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A Document to be Taken Note of


Mridula Mukherjee

THE COMMUNAL PROBLEM: REPORT OF THE KANPUR RIOTS ENQUIRY COMMITTEE
By
National Book Trust, New Delhi, 2005, pp. 216, Rs. 85.00

VOLUME XXX NUMBER 1-2 January-February 2006

Riots broke out in Kanpur on 24 March 1931 and lasted for several days. Ganesh Shankar Vidyarthi, President of the UP Provincial Congress Committee and a well-known journalist, was killed while trying to intervene in the conflict and save people in danger. The ghastly incidents sent shock-waves through the nation, especially as they took place almost at the culmination of the first phase of the Civil Disobedience movement. The Congress, at its Karachi session at the end of March 1931, set up a committee of six members to enquire into the riots, identify the causes and suggest remedies. The Committee was chaired by Bhagwan Das, one of the most eminent Indian philosophers and the secretary was Pandit Sundarlal, a distinguished non-official historian of medieval and modern India. Other members were Purushottam Das Tandon, Manzar Ali Sokhta, Abdul Latif Bijnori, and Zafarul-Mulk, all committed nationalists. The report was submitted in October 1931, but could not be published immediately as the Congress was facing heavy repression. It was published in 1933 and was immediately banned by the government.   The Report has some basic thrust areas. One, that communalism is the result of communal thinking, it is a mind-set, and once it is there, “riots can be caused almost at will by interested parties wherever and whenever it may suit them.” The Kanpur riots were seen as an “aggravated symptom of the disease”. The report often uses the imagery of disease and germs to describe communalism. Two, it believed that the primary cause of this communal thinking is to be found in the distorted or “perverted view of history” developed by British colonial writers and administrators in the 19th and early 20th centuries. So pervasive was this view, said the Report, that “even some of our best Congress workers, both Hindu and Muslim, are possessed with this idea”, and “it is our purpose to correct this view which is generally met with in school histories”(p.xiv). “We consider, therefore, that an attempt to remove historical misconceptions is the first and most indispensable step in the real solution of the Hindu-Muslim problem”(p.xv). Accordingly, the main part of the Report was devoted to the study of the medieval and colonial periods of Indian history, and a brief alternative reading of Indian history is presented in the report. Three, the authors of the Report dismissed the notion that religious differences were the cause of communalism. “There is nothing ...


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