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When Communalism is not Religious Antagonism: Examining the hidden assumptions in the colonial conception of communalism

Abstract:  It has become part of the Indian commonsense to regard “communalism” as simply another term for “religious intolerance”. Scholars seem to treat it as more or less ahistorical accident that this special term came to be coined in India for the phenomenon of religious antagonism. This essay proposes that the British did not see “communalism”in the same way as the religious intolerance they were familiar with in Europe. This becomes clear on considering that the British, no strangers to a history of religious antagonism and intolerance themselves, never saw the solutions drawn in Britain as being applicable in India. In fact, most of them believed (a) that “communalism” was a peculiarly Indian problem, one that did not have a parallel in the West and (b) that India already had toleration, the solution to religious intolerance in the West. But, communalism was still a major problem in India. How does one reconcile these seemingly contradictory positions? Therefore, before one begins to assess how British conceptions of community have impacted India, one must excavate what thosconceptions were and why they arose.

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