SOAS University of London

Department of Religions & Philosophies, School of History, Religions & Philosophies

Understanding Communal Violence in India since 1947

Module Code:
Module Not Running 2022/23
15 credits (0.5 unit)
Year of study:

Taught by Ilyas Chattha - - 2019-20 

Collective communal violence is one of the defining features of post-Independence Indian politics. Although Hindu-Muslim violence predominates, violence against Buddhists, Christians, Sikhs and Hindus (in states where they are a minority) is not unknown.  Recently, the intensity and nature of this violence has become more organised and gendered.

This course provides an advanced understanding of the causes of collective communal violence in India since 1947. It will outline the conceptual and methodological approaches to understanding collective communal violence.  It will review primordialist, instrumentalist (especially electoral incentives and social capital), and post-structuralist approaches. The course will assess the utility of these approaches while introducing students to historical institutionalism as a way of better understanding the Indian experience in a comparative context.  

Following a review of the methods and approaches, the course will evaluate the competing interpretations of the communal violence of the Partition of India that remains central to the study of the subject.  It will then focus on key debates within the subject: namely,
whether communal violence is an urban phenomenon, whether it is driven primarily by electoral competition, and whether institutionalised structures and practices perpetuate forms of violence against religious minorities, especially Muslims.

Detailed case studies will be undertaken of communal violence against religious minorities and women to demonstrate the changing nature of organised violence. These will include the anti-Muslim pogroms on Gujarat (2002), the anti-Sikh riots in Delhi (1984), and discussion of the increasing gendered nature of communal of contemporary communal violence.

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

On successful completion of this course a student should be able to:

  • Independently navigate the scholarly debates on communal violence in India. This includes the ability to:
  • Outline in detail the main methodological and coneptual approaches to the study of communal violence in India.
  • Understand and expalin the major epsiodes of communal violence in the post-1947 period.
  • Show an awareness of the competing debates, intepretations and understandings of the subject matter
  • Formulate and substantiate own position in light of a the specific issue.


One hour lecture; one hour seminar per week

Method of assessment

One 4,000 word essay (worth 80%); one presentation with paper (worth 20%).

Suggested reading

  • Brass, Paul. The Production of Hindu-Muslim Violence in Contemporary India. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2003.
  • Corbridge, Stuart and John Harriss. Reinventing India: Liberalisation, Hindu Nationalism and Popular Democracy. Cambridge: Polity Press, 2000.
  • Gonsalves, Colin. ‘Institutionalised Communalism in the Police Force: The Breakdown in the Criminal Justice System.’ International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights 1, no.3 (June 2002): 7-12.
  • Gupta, Dipankar. Justice before Reconciliation: Negotiating a ‘New Normal’ in Post-Riot Mumbai and Ahmedabad. New Delhi: Routledge, 2011.
  • Hasan, Zoya. ‘Mass Violence and Wheels of Indian [In]justice.’ In Violence and Democracy in India, edited by Amrita Basu and Srirupa Roy, 198-222. Oxford: Seagull Books, 2006.
  • Shani, Ornit. Communalism, Caste and Hindu Nationalism: The Violence in Gujarat. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007.
  • Singh, Gurharpal. Ethnic Conflict in India: A Case-study of Punjab. Basingstoke: Macmillan, 2000.
    Talbot, Ian and Gurharpal Singh. Partition of India. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009.
  • Varshney, Ashutosh. Ethnic Conflict and Civic Life: Hindus and Muslims in India. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2002.
  • Wilkinson, Steven I. Votes and Violence: Electoral Competition and Ethnic Riots in India. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules