, New Delhi, September 29, 1961—published in New Age, October 8, 1961]

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