Anti-Muslim violence in India
Anti-Muslim violence in India has occurred periodically since the country's partition in 1947, frequently in the form of mob attacks on Muslims by Hindus. Such attacks, often referred to as "communal riots" in India, are part of a pattern of sporadic sectarian violence between the Hindu and Muslim communities, which has been connected to a rise in anti-Muslim sentiment throughout the 20th century. Most incidents have occurred in the northern and western states of India, whereas communalist sentiment in the south is less pronounced. Among the largest incidents were Bihar in 1946, Nellie in 1983 and Gujarat in 2002.
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. Many scholars have described incidents of anti-Muslim violence as politically motivated and organized, preferring to call them pogroms or acts of genocide, rather than mere "riots". Others argue that, although their community faces discrimination and violence, some Muslims have been highly successful, 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.
According to political scientists, organizations with roots in Hindu nationalism have played a large part in these incidents of anti-Muslim violence, and in generating anti-Muslim sentiment. In particular, organizations associated with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, such as the Bharatiya Janata Party, Vishwa Hindu Parishad and Bajrang Dal are all considered by scholars to have a central role in the violence. The BJP, and its predecessor the Jana Sangh, have used these communal riots and anti-Muslim propaganda as a part of a larger political strategy. These incidents of violence against Muslims have marred India’s post independence history with a spill-over effect on India’s cause in the Kashmir conflict.
Hindu right-wing politicians will often legitimize instances of mass violence against Muslims as a natural reaction to actions perpetrated by Muslims in the past and the present. However, these patterns of violence have been well-established since partition, with dozens of studies documenting instances of mass violence against minority groups. Over 10,000 people have been killed in Hindu-Muslim communal violence since 1950. 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.
Causes and effects
These incidents have been described by Gyanendra Pandey as a new form of state terrorism, stating that these are not "riots" but "organized political massacres". In 1989, there were incidents of mass violence throughout the north of India. According to Stanley Jeyaraja Tambiah, the violence in Bhagalpur in 1989, Hashimpura in 1987 and in Moradabad 1980 were organised killings. 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.
Institutionalized riot systems
According to research by political scientist Paul Brass, though these acts of violence are usually referred to as "riots," they habitually become massacres of Muslims and pogroms with relatively few Hindus being killed. Brass argues that, in affected areas, there are "institutionalized riot systems, in which the organizations of militant Hindu nationalism are deeply implicated". His research also shows that those organizations that are a part of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS)—such as the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) and the Bajrang Dal—all have a central role in the violence. When it was founded in 1925, the RSS saw itself as having the role of protecting Hindus against Muslims and, since its first involvement in Hindu/Muslim confrontations in the 1927 Nagpur riots, it has formed militant groups who engage in attacks on minority groups throughout India.
Brass gives an example of police actions in Uttar Pradesh where the state itself is not institutionalised as anti-Muslim, nor are the police. Their actions or inactions depend on who is in power at the time and, though some officers will act according to their beliefs, their actions are constrained by those with political power. French political scientist Christophe Jaffrelot said that some of these incidents are a result of an electoral strategy by the BJP.
According to research by Raheel Dhattiwala and Michael Biggs, killings are far higher in areas where the BJP face stiff electoral opposition than in areas in which they are already strong. 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.
Gyan Prakash has cautioned that the BJP actions in Gujarat does not equate to the entirety of India, and it remains to be seen if the Hindutva movement is successful in deployment of this strategy nationwide. Ram Puniyani says that those who carry out these attacks are portrayed as "heroes" who have defended the majority from "anti-nationals". He also says that Thackery and Shiv Sena were victorious in the elections due to the violence in the 1990s, as was Modi after the 2002 violence. One reason given for anti-Muslim violence is the ill will, which is still prevalent after the violence during partition. Muslims are viewed as suspect and their loyalty to the state is questioned. This tension will at times explode into mass violence against the Muslim population. 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.
Cultural nationalism has also been given as a reason for instances of violence carried out by Shiv Sena, a fascist political party. They initially claimed to speak for the people of Maharashtra, but their rhetoric quickly turned to inciting violence against Muslims. They were complicit in the violence in 1984 in the town of Bhiwandi, and again in the violence in Bombay in 1992 and 1993. In both of these instances, Sena had help from the police and local officials. Violence has been incited by Sena in 1971 and 1986. According to Sudipta Kaviraj the VHP are still engaged in the religious conflicts which began in medieval times.
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.
Hindu nationalists also use the 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 partition, the Muslims are allied to Pakistan and are possible terrorists and, therefore, the Hindus must take revenge for these past wrongs and reassert their pride. The higher fertility rate among Muslims has been a recurring theme in the Hindu rights rhetoric. They claim that the higher birth rate amongst Muslims is part of a plan to turn the Hindus into a minority within their own country. Jaffrelot has said that Modi, in his election campaign following the violence in 2002 in Gujarat, referred to the higher birth rate of Muslims which is "something Hindus fear".
After the violence in 2002, the Indian parliament introduced the Communal Violence (Prevention, Control and Rehabilitation of Victims) Bill in 2005. The bill was heavily criticised by human rights groups and lawyers. A direct result of this violence has been a massive decrease in Dalits converting to Islam.
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, after the 1992 violence Hindu temples were attacked in Britain, Dubai and Thailand. This recurring violence has become a rigidly conventional pattern which has created a divide between the Muslim and Hindu communities.
Jamaat-e-Islami Hind has spoken out against these communal clashes, as it believes that the violence not only impacts upon Muslims, but on India as a whole, and that these riots are damaging to progress. 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.
The BJP, as well as other politicians, 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 parties from the center to agree with minority groups' requests, which lowers the chances of Muslims "building bridges" with their Hindu neighbors. As such, according to this argument "Muslim appeasement" is the root cause of communal violence. Susanne and Lloyd Rudolph argue that 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 opportunities. Hindu nationalists then encouraged this perception, which leads the Hindus to view Muslims as the source of their troubles.
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 (Hindutva). The Hindutva discourse portrays Muslims as traitors and state enemies, whose patriotism is suspected. Sumit Ganguly argues that the rise in terrorism cannot only be attributed to socioeconomic factors, but also to the violence perpetrated by Hindutva forces.
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. 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.
1983 Nellie massacre
In the state of Assam in 1983 the Nellie massacre occurred. It has been described as one the largest and most severe pogroms since World War II, with an estimated death toll of 5,000, the majority of which were women and children, as a result of the actions of the Assam Movement. One reason cited for this incident is that it resulted from a build-up of resentment over immigration. 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.
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. Since the incident, no investigation has ever been launched. The massacre stands as a testament that the All Assam Students Union (AASU) had left behind the economic reasons for the protests and the non violent methods they had employed up until then, and that they had become influenced by religious politics. The AASU denied any involvement in the massacre and ensured that there were no further instances of organized violence after the incident at Nellie. Since, then there have been no instances of communal violence in Upper Assam.
1969 Gujarat riots
During the 1969 Gujarat riots, it is estimated that 630 people lost their lives. 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. In 1989 in Bhagalpur, it is estimated nearly 1,000 people lost their lives in violent attacks, 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.
1992 Bombay riots
The destruction of the Babri Mosque by Hindu nationalists led directly to the 1992 Bombay Riots. 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". Writer Arundhati Roy wrote the essay "Fascism's Firm Footprint in India" in The Nation, arguing that the attack had been a "meticulously planned pogrom".
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. This violence is widely reported as having been orchestrated by Shiv Sena, a nationalist group led by Bal Thackeray. 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.
2002 Gujarat violence
Since partition, there have been several acts of mass violence carried out against Muslims in Gujarat. In 2002, in an incident described as an act of "fascistic state terror," 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. During the incident, young girls were sexually assaulted, burned or hacked to death. These rapes were condoned by the ruling BJP, whose refusal to intervene lead to the displacement of 200,000. Death toll figures range from the official estimate of 790 Muslims and 254 Hindus killed, to 2,000 Muslims killed. 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.
Mallika Sarabhai, who had complained over state complicity in the violence, was harassed, intimidated and falsely accused of human trafficking by the BJP. 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. 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.
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. According to Human Rights Watch, the violence in Gujarat in 2002 was pre-planned, and the police and state government participated in the violence. 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. Human Rights Watch has reported on acts of exceptional heroism by Hindus, Dalits and tribals, who tried to protect Muslims from the violence.
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.
Final Solution by Rakesh Sharma is considered one of the better documentaries which covers the violence in Gujarat in 2002. 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.
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