Edited on January 18, 2013 for terseness.

[Following post was inspired by terrorist attack on Mumbai in November, 2008 (click)].

Nowadays we hear so much about violence, terror, and any kind of “planned calamity” that makes me wonder where the human race is headed. All this destruction had made me think as to why do people resort to violence to prove a point when there is nothing really to be proved. Most people widely believe the root cause to be what we in India colloquially call “communalism”.

What is communalism?
Is it being Hindu, Christian, or Muslim, and to be proud of all that? If you think this is a rhetorical question, then it is NOT! Yes, that is communalism — to be proud to be a part of certain community, at least that is the cause of most of the destruction that we see all around us. And so is being proud to be some caste, or gender, or speaking certain language; or, belonging to a certain school, graduating from certain college, living in a certain city; and even to be proud of being born in a given country.There are some six billion people on this Earth, and a few less some time back, but in any analysis, it is ultimately, the ratios and proportions that matter. So out of this billions of people, how many had actually felt that they were successful; that their lives were meaningful; that they mattered to someone; that they were indispensable; or, that they could change the course of history in a significant way? I am sure very few — absolutely, as well as, in terms of fraction and percentage. But is that not what everyone sets out to do when they are young, and planning (rather, fantasizing about) their lives ahead? Everyone wants to feel special, indispensable, and influential; as a corollary, no one wants to feel, redundant, irrelevant, and uninfluential.What happens in the process is that each and everyone among us starts identifying with a certain community, a fold. And since, any large-enough community is obviously not so small to have been redundant, or irrelevant, and most definitely unifluential, identifying with it is the best option left to “feel good” about oneself. Over (very short) time, we start identifying more strongly with the community than even ourselves, especially when it comes to the “ego issues”. That is because subconsciously we want all the good qualities, admiration, and importance that comes with being part of a community attributed to ourselves, too. But, unfortunately, what the attributes of a community are, is a most subjective matter – open to conscious as well as subconscious manipulations. That is why it is so easy to believe that the country one lives in is the best one. And, that is what almost everyone living in all the countries of the world feel, and all of them are right (and wrong); because it is subjective! What criteria can one apply to consider a country the best — affluence, military might, richness of culture (which again is subjective), performance in sporting events, longevity of people? It is not a problem if one is fixed about one’s criteria, and then concludes: “Okay, my country is the best”, with the objective honesty intact to concede that some other country could be best if it proves to be better by the chosen criteria. The problem comes when one thinks like “Okay, my country controls half the world-economy, so what if half the population is disgruntled with the government! It’s the affluence that matters, not governance.” Clearly, latter is a case of deluding oneself, only to “feel good” about belonging to a certain country.

Why does one resort to manipulating one’s own thoughts to “feel good”?

As I somewhat explained, that is to partially compensate for not feeling important enough as an individual in the first place. Let me give another example to explain. You try telling a person who knows you somewhat that:

“Once, I was walking down a street, and suddenly I was attacked by half a dozen armed goons, but I fought most gallantly and killed them all.”

The other person would be most impressed and you would feel important, unique and basically “good” about it, but that is, if the other person would believe you! But, instead, you try telling about some God/historic warrior, that that you (or your community) revere, had once slain (“slayed”) half a dozen THOUSAND of enemies, and when you see the glint in other person’s eye, or a raised eyebrow, you know the other person is impressed, and you feel happy knowing (subconsciously, of course) that you yourself too must be in possession of that gallantry. The problem comes when it so happens that of those half a dozen thousand enemies that were killed by YOUR hero, even if one happens to be the one that the other person’s community reveres, for according to him (and, his community), it is THEIR hero who had killed TWO (and not a meagerly HALF) dozen thousand enemies, of course, including the hero that YOU worship. So much for subjectivity! And then it boils down to either you feel good, or he feels good.

So, that is the problem with being proud of things that are hypothetical, mythical, and most important, open to manipulation. And, if one looks closely, most of the affiliations that we are proud of are not the ones chosen by us — it is usually, only out of luck, destiny, etc, that we become part of most of the above communities — country, religion, language, etc., are all determined by circumstances of our birth. Even other things like one’s profession, alma mater, city to live in – are not chosen with complete knowledge of what it would be like to be a part of that (community). You want your college, for instance to be considered good, not because you thought and still think it is good, but because YOU graduated from it. If your college is (considered) good, you are (a) good (student), if not, you are bad.

I would thus conclude that:

Communalism is a form of mass hypocrisy only to stoke our individual egos.

But, what is the remedy to this all? I was not here to answer all this, may be this was just one of the pet musings, and consequent constant peeve that I hold against many for making this world less beautiful a place to live in than it is possible. But then I would still like to state that the answer to this misery is:

To be satisfied with what one is, not be desperate to convince others and even oneself that we are relevant, and influential. It is important to enjoy life — we all get to live it only once, rather than waste it in trying to prove our points that simply do not exist.

Everyone needs to question themselves is there any point in being proud of a community that they never got a chance to CHOOSE consciously? Okay, if one is proud of one’s friends for what they are and obviously, for CHOOSING them, it might be justified to an extent. But, what is important in judging affiliations of any kind is to not lose one’s OBJECTIVITY. That is the most important thing. If I never concede that the governance of my country needs improvement so as to make every one happier, I would never really think of improving where there is a margin to.

Also, when one gets too obsessed with their communities their OWN life gets neglected. Is it difficult to understand that all those who resort to violence to prove a (communal) point, apart from harming others, are wasting their OWN lives? Who will be able to explain this to them?

I think, the solution, if at all there is one, cannot be implemented in one generation. It will have to start from our education-system. It is important to recognize the individual talents of every student, to make them feel worthy of what they are. Then only would they grow up to be confident adults, and not insecure individuals who would want to bask in communal glory rather than their own individual worth. Then only would they learn that it is they themselves and their present that matters, and not mythological past of their community, or hypothetical (nonexistent) deeds that their deity had come to be associated with. If you read a nice poem written in your mother-tongue, is it necessary to feel PROUD of it and its poet? Is it not more important to enjoy its beauty and feel happy and lucky to have read in this one given lifetime? This way one would be equally happy on reading a poem written in some other language or by some other author.

But the the solution though simple in concept, would be hard to actually implement. Firstly, it will have to win the conviction of the present generation, which itself has been brought up to be proud of one affiliation or the other, and by extension, be prejudiced. Secondly, and more obviously, does every single child have access to education, let alone “reformed” education?

Does this mean end of all affiliations? I am not sure. May be, affiliations have their roots in evolution. Most of the physically weak species (animals) would not have survived had it not been for their roaming in herds. Likewise, being part of a certain family/group/tribe, must have helped the human race in surviving the various adversities that they must have faced. And, this cohesion would not have been possible without a feeling of oneness. But, there was a difference — there would be only one (or very few) families and tribes. And, that one tribe would not be placed against the others. But, now of course, things are different. I think today, we need cooperation (between individuals across the globe), and not affiliations that would needlessly pitch one group against the other.

I do not know who or how many people are going to read this, but this is what I have been feeling for quite some time. I just find the whole situation so unfortunate as, as it is so difficult to satisfy the basic human needs (at least for the vast majority of the “developing nations”), and that, to all that this communalism that more often than not fuels fanaticism, nepotism, violence, and so much of totally avoidable harm, compounds the problem. I feel desperate, and helpless about the situation. For, the problem is grave, and, I feel I know the solution, but only if someone (no, in fact the entire human race) would listen…

47 thoughts on “Communalism

  1. Thanks teleprompter! You may also find a couple of other posts also interesting, viz., “Responses to criticism of atheism” and “Free will”. TC.

  2. <>“…affiliations have their roots in evolution. Most of the physically weak species (animals) wouldn’t have survived had it not been for their roaming in herds. Likewise, being part of a certain family, group, tribe, must have helped the human race in surviving the various adversities that they must have faced. And, this cohesion wouldn’t have been possible without a feeling of oneness. But, there was a difference— there’d be only one (or very few) families and tribes. And, that one tribe wouldn’t be placed against the others. But, now of course, things are different. I think today, we need cooperation (between individuals across the globe), and not affiliations that’d pitch one group against the other.”<>Absolutely loved this post and the above para sums up something every Indian needs to understand today!!

    It’s good to hear a sane voice in the violence, and defence of violence we hear all around us.

  3. Thanks, IHM!

    Understanding my posts would be one thing, which is not very difficult. But an honest introspection is another, which I’m not sure how many are capable of.

    Though I humbly accept your compliment of “sane <>voice<>“, I’d like to admit that I’ve not been vocal enough about this particular idea. It’s just that a few occasional blog-wanderers land on my blog that too with lot of <>prompting<>.

    Take care.

  4. Ketan, love this post man. My bad to have missed your comment on one of my earlier posts where u told me about this one. Just saw it.

    Have to say, you’ve analysed the issue and the solution quite well.

    But as you can see, the elections are encouraging exactly what you say is the problem… If that’s the way the men at the top go, you can imagine where the Country is going…

  5. Rakesh,

    No, you didn’t miss the comment (I’d posted it just yesterday). I’m not sure but your blog doesn’t seem to show the date of comment, only the time. Maybe, something’s wrong with your blog-preferences or the theme.

    I also seem to have an idea why those at the top (of the legislative hierarchy) are like that, but won’t tell you here 🙂 What if you steal my idea and do a blog on it? 😉 Actually, am planning to do a ‘Unified field theory for global problems’-kind of blog one of these days when I get time.

    But personally, how difficult and practical do you think is to shed all communal (as defined in my post) loyalties and affiliations?

    Welcome to the blog and take care!

  6. ketan bhai,
    the arguments you have put forth are great …
    i think they are prejudiced….
    you are taking the view of the situation wherein your prejudice matches….
    communalism isnt al dat bad man….
    take the case of the european nations, they are constitutionally secure, but practically communalist….
    its just that the politicians over there do not instigate violence and create votebanks….
    and hence their communalism goes unnoticed…
    the picture of communalism you have portrayed is the political effect on communities…

    but overall it was a nice aggregate of ideas and solutions…

    PS: m blunt but never mean to chide or derogate.

  7. Hi speedosopher!

    Welcome to the blog!

    The word prejudice could be loosely translated to a <>preconceived notion<>? If you agree, what specific idea or assumption in my analysis are you referring to as preconceived notion? I’m absolutely open to being pointed out any unfounded assumption that I might be holding, otherwise I won’t be doing justice to the name of my blog. 🙂

    See, the problem with the word ‘Communalism’ is that in India it’s used in a very different sense than in standard English, where in it means, ‘communism’ as in an economic system. Maybe I could’ve used another term ‘groupism’, but important was to convey the feeling one experiences while hearing/making statements like ‘India is the greatest country’ or ‘the God/saint I worship is more powerful and generous than the one you worship’. The issue is not whether one actually says these things, but whether one thinks like that. And I’ve tried to illustrate the irrationality and drawbacks of thinking on these lines.

    I don’t know much about Europe, but I believe the number of possible affiliations are less there, and of less compelling nature. And if those affiliations are based on luck (birth), then (according to me), Europeans too have a margin for improving, socially, that is.

    There is an issue of semantics also involved: I’ve said in the end of the post, that we require global cooperation. I hope, you didn’t feel I was censuring even that!

    My objection is not against all kind of affiliations. It’s only against those that are determined by luck. If people who actually like Harivanshray Bachchan’s poetry, gather and enjoy a poetry-reading session, there’s nothing wrong with it. Wrong would be if Indians gather and declare Shakespeare was a mediocre poet WITHOUT ACTUALLY UNDERSTANDING what he’d written.

    I’ve not implied that I’m free of communalistic prejudices. If I come across an Indian and someone else of some other nationality, both equally in need of help, say because of meeting with an accident, though I’d have no rational basis for it, I’m very likely to help the Indian.

    I’ve pointed out towards the end of the post that herd-ism was indeed needed for survival of our species, but way in the past; not sure of its relevance in today’s world.

    I absolutely don’t mind disagreements, in fact those are more likely to facilitate learning more about the world and the people in it.

    Take care.

  8. If communalism is as you’ve defined, then that per se is not a problem. It is only natural to belong. That sense of belonging can overpower rational thinking. But, I don’t think your reference to communal riots is easily explained by such a definition of it. Usually communalism also includes in it a political dimension. I could be wrong.

    You may also want to read about the philosophy of Michel de Montaigne. He has said something along the lines of what you’ve written – being content with who we are.

    Overall, a nice piece. Good luck finding an identity for yourself. 🙂 Let me know when you’ve reached the point where you think deep seated loneliness is the only reality. 🙂

    ~ Vinod

  9. Thanks, Vinod for reading, commenting and the compliment!

    Communalism, as I’ve tried to define (unfortunately, in standard English, there’s no term that conveys the meaning of communalism as we use it in India) in my piece, keeps an individual wishing for glorification of their community (as that would satisfy their individual ego), and when they encounter person from some other community laying claim to the same glory, they both go into a state of denial, suspend their objectivity, become jealous and thus angry at the other. From this point on, it’s not very difficult for vested interests to take over and direct some of the members to indulge in some minor mischief, like pointing out some flaw in what the other community takes pride in. Say, pointing out–the God you worship made such and such mistake or is lesser than our God for such and such reason. It’s not difficult to find flaws and have differing interpretations, because all we take pride in case of at least religious/caste-based communalism is mythology. Now, the other community FEELS INSULTED and INSECURE at the prospect of instigating community being considered better. Remember, at each step the driving force is the flawed subconscious idea that ‘I’m as good as my community’. And them gradually, when insulting becomes the other community becomes the only motive, twisting facts is the norm and violence the definitive outlet for anger.

    I’ve not implied in my post one should stop associating with others, just that the basis of our affinity for and judging others should not be random chance (say, circumstances of birth). If I’m Bengali and am satisfied with how I’ve turned out, I won’t try to see greatness in everything Bengali, rather, I’d be quite open to making friendships with people from other linguistic communities, and would not feel obliged to continue the association in case I find good flaw in their character (say, dishonesty).

    Regarding, extreme loneliness, you could read my latest post–‘Futuristic!’, which is a mere anticipation of things to come and not a wishful fantasy 😉

    Welcome to the blog and take care!

  10. Ketan,

    Having read your post, I felt dwarfed in every sense of the word! Absolutely brilliant! You’ve managed to throw light on aspects we tend to take for granted. I felt the need to open up when I saw the incidents in Australia and I thought why not express my views. Very well written. Comprehensive and crisp in thought. But I feel its all good in thoughts and words. The real challenge is to make an impact on the masses.

    Anyway, brilliant post! Keep it coming! I’m yet to read the remaining posts though!


  11. Vishwas,

    The purpose of this post is partly to make everyone feel important enough and satisfied as an individual, and well, if you feel dwarfed, then, it’s a bit counterproductive, isn’t it? 🙂

    Yes, I know it’s extremely difficult to make changes at the ground level because all the ‘group feelings’ are so strongly established in our minds that we recognize them as legitimate emotions to harbor when pointed out. This is something I’ve anyway admitted towards the end of my post.

    I feel internet has helped a lot in bringing in a feeling of cohesion between people with similar ideologies and tastes (rather than factors decided by birth). Think of you and me–without internet, would it ever be possible to know each other to whatever extent we do?

    Almost all the responses I get on my posts are from people I don’t know personally. And it’s amazing to know almost two common factors can explain most of the bloggers I tend to interact with–Ayn Rand and atheism. 🙂

    You could read the above comments, they too somewhat deal in greater details with issues discussed in the post.

    Have a great day!


  12. Ketan,

    When I said I felt dwarfed, I only meant in a positive way! I benefited immensely from your post and I was exposed to a wider view on the subject. So there is no way your post was actually counter-productive! Yes true, the internet has had a huge impact on our lives. But again, its a bit unfortunate that there millions whose lives haven’t changed. In fact its becoming worse. Education is the answer to all our problems.

    I feel guilty I’m not finding time to look for the books you’ve suggested. Anyway I will try to look around.


  13. You’ve nicely used my word usage to show me this, so I had to read it and well, I agree. It is our need to feel good by “impressing” others, yes, the need to constantly seek an ego massage.

    Its the same as when parents boast about their kids’ talent or academic achievements. Becoz they think that reflects well on them.

    I dont think pride in oneself or one’s ‘community’ is necessarily an ill. Becoz some really beautiful cultural traditions of music, language, story-telling, dancing wud not be learned by people or even known to people were it not for that traditional pride that they take in learning or knowing about them.

    I think the problem really appears becoz of our inherent tendency to belittle others while believing oneself to be the best. But I sincerely think its not possible for everyone to be objective all the time, thats why we even have words like exaggeration, hyperbole and such. 😉

    A fun fact that Nat geo magazine once published..altho’ human beings are a relatively young species and share upto 99% of their DNA, genes that encourage people to seek out and trust people who look and sound like them were the ones that helped humans survive and genes that fueled attraction to exotic foreigners dint really help..

    maybe that explains our inherent xenophobia..

    we dont like anyone thats too different from us becoz he maybe a real threat to us..

    but that apart, the idea of ‘community’ and ‘nation’ are so strongly entrenched in ppl’s collective consciousness that they’ll be terribly hard to rethink.

  14. Hi TUIB!

    Thanks again for your comment! You’re a wonderful fellow blogger! I’ve tried to prompt so many people into reading this particular post, but then very few have actually ended up reading it. See, I might be taking advantage of your courtesy.

    So, why not take a still greater advantage, and agree with you about how taking pride in oneself is not necessarily a bad thing.

    Well, I’d again repeat, if you find yourself short of time, absolutely ignore my prompts. I try to point out only those posts, which I feel are pertinent to some view or doubt of yours. The above posts looks long, but is not as there’s a duplication in its content.

    You’re right about pointing out how some of the traditions would die out if people don’t take pride in them.

    But, I’d like to point out a few prejudices we hold in that regard.

    First, we take it a default position that ‘culture’ and ‘tradition’ need to be preserved. And that something grossly unfortunate will happen if they’re somehow lost. Is there any basis to have that as our default position. Eventually, those elements of our culture persist that are conducive to our better survival. And where does one draw line as to what is our tradition and culture. In most of the colleges, we year pajama-kurta and Saree on traditional days.

    But honestly, those kind of sarees and pajama-kurta had hardly been in vogue ever in the past! Culture was what our ancestors used to wear during British rule, during Mughal rule, Gupta dynasty’s rule, during Harappan civillization or during prehistoric ages when presumably, our ancestors used to roam about wearing hides of other animals!

    So the problem with this position is what’s ‘culture’ itself is not well defined. Today, we consider mother like Mughal-E-Aazam to be masterpieces, but believe me, in those times, there must have been sizeable majority who must have felt that that movie was crass, and that it encouraged youngsters to go against their parents’ wishes!

    Also, I don’t feel, any of the generations have tried hard enough to preserve their culture, otherwise it wouldn’t have evolved so much.

    You could read my comments (and the post as well as others’ comments) here. Just search for ‘panchalkc’ on the page…

  15. …But the greater problem with what you suggest is that it seems to bring an element of obligation on individuals to carry on their culture. You, by your confession, like a lot of (movies and music) what we’d call ‘Western’. Do you watch those movies and listen to that music out of sense of duty? No, you do so because you LIKE it. My (despite not ‘trying’ to preserve my culture) favorite music is old Hindi songs–as old as of 1950’s and 60’s. Mughal-E-Aazam would be an example, and songs from mother like Baiju Bawra. But on the other hand, I also like music of the Prodigy and Orbital (both electronic rock/techno bands) as much passionately. I had very much liked Premchand’s stories and Harivanshray Bachchan’s Hindi poems, and would certainly read them later in life when I find time. I know of a brother-sister duo, who’d been forced by their dad to learn Hindustani classical, but none of them actually remotely likes it! The only thing I’m trying to suggest is culture evolves, and elements of it also survive if they find favor among people, and not because people would take pride in them. I’ll give another example. I very much like the title song of ‘Satyam, Shivam, Sundaram’, but can’t bring myself to like ‘Jai-jai Shiv Shankar’. But both kind of songs will find followers well into next 50 years at least. And yes, I’ve absolutely not learnt any kind of music.

    You’ll find many people who’d feel offended to hear someone criticize Indian classical music, but actually would’ve never heard it! Does that make sense? That’s the irrationality I’m trying to point out.

    The problem is not so much with believing oneself to be best. The problem is with believing that they’re as good as their community is, and that’s unfortunate because one never gets to CHOOSE one’s community! Had you been born in Sweden, would you’ve ever said that India is the best country?

    Thanks for telling me about that National Geographic program. The concept sounds quite plausible. But then the genes they talked about applied to one’s appearance or language spoken, etc.? Because in current situation, it’s quite usual for and short an light skinned and a tall and dark skinned person of one mother tongue to ‘team up’ and dislike another yellow skinned tall person of another language!

    If time permits, do read the above comments, too. They’d clarify things further.

    Thanks for reading, THINKING and commenting!


  16. TUIB, A few corrections!


    I’d got National Geographic channel and magazine mixed up. Sorry about that!

    And yes, I liked your point about parents’ reeling glory in their child’s marks, which’s also an example of the same mindset–associating one’s self-worth in what someone else does/had done.

    The second link ‘here’ I’ve provided is the continuation of the point I was trying to make. I type through cell phone and hence so many errors! Please excuse.

    As such I feel, dheere-dheere, I’m going to read all your post, and comment on all that I can relate with, I’d like you to point out any where you’d like my comments in particular. That’d make me feel less guilty of pointing out my posts to you! 😉


  17. Ketan,

    I just clicked over from PTN to check out your blog and say hello. Great post. There are some interesting psychological studies that back up your observations on the human tendency toward tribalism. Turns out it takes very little to get us into an us vs. them mindset (I seem to remember one of the studies did it by simply flipping a coin to separate people into a “heads” group and a “tails” group).

    If I come across them again I’ll send you the links.

  18. Hello, M. Tully!

    Thanks and welcome!

    Yes my whole post is only based on empirical observation, and not on psychological experiments! I’d love to read about the experiments you’ve referred to.

    Plus, what do you think is the most appropriate term in the English language for the kind of ‘groupism’ I’ve talked of in the post, and which you’ve referred to as ‘tribalism’?

    Also, what do you think is the solution to this feeling of cohesion brought about by random events like birth or flipping of coin, if you acknowledge it as a problem?

    Take care.

  19. Well, let’s see, as far as English goes I can only speak to the American version (although I have visited Canada and Australia several times each and had great times).

    Tribalism will work in most casual conversations with the reasonably well informed. I believe American psychologists would use “social identity” or “social categorization” bias. American historians would use “ethnocentrism.”

    And yes, I consider it to be a significant problem in the world. Unfortunately, it also seems to be universally (independent of culture) ingrained in the human mind. The only possible solution to overcoming any of our deeply hard-wired impulses is education.

    Once people are aware the bias exists and that it causes erroneous conclusions, they can get past it. Academics, international business people, people who like to exchange blog comments with other people halfway around the planet, etc. have learned to recognize that the bias exists. They have also learned to try to avoid it and to not take personally if it is pointed out to them that are falling prey to it.

    Education is the only way I see to get it in check (maybe in a few million years nature will select it out of the gene pool).

  20. Thanks M. Tully, again!

    Yes, ethnocentrism seems to be the most apt term for what I wanted to convey for it captures the essence of ‘by birth’ factor.

    Am not sure if it will get selected out by the survival of the fittest concept because as I pointed out there exist really populous societies where precisely ethnocentrism is promoted in a big way, and possibly, ethnocentrism is also something that’d make population grow faster in attempt to consolidate the standing of the ethnic group to which they belong.

    Education and attitudinal conditioning right from the childhood is the key but that’ll have to wait at least 3 to 4 generations till a sizeable proportion of people identify tribalism as some kind of evil, and also till teaching kids becomes a lucrative career (which it is not in most of the underdeveloped nations).

  21. Pride in one’s religion shouldn’t necessarily lead to communalism. There are lot of god things in Hinduism that I am proud of like concept of seva, dharma, karma etc.

    Its only when it goes on to create intolerance towards others religion, problems arise.

  22. Abhishek,

    There’s no question of pride in one’s religion of birth leading to communalism, because pride in one’s religion itself is communalism!

    You’re maybe confusing communal violence or communal hatred with communalism. Former are the side effects of communalism. If you’d look at the article, I’ve not stressed much on side effects of communalism. But what I’ve tried to point out is that pride in matters where we had no choice itself is irrational.

    Taking off from your assertion that you’re proud of Hinduism because it has some praiseworthy features like seva (service/charity), dharma (morality) and karma (divine justice), I’d like to ask why should you feel proud of being born as a Hindu? Please note, I’m not questioning whether the above mentioned features of Hinduism are unique and ‘good’ or not. I’m asking a much more fundamental thing–what’s your contribution in making Hinduism great? Did you frame any of those rules or write any of the religious scriptures? I’d consider it alright (actually binding on you) to feel proud of yourself if you follow those principles. I think, events decided by luck/randomness shouldn’t make us proud–including skin color, height, religion, country, mother tongue etc. because we did not put any mental
    or intellectual effort in being born with those circumstances.

    The basic idea I wanted to convey was that it does not make sense to feel proud of those things which we did not earn through our actions or decisions (matters of volition/choice).

    Think of a lottery competition–will you feel proud of winning it? What’s so great about being in possession of something great (a lottery ticket that brought you money) by luck. But as against, if you win a chess competition, you’d be entitled to be proud of it because it was you who learnt the game, perfected it, and performed better than others. Now apply the same analogy to religion, caste, linguistic community and country you were born (luck/lottery) into. Then maybe, you’ll be better able to understand what I was trying to convey through this post.

    Also, I don’t think seva, dharma or karma are unique to Hinduism or are foolproof social principles to follow, but discussing that issue would be irrelevant to the current post.

    See this post (click).


  23. Many of the thoughts you have poured into this post seem to be resonating in my mind too 🙂

    I have sometimes felt that for the very reasons that you have pointed out here, not only communalism but even sanctified concepts like nationalism hold no good logically

  24. Thanks Shashank for your broadmindedness! Otherwise, the ‘explosive’ suggestion of nationalism itself being irrational and redundant doesn’t go down well with people. Probably because, right from the childhood, it’s talked of as some very sanctimonious sentiment to hold!

    Welcome to the blog, and thanks also for your comment, too!

    Take care.

  25. Hi Ketan,

    Thanks for inviting me to your Blog. This is truly an interesting discussion and I can see from other comments that you have gotten your point across very well.

    While it is true that “tribalism” is an evolutionary trait and ego/pride is a fundamental human failing, the lethality lies in the toxic mixture of two when wielded by power-seeking institutions (Religion, Governments, Politicians). When these institutions press those hot-buttons, they are exploiting our inherrent tendencies and directing them toward a goal from which they benefit.

    Communalism in its modern form is nothing but religious groups, harnessing pride and cultivating prejudice and guiding these toward an outcome where one group gets prominence and dominance over the multitude.

    Keep up the good work.

  26. Hello HolyDude!

    Welcome to the blog! I’d say you’ve summarized the prevalent circumstances very well. I hope I was able to illustrate how such communal feelings, which are tied to an individual’s self-worth, can interfere with honest introspection of firmness of one’s own religious beliefs, leading religious practitioners into saying “I believe”.

    Thanks for your comment and encouragement!

    Take care.

  27. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this post. Its an insight.

    Religion, caste, creed,economic influence – all these parameters are a way to boost one’s ego. Why does an individual get drawn into it? For the reason that he is not able to guage his self-worth as an individual; instead takes pride and boosts his esteem with such actions.

    Kudos to you, you have given clear examples. Communalism in India is primarily religious and linguistic.

    But at the end of the day, whats the achievement? Sense of false pride and fake euphoria

  28. Insignia,

    Thanks for reading and commenting.

    I hope now you would be able to connect the ideas in here with my comments on your post dealing with communalism. I’m not sure if you read all above comments, too, but sociologists that it’s possible to induce long-lasting ‘us against them’-feeling by simply randomly assigning people to separate groups based on flip of a coin! Isn’t that scary?

    That’s why such a stress on conditioning of people right from the childhood.


  29. After reading your blog I am wondering about the other of religioism, ie, atheism. Wondering if atheism is devoid of any dogma, if it does not require belief and if it does not hold the potential to be communalist … And the other question is at which point a belief or lack of a belief moves from being an inward thought process to an inverted act that subverts others’ thought processes?

    I am thinking if a shift in a belief that takes it from being individual to it becoming a means to describe all other beliefs or judge the other (or the others’) beliefs leads towards communal, whether in a positive or in a negative way …

  30. Hello Nisha!

    Welcome to the blog and sorry for such a delayed response.

    Well, with regard to atheism turning communalist – the way defined in the article is not possible, because it usually a choice of rejection of belief exercised after birth. So circumstances of birth do not tie atheists together. Though quite ironically, essentially, everyone is born atheist!!

    But I gather your larger concern is if it can assume a militant ‘cult’ form. Well of course, it is not impossible, but unlikelier as compared to other kinds of affiliations. This is because, in the process of turning atheists, individuals defy assertions made from authority. So blind noncompliance with an authority is almost an essential attribute required to turn atheist. In light of this fact, that atheists assemble under ONE ‘leader’ to meekly follow their instructions, becomes highly unlikely.

    Moreover, one gets to hear so much about atheists or atheism simply because, this is a minority position. Once the taboo surrounding it disappears, and it enters the cultural mainstream, then atheism would not be looked at as extraordinary phenomenon, and then atheists would not even be even clubbed together as one entity, because then their true heterogeneous nature would become apparent.

    As to the point where inward thought process drives one to subvert others’ thoughts, I have clarified in the post as well as comments, is the one when other’s thought process or perceived image shows the image of the ‘self’ in a poor light or a not-great-enough light. Or in simple words, when another GROUP’s image is feared to be seen as ‘better’ than one’s own group’s.

    And honestly, sorry but, I couldn’t understand what you wanted to state through your second paragraph. 🙂

    Thanks for reading and commenting!

    Take care.

  31. Frankly speaking, I find your writing more powerful than mine, and so is this post of yours. Some time back I had written one post in which I had said that being proud of one’s country is a ridiculous thing.

    Here’s what my words were –

    I don’t understand how you can say you are proud to be Indian. (Or which ever country you belong to.) First understand what being proud means: You can only be proud of something which you have achieved by your own efforts. For example, if you win a medal in Olympic then you can take pride in it. If you fight in a war for your country then you can take pride in it. You can then say I am proud to have done so-and-so things. What doesn’t fit in my logic is how on earth you can be proud of something that you have got accidentally just by birth!

    This article was criticized to the degree that I had to remove it from my blog. The criticisms were on the basis of dictionary meaning of the word “proud”. Most people believe that being proud of something also just means “respecting” and “loving” it. That one can surely be proud of one’s country and culture. I checked all the dictionaries and found no support for my thought! Finally, I had to submit and so I removed the post.

    But somewhere deep down I still feel being proud of something which you have done nothing to achieve is not just ridiculous, but idiotic also.


    The solution you have suggested for this problem is FINE but you know, today the “design” of the world has become such (thanks to “human intelligence”)* that it’s imperative to always keep racing, trying to surpass others, striving to be on top… these disorderous qualities have become indispensable. On the planet which is naturally designed to accommodate only about a billion humans (Ref: The 11th Hour, a documentary on Global Warming) what would happen with the population as it is today… Recourses are awfully short. Hence, the one who is in power is secure. So every one will be after it. Oneness is, thus, “impractical”. In such a case, neither your solutions nor mine are going to work. All we can do is share the “wisdom” with those who are willing to take it. Nothing else…

    Great post! Thanks!!

    * I will soon explain what I mean by “human intelligence”… 

  32. Darshan,

    I’d wanted to share this post with you for long (since a month), but had decided to do so only on commenting on your blog.

    A lot in my present comment would NOT touch upon communalism/patriotism.

    As a writer, whenever you write, you’ve to ask yourself one question – are you writing in vacuum only for your own pleasure OR you want your ideas to reach a certain audience?

    Going by the nature of your writing, I guess it is the latter. But do correct me if it is not the case.

    The next thing, which is a bit less obvious is, your target subject would NOT be those agree with you entirely. Rather, it is those who can understand and be convinced by your ideas.

    Now here’s the tricky part. However much we try to be broadminded and objective, if an argument seems berating of the way one is, one automatically starts taking a confrontational view of it.

    Even I am not immune from this personality flaw. But at least, I’m aware of it and I try to guard myself against it.

    So, the point is one’s choice of words is EXTREMELY IMPORTANT.

    In the paragraph you pointed out from your deleted post, the argument sounds like it is (personally) against the reader.

    In fact, I’ve made a very strong derogatory statement in the post – “I’d thus conclude that communalism is only a form of mass hypocrisy only to stoke our individual egos”.

    Let’s see the probably sequence of thoughts in a typical reader’s mind:

    1. He has defined communalism. Is the definition appropriate? Yes/no.

    2. Is communalism irrational? Yes/no.

    3. Is communalism harmful? Yes/no.

    4. Am I indulging in communalism? Yes/no.

    The above sequence of thoughts puts the onus to be honest on the reader, also making them comfortable in the process that if they are wrong, they are not alone!

    Whereas, the way you’ve phrased your idea in the paraphrased para, the first issue that will confront the reader is – he calls nationalism wrong; and I’m a nationalist. What’s his problem?

    Well so of course, I do not inject my complete emotional passion in my assertive posts. But neither do I dilute my stand.

    If you might feel that using less aggressive language amounts to a kind of dishonesty or hypocrisy, then I would urge you to reconsider that idea.

    Because at the very beginning of this comment I pointed out you’ve to strike a balance between uninhibited expression of passion and chances that your points would be genuinely considered….

  33. …You might feel that people did not accept your idea because they had reservations against the dictionary definition of ‘proud’. But I’m almost sure, it was because of your usage of pronoun ‘you’. 🙂 And also, the open ridicule expressed by such strong words like “how can you be…” only adds insult to the injury.

    Human mind is a wonderful thing. If we once decide (say, because we feel offended or ‘love’ something), we can argue for or against anything. 🙂

    What do you think, merely for argument-sake can I not argue for theism? 😉

    For the people who pointed out that ‘proud’ meant ‘respect’, you could’ve asked them if they would feel proud of themselves to win a medal. If they respond in affirmative, your next question could be if they did not respect themselves BEFORE winning that medal? Also, an important point here is – is respect itself supposed to be arbitrary or should it have sound bases? Is it possible to respect just about anything? Same issues also relate to ‘love’.

    And Darshan, I’m much, much, much more cynical about prospects for humans than I seem. Likewise, I’m much less interested in human welfare than it might seem. 🙂

    Even while writing the above post, I was very sure it would have practically NO social impact.

    I’m quite surprised by your reaching this conclusion that the root cause of problems on Earth is population. I too had reached EXACTLY the same conclusion. 🙂

    But I think of it as a problem not so much because of lack of resources, but because of disguised and apparent unemployment that it breeds. If you find time, please go through Stupidosaur’s response to phatichar and my response to him on this (click). But if you don’t find time, in summary, my comment deals with increased unemployment because of increased automation and ability to replicate manifold products and services.

    Also, I guess, a lot of what you term human ‘intelligence’, I call it human ‘stupidity’ and hence the confusion! If a certain kind of intelligence could be unique to human species, can’t a certain kind of stupidity also be unique to us? 😉 But yet, I will look forward to your elaboration.

    Really, thanks a lot for finding time to read and comment, and also for the compliment. TC.

  34. Hi Ketan,

    If communalism is bad, then the source of such affiliation, be it by birth or by effort / choice, does not make any difference.

    Even the so called affiliation by choice is often done as an obligation, than out of any real objective exercise. (Expect a post on my take on objectivism soon)

    And even religion can be a choice, with a spate of conversions and “embracings” taking place day in and day out. Nationalism is also a choice. What if I choose to like Australia simply because of some very valid reasons. What if I choose West Indies because it offers the most beautiful locales on this planet. What because of that choice, I say I feel proud of being an “Australian” or “Jamaican”.

    If one can look carefully, almost everything is a matter of “choice”, including the career. As much as I wouldn’t agree with the sweeping conclusion that collectivism or affiliation by birth is always wrong, or I would totally concur on your view that any affiliation based on a feeling of superiority (with someone else necessarily being branded inferior) is a poison.

    And at some level, both communialism and co-operation are almost same.

    What starts off with co-operation might very well translate into some affiliation, resulting in the collectivism or communalism.

    And, I totally agree to your point that, most of the time (and not always) when people take to some group, has got something to do with their individual self-worth.

    Bottom line: We are the result of our actions. Our actions the result of our choices. And we always have a choice, and therefore are responsible for our actions / inactions.


  35. Saimukundhan,

    Firstly, I have addressed the issue of communalism from two perspectives – the genesis of communalism, and how it is irrational when the affiliation is determined by circumstances of birth. Therefore, even a chosen affiliation could indeed have detrimental effects on the society, but such instances are rarer, and more so, in an Indian context. Nevertheless, which is not to mean, we do not need to be wary of such affiliations.

    Yes, religion should be by choice, but unfortunately, most people never get to exercise that choice or do not appreciate the fact that it is indeed a matter of choice. I guess, by conversions you were referring to those occurring in India, especially, the backward caste people converting to Buddhism or Christianity. Even in that case, they do convert probably because their native religions were not providing them with the much needed ego massage that religions are supposed to specialize in. In fact, ironically, their egos are bruised by their original religions, wherein their status was relegated to one of secondary citizens.

    ”What if I choose West Indies because it offers the most beautiful locales on this planet. What because of that choice, I say I feel proud of being an “Australian” or “Jamaican”.”

    The question still remains the same – ”what would be your contribution in making Australia or Jamaica more beautiful?” And of course, an even more important is the issue of objectively deciding if the scenic beauty of country is the most important or only criterion (just like performance in sporting events, richness of culture, affluence, health status) in deciding that the said countries are the BEST! I think the most objective response would be to say that Jamaica or Australia have the best looking locales; that point should not used as an excuse to make a sweeping judgment that they are the best countries. 🙂

    When I talked of cooperation, it was in context of a goal-directed activity, say, research. Yes, the solidarity that one develops in working as a team could result in emotional attachment, and have harmful effects like their ganging up together to beat up people of some other research team, but such events are less likely. Plus, I had hoped that by reading this kind of post, at least if people introspect at least once their tendency to seek pride in numbers, they will look at it as a personality weakness, and might make an attempt to guard themselves against blind allegiance. 🙂

    “Bottom line: We are the result of our actions. Our actions the result of our choices. And we always have a choice, and therefore are responsible for our actions / inactions.”

    I agree with that and as I said earlier, I just wanted to point out that affiliations, if at all there, are much better if by informed and reasoned choice.

    Thanks a lot for your elaborate response!

    Take care.

  36. I really found this post and mine “I’m Alive” talking the same thing.

    But now what I practically feel is associating to a group can also be healthy and necessary. Think about five villages contesting to be the model village. The villagers are working in a group. They take pried in their village, and compete to make it best.

    What I feel is its not about associating with group, its about how you associate with them. A group can/ should never be considered the ultimate truth. Group over individuality never, but group in itself can be good.

    To add, I can proud to be an Indian still wish for a border less world. In a borderless world I can still be proud to be from India and compete with an American to make my part of world (India) better than his. The problem arises when I tend to destroy in order to prove myself better.

  37. An interesting post,though philosophical in touch and I don’t have much taste in philosophical writings but I still enjoyed it and the comments & your responses too. It was an honest attempt what makes this post unique and special is an attempt of honest introspection. Some of the thoughts you mentioned have often come to my mind when I am into introspection. Now I can say firmly I wasn’t entirely wrong. But to be fair with billions of people following different religions, I don’t think feeling proud of your religion is not bad as long as you respect other religions too or at least not be disrespectful of other religions. But I agree with you on the genesis of communalism. The sense of affiliation and identity argument makes a lot of sense in understanding Communalism better. Like someone said-“you may have your reasons to love it” , but here it is ” you love it and find your reasons to justify”. Perfect, A good post.

    Akhtar Hussain

  38. Read this post and liked it a lot. It helped explain to me a lot of what I fail to understand. Am risking sounding super pompous here but honestly, I have lived life the way I wanted to and am not bothered by not belonging. In fact, subconsciously I seem to have made sure to not belong too much either by language or tradition or way of life. And have braved public ridicule and am not the most popular person in family circles. So this post has helped me a lot. I still fail to understand why it is so important to people to belong.

    While evolution makes for a powerful argument, we are far enough away from extinction for this argument to be totally valid in this day and age. In fact, when I see 20 year olds dying to belong or get back to traditional ‘roots’, I am moved to slack jawed shock! Thanks for pointing me to this post.

    • Sangitha,

      At the outset I must warn, what I have written in the post is purely conjectural, based on my understanding gained from observing people as well as introspection. I have not verified if any of this sits well with anthropologists, sociologists or psychologists.

      Yes, even I do not feel any particular affinity for people or an inclination to belong to a group, especially if it is based purely on circumstances of birth. In fact, I view ‘patriotism’ from the same perspective. But feeling some kind of intimacy if one has spent time together as a group is natural. However, I do tend to feel this kind of ‘feeling of belonging’ in case of atheists/skeptics of religion, who also many times happen to have been related to science or technology, and are good at argumentation. 😀 But I have not been able to determine how dangerous could this kind of affiliation be vis-a-vis systematic violence. Once a blogger had pointed out that even fans of different football clubs indulge in very violent riots despite the fact that they’re not associated with each other by circumstances of birth. But I digress…

      I think the vestiges of evolution are not easy to remove. There are many traits that do not necessarily help us survive as a species in this day and age of technology, e.g., men finding particular kind of women attractive and women finding particular kind of men attractive. Likewise, there is little protection offered by being able to store large quantities of fat through binge eating. This was useful in early days when the availability of food would be erratic. This hypothesis, valid for those of Indian subcontinent is known as ‘thrifty gene’, but some people have also told me that it has been debunked, so I don’t know it’s current acceptability among medical people. But now this thrifty gene feature is leading to diabetes mellitus, hypertension, atherosclerosis and consequent heart and kidney problems and disorders like stroke. Thus, what was beneficial to begin with is now harming us, and there is no way of removing these genes from our genome! So, though there might be no current benefit for this tendency to congregate in terms of survival, nor is there any way for it to be expelled out of the gene pool (if indeed this tendency is transmitted genetically). The only thing we can do (just like in case of disorders I mentioned above) is ‘lifestyle modification’.

      “In fact, when I see 20 year olds dying to belong or get back to traditional ‘roots’, I am moved to slack jawed shock!”

      Thanks for saying that! I must say that is the crux of the problem. 🙂

      I think part of the problem is parents’ and ‘elders” insistence that “those who follow tradition are ‘good’ people”. Right from the childhood an “obedient” kid that does not question, does not rebel and follows all the ‘instructions’ blindly is considered a “good” kid. Those who do the opposite are considered “problem” kids. So, those kids who follow traditions get their ‘reward center’ stimulated (good marks, good ranks, parents praise, relatives and teachers praise, they get gifts for getting good marks, etc.), whereas those who are of more independent mind are chastised, ridiculed and punished, and their “punishment center” gets stimulated. Thus right from the childhood, we mold children to be certain way.

      Also, the idea that “people who look like me or wear clothes like me are ‘good’ people” gets reinforced through many social mechanisms. As a corollary bigotry gets promoted (“those who look different from me/wear different clothes than me are ‘bad’ people”). To give an extreme example, if a Sardar’s son who wears turban sees that his parents are warmer in their dealings with other people who also wear turbans, are more jovial with them, speak with them (those wearing turban) in the same language in which they speak to him (Punjabi), then this idea is very likely to get implanted and reinforced in his mind that “those who wear turbans and speak Punjabi are better people and that they can be trusted more, and that others are relatively ‘bad’ people and I must trust them less”. Now as these events happen much early in life, I guess their unlearning becomes equally difficult. I’m not saying that this idea can never be unlearned, but the fact remains that it needs to be unlearned.

      That is why ghettoisation of any community is not good. And that is why I believe, people must interact with each other much more. E.g., if there are people whose only basis of interaction is their liking for cricket, then they would form an emotional bond with each other over time owing to their love for the game – even if they happen to be from different religion, region or caste, it would be difficult to divide them on some other lines. I am not saying they cannot be divided, but it would be more difficult than if they would have never interacted and formed an emotional bond.

      Hehe, long comment again! Don’t know if you’ll read. 😀

      The ‘solution’ part I mentioned was recognizing the children’s abilities – be they in any field. This, I say because, if they feel insignificant as individuals, then only they are more likely to fall back on “group-based” glory to have self-esteem preserved. Since you’re in a position where you come across lot of kids (I suppose), you might have an opportunity to gauge the validity of my idea.

      Thanks again, for reading and your inputs.

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