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Ethnicity and Social Change

Ethnicity and Social Change Shahida Lateef FOR over a century communal problems in India have occupied the attention of policymakers and academicians. These problems have been the result of conflict between communities separated by religion, language, caste, or region. Many and varied explanations have been offered for persistent coramuna- lism and most discussions have centred around the Muslim community; all other communal conflicts are considered internecine and therefore less important. While, for historical reasons there may be some justification for this, such a view is misleading as it glosses over communalism based not just on religion but on language, caste or region which was generated in the nineteenth century; nor does it provide an explanation for the growth and importance of commu- nalism over the last thirty years as exemplified by semi-political active groups representing language, caste, religious and regional interests. We have to accept the reality not just of religious communal ism but of all other forms communalism can take, and to take, an overview if we are to get beyond the stereo-type and provide an analytical framework from which a more credible explanation can be drawn, By considering communal conflict in a purely Indian context, it is possible to overlook its generality over the rest of the developing as well as the Western world. The term used for communal conflict in the West is ethnic (which no longer implies racial differences) i e, "communities or groups that share certain compulsory institutions while remaining distinct from other groups".1 It can in this sense also mean that at any given point, depending on the problem, individuals may co-operate with groups on the basis of religion, language or region to promote their social, economic and political interests, even when their basic affiliation remains to their original religion or caste group. Therefore, religion, language or caste may form a sufficient hut not necessary reason for ethnic grouping. Ethnicity denotes strife between groups as does communalism. The analysis of Indian communalism or ethnicity cannot be thus considered in isolation, as an Indian phenomenon. In most societies, ethnicity has gained importance, not just as a legacy from a past era, but in a natural progression, 6s a result of wide ranging economic, social and political changes which have led to urbanisation and mass political participation. Increasing politicisation emphasises the importance of group membership, one access to the power structure which can be used to further group interests. Differentiation, thus, becomes an important factor because other groups are similarly engaged. However, when group co-operation is based on primordial sentiments and Is. used as a platform for political demands, it leads to greater communal or ethnic awareness and assertjveness, even when this co-operation may be the result of increasingly impersonal social structures and the desire for cultural continuity.

Whither the Indian Women s Movement

11 A word-by-wond report of the debate was published in Puti Sel's- kooo Khozraistva, Nos 4-9, 1927. A great number of relevant articles was also published in Na Agranom Fronte of the relevant period.

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