This introductory chapter first sets out the purpose of the book, which is to examine the conditions, the character, and the consequences of what has been called ‘communal’ conflict in nineteenth and early-twentieth-century India. At the same time, it seeks to analyse a particular construction of knowledge about Indian society — the construction of a sociology and a history that is fairly well summed up in the term ‘communalism’. The chapter then examines what happens when the term ‘communalism’ is applied to the history of Hindu–Muslim (or Hindu–Sikh/Muslim–Sikh) relations in colonial north India, what remains hidden behind the term and what, if anything, it illuminates.
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