If you ever visit Hampi, a small village in Karnataka, you’ll watch the history unravel itself in the form of ruins, crippled temples, and mutilated deities. Once a land of riches in the Vijayanagara empire, Hampi succumbed to the invasion of Islam rulers over time and now stands as one of the eyewitnesses to the birth of an early communal riot. But Hampi is just one example.
The tiff between the Hindu-Muslim community has its roots in ancient India. While the Mughal emperors waged a war against the Hindu heritage and its cultural artifacts, the Marathas took it upon themselves to retaliate against the local Muslim population after the death of Aurangzeb in the process of conquering the Mughal territory across India.
While Hindu-Muslim commotion remains a deeply ingrained wound, we cannot overlook the different communal riots that have shaken the nation over a belief system. Going through the chronicle of events over the past in the country, we are left to ponder with a question: Is India divided in the name of religion?
When the clock struck midnight on 15th August 1947, British India was partitioned into two major dominance-based mainly on religion. The demand for two separate nations resulted in the formation of Hindu-majority India and Muslim-majority Pakistan. What led to the partition and what followed the legacy are written with blood and sweat in the pages of history.
The Muslim community during the British’s rule in India numbered at around 25% of the total population and was the largest religious minority. A dominance of 80% of Hindus in the nation threatened the organizations representing the minorities and led to the strong advocacy of a separate Muslim majority country. The year 1906 saw the establishment of the All-India Muslim League for this purpose. The League propagated the notion of a separate nation and finally, in 1947, it successfully led to the partition of India.
In 1930, Sir Muhammed Iqbal, a renowned scholar in Pakistani history gave a speech at the 25th annual conference of the All-India Muslim League held at Allahabad, British India. He further supported the two-nation theory and aligned with the ideas of Syed Ahmed Khan who in 1888 at Meerut said, “After this long preface I wish to explain what method my nation — nay, rather the whole people of this country — ought to pursue in political matters. I will treat in regular sequence the political questions of India, in order that you may have full opportunity of giving your attention to them. The first of all is this — In whose hands shall the administration and the Empire of India rest? Now, suppose that all English, and the whole English army, were to leave India, taking with them all their cannon and their splendid weapons and everything, then who would be rulers of India? Is it possible that under these circumstances two nations — the Mahomedans and the Hindus — could sit on the same throne and remain equal in power? Most certainly not. It is necessary that one of them should conquer the other and thrust it down. To hope that both could remain equal is to desire the impossible and the inconceivable."
Following the footsteps of Iqbal, Muhammad Ali Jinnah who is also referred to as Baba-i-Qaum(Father of the nation) in Pakistan took accountability for the creation of Pakistan. Jinnah served as the leader of the All-India Muslim league from 1913 to the partition of India in 1947. Iqbal’s influence on Jinnah was profound, powerful, and unquestionable. Before his death in 1938, Iqbal succeeded in convincing Jinnah to accept his views and fight for a separate Muslim majority nation. Two years later, in 1940, in a speech, Jinnah stated, "If I live to see the ideal of a Muslim state being achieved in India, and I was then offered to make a choice between the works of Iqbal and the rulership of the Muslim state, I will prefer the former."
The Indian National Congress was against this separatist idea of Jinnah but eventually, he outmaneuvered his political opponents and led to the establishment of Pakistan. While the British supported Jinnah’s ideology, Jawaharlal Nehru and Mahatma Gandhi reluctantly agreed to go along after the large-scale violence between the Hindu and Muslim community led to the death of over 4000 thousand people during the August 1946 riots across West Bengal, Punjab, and Bihar. Congress indeed failed to persuade Jinnah to drop the idea of a separatist nation on religious lines, but the various rifts caused between Nehru and Jinnah tied the hands of the INC with no further strength to fight the idea of Jinnah.
The legacy of the partition of British India into two new dominance resulted in one of the greatest migrations in human history. Millions of Muslims started to move towards the newly formed West and East Pakistan(now known as Bangladesh) while millions of Hindus and Sikhs stayed or moved in the opposite direction. But the horror lies in the hundreds of thousands who were displaced or never made it. The new Indian subcontinent bore witness to mass murders, bloodshed, abductions, and sexual violence among the communities that coexisted for over a millennium. With over fifteen million people displaced and more than a million killed, the acclaimed Pakistani historian Ayesha Jalal has called Partition “the central historical event in twentieth-century South Asia.” She writes, “A defining moment that is neither beginning nor end, the partition continues to influence how the peoples and states of postcolonial South Asia envisage their past, present, and future.”
Image credits: The New Yoker.
The aftermath of the partition which was based on the lines of the two religions still looms over both the countries and stretches its claws to affect the relationship between the two communities. But this was just the beginning of communal riots.
The 1969 Gujarat communal riots: Until the 1960s the tension between the Hindu-Muslim community remained but below the ground level. Just when things were assumed to be back to normal, major communal violence broke out in the State of Gujarat. The Hindus and Muslims of the neighborhood who lived peacefully up until now were involved in the massacre, murder, arson, and looting on a large scale with the Muslim community suffering the greater part of the losses.Reports suggest that the riots were triggered when Muslims attacked Hindu sadhus and a temple, after the cows herded by the sadhus caused injury to them and their carts used to sell goods. The repercussions turned the 1969 Gujarat riots into one of the deadly violence since the partition of India.
But what led to this uprising? How did a peaceful neighborhood turn into a chaotic living hell for the coming months?
The answer lies in the Hindu Dalits who faced a sense of insecurity during the 1960s when the rise of the textile mill industry in Ahmedabad attracted many migrants from various parts of the state. Over the course, a significant number of under-qualified mill workers lost their jobs in Ahmedabad and the statistics showed that the Dalit Hindu workers represented a majority in the unemployment chart. The local Muslim workers were more skilled in the weaving and this sparked several violent clashes involving the textile workers between the two religions.
An underlying rage of the Hindus led them to turn against the Muslims in September 1969 and the encounter with the sadhus added fuel to the fire. Several incidents increased the tensions between the two communities in Ahmedabad. Anti-Muslim slogans were raised, temples were attacked, public lynching occurred, Muslim maulvis were assaulted, dargahs were damaged, houses and shops were destroyed. A staggering 660 people were killed, 1074 people were injured and over 48,000 lost their property. But an unofficial report claims a total toll of 2000 deaths. On 19th September, a curfew was imposed in the state and on the next day, the army was called in to bring the situation under control. But relaxation in the curfew on the afternoon of 20 September 1969, led to the murder of a young Muslim man who was angry at the destruction of his property by Hindus and claimed to take revenge. This irked an angry Hindu mob who beat him up and forced him to shout Jai Jagannath ("Hail Jagannath"). When the Muslim man refused to do so, the mob sprinkled petrol on him and burnt him to death.
The event remains as a fresh wound and has bled several times in the name of Gujarat riots 1985, 2002, and 2006. The question was raised again, Is India secular?
Anti-Sikh riots,1984: The assassination of Indira Gandhi in the year 1984 sent a chill down the spine across the country. It was followed by one of the worst insurrections between the Hindu-Sikh community that led to the killing of 17,000 Sikhs in Delhi alone.
When Akil Dalal was defeated in the Punjab state elections against Congress in 1972, he sewed up a demand for more autonomy to the state. The statement of the Anandpur Sahib Resolution was proposed which consisted of a list of demands made by the Punjabi Sikh Political Party. The resolution included both religious and political issues. It asked for recognizing Sikhism as a religion separate from Hinduism. It also demanded that power be generally devolved from the Central to state governments and more autonomy to Punjab. But it was rejected by Congress, considering it a nonconformist ideology, and thus created a stepping stone to what is also called the 1984 Sikh Massacre.
The document reached its prominence when Akil Dalal and Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale joined hands to launch the Dharam Yudh Morcha to bring the resolution into action in 1982. Thousands of Sikhs joined hands and supported the political movement of Dharam Yudh Morcha. Protests erupted in various parts of the state demanding the implementation of the Anandpur Sahib Resolution.
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The state of Punjab turned volatile in 1983 when six Hindus were shot dead in broad daylight by a mob of Sikh militants. The event awakened the Congress-led government and invoked a Presidential rule in the state. Violent clashes took place around the state and a group of armed militants led by Bhinderwale took shelter inside the premises of the Harmandir Sahib(Golden temple). This resulted in Operation Blue Star, an Indian military action in 1984 to remove Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale and his followers from the buildings of Harmandir Sahib (Golden Temple) complex. Ordered by Indira Gandhi, the army raided the temple complex and heavy shelling took place between the militants and the army personnel. The assault continued starting from the 1st of June to the 10th of June before the operation was concluded.
Criticism took over the attack on the Harmandir Sahib in Amritsar by the Indian army across the world as an assault on the religious beliefs of the Sikhs. As a retaliation, four months into the operation blue star, Indira Gandhi was assassinated in vengeance by her two Sikh bodyguards.The entire country stood shocked at this turn of events and the outcry over Gandhi’s death paved its way to the 1984 Sikh massacre.
In the name of religion, India has faced more internal conflicts than external threats. While Hindu-Muslim tensions were always in the air, the Anti-Sikh riots in 1984 were another black spot in the pages of secularist India.
Mandir ya Masjid?
One of the most controversial conflicts in India can be stated as the Ram Mandir-Babri Masjid dispute which dates to 1528–29 when Babar ordered the construction of the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya, India. But to the Hindus, this place is considered to be the birthplace of the Hindu deity Lord Rama and the mosque was constructed over a pre-existing temple. Though the existence of the temple is controversial and a topic of debate, the excavation conducted by the Archaeological Survey of India found various materials with a resemblance to a Hindu structure beneath.
The conflict escalated in the 19th century when several Hindu activists who belonged to the Hindu Mahasabha erroneously placed the idols of Lord Rama inside the mosque. This subsequently led the Government to close the doors of the building to avoid further feuds. But the year 1992 saw a large group of Hindu activists’ part of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and allied organizations demolish the mosque, triggering riots all over the Indian subcontinent, resulting in the death of around 2,000 people.
Image credits: The New York Times
The outcome of the demolition of the Babri Masjid spread its fire to Bangladesh where hundreds of houses, shops and temples of Hindus were attacked and destroyed.
Ayodhya has been the focus of dispute since the 18th century. Several court cases were flurried for the claim of the land by the Hindu-Muslim community. In September 2010, the Allahabad High court backed the decision that the mosque was built on territory claimed to be the birthplace of Rama and bestowed the site of the central dome for the construction of a Rama temple. Muslims were allocated one-third area of the site for the construction of a mosque. But the decision was later repealed by all parties to the Supreme Court of India, wherein a title suit was presented in front of a five-judge bench from August to October 2019. On 9 November 2019, the 27-year-old conflict was finally resolved in a historic Ayodhya verdict by the Supreme Court which annulled the lower court's judgment and ordered the handing over of the entire site (2.77-acre land) to a trust to build the Hindu temple. It also ordered the government to allocate an alternative five-acre plot to the Uttar Pradesh Sunni Central Waqf Board as a replacement to the Babri Masjid that was demolished in 1992.
Today, the Hindu trust named as Shri Ram Janmabhoomi Teerth Kshetra has taken up the responsibility to construct a Ram temple at the site. But a walk down this verdict was not a bed of roses. The answer to the question Mandir ya Masjid may have been found, but a bhajan modified by the father of our nation Mahatma Gandhi comes to mind.
रघुपति राघव राजाराम,
पतित पावन सीताराम
ईश्वर अल्लाह तेरो नाम,
सब को सन्मति दे भगवान
O Lord Rama, descendant of Raghu, Uplifter of the fallen.
You and your beloved consort Sita are to be worshipped.
All names of God refer to the same Supreme Being,
Including Ishvara and the Muslim Allah.
The Exodus of Kashmiri Pandits: The year 1989 witnessed one of the major insurgencies which led to the exodus of Kashmiri Hindus from the Kashmir valley. The rebellion was ignited when the Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front(JFK) alongside Islamist pro-Pakistan insurgents targeted and murdered a Hindu on September 14th, 1988. The reason is a demand for a separate state and independence from India. The pro-Islamists waged a war against the Kashmir Hindus considering them as informants to the Indian military. Tika Lal Taploo, an advocate and a prominent leader of Bharatiya Janata Party in Jammu & Kashmir was murdered in public, a prelude to the insurgency. The days followed with the killings, kidnapping, and gangraping of many Kashmiri Hindus and their women thus leading the remaining Hindus to flee the land and seek asylum in either other parts of India or refugee camps in the Jammu region. According to the Indian government, over 62,000 families in India are registered as Kashmiri refugees, including a few Sikh and Muslim families.
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A survey carried out by the local organization of Hindus in Kashmir, Kashmir Pandit Sangharsh Samiti (KPSS) in 2008 and 2009 posted that 399 Kashmiri Hindus were killed during the riots from 1990 to 2011 with a majority of the number being murdered in the first year of the Kashmiri insurgency. Kashmiri Pandit Sangharsh Samiti, estimates 357 Hindus were killed in Kashmir in 1990. The last 20 years have seen about 650 Hindus being killed in the valley by the pro-Pakistan militant organizations.
While the Kashmiri Hindus are still fighting to get back to their home, recent developments suggest that the Indian Government is doing its part to rehabilitate the Hindus and the separatists have invited and ensured the protection of the Hindus back in Kashmir.
Communal violence has been knitted into the very fabric of India and the bloodshed has stained itself in its clothing for eternity.
Gujarat Riots,2002: When the Sabarmati Express train returning from Ayodhya stood burning at Godhra railway station engulfing 59 Hindu pilgrims along with it, a pogrom had dawned upon the state of Gujarat on the 27 February 2002. With a death toll of 1044, missing and injured numbers of 223 and 2,500 respectively, Gujarat burned for a total of three days post the Godhra train incident. The Hindu community blamed the Muslims for the act and another communal riot was written with the deaths of 790 Muslims and 254 Hindus. But according to unofficial reports, the death toll stood at 2000.
Image credits: The New York Times
Many accused Narendra Modi, then Chief Minister of Gujarat and the current prime minister of India of initiating and supporting the violence but later the accusations were proved baseless by an Indian court. Allegations were also made against the state police and the state government stating that the authorities were involved in lending a hand in the violence. Eyewitnesses claim that the police officers favored the mob by injuring and killing Muslims during the chaos. However, the allegations were turned down by a Special Investigation Team(SIT) appointed by the Supreme Court of India.
On 28 February 2002, a mob of 5000 people formed by the Bajrang Dal, a right-wing pro-Hindu organization and a part of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad allegedly supported by the Bharatiya Janata Party, killed 97 Muslims in Naroda, Ahmedabad. A day after the Godhra train burning, communal violence broke out in various parts of Gujarat and Naroda suffered the most. Children were burnt alive, women were sexually violated and gang-raped, properties were damaged and looted and mass murder took over the streets for over 10 hours before a curfew was imposed.
The Naroda Patiya massacre is also referred to as "the largest single case of mass murder" during the 2002 Gujarat riots. Another communal violence carved itself on the bleeding stones of Indian history laid by the foundation of Hindu-Muslim conflict.
The Citizenship(Amendment) Act, 2019: The only act which was based undoubtedly on the religion criteria was passed by the Parliament of India on 11 December 2019. It amended the Citizenship Act,1955 and laid a path to Indian citizenship for persecuted religious minorities from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, and Pakistan who are Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis, or Christians, and arrived in India before the end of December 2014. The act deliberately excluded Muslims from these countries which questioned the motive of The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) who introduced the bill in the Lok Sabha on December 9th, 2019.
Consequently, protests started from Assam and spread rapidly to other states such as Delhi, Meghalaya, Arunachal Pradesh, and Tripura and broke out across the country. The protests resulted in thousands of arrests and a count of 27 deaths as of 27 December 2019 was reported. It differed compared to the previous riots. While the Government passed a bill on religious lines, the protests were in the favor of the migrants of the Muslim community who according to the act were not eligible to reap the benefits of Indian citizenship. But the nation saw unity amongst various religious communities who came in support of the Muslims. The CAA is still a tough pill to swallow too many and they disagree with its amendment.
There are various other incidents that pose the question towards the ramification of a Hindu dominant nation or a Hindu rashtra. We have a lot on our plate to focus on rather than our religious differences. Addressing the issues of poverty, education, hunger, and economic growth should stand first on our priority, and to create a secular nation, we shouldn’t divide the nation in the name of religion, belief, and faith.
Religion is a slippery slope on which innocent blood has run its course for many years. A constant state of fear of another riot based on religion and ethnicity brews day and night over the country. For a nation undergoing constant communal turmoils and religious riots, a quote must be propagated to work towards the betterment of its society.
“United we stand, divided we fall.“
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