Communalism and Economic/Educational “Development” – A Negative Correlation?

Vinod Mubayi


It was a common assumption not too long ago that many of the socio-cultural ills afflicting India, among which communalism and communal violence occupy a high rank, would be “solved” through reduction in the levels of poverty and illiteracy. Economic development by reducing poverty would lead to a reduction in the need for child labor which in turn would allow children to stay in school longer. The spread of education it was felt would tend to at least reduce if not remove many of the prejudices and misconceptions prevalent in Indian society regarding people belonging to different religious, ethnic, linguistic and social groups divided by religion, region, caste, and class and thereby create a more integrated and harmonious country. 



Current evidence suggests that the correlation between secularism and economic and educational development is not very strong, except in a few states like Kerala; in particular states that are characterized by relatively high levels of industrial and economic development it may even be a negative or an inverse correlation. Gujarat is the clearest example. On some indicators, it is perhaps one of the most industrially developed states of India and also ranks high in per capita state GDP as well as fairly high in literacy. Yet there is no doubt that the most egregious violations of minority rights occur in Gujarat as witnessed in the pogrom of Gujarati Muslims in 2002. The communal virus has infected practically every nook and corner of the state, including practically all of the state administrative, police, and judicial personnel, to such an extent that Gujarat has become known as “laboratory” of Hindutva.           


Karnataka, with its state capital at Bangalore, is often called India’s Silicon Valley. It exemplifies the very essence of the “shining”, high-growth rate India that is the darling of all the business pages of mainstream newspapers over the globe. But Karnataka has also lately been struck by communal violence and communal feelings are growing rapidly in the state. One of the favorite tactics of the communal elements is to focus on and destroy shrines where people of all faiths, specifically Hindus and Muslims, have worshipped for centuries. Such shrines are emblems of the shared, syncretic culture of the common “uneducated” people of India, a culture produced by people living and working together. The Bababudangiri cave shrine in Karnataka is one such place, just as the tomb of Wali Gujarati was in Ahmedabad, and what the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya with its Ram chabutra symbolized earlier.           


The kind of “education” that is being fostered in these and other states, particularly where the BJP and RSS have managed to infiltrate and control the educational bureaucracy, is to instill a virulent hatred of Muslims as “outsiders” who are bent on destroying Hindu traditions and culture. The teaching of falsified history is an important element of this educational effort that is responsible for a lot of the growth of communal feelings among so-called educated Indians. “A little learning is a dangerous thing” said Alexander Pope, the English poet, over two and a half centuries ago; not only for the individual, one might add, but for society as a whole. The proof of this is the enormous growth of Ekal Vidyalayas, the primary schools run by the RSS which are, in many places, the only places of instruction available. The state run schools in these places, however, are hardly any different as a review of their textbooks that are approved by the State Education Boards indicates.           


The kind of graduates these places produce is illustrated by a clip from Anand Patwardhan’s well-known film on Ayodhya “In the Name of Rama” when he interviews a young Hindutwadi and asks him: “how is it that you are so sure about where Lord Rama was born but do not know when he was born” to which the youth replies “I have only studied up to B.A., they probably teach that in M.A.” This kind of mindset and the attitudes and prejudices that accompany it are difficult to remove once they are instilled at an early age. Simply thinking that education is the key misses the issue entirely; it is the content of what is taught and the manner in which it is taught that is important.           


Indian secular groups, whether political parties and organizations, or social and cultural forums, did not pay as much attention to education as the RSS did right from an early stage. In the Nehruvian era, with the state being fairly neutral on the issue, perhaps this was understandable as secularism was enshrined in the Constitution. However, after religion entered politics in a big way and politics entered religion such an attitude became untenable. The UPA regime has made a start by trying to remove the worst excesses of the functionaries installed in the NCERT and other central bodies by the former government. The main task, however, is at the state level and it is here that civil society groups have to take up the burden of exposing the communal falsifications of history in textbooks and the classroom, especially in states like Gujarat and Karnataka that are ruled by the BJP or BJP coalitions.           


Top - Home