India has always been home to different communities throughout its ancient and checkered history. In spite of its multiplicity, people of India have always lived in harmony giving due respect to all communities. Indian tradition teaches tolerance and equality. Even our foreign invaders learned to live like one of us, keeping no difference between any caste and community.

Take for instance, Akbar the great who not only married a Hindu lady but also started a new religion Din-e-elahi that encouraged equality among men. Similarly, Bahadur Zafar Shah organized communal functions that invited people from different religions to come together and worship.

Sadly, this harmony was first disturbed due to political reasons during the British period. During the colonial rule, the Englishmen created an artificial divide among Indians by defining them according to their religion and caste in their census. They played on the sentiments of one religion against the other in order to safeguard their interests. The phenomenon continued even after Independence, with power hungry Indian politicians replacing the British. The division of states on the basis of language further alienated one community from another.

The constitution of India guarantees equal rights to all its citizens irrespective of their caste, creed or religion. This fundamental right was put in place to strengthen communal harmony within the country. This is what makes our democracy stronger. Unfortunately, politicians view communities as vote banks and encourage one group at the cost of displeasing the other. And this escalates with every party vying to get the favour of one community against the other. Communities get divided into “Muslim Votes”, “Dalit Votes” and “Hindu Votes”, etc.

The classic example, of this politically motivated disharmony is Indira Gandhi’s “Operation Bluestar” that angered the entire Sikh community. It started with the Sikh Akali Dal Party defeating the Congress in the 1977 elections. This led to the Congress encouraging the Sikh fundamentalist Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale as its answer to the Akali Dal. Unfortunatly, when Bhindranwale took up the cause of Khalistan, a separate state for Sikhs, the killings of clean-shaven Sikhs by the pro Khalistan activists forced Indira Gandhi to kill Bhindranwale in the historic Golden Temple of Amritsar, in which the fanatic preacher was hiding along with his supporters.

An attack on the sacred Gurudwara estranged all Sikhs. It led to the assassination of Indira Gandhi by a Sikh security guard that in turn led to riots and mass scale killing of innocent Sikhs whose only crime was they belonged to the same community to which the killer belonged.

Forces of communal disharmony erupt every now and then with incidents like the Godhra burning or the destroying of Dalit homes in Haryana that act as catalysts to further violence and the ball of communal unrest never stops rolling. The Ram Janma Bhoomi – Babri Masjid controversy has been in the headlines for years, leading to great many losses of life and property during the Mumbai riots that followed the destruction of the Babri Masjid.

Such disturbances divert all political attention and resources and the more important function of nation building is relegated to the back burner. Education, awareness, a strong judiciary system, a strong police force is what we need to keep communal violence at bay and employ our energies in more fulfilling activities.