Violence against Muslims in India

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There have been periodic instances of violence against Muslims in India (referred to as communal riots in India) since its partition from Pakistan in 1947, frequently in the form of mob attacks on Muslims by Hindus that form a pattern of sporadic sectarian violence between the Hindu and Muslim communities. Over 10,000 people have been killed in Hindu-Muslim communal violence since 1950 in 6,933 instances of communal violence between 1954 and 1982.[citation needed]

The causes of this violence against Muslims are varied. The roots are thought to lie in India's history – resentment toward the Islamic domination of India during the Middle Ages, policies established by the country's British colonizers, and the violent partition of India into a Muslim Pakistan and a secular India with a Muslim minority. Many scholars believe that incidents of anti-Muslim violence are politically motivated and a part of the electoral strategy of mainstream political parties associated with Hindu nationalism. Other scholars believe that the violence is not widespread but that it is restricted to certain urban areas because of local socio-political conditions.


Violence against Muslims is frequently in the form of mob attacks on Muslims by Hindus.[1][2][neutrality is disputed] These attacks are referred to as communal riots in India and are seen to be part of a pattern of sporadic sectarian violence between the Hindu and Muslim communities, and have also been connected to a rise in Islamophobia throughout the 20th century.[3] Most incidents have occurred in the northern and western states of India, whereas communalist sentiment in the south is less pronounced.[4] Among the largest incidents were Bihar in 1946,[5] Nellie in 1983[6] and Gujarat in 2002.[7]

These patterns of violence have been well-established since partition, with dozens of studies documenting instances of mass violence against minority groups.[8] Over 10,000 people have been killed in Hindu-Muslim communal violence since 1950.[9] According to official figures, there were 6,933 instances of communal violence between 1954 and 1982 and, between 1968 and 1980, there were 530 Hindus and 1,598 Muslims killed in a total of 3,949 instances of mass violence.[10] In 1989, there were incidents of mass violence throughout the north of India.[11] Praveen Swami believes these periodic acts of violence have "scarred India's post independence history" and have also hindered India's cause in Jammu and Kashmir with regard to the Kashmir conflict.[12]

Causes and effects[edit]

Violence against Muslims in India is located in India
Bhagalpur (1989)
Location of incidents. City name with year

The roots of this violence lie in India's history, stemming from lingering resentment toward the Islamic domination of India during the Middle Ages, policies established by the country's British colonizers, the violent partition of India into a Muslim Pakistan, and a secular India with a large but minority Muslim population.[13][undue weight? ] Some scholars have described incidents of anti-Muslim violence as politically motivated and organized and called them pogroms[14] or acts of genocide,[15][16] or a form of state terrorism with "organized political massacres"[17] rather than mere "riots".[18] Others argue that, although their community faces discrimination and violence, some Muslims have been highly successful,[19] that the violence is not as widespread as it appears, but is restricted to certain urban areas because of local socio-political conditions, and there are many cities where Muslims and Hindus live peacefully together with almost no incidences of sectarian violence.[20] In anti-Muslim riots in India there are three Muslims killed for one Hindu.[21] The economic competition between Hindus and Muslims also results in planned riots where Muslim businesses are specifically targeted.[22]

Role of political parties[edit]

Many social scientists feel that many of these acts of violence are institutionally supported, particularly by political parties and organizations connected to the Hindu nationalist volunteer organisation, Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). In particular, scholars fault the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Shiv Sena for complicity in these incidents of violence[23][24][25][26][27] and of using violence against Muslims as a part of a larger electoral strategy.[25][28] For example, research by Raheel Dhattiwala and Michael Biggs has stated that killings are far higher in areas where the BJP faces stiff electoral opposition than in areas in which it is already strong.[9] In 1989, the north of India saw an increase in orchestrated attacks on Muslims, and the BJP had further success in the local and state elections.[29] The social anthropologist Stanley Jeyaraja Tambiah concludes that the violence in Bhagalpur in 1989, Hashimpura in 1987 and in Moradabad 1980 were organised killings.[30] According to Ram Puniyani, the Shiv Sena were victorious in the elections due to the violence in the 1990s, and the BJP in Gujarat after the 2002 violence.[31] Gyan Prakash, however, cautions that the BJP's actions in Gujarat do not equate to the entirety of India, and it remains to be seen if the Hindutva movement has been successful in the deployment of this strategy nationwide.[32]

Economic and cultural factors[edit]

Hindu nationalists use the historical subjugation of India by Muslims as an excuse for violence. Their view is that these conquerors had raped Hindu women and destroyed places of worship. They feel that, since the Partition, Indian Muslims are allied to Pakistan and are possible terrorists and, therefore, the Hindus must take revenge for these past wrongs and reassert their pride.[33] The higher fertility rate among Muslims has been a recurring theme in the Hindu Right's rhetoric. They claim that the higher birth rate among Muslims is part of a plan to turn the Hindus into a minority within their own country.[34] Jaffrelot has pointed out that Modi, in his election campaign following the 2002 Gujarat violence, alluded to this fear.[35]

Another reason given for these outbreaks of violence is the upward mobility of the lower castes caused by the expansion of the economy. The violence has become a substitute for class tensions. Nationalists, rather than deal with the claims from the lower class, instead view Muslims and Christians as not "fully Indian" due to their religion,[36] and portray those who carry out these attacks as "heroes" that defended the majority from "anti-nationals".[31] Muslims are viewed as suspect and their loyalty to the state is questioned because of the ill-will still prevalent after the violence during partition. According to Omar Khalidi:

Anti-Muslim violence is planned and executed to render Muslims economically and socially crippled and, as a final outcome of that economic and social backwardness, assimilating them into lower rungs of Hindu society.[37]

Cultural nationalism has also been given as a reason for instances of violence carried out by Shiv Sena, a fascist political party which initially claimed to speak for the people of Maharashtra, but quickly turned their rhetoric to inciting violence against Muslims. The Shiv Sena were complicit in the violence in 1984 in the town of Bhiwandi, and again in the violence in Bombay in 1992 and 1993.[11] In both of these instances, Sena had help from the police and local officials. Violence has been incited by Sena in 1971 and 1986.[38][29] According to Sudipta Kaviraj, the Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP) are still engaged in the religious conflicts which began in the medieval times.[39]

Anti-Muslim violence creates a security risk for Hindus residing outside of India. Since the 1950s, there have been retaliatory attacks on Hindus in Pakistan and Bangladesh in response to anti-Muslim violence in India. After the 1992 violence in Bombay, Hindu temples were attacked in Britain, Dubai and Thailand.[40] This recurring violence has become a rigidly conventional pattern which has created a divide between the Muslim and Hindu communities.[41]

Jamaat-e-Islami Hind has spoken out against these communal clashes, as it believes that the violence not only impacts upon Muslims, but India as a whole, and that these riots are damaging to India's progress.[42] In Gujarat, the Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act (TADA) was used in incidents pertaining to communal violence in 1992 and 1993. The majority of those arrested under the act were Muslim. Conversely, TADA was not used after the violence carried out against Muslims during the Bombay riots.[43]


The BJP politicians, as well as those of other parties, argue that demographics play an essential role in Indian elections. The BJP believe that the higher the number of Muslims within a constituency, the higher are the chances of centrist parties to acquiesce to minority groups' requests, which lowers the chances of Muslims "building bridges" with their Hindu neighbours. As such, according to this argument "Muslim appeasement" is the root cause of communal violence.[44] Susanne and Lloyd Rudolph argue that the economic disparity is a reason for the aggression shown towards Muslims by Hindus. As India's economy expanded due to globalization and investment from overseas companies, the expectations of the Hindu population were not matched by the opportunities. Hindu nationalists then encouraged the perception of Muslims as the source of the Hindus' troubles.[45]

The actions of anti-Hindu and anti-India militant groups in Kashmir and Pakistan have reinforced anti-Muslim feelings in India, which has strengthened the Hindu Right. The Hindutva discourse portrays Muslims as traitors and state enemies, whose patriotism is suspected.[46] Sumit Ganguly argues that the rise in terrorism cannot only be attributed to socioeconomic factors, but also to the violence perpetrated by Hindutva forces.[47]

Major incidents[edit]

1946 Bihar[edit]

In October 1946, in Bihar, between 7,000 and 8,000 people were killed in an anti-Muslim riot. The Hindu chief minister refused to allow British troops to fire on the rioters. No enquiry was held, and he ignored the complicity of members of the Congress party who took part in the violence.[48][49][50] This rioting was in retaliation to the Noakhali carnage against Hindus which, in turn, was a reaction against the atrocities of Direct Action Day in Calcutta.[51]

1983 Nellie massacre[edit]

In the state of Assam in 1983 the Nellie massacre occurred. Nearly 1,800 Muslims of Bengali origin were slaughtered by Lalung tribespeople (also known as Tiwa) at a village called Nellie.[52][53] It has been described as one of the most severe massacre since World War II with the majority of victims being women and children, as a result of the actions of the Assam Movement[clarification needed] .[54][55]

One reason cited for this incident is that it resulted from a build-up of resentment over immigration.[56] The Assam movement insisted on striking the names of illegal immigrants from the electoral register and their deportation from the state. There was widespread support for the movement, which tapered off between 1981 and 1982.[57]

The movement demanded that anyone who had entered the state illegally since 1951 be deported. The central government, however, insisted on a cutoff date of 1971. Towards the end of 1982, the central government called elections and the movement called for people to boycott it, which led to the widespread violence.[58]

The official Tiwari Commission report on the Nellie massacre is still a closely guarded secret (only three copies exist).[59] The 600-page report was submitted to the Assam Government in 1984 and the Congress Government (headed by Hiteswar Saikia) decided not to make it public, and subsequent Governments followed suit.[60] Assam United Democratic Front and others are making legal efforts to make Tiwari Commission report public, so that reasonable justice is delivered to victims, at least after 25 years after the incident.[61]

Since, then there have been no instances of communal violence in Upper Assam.[62]

1969 to 1989[edit]

During the 1969 Gujarat riots, it is estimated that 630 people lost their lives.[63] In 1980 in Moradabad, an estimated 2,500 people were killed. The official estimate is 400 and other observers estimate between 1,500 and 2,000. Local police were directly implicated in planning the violence.[64] In 1989 in Bhagalpur, it is estimated nearly 1,000 people lost their lives in violent attacks,[63] believed to be a result of tensions raised over the Ayodhya dispute and the processions carried out by VHP activists, which were to be a show of strength and to serve as a warning to the minority communities.[65]

1992 Bombay riots[edit]

The destruction of the Babri Mosque by Hindu nationalists led directly to the 1992 Bombay Riots.[66] BBC correspondent Toral Varia called the riots "a pre-planned pogrom," that had been in the making since 1990, and stated that the destruction of the mosque was "the final provocation".[67]

Several scholars have likewise concluded that the riots must have been pre-planned, and that Hindu rioters had been given access to information about the locations of Muslim homes and businesses from non-public sources.[68] This violence is widely reported as having been orchestrated by Shiv Sena, a nationalist group led by Bal Thackeray.[69] A high-ranking member of the special branch, V. Deshmukh, gave evidence to the commission tasked with probing the riots. He said the failures in intelligence and prevention had been due to political assurances that the mosque in Ayodhya would be protected, that the police were fully aware of the Shiv Sena's capabilities to commit acts of violence, and that they had incited hate against the minority communities.[70]

The skyline of Ahmedabad filled with smoke as buildings and shops are set on fire by rioting mobs

2002 Gujarat violence[edit]

Since partition, there have been several acts of mass violence carried out against Muslims in Gujarat.[18] In 2002, in an incident described as an act of "fascistic state terror,"[71] Hindu extremists carried out acts of extreme violence against the Muslim minority population. The starting point for the incident was the attack on a train, which was blamed on Muslims.[72] During the incident, young girls were sexually assaulted, burned or hacked to death.[73] These rapes were condoned by the ruling BJP,[74][75] whose refusal to intervene lead to the displacement of 200,000.[76] Death toll figures range from the official estimate of 790 Muslims and 254 Hindus killed, to 2,000 Muslims killed.[77] Chief Minister Narendra Modi has also been accused of initiating and condoning the violence, as have the police and government officials who took part, as they directed the rioters and gave lists of Muslim-owned properties to the extremists.[78]

Mallika Sarabhai, who had complained over state complicity in the violence, was harassed, intimidated and falsely accused of human trafficking by the BJP.[79] Three police officers were given punitive transfers by the BJP after they had successfully put down the rioting in their wards, so as not to interfere further in preventing the violence.[80] According to Brass, the only conclusion from the evidence which is available points to a methodical pogrom, which was carried out with exceptional brutality and was highly coordinated.[81]

In 2007, Tehelka magazine released "The Truth: Gujarat 2002," a report which implicated the state government in the violence, and claimed that what had been called a spontaneous act of revenge was, in reality, a state-sanctioned pogrom.[82] According to Human Rights Watch, the violence in Gujarat in 2002 was pre-planned, and the police and state government participated in the violence.[83] In 2012, Modi was cleared of complicity in the violence by a Special Investigation Team appointed by the Supreme Court. The Muslim community is reported to have reacted with "anger and disbelief," and activist Teesta Setalvad has said the legal fight was not yet over, as they had the right to appeal.[84] Human Rights Watch has reported on acts of exceptional heroism by Hindus, Dalits and tribals, who tried to protect Muslims from the violence.[85]


The film Parzania, which is based on the Gulbarg Society massacre which occurred during the 2002 violence, was boycotted by cinemas in Gujarat over fear of sparking another riot. The film documents atrocities such as families being burned alive in their homes by Hindu extremists, women being set on fire after being gang-raped, and children being hacked to pieces.[86]

Final Solution by Rakesh Sharma is considered one of the better documentaries which covers the violence in Gujarat in 2002.[87] The Central Board of Film Certification had tried to ban the film but, in 2004, chairman Anupam Kher granted a certificate which allowed an uncut version to be screened.[88]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Brass 2003, p. 65.
  2. ^ Riaz 2008, p. 165.
  3. ^ Herman 2006, p. 65.
  4. ^ Cohen 2013, p. 66.
  5. ^ Riddick 2006, p. 118.
  6. ^ Ganguly 2007, p. 135.
  7. ^ Engineer 2002, pp. 5047-5054.
  8. ^ Pennington 2012, p. 32.
  9. ^ a b Dhattiwala 2012, pp. 483–516.
  10. ^ Brass 2003, p. 60.
  11. ^ a b Chandavarkar 2009, p. 29.
  12. ^ Swami 2006, p. 217.
  13. ^ Smith 2005, pp. 11–12.
  14. ^ Metcalf 2009, p. 117.
  15. ^ Holt 1977, p. 117.
  16. ^ Sikand 2004, p. 126.
  17. ^ Pandey 2005, p. 188.
  18. ^ a b Ghassem-Fachandi 2012, p. 2.
  19. ^ Metcalf 2013, p. 109.
  20. ^ Varshney.
  21. ^ For every Hindu killed in communal religious violence, THREE Muslims have been killed in independent India. (Statistics re: riots)
  22. ^ Religious Politics and Communal Violence: Critical Issues in Indian Politics
  23. ^ Brass a.
  24. ^ Brass b.
  25. ^ a b Jaffrelot 2011, p. 376.
  26. ^ Sarkur 2007, p. 187.
  27. ^ Brekke 2012, pp. 86–87.
  28. ^ Jaffrelot 2011, p. 382.
  29. ^ a b Chandavarkar 2009, p. 114.
  30. ^ Tambiah 1997, p. 321.
  31. ^ a b Puniyan 2003, pp. 12–13.
  32. ^ Prakash 2007, pp. 177–179.
  33. ^ Etzion 2008, pp. 123–124.
  34. ^ Weigl 2012, p. 19.
  35. ^ Jaffrelot 2011, p. 384.
  36. ^ Metcalf 2006, p. 89.
  37. ^ Puniyan 2003, p. 153.
  38. ^ Kaur 2005, p. 160.
  39. ^ Kaviraj 2010, p. 245.
  40. ^ Wilkinson 2006, p. 16.
  41. ^ Shani 2007, p. 187.
  42. ^ Sikand 2004, p. 86.
  43. ^ Singh 2012, p. 427.
  44. ^ Varshney 2003, p. 8.
  45. ^ Price 2012, p. 95.
  46. ^ Sikand 2006, p. 88.
  47. ^ Ganguly 2003, p. 10.
  48. ^ Wilkinson 2006, p. 10.
  49. ^ Bihar.
  50. ^ Markovits.
  51. ^ D'Costa 2010, p. 213.
  52. ^ Hazarika 1984.
  53. ^ S. B. 2012.
  54. ^ Ghosh 2004, p. 312.
  55. ^ Hussain 2009, p. 261.
  56. ^ Datta 2012, p. 183.
  57. ^ Chatterji 2013, p. 481.
  58. ^ Chatterji 2013, p. 418.
  59. ^ "83 polls were a mistake: KPS Gill". Assam Tribune. 18 February 2008. Retrieved 2 August 2012. 
  60. ^ Rehman, Teresa. "An Untold Shame". Tehelka Magazine. Retrieved 2011-12-08. 
  61. ^ Reporter, Staff (19 February 2008). "Flashback to Nellie Horror:AUDF to move court for probe report". The Telegraph. Retrieved 10 October 2012. 
  62. ^ Saikia 2005, p. 65.
  63. ^ a b Khalidi 2009, p. 180.
  64. ^ Engineer 1991, p. 209.
  65. ^ Berglund 2011, p. 105.
  66. ^ Metcalf 2009, p. 31.
  67. ^ Varia 2007.
  68. ^ Chris Ogden. A Lasting Legacy: The BJP-led National Democratic Alliance and India's Politics. Journal of Contemporary Asia. Vol. 42, Iss. 1, 2012
  69. ^ Tambiah 1997, p. 254.
  70. ^ Blom Hansen 2001, p. 137.
  71. ^ Singh 2009, p. 248.
  72. ^ Tilly 2006, p. 119.
  73. ^ Holst 2004, p. 149.
  74. ^ Raman 2009, p. 210.
  75. ^ Gangoli 2007, p. 42.
  76. ^ Shani 2007, p. 70.
  77. ^ Campbell 2012, p. 233.
  78. ^ Murphy 2011, p. 86.
  79. ^ Vickery 2010, p. 455.
  80. ^ Eckhert 2005, p. 215.
  81. ^ Brass 2003, p. 388.
  82. ^ Risam 2010, p. 521.
  83. ^ Narula 2002.
  84. ^ Krishnan 2012.
  85. ^ Human Rights Watch 2003.
  86. ^ Chu 2007.
  87. ^ Gupta 2013, p. 372.
  88. ^ Mazzarella 2013, p. 224.


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  • Singh, Ujjwal Kumar (2012). Victor V. Ramraj, Michael Hor, Kent Roach, ed. Global Anti-Terrorism Law and Policy (2nd ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 427. ISBN 9781107014671. 
  • Sarkur, Tanika (2007). Taisha Abraham, ed. Women and the Politics of Violence. Har Anand. ISBN 978-8124108475. 
  • Swami, Praveen (19 October 2006). India, Pakistan and the Secret Jihad: The Covert War in Kashmir, 1947–2004. Routledge. ISBN 978-0415404594. 
  • Smith, Glenn (2005). Asvi Warman Adam, Dewi Fortuna Anwar, ed. Violent Internal Conflicts in Asia Pacific: Histories, Political Economies, and Policies. Yayasan Obor. ISBN 9789794615140. 
  • Sikand, Yoginder (2004). Muslims in India Since 1947: Islamic Perspectives on Inter-Faith Relations. Routledge. ISBN 978-0415314862. 
  • Shani, Ornit (2007). Communalism, Caste and Hindu Nationalism: The Violence in Gujarat. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0521727532. 
  • Singh, Sujala (2009). Elleke Boehmer, Stephen Morton, ed. Terror and the Postcolonial: A Concise Companion. Wiley-Blackwell. ISBN 978-1405191548. one of the most horrific instances of fascistic state terror took place in Gujarat in 2002 
  • Tilly, Charles (2006). Regimes and Repertoires. University of Chicago Press. ISBN 978-0226803500. 
  • Tambiah, Stanely J. (1997). Leveling Crowds: EthnoNationalist Conflicts and Collective Violence in South Asia. University of California Press. ISBN 978-0520206427. 
  • Times of India, TNN (31 December 2005). "State pogroms glossed over". The Times of India. 
  • Varia, Toral (2 September 2007). "Mumbai riots a planned, perfected pogrom?". CNN-IBN. 
  • Varshney, Ashutosh (2003). Ethnic Conflict and Civic Life: Hindus and Muslims in India (2nd Revised ed.). Yale University Press. p. 8. ISBN 978-0300100136. 
  • Vickery, Jacqueline (30 December 2010). John D. H. Downing, ed. Encyclopedia of Social Movement Media. Sage. ISBN 978-0761926887. 
  • Varshney, Ashutosh. "Understanding Gujarat Violence". Social Science Research Council. 
  • Weigl, Constanze (2012). Reproductive Health Behaviour and Decision-making of Muslim Women: An Ethnographic Study in a Low-income Community in Urban North India. Lit Verlag. ISBN 978-3643107701. 
  • Wilkinson, Steven I. (2006). Votes and Violence: Electoral Competition and Ethnic Riots in India. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0521536059. 

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