Communal Riots in India: Key Incidents and Trends

The dangerous outcome of the communalism is communal riots. Communal riots are nothing but clashes between two or more communities owing to clashes of communal interests.

Paul R Brass in his book, “Riots and pogroms”, says that riots occur in the wake of a “psychological atmosphere”. In India, though the communal riots decreased after the trauma of Partition in 1947, it began to increase after the Jabalpur riots of 1961.

Paul Brass defines riot as a “violent disturbance of peace by an assembly or body of persons” and a pogrom as “an organised massacre”. He points out that in independent India two pogroms took place since independence. One after the assassination of former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi in 1984 and another in Mumbai after the demolition of Babri Masjid in 1992 -1993.

Partition of India, 1947

Partition of India in 1947 resulted in communal violence and made millions of people to move from both the sides of the border. Hindus in Pakistan and Muslims in India were hurt by the violence and many were killed in large numbers. After independence rehabilitation of refugees became one of the biggest challenges for India.

Anti-Sikh riots, 1984

After the assassination of former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi by her own Sikh security guards, violence against Sikhs was witnessed in Delhi and other parts of the India, where Sikhs were massacred in large numbers by anti- Sikh mob.

Ethnic cleansing of Kashmiri Hindu Pundits in 1989

Kashmir which is known for love, peace and unity of Hindu, Muslims and other communities got disturbed with the growth of Extremist Islamic terrorism. The terrorism which got the support of external elements resulted in mass killings and large-scale exodus of Kashmiri Pundits from the valley to other parts of the country in the late 1980s and beginning of 1990s. It reduced the status of Kashmiri Pundits to that of refugees in their own country. Still Kashmir is under the grip of communal violence.

Bhagalpur Riots, 1989

In 1989, violence between Hindus and the Muslims in the Bhagalpur resulted in death of around one thousand people (mostly Muslims) and displacement of around 50,000 people. This riot had started at a time when Ram Janmabhoomi Movement was on peak. The tensions escalated at a time when Muharram and Bisheri Puja festivities coincided.

Babri Mosque demolition, 1992

In the medieval period, a Mughal general called as Mir Baqi had built a mosque called Babri Masjid named after the Mughal emperor Babur in the 16th century. In 1992, “kar sevaks” from different parts of the country assembled in Ayodhya and demolished the mosque after the political rally turned violent. The demolition of mosques resulted in communal riots for several months which resulted in the death of at least 2000 people.

Godhra Riots, 2002

The Godhra riots were caused by fire in coaches of Sabarmati Express which killed 58 Hindu “kar sevaks” who were returning from Ayodhya. This was followed by communal riots between Hindus and Muslims in Gujarat for several months. This incident is labelled as a black spot in the history of the state as several people were killed mercilessly. The official estimates states that atleast 790 Muslims and 254 Hindus were killed during the riots.

Assam Communal violence, 2012

The large-scale immigration of Bangladeshi people into the North eastern states often results in communal and ethnic clashes. In 2012, there were communal riots in Kokrajhar between indigenous Bodos (Tribal, Christian & Hindu faith) and the Muslims after unidentified persons killed four youths of Bodo tribes. The riots resulted in the death of around 80 people and destruction of 500 villages.

Muzaffarnagar violence, 2013

In 2013, communal clashes broke out between the Jats and Muslim community in Muzaffarnagar district of Uttar Pradesh. The riots resulted in the death of 62 people and displaced more than 5000 people. The riots were labelled as the worst violence in the recent history of Uttar Pradesh.

Peculiar Features of Communal Riots Taking Place in India

The following are some of the peculiar features of communal riots taking place in India:

Riots in India are mostly politically motivated

Communal riots in India are more politically motivated than caused by the religious factors. The Madan Commission, which was constituted to look into the causes of communal riots in Maharashtra in 1970s, had emphasized that the primary builders of communal tensions are politicians and communalists. Apart from political interests, economic interests also play an important role in instigating communal clashes in India. For example, illicit trade practices can result in communal violence.

Victims have nothing to do with hatred

In most of the riots, the majority of victims did have nothing to do with communal hatred. In other words, in majority of cases, the perpetrators of violence and victims of violence are different persons.

Riots are more common in North India in comparison to South India

According to statistics, occurrence of communal riots is more in North India than in the South India. The possibility of recurrence of communal riots in places already affected by such riots is greater than those areas which has not witnessed communal riots at all.

Equal population of two religions increases possibility of riots

The intensity / possibility of communal riots in a place becomes greater if the population of two communities are more or less equal.

Riots are more common in urban areas instead of rural

The possibility of communal riots is higher in urban areas when compared with that of the rural areas.  This is due to the presence of large number of minority population in urban areas.

Other features

Most of the riots have occurred during clash of religious festivals. In India, communal riots are also common preceding elections. In few instances, communal riots have been used by the state governments to divert the attention of people from genuine problems. Further, earlier, the communal violence used to be sudden and sporadic. But in recent times, the communal riots are well planned and executed to suit the interests of the political class.

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