Religious violence in India

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Religious violence in India includes acts of violence by followers of one religious group against followers and institutions of another religious group, often in the form of rioting.[1] Religious violence in India, especially in recent times, has generally involved Hindus and Muslims,[2] although incidents of violence have also involved Christians, Jews, and Sikhs. There is also history of Muslim – Parsee riots (List of riots in Mumbai).

Despite the secular and religiously tolerant constitution of India, broad religious representation in various aspects of society including the government, the active role played by autonomous bodies such as National Human Rights Commission of India and National Commission for Minorities, and the ground-level work being out by Non-governmental organisations, sporadic and sometimes serious acts of religious violence tend to occur as the root causes of religious violence often run deep in history, religious activities, and politics of India.[3][4][5][6]

Along with domestic organisations, international human rights organisations such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch publish reports[7] on acts of religious violence in India. Over 2005 to 2009 period, an average of 130 people died every year from communal violence, or about 0.01 deaths per 100,000 population. The state of Maharashtra reported the highest total number of religious violence related fatalities over that 5 year period, while Madhya Pradesh experienced the highest fatality rate per year per 100,000 population between 2005 and 2009.[8] Over 2012, a total of 97 people died across India from various riots related to religious violence.[9] The world's average annual death rate from intentional violence, in recent years, has been 7.9 per 100,000 people.[10]

Ancient India[edit]

Ancient India has no history of large scale religious violence.[11] However, the Buddhist king Ashoka (304-232 BCE) is said to have ordered killings of 18,000 Jains after someone drew a picture of Buddha bowing at the feet of Mahavira.[12][13] King Pushyamitra of Sunga Empire is linked in legend with the persecution of Buddhists, though evidences are not sufficient to corroborate this claim. There is some doubt as to whether he did or did not persecute Buddhists actively.[14]

The Divyavadana ascribes to him the razing of stupas and viharas built by Ashoka.[15] This account has however been described as "exaggerated".[15] Archaeological evidence is scarce and uncertain.[16] However to many scholars, Sunga kings were seen as more amenable to Buddhism and as having contributed to the building of the stupa at Bharhut.[17]

With the possible exception of reign of King Pushyamitra, Buddhism and Hinduism seem to have co-existed peacefully with almost all Buddhist temples, including the ones at Ajanta Caves, being built under the rule and patronage of Hindu kings.[18]

Medieval India[edit]

Hindus have been historically persecuted during Islamic rule of the Indian subcontinent[19] and during Portuguese rule of Goa. The total number of deaths of this period, are usually attributed to the figure by Prof. K.S. Lal, who estimated that between the years 1000 AD and 1500 AD the population of Hindus decreased by 80 million.[20][20][21][22] In modern times, Hindus in Pakistan and Bangladesh have also suffered persecution. Most recently, thousands of Hindus from Sindh province in Pakistan have been fleeing to India voicing fear for their safety.

Muhammad bin Qasim (8th century)[edit]

Photograph of the Surya Temple, The most impressive and grandest ruins in Kashmir, at Marttand-Hardy Cole's Archaeological Survey of India Report 'Illustrations of Ancient Buildings in Kashmir.' (1869)

Muhammad bin Qasim, during his conquest of Sindh (in present day Pakistan), assaulted the town of Debal and destroyed its great temple.[23] He then built a mosque over the remains of the original temple at Debal and later in towns of Nerun and Sadusan (Sehwan)[23][24] After each battle all fighting men were executed and their wives and children enslaved. One fifth of the booty and slaves were dispatched back to Hajjaj and the Caliph.[23]

After the conquest, Muhammad bin Qasim adopted a controversial policy, asking for acceptance of Islamic Sharia law, in return for non-interference in their religious practice, .[25] No further mass conversions were attempted and the destruction of temples such as the Sun Temple at Multan was forbidden.[23]

Mahmud of Ghazni (11th century)[edit]

Somanatha Temple Prabhas Patan, Gujarat, from the Archaeological Survey of India, taken by D.H. Sykes in c.1869

Mahmud of Ghazni was a Sultan who invaded the Indian subcontinent from present-day Afghanistan during the early 11th century. His campaigns across the Gangetic plains are often cited for their iconoclastic plundering and destruction of Hindu temples such as those at Mathura, Dwarka, and others. In 1024 AD, Mahmud of Ghazni attacked and destroyed the third Somnath temple killing over 50,000 and personally destroying the Shiva lingam after stripping it of its gold.[26]

Mohammed Ghori (11th century)[edit]

Another ruler of the sultanate, Mohammed Ghori, conquered and subjugated the Hindu pilgrimage site Varanasi in the 11th century and he continued the destruction of Hindu temples and idols that had begun during the first attack in 1194.[27]

Qutb-ud-din Aibak (13th century)[edit]

Historical records compiled by Muslim historian Maulana Hakim Saiyid Abdul Hai attest to the iconoclasm of Qutb-ud-din Aybak. The first mosque built in Delhi, the "Quwwat al-Islam" was built after the demolition of the Hindu temple built previously by Prithvi Raj and certain parts of the temple were left outside the mosque proper.[28] This pattern of iconoclasm was common during his reign.[29]

Firuz Shah Tughlaq (14th century)[edit]

Firuz Shah Tughluq was the third ruler of the Tughlaq dynasty of the Delhi Sultanate. The "Tarikh-i-Firuz Shah" is a historical record written during his reign that attests to the systematic persecution of Hindus under his rule.[30] In particular, it records atrocities committed against Hindu Brahmin priests who refused to convert to Islam:

Under his rule, Hindus who were forced to pay the mandatory Jizya tax were recorded as infidels, their communities monitored and, if they violated Imperial ordinances and built temples, they were destroyed. In particular, an incident in the village of Gohana in Haryana was recorded in the "Insha-i-Mahry" (another historical record written by Amud Din Abdullah bin Mahru) where Hindus had erected a deity and were arrested, brought to the palace and executed en-masse.[30]

Ulugh Khan’s expedition and the sack of Srirangam (14th century)[edit]

In 1323 Ulugh Khan began his invasions of the Hindu kingdoms of South India. At Srirangam the invading army desecrated the shrine and killed 12,000 unarmed ascetics. The illustrious Vaishnava philosopher Sri Vedanta Desika, hid himself amongst the corpses together with the sole manuscript of the Srutaprakasika, the magnum opus of Sri Sudarsana Suri whose eyes were put out, and also the latter’s two sons. When the massacre was over, Sri Vedanta Desika and his followers fled to Satyamangalam in Mysore, where Sri Vedanta Desika published the Srutaprakasika.[31][32][33][34][35][36][37][38]

Malik Kafur's raid of South India (14th century)[edit]

The Muslim army led by Malik Kafur, a slave turned general of Allauddin Khilji attacked the beautiful temples of Hoysalas in the 14th century. The temple of Belur was protected and saved as soon as the attack started, so it didn't incur too much of damage. However, Halebid was destroyed to a great extent and is in a pretty dilapidated state.[39][40]

In 1311, Malik Kafur entered the Srirangam temple, massacred the Brahmin priests of the temple who resisted the invasion for three days, plundered the temple treasury and the storehouse and desecrated and destroyed numerous religious icons.[38][41]

Timur's massacre of Delhi (1398)[edit]

The Turkic ruler Timur's campaigns in India were marked by systematic slaughter and other atrocities on a truly massive scale inflicted mainly on the subcontinent's Hindu population. Leaving the Muslim populated areas aside, his army looted rest of the habits. Journalist and author John Keay in his book India: A History: From the Earliest Civilisations to the Boom of the Twenty-First Century notes that the Hindu population was massacred or enslaved. In his memoir, Timur writes about his acts, "Although I was desirous of sparing them, I could not succeed, for it was the will of God that this calamity should befall the city."[42] Before the battle of 1398 where Timur took control of Delhi, he had many Hindus as prisoners. One hundred thousand Hindus prisoners were killed before he attacked Delhi and many more were killed afterwards.[43]

Sikh rule[edit]

After ceasing control of Jammu and Kashmir, Maharaja Ranjit Singh appointed the first Hindu governor since 1354 AD. Gulab Dogra, the Hindu Maharaja of Jammu and Kashmir, raised the tax on Muslims, demolished the Jama Masjid of Srinagar and prohibited the cow slaughter. The punishment for cow slaughter was the death penalty without any exception.[44]

In 1837, Raja Gulab Dogra of Jammu and Kashmir suppressed the revolt of the Yousafzai Tribe, which forms the biggest proportion of Pashtun tribes. He offered 1 Rupee for the head of every Yousafzai men brought to his feet. He made Katuha is headquarters, hunted Muslim Pashtun tribes like wild beasts, although he had some of the women spared. The most beautiful of these women were kept for Raja Gulab Singh's harem and rest were sold as slaves in Lahore and Jammu. It was reported that this expedition resulted in loss of tens of thousands of Pashtun rebels, civilians and thousands of women were sold into slavery.[45]

Dogra Rule[edit]

After acquiring Jammu and Kashmir through the Treaty of Lahore and Treaty of Kashmir, Dogra rulers continued their anti-Muslim policies. The worst atrocities perpetrated against Muslims in the state came in 1863 when the Dogra ruler, Maharaja Ranbir Dogra, ordered a major invasion of the frontier areas of Yasin and Hunza to punish Muslim rebels. 3,000 troops were commanded by General Hooshiara Singh who invaded the frontier. The Dogras took all men as prisoner, and many Dogra soldiers entered the back portion of the Mandoori Hill which was full of Yasini and Hunza women and their children. Dogra soldiers drew their swords and cut the women and children into pieces. Those women who were injured but not dead were burnt alive and approximately 2000 Yasin villagers were killed overall. About 5,000 Yasinis were taken back to Srinagar for forced labour and all their women were included into the harems of Dogra Soldiers.[46][47]

Aurangzeb, Mughal Emperor (1658–1707)[edit]

The Mughal Empire was marked by periods of tolerance of non-Muslims, such as Hindus and Sikhs, as well as periods of violent oppression and persecution of those people.[48] The reign of Aurangzeb is frequently cited — and controversial — for his numerous desecrations and even destruction of Hindu temples.[48] Aurangzeb banned Diwali, placed a jizya (tax) on non-Muslims and sentenced the ninth Sikh guru Tegh Bahadur to death after charging him with rebellion.[48]

Aurangzeb destroyed a number of temples with figures varying from 80 to 60,000.[49] Indian historian Harbans Mukhia wrote that "In the end, as recently recorded in Richard Eaton's careful tabulation, some 80 temples were demolished between 1192 and 1760 (15 in Aurangzeb's reign) and he compares this figure with the claim of 60,000 demolitions, advanced rather nonchalantly by 'Hindu nationalist' propagandists,' although even in that camp professional historians are slightly more moderate."[50] Some temples were destroyed entirely; in other cases mosques were built on their foundations, sometimes using the same stones. Among the temples Aurangzeb destroyed were two that are most sacred to Hindus, in Varanasi and Mathura.[51] In both cases, he had large mosques built on the sites.[48]

The Kesava Deo temple in Mathura, marked the place that Hindus believe was the birthplace of Shri Krishna.[51] In 1661 Aurangzeb ordered the demolition of the temple, and constructed the Katra Masjid mosque. Traces of the ancient Hindu temple can be seen from the back of the mosque. Aurangzeb also destroyed what was the most famous temple in Varanasi- the Vishwanath Temple.[51] The temple had changed its location over the years, but in 1585 Akbar had authorised its location at Gyan Vapi. Aurangzeb ordered its demolition in 1669 and constructed a mosque on the site, whose minarets stand 71 metres above the Ganges. Traces of the old temple can be seen behind the mosque. Centuries later, emotional debate about these wanton acts of cultural desecration continues. Aurangzeb also destroyed the Somnath temple in 1706.[51]

Tipu Sultan, ruler of the Kingdom of Mysore (1782–1799)[edit]

The Jamalabad fort route. Mangalorean Catholics had travelled through this route on their way to Srirangapatanam

The ruler of Mysore, Tipu Sultan is regarded to be anti-Christian by many historians.[52][53][54] The captivity of Mangalorean Catholics at Seringapatam, which began on 24 February 1784 and ended on 4 May 1799, remains the most disconsolate memory in their history.[55]

The Bakur Manuscript reports him as having said: "All Musalmans should unite together, and considering the annihilation of infidels as a sacred duty, labor to the utmost of their power, to accomplish that subject."[56] Soon after the Treaty of Mangalore in 1784, Tipu gained control of Canara.[57] He issued orders to seize the Christians in Canara, confiscate their estates,[58] and deport them to Seringapatam, the capital of his empire, through the Jamalabad fort route.[59] However, there were no priests among the captives. Together with Father Miranda, all the 21 arrested priests were issued orders of expulsion to Goa, fined Rupees 200,000, and threatened death by hanging if they ever returned.[56]

Tipu ordered the destruction of 27 Catholic churches, all beautifully carved with statues depicting various saints. Among them included the Church of Nossa Senhora de Rosario Milagres at Mangalore, Fr Miranda's Seminary at Monte Mariano, Church of Jesu Marie Jose at Omzoor, Chapel at Bolar, Church of Merces at Ullal, Imaculata Conceiciao at Mulki, San Jose at Perar, Nossa Senhora dos Remedios at Kirem, Sao Lawrence at Karkal, Rosario at Barkur, Immaculata Conceciao at Baidnur.[56] All were razed to the ground, with the exception of The Church of Holy Cross at Hospet, owing to the friendly offices of the Chauta Raja of Moodbidri.[60]

Capture of the Mangalorean Catholic community[edit]

According to Thomas Munro, a Scottish soldier and the first collector of Canara, around 60,000 people,[61] nearly 92 percent of the entire Mangalorean Catholic community, were captured; only 7,000 escaped. Francis Buchanan gives the numbers as 70,000 captured, from a population of 80,000, with 10,000 escaping. They were forced to climb nearly 4,000 feet (1,200 m) through the jungles of the Western Ghat mountain ranges. It was 210 miles (340 km) from Mangalore to Seringapatam, and the journey took six weeks.[62]

According to British Government records, 20,000 of them died on the march to Seringapatam. According to James Scurry, a British officer, who was held captive along with Mangalorean Catholics, 30,000 of them were forcibly converted to Islam. The young women and girls were forcibly made wives of the Muslims living there.[62] The young men who offered resistance were disfigured by cutting their noses, upper lips, and ears.[63] According to Mr. Silva of Gangolim, a survivor of the captivity, if a person who had escaped from Seringapatam was found, the punishment under the orders of Tipu was the cutting off of the ears, nose, the feet and one hand.[64]

The Archbishop of Goa wrote in 1800, "It is notoriously known in all Asia and all other parts of the globe of the oppression and sufferings experienced by the Christians in the Dominion of the King of Kanara, during the usurpation of that country by Tipu Sultan from an implacable hatred he had against them who professed Christianity."[56]

The British officer James Scurry, who was detained a prisoner for 10 years by Tipu Sultan along with the Mangalorean Catholics.

Tipu Sultan's rule of the Malabar coast had an adverse impact on the Syrian Malabar Nasrani community. Many churches in the Malabar and Cochin were damaged. The old Syrian Nasrani seminary at Angamaly which had been the centre of Catholic religious education for several centuries was razed to the ground by Tipu's soldiers. A lot of centuries old religious manuscripts were lost forever.[65] The church was later relocated to Kottayam where it still exists. The Mor Sabor church at Akaparambu and the Martha Mariam Church attached to the seminary were destroyed as well. Tipu's army set fire to the church at Palayoor and attacked the Ollur Church in 1790. Furthernmore, the Arthat church and the Ambazhakkad seminary was also destroyed. Over the course of this invasion, many Syrian Malabar Nasrani were killed or forcibly converted to Islam. Most of the coconut, arecanut, pepper and cashew plantations held by the Syrian Malabar farmers were also indiscriminately destroyed by the invading army. As a result, when Tipu's army invaded Guruvayur and adjacent areas, the Syrian Christian community fled Calicut and small towns like Arthat to new centres like Kunnamkulam, Chalakudi, Ennakadu, Cheppadu, Kannankode, Mavelikkara, etc. where there were already Christians. They were given refuge by Sakthan Tamburan, the ruler of Cochin and Karthika Thirunal, the ruler of Travancore, who gave them lands, plantations and encouraged their businesses. Colonel Macqulay, the British resident of Travancore also helped them.[65]

Captured British soldiers[edit]

Tipu's persecution of Christians extended to captured British soldiers. For instance, there were a significant number of forced conversions of British captives between 1780 and 1784. Following their disastrous defeat at the 1780 Battle of Pollilur, 7,000 British men along with an unknown number of women were held captive by Tipu in the fortress of Seringapatnam.[66]

Of these, over 300 were circumcised and given Muslim names and clothes and several British regimental drummer boys were made to wear ghagra cholis and entertain the court as nautch girls or dancing girls. After the 10-year-long captivity ended, James Scurry, one of those prisoners, recounted that he had forgotten how to sit in a chair and use a knife and fork. His English was broken and stilted, having lost all his vernacular idiom. His skin had darkened to the swarthy complexion of negroes, and moreover, he had developed an aversion to wearing European clothes.[66]

During the surrender of the Mangalore fort which was delivered in an armistice by the British and their subsequent withdrawal, all the Mestizos and remaining non-British foreigners were killed, together with 5,600 Mangalorean Catholics. Those condemned by Tipu Sultan for treachery were hanged instantly, the gibbets being weighed down by the number of bodies they carried. The Netravati River was so putrid with the stench of dying bodies, that the local residents were forced to leave their riverside homes.[56]

Persecution of Hindus[edit]

Hindus, particularly the Nair and Kodava communities were also persecuted by Tipu Sultan. They were subjected to forcible conversions to Islam, death, and torture.[67][68] The Nairs were treated with extreme brutality by the Muslims due to their strong adherence to the Hindu faith and martial tradition.[69][70][71] The captivity ended when Nair troops from Travancore, with the help of the East India Company defeated Tippu Sultan in the Third Anglo-Mysore War.[72][73] It is estimated that out of the 30,000 Nairs put to captivity (including women and children), only a few hundred returned to Malabar alive.[73][74]

In 1783, the Kodavas erupted in revolt against Tippu Sultan and threw their forces out of Kodagu. In 1785, Tippu falsely called the Kodavas guilty of polyandry and threatened to convert them into Islam.[75] He threatened the Kodavas that he would not revile or molest a single individual among them and instead make Ahmadis (Muslims) out of the whole of them, transplanting them from their homeland in the Coorg to Seringapatam. In response the angered Kodavas rose in rebellion again.[76]

Tippu gave the task of implementing the orders to Runmust Khan, the Nawab of Kurool. This task was accomplished when in a surprise attack, the Kodavas were besieged by the invading Muslim army. 500 were killed and over 40,000 Kodavas fled to the woods and concealed themselves in the mountains.[76] Thousands of Kodava Hindus were seized along with the Raja, Dodda Vira-Rajendra, and held them captive at Seringapatam. They were also subjected to forcible conversions to Islam, death, and torture.[75]

In Seringapatam, the young men who were forcibly circumcised were incorporated into the Ahmedy Corps, and they formed eight Risalas or regiments.[76] The actual number of Kodavas that were captured in the operation is unclear. The British administrator Mark Wilks gives it as 70,000, Historian Lewis Rice arrives at the figure of 85,000, while Mir Kirmani's score for the Coorg campaign is 80,000 men, women and child prisoners.[76] In a letter to Runmust Khan, Tipu himself stated:[77]

"We proceeded with the utmost speed, and, at once, made prisoners of 40,000 occasion-seeking and sedition-exciting Coorgis, who alarmed at the approach of our victorious army, had slunk into woods, and concealed themselves in lofty mountains, inaccessible even to birds. Then carrying them away from their native country (the native place of sedition) we raised them to the honour of Islam, and incorporated them into our Ahmedy corps."

In 1788, Tipu ordered his governor in Calicut Sher Khan to begin the process of converting Hindus to Islam, and in July of that year, 200 Brahmins were forcibly converted and made to eat beef.[78] Tipu sent a letter on 19 January 1790 to the Governor of Bekal, Budruz Zuman Khan. It says:

"Don't you know I have achieved a great victory recently in Malabar and over four lakh Hindus were converted to Islam? I am determined to march against that cursed Raman Nair (Rajah of Travancore) very soon. Since I am overjoyed at the prospect of converting him and his subjects to Islam, I have happily abandoned the idea of going back to Srirangapatanam now."[79]

Historian Hayavadana C. Rao wrote about Tippu in his encyclopaedic work on the History of Mysore. He asserted that Tippu's "religious fanaticism and the excesses committed in the name of religion, both in Mysore and in the provinces, stand condemned for all time. His bigotry, indeed, was so great that it precluded all ideas of toleration". He further asserts that the acts of Tippu that were constructive towards Hindus were largely political and ostentatious rather than an indication of genuine tolerance.[80] C. K. Kareem also notes that Tippu Sultan issued an edict for the destruction of Hindu temples in Kerala.[81]

The following is a translation of an inscription on the stone found at Seringapatam, which was situated in a conspicuous place in the fort:[82]

"Oh Almighty God! dispose the whole body of infidels! Scatter their tribe, cause their feet to stagger! Overthrow their councils, change their state, destroy their very root! Cause death to be near them, cut off from them the means of sustenance! Shorten their days! Be their bodies the constant object of their cares (i.e., infest them with diseases), deprive their eyes of sight, make black their faces (i.e., bring shame)."

Colonial Era[edit]

Goa Inquisition (1560–1774)[edit]

Main article: Goa Inquisition
St. Francis Xavier who requested the Inquisition in 1545.

The first inquisitors, Aleixo Dias Falcão and Francisco Marques, established themselves in what was formerly the king of Goa's palace, forcing the Portuguese viceroy to relocate to a smaller residence. The inquisitor's first act was forbidding Hindus from the public practice of their faith through fear of death. Sephardic Jews living in Goa, many of whom had fled the Iberian Peninsula to escape the excesses of the Spanish Inquisition to begin with, were also persecuted. During the Goa Inquisition, described as "contrary to humanity" by Voltaire,[83] conversions to Catholicism occurred by force and 57 Goans were executed by the Portuguese between 1561 and 1774.[84][85]

The adverse effects of the inquisition were tempered somewhat by the fact that Hindus were able to escape Portuguese hegemony by migrating to other parts of the subcontinent.[86] Though officially repressed in 1774, it was reinstated by Queen Maria I in 1778. The last vestiges of the Goa Inquisition were finally swept away when the British occupied the city in 1812.

Indian Rebellion of 1857[edit]

In 1813, the East India Company charter was amended to allow for government sponsored missionary activity across British India.[87] The missionaries soon spread almost everywhere and started denigrating Hinduism and Islam, besides promoting Christianity, to seek converts.[88] Many officers of the British East India Company, such as Herbert Edwardes and Colonel S.G. Wheeler, openly preached to the Sepoys.[89] Such activities caused a great deal of resentment and fear of forced conversions among Indian soldiers of the Company and civilians alike.[88]

The perception that the company was trying to convert Hindus and Muslims to Christianity is often cited as one of the causes of the revolt. The revolt is considered by some historians as a semi-national and religious war seeking independence from British rule[90][91] though Saul David questions this interpretation.[92] The revolt started, among the Indian soldiers of British East India Company, when the British introduced new rifle cartridges, rumoured to be greased with pig and cow fat — an abhorrent concept to Muslim and Hindu soldiers, respectively, for religious reasons. However, in the aftermath of the revolt, British reprisals were particularly severe with hundreds of thousands being killed. While the death toll is often debated by historians with figures ranging between one hundred thousand and one million, it is usually agreed that several hundred thousands were killed.[93]

Moplah Rebellion (1921)[edit]

Main article: Moplah Rebellion

Moplah Rebellion was an Anti Hindu rebellion conducted by the Muslim Mappila community (Moplah is a British spelling) of Kerala in 1921. Inspired by the Khilafat movement and the Karachi resolution; Moplahs murdered, pillaged, and forcibly converted thousands of Hindus.[94][95] 100,000 Hindus[96] were driven away from their homes forcing to leave their property behind, which were later took over by Mappilas. This greatly changed the demographics of the area, being the major cause behind today's Malappuram district being a Muslim majority district in Kerala.[97]

According to one view, the reasons for the Moplah rebellion was religious revivalism among the Muslim Mappilas, and hostility towards the landlord Hindu Nair, Nambudiri Jenmi community and the British administration that supported the latter. Adhering to view, British records call it a British-Muslim revolt. The initial focus was on the government, but when the limited presence of the government was eliminated, Moplahs turned their full attention on attacking Hindus. Mohommed Haji was proclaimed the Caliph of the Moplah Khilafat and flags of Islamic Caliphate were flown. Ernad and Walluvanad were declared Khilafat kingdoms.[97]

Annie Besant wrote about the riots: "They Moplahs murdered and plundered abundantly, and killed or drove away all Hindus who would not apostatise. Somewhere about a lakh (100,000) of people were driven from their homes with nothing but their clothes they had on, stripped of everything. Malabar has taught us what Islamic rule still means, and we do not want to see another specimen of the Khilafat Raj in India."[96]

Partition of British India (1947)[edit]

Main article: Partition of India
As colonial rule in the Indian subcontinent was ending, there was large-scale religious violence.[98] Corpses with vultures in Kolkata after the 1946 riots (left), a Jain neighborhood and Hindu temple after arson attacks in Ahmedabad in 1946 (middle) and Sikhs escaping violence across the Indo-Pakistani Punjab border in 1947.

Direct Action Day, which started on 16 August 1946, left approximately 3000 dead and 17000 injured.[98][99]

After the Indian Rebellion of 1857, the British followed a divide-and-rule policy, exploiting differences between communities, to prevent similar revolts from taking place. In that respect, Indian Muslims were encouraged to forge a cultural and political identity separate from the Hindus.[100] In the years leading up to Independence, Mohammad Ali Jinnah became increasingly concerned about minority position of Islam in an independent India largely composed of a Hindu majority.[101]

Although a partition plan was accepted, no large population movements were contemplated. As India and Pakistan become independent, 14.5 million people crossed borders to ensure their safety in an increasingly lawless and communal environment. With British authority gone, the newly formed governments were completely unequipped to deal with migrations of such staggering magnitude, and massive violence and slaughter occurred on both sides of the border along communal lines. Estimates of the number of deaths range around roughly 500,000, with low estimates at 200,000 and high estimates at 1,000,000.[101]

Modern India[edit]

In 2010, after an article penned by Taslima Nasrin appeared in a local newspaper, some considered it offensive to Islam. Religious violence shook Shimoga Karnataka with widespread arson (shown above) and looting. Two people died and 100 were injured.[102]

Constitutionally India is a secular state, [103] but large-scale violence has periodically occurred in India since independence. In recent decades, communal tensions and religion-based politics have become more prominent.

Anti-Sikh Riots[edit]

Main article: 1984 anti-Sikh riots

For several decades after Partitions, Sikhs in Punjab had complained about domination by the Hindu majority.[104] In a 1975 court case, Indira Gandhi was found guilty of electoral malpractice which barred her from government offices for six years and opposition parties staged protests to demand her resignation. In response, she declared a State of Emergency during which she jailed thousands of opposition members, censored the press, postponed elections, and changed the constitutional law she was convicted of violating. During the Indian Emergency, thousands of Sikhs campaigning for autonomous government and against the "fascist tendency" of the Central Government[105] were imprisoned.[104] As a result of their "Campaign to Save Democracy", out of 140,000 people arrested without trial during the Indian Emergency, 40,000 were Sikhs.[106]

In later elections she supported the politics Jarnail Bhindranwale, a religious conservative, in an effort to undermine the Akali Dal, the largest Sikh political party. However, Bhindranwale began to oppose the central government and moved his political base to the environs of the Darbar Sahib in Amritsar, Punjab. While there he gained considerable political power and disrupted the local state machinery. In June 1984, under orders from Indira Gandhi, the Indian army attacked the Darbar Sahib with tanks and armoured vehicles.[107] Although the operation was militarily successful, it aroused tremendous controversy, and the government's justification for the timing and style of the attack are highly debated.[108] In response, some Sikhs and some Punjabi Hindus began a separatist campaign to free Punjab from the Indian Government.[109]

Indira Gandhi was assassinated on 31 October 1984 by two of her bodyguards in retaliation for the storming of the Golden temple. After the assassination the 1984 anti-Sikh pogroms took place in Delhi, where government and police officials aided Indian National Congress party worker gangs in "methodically and systematically" targeting Sikhs and Sikh homes.[110] As a result of the pogroms 10,000–17,000 were burned alive or otherwise killed, Sikh people suffered massive property damage, and "at least 50,000" Sikhs became displaced persons.[111] To date, the Government of India has not prosecuted any of the assailants.[110] The attack on the Harmandir Sahib and the 1984 Anti-Sikh pogroms led to the increasing popularity of the Khalistan movement. From 1987 until 1992, the Indian government dismissed the elected government of the state, banned elections and imposed direct rule.[112] Rajiv Gandhi made a famous controversial speech which incited communal hatred: "When a big tree falls (Indira Gandhi), the earth shakes (the people)."[113][114]

In the peak years of the insurgency, religious violence by separatists, government-sponsored groups, and the paramilitary arms of the government was endemic on all sides. Human Rights Watch reports that separatists were responsible for "massacre of civilians, attacks upon Hindu minorities in the state, indiscriminate bomb attacks in crowded places, and the assassination of a number of political leaders".[115] According to Human Rights Watch, the Indian Government's response "led to the arbitrary detention, torture, extrajudicial execution, and enforced disappearance of thousands of Sikhs".[115] The government generally targeted "young Sikh men on suspicion that they were involved in the militancy" but would later deny having them in custody, as a result, many of the victims of enforced disappearances are believed to have been killed.[115] The insurgency resulted in the paralyzation of Punjab's economy until normalisation in 1993.[115]

After the assassination of Indira Gandhi by two of her Sikh Body Guards following Operation Blue Star, many Indian National Congress workers including Jagdish Tytler, Sajjan Kumar and Kamal Nath were accused of inciting and participating in riots targeting the Sikh population of the capitol. There are allegations that the government destroyed evidence and shielded the guilty. The Asian Age front-page story called the government actions "the Mother of all Cover-ups"[116][117] There are allegations that the violence was led and often perpetrated by Indian National Congress activists and sympathisers during the riots.[118] The government, then led by the Congress, was widely criticised for doing very little at the time, possibly acting as a conspirator. The theory is supported by the fact that voting lists were used to identify Sikh families.[119][120][121]

Ethnic cleansing of Kashmiri Hindus[edit]

In the Kashmir region, approximately 300 Kashmiri Pandits were killed between September 1989 to 1990 in various incidents.[122] In early 1990, local Urdu newspapers Aftab and Al Safa called upon Kashmiris to wage jihad against India and ordered the expulsion of all Hindus choosing to remain in Kashmir.[122] In the following days masked men ran in the streets with AK-47 shooting to kill Hindus who would not leave.[122] Notices were placed on the houses of all Hindus, telling them to leave within 24 hours or die.[122]

Since March 1990, estimates of between 300,000 to 500,000 pandits have migrated outside Kashmir[123] due to persecution by Islamic fundamentalists in the largest case of ethnic cleansing since the partition of India.[124] The proportion of Kashmiri Pandits in the Kashmir valley has declined from about 15% in 1947 to, by some estimates, less than 0.1% since the insurgency in Kashmir took on a religious and sectarian flavour.[125]

Many Kashmiri Pandits have been killed by Islamist militants in incidents such as the Wandhama massacre and the 2000 Amarnath pilgrimage massacre.[126][127][128][129][130] The incidents of massacring and forced eviction have been termed ethnic cleansing by some observers.[122]

Religious involvement in North-East India Militancy[edit]

Religion has begun to play an increasing role in reinforcing ethnic divides among the decades old militant separatist movements in north-east India.[131][132][133]

The separatist group National Liberation Front of Tripura (NLFT) seeks to convert all tribals in the state of Tripura, who are mostly Hindu or Buddhist, to Christianity. It has proclaimed bans on Hindu worship and has attacked animist Reangs and Hindu Jamatia tribesmen who resisted. Some resisting tribal leaders have been killed and their womenfolk raped. The RSS has attempted to counter Christian separatist groups by backing Reang and Jamatia tribals, and has called for the central government to help arm and fund them.[132]

Hindu nationalists, upset with the rapid spread of Christianity in the region, link the overt Christian religiosity of the groups and the local churches' liberation theology-based doctrine to allege church support for ethnic separatism.[132] Vatsala Vedantam identifies statements from the American Baptist Churches USA as endorsing the Naga separatist cause.[134]

According to The Government of Tripura, the Baptist Church of Tripura is involved in supporting the NLFT and arrested two church officials in 2000, one of them for possessing explosives.[135] In late 2004, the National Liberation Front of Tripura banned all Hindu celebrations of Durga Puja and Saraswati Puja.[136] The Naga insurgency, ethnic separtism reinforced in their identity by Christianity, has been repeatedly involved in violence against Hindus in the region.[137][138][139][140]

The United States does not designate as terrorist organisations most of those groups that continue violent separatist struggles in India’s northeastern states.[141]

Anti-Muslim violence[edit]

The history of modern India has many incidents of communal violence. Tensions between Hindus and Muslims started coming to light a few years before the independence of the Indian subcontinent. This thought contrasts with the more widely held Two Nation Theory as the main reason. These riots were supposedly provoked by colonizers and politicians for personal gains and vested interests. After India became independent, tensions have led to several major incidences of religious violence such as the 1987 Hashimpura massacre, the 1992-93 Bombay Riots, the 1993 Bombay bombings, and the 2002 Gujarat violence.

On 6 December 1992, members of the Vishva Hindu Parishad and the Bajrang Dal destroyed the 430-year-old Babri Mosque in Ayodhya[142][143] - it was claimed by the Hindus that the mosque was built over the birthplace of the ancient deity Rama (and a 2010 Allahabad court ruled that the site was indeed a Hindu monument before the mosque was built there, based on evidence submitted by the Archaeological Survey of India[144]). This action allegedly caused humiliation to the Muslim community. The resulting religious riots caused at least 1200 deaths.[145][146] Since then the Government of India has blocked off or heavily increased security at these disputed sites while encouraging attempts to resolve these disputes through court cases and negotiations.[147]

In the aftermatch of the destruction of the Babri Mosque in Ayodhya by Hindu nationalists on 6 December 1992, riots took place between Hindus and Muslims in the city of Mumbai. Four people died in a fire in the Asalpha timber mart at Ghatkopar, five were killed in the burning of Bainganwadi; shacks along the harbour line track between Sewri and Cotton Green stations were gutted; and a couple was pulled out of a rickshaw in Asalpha village and burnt to death.[148] The riots changed the demographics of Mumbai greatly, as Hindus moved to Hindu-majority areas and Muslims moved to Muslim-majority areas.

Many Ahmedabad's buildings were set on fire during 2002 Gujarat violence.

The Godhra train burning incident in which Hindus were burned alive allegedly by Muslims by closing door of train, led to the 2002 Gujarat riots in which mostly Muslims were killed in an act of retaliation. According to the death toll given to the parliament on 11 May 2005 by the government, 790 Muslims and 254 Hindus were killed, and another 2,548 injured. 223 people are missing. The report placed the number of riot widows at 919 and 606 children were declared orphaned.[149][150][151] According to hone advocacy group, the death tolls were up to 2000.[152][153][154][155][156] According to the Congressional Research Service, up to 2000 people were killed in the violence.[157]

Tens of thousands were displaced from their homes because of the violence. According to New York Times reporter Celia Williams Dugger, witnesses were dismayed by the lack of intervention from local police, who often watched the events taking place and took no action against the attacks on Muslims and their property.[158] Sangh leaders[159][160] as well as the Gujarat government[161][162] maintain that the violence was rioting or inter-communal clashes — spontaneous and uncontrollable reaction to the Godhra train burning.

The Government of India has implemented almost all the recommendations of the Sachar Committee to help Muslims.[163][164]

Anti-Christian violence[edit]

In recent years, there has been a sharp increase in violent attacks on Christians in India, often perpetrated by Hindu Nationalists.[165] Between 1964 and 1996, thirty-eight incidents of violence against Christians were reported.[166] In 1997, twenty-four such incidents were reported.[167] In 1998, it went up to ninety.[166] Between January 1998 and February 1999 alone, one hundred and sixteen attacks against Christians in India were reported by church.[168] Between 1 January and 30 July 2000, more than fifty-seven attacks on Christians were reported.[169] These acts of violence include forcible reconversion of converted Christians to Hinduism, distribution of threatening literature and destruction of Christian cemeteries.[165][166][169]

In some cases, anti-Christian violence has been co-ordinated, involving multiple attacks. In Orissa, starting December 2007, Christians have been attacked in Kandhamal and other districts, resulting in the deaths of two Hindus and one Christian, and the destruction of houses and churches. Hindu Extremists claim that, Christians first killed a Hindu saint Laxmananand. So the attacks on Christians supposedly were in retaliation. However there was no conclusive proof to support this claim.[170][171][172][173][174] Twenty people were arrested following the attacks on churches.[173] Similarly, starting 14 September 2008, there were numerous incidents of violence against the Christian community in Karnataka.

Foreign Christian missionaries have mostly been targets of attacks.[175] In a well-publicised case Graham Staines, an Australian missionary, was burnt to death while he was sleeping with his two sons Timothy (aged 9) and Philip (aged 7) in his station wagon at Manoharpur village in Keonjhar district in Orissa in January 1999.[165][175][176][177] In 2003, Dara Singh was convicted of leading the gang responsible.[178][179][180]

In its annual human rights reports for 1999, the United States Department of State criticised India for "increasing societal violence against Christians."[181] The report listed over 90 incidents of anti-Christian violence, ranging from damage of religious property to violence against Christian pilgrims.[181]

In 2007 and 2008 there was a further flare up of tensions in Orissa. Another church was attacked in BJP-ruled Madhya Pradesh, where unidentified persons set two Statues inside St Peter and Paul Church in Jabalpur on fire,[182] and more attacks in Karnataka, .[183] The archbishop, Bernard Moras, met the BJP CM BS Yeddyurappa after he had taken a decision to invoke the provisions of Goonda Act against those nabbed for vandalising churches as part of its strategy to salvage its image and to instill confidence. The Bajrang Dal convenor was arrested after the incidents of church burning in Mangalore.[184][185]

Anti-Hindu violence[edit]

The passage to the permanent Durga mandap at Chattalpalli was being dug up to prevent the Hindus from entering the area.

There have been a number of more recent attacks on Hindu temples and Hindus by Muslim militants. Prominent among them are the 1998 Chamba massacre, the 2002 fidayeen attacks on Raghunath temple, the 2002 Akshardham Temple attack allegedly perpetrated by Islamic terrorist outfit Lashkar-e-Toiba[186] and the 2006 Varanasi bombings (supposedly perpetrated by Lashkar-e-Toiba), resulting in many deaths and injuries. Recent attacks on Hindus by Muslim mobs include Marad massacre, Godhra train burning etc.

In August 2000, Swami Shanti Kali, a popular Hindu priest, was shot to death inside his ashram in the Indian state of Tripura. Police reports regarding the incident identified ten members of the Christian militant organisation, NLFT, as being responsible for the murder. On 4 Dec 2000, nearly three months after his death, an ashram set up by Shanti Kali at Chachu Bazar near the Sidhai police station was raided by Christian militants belonging to the NLFT. Eleven of the priest's ashrams, schools, and orphanages around the state were closed down by the NLFT.

In September 2008, Swami Laxmanananda, a popular regional Hindu Guru was murdered along with four of his disciples by unknown assailants (though a Maoist organisation later claimed responsibility for that[187][188]), allegedly due to the Guru's provocative opposition of Christians' conversion activities and Missionary propaganda[citation needed]. Later the police arrested three Christians in connection with the murder.[189] Congress MP Radhakant Nayak has also been named as a suspected person in the murder, with some Hindu leaders calling for his arrest.[190]

Lesser incidents of religious violence happen in many towns and villages in India. In October 2005, five people were killed in Mau in Uttar Pradesh during Hindu-Muslim rioting, which was triggered by the proposed celebration of a Hindu festival.[191]

On 3 and 4 January 2002, three Hindus and two Muslims were killed in Marad, near Kozhikode due to scuffles between two groups that began after a dispute over drinking water.[192][193] On 2001 three Muslims were killed by Rashtreeys Sevak Sangam. in response of this incident on 2 May 2003, eight Hindus were killed by a Muslim mob, in what is believed to be a sequel to the earlier incident.[193][194] One of the attackers, Mohammed Ashker was killed during the chaos. The National Development Front (NDF), a right-wing militant Islamist organisation, was suspected as the perpetrator of the Marad Massacre.[195]

In the 2010 Deganga riots after hundreds of Hindu business establishments and residences were looted, destroyed and burnt, dozens of Hindus were severely injured and several Hindu temples desecrated and vandalised by the Islamist mobs led by Trinamul Congress MP Haji Nurul Islam.[196] Three years later, during the 2013 Canning riots, several hundred Hindu businesses were targeted and destroyed by Islamist mobs in the Indian state of West Bengal.[197][198]

Hindu riot victims who lost their lives in communal violence.[199][200][201]

254 Hindus were killed in Gujarat riots out of which half were killed in police firing and rest by rioters[202][203][204][205][206][207][208][209][210]

275 Hindus were killed in 1992 Bombay riots[211]

Hindus were attacked in Canning in 2013.


Over 2005 to 2009 period, an average of 130 people died every year from communal riots, and 2,200 were injured.[8] In pre-partitioned India, over the 1920–1940 period, numerous communal violence incidents were recorded, an average of 381 people died per year during religious violence, and thousands were injured.[212]

According to PRS India,[8] 24 out of 35 states and union territories of India reported instances of religious riots over the 5 year 2005–2009 period. However, most religious riots resulted in property damage but no injuries or fatalities. The highest incidences of communal violence in the 5-year period were reported from Maharashtra (700). The other three states with high counts of communal violence over the same 5 year period were Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and Orissa. Together, these four states accounted for 64% of all deaths from communal violence. Adjusted for widely different population per state, the highest rate of communal violence fatalities were reported by Madhya Pradesh, at 0.14 death per 100,000 people over 5 years, or 0.03 deaths per 100,000 people per year.[8] There was a wide regional variation in rate of death caused by communal violence per 100,000 people. The India-wide average communal violence fatality rate per year was 0.01 person per 100,000 people per year. The world's average annual death rate from intentional violence, in recent years, has been 7.9 per 100,000 people.[10]

For 2012,[9] there were 93 deaths in India from many incidences of communal violence (or 0.007 fatalities per 100,000 people). Of these, 48 were Muslims, 44 Hindus and one police official. The riots also injured 2,067 people, of which 1,010 were Hindus, 787 Muslims, 222 police officials and 48 others. Over 2013, 107 people were killed during religious riots (or 0.008 total fatalities per 100,000 people), of which 66 were Muslims, 41 were Hindus. The various riots in 2013 also injured 1,647 people including 794 Hindus, 703 Muslims and 200 policemen.[9][213]

International human rights reports[edit]

  • The 2007 United States Department of State International Religious Freedom Report noted The Constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the National Government generally respected this right in practice. However, some state and local governments limited this freedom in practice.[214]
  • The 2008 Human Rights Watch report notes: India claims an abiding commitment to human rights, but its record is marred by continuing violations by security forces in counterinsurgency operations and by government failure to rigorously implement laws and policies to protect marginalised communities. A vibrant media and civil society continue to press for improvements, but without tangible signs of success in 2007.[7]
  • The 2007 Amnesty International report listed several issues concern in India and noted Justice and rehabilitation continued to evade most victims of the 2002 Gujarat communal violence.[215]
  • The 2007 United States Department of State Human Rights Report[216] noted that the government generally respected the rights of its citizens; however, numerous serious problems remained. The report which has received a lot of controversy internationally,[217][218][219][220] as it does not include human rights violations of United States and its allies, has generally been rejected by political parties in India as interference in internal affairs,[221] including in the Lower House of Parliament.[222]

In film and literature[edit]

Religious violence in India have been a topic of various films and novels.

See also[edit]


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  224. ^ Earth (1998) IMDB
  225. ^ Fiza (2000) IMDB
  226. ^ Hey Ram (2000) IMDB
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  228. ^ Final Solution (2003) IMDB
  229. ^ Black Friday (2004) IMDB
  230. ^ Parzania (2005) IMDB
  231. ^ Parzania not screened in Gujarat
  232. ^ Cinema at its very best... and then some not quite so at all
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