By Dhimoyee Banerjee
The following is a short extract from a paper titled “Communalism and the Law” submitted to SOAS in 2016. While the scope of the paper was limited to India, the narratives apply to a better part of South-East Asia.
“Communalism” is Indian as a word, but South-Asian as a problem. While some governments are bound by law to discourage and punish acts of communalism, it is agreed that all states, irrespective of how they are constituted have a moral obligation to not allow communalism. While the fact that the state must act is clear, how and when it should requires some discussion.
The success of the manufactured religious animosity, most infamously in the divide and rule policy adopted by the British empire, is that the state inadvertently becomes an interested party in any religious conflict. The state must take a stance to negate religious conflicts, as the (Indian, in this case) Constitution demands. However, the existent deep-rooted otherisation between the religious groups means that irrespective of the outcome of the state intervention, the parties will assign a side. This puts the state in the position of the perceived biased umpire; obligated to intervene and never able to put all concerned parties at ease.
The biased umpire problem could have possibly been done away with in a about seven decades of independent India. However, from when elections have become competitive in India, religion has played a significant part in identity manipulation. Since parties come to power based on promises made to religious groups as a whole, they are already tainted with the biased umpire problem even before a single ballot has been cast.
This gives rise to two problems, namely, the necessary creation of prejudice and the perpetuation of the biased umpire image. The creation of prejudice, even if there was none, is made necessary to be able to identify a target vote bank and frame policies accordingly. As has been discussed before, not only the parties aligned to religious lines benefit, but all parties do. Unless artificial concerns can be manufactured, there would be no need for any community to seek representation on the basis of community interest. The second problem is an extension of the first. Irrespective of which party is in power, the same almost always did so owing to vote bank politics of itself or the opposition. Therefore, even before it has acted in any manner, the image of the biased umpire is attached to a government. Consequently, any actions by the biased umpire will be favourable to one side and not to the others. The only apparent solution is to attack the prejudice and animosity which allows all the perpetuation to continue.
Dhimoyee Banerjee is a graduate in contemporary India studies from SOAS, University of London. She is currently studying for a PhD at the University of Edinburgh in Gender Studies.