Communal Riots – A Historical Perspective: Part-I

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(Brig (retd) GB Reddi)

The “Communal Time-bomb or Powder-keg” is ticking away to engulf modern India sooner than later in barbaric genocide considering the vicious blame games on grand display in media, particularly partisan visual media houses and anchors, that are agog over the issue of recent communal riots in the Northeast Delhi.

Lack of through knowledge of India’s history, particularly communal violence, is responsible for such ill-informed debates mostly spreading false or fake news thereby further vitiating the estranged communal divide.

Emeritus’s of Indian History have remained oblivious to highlight ancient inherited lineage of communal violence or carnage that ravaged and brutalized the society! Religious conflicts existed in India from times immemorial. Rulers waged wars based on religious loyalties. So, they are not post-Independence eruptions.  Recurrence cannot be wished away even with a magic wand, if any.

Record of major incidents of communal violence during the Ancient Period (3600 BC – 500 AD) include: Ashoka, emperor of the Maurya Dynasty, order resulted in execution of 18,000  followers of the Ajivika Sect; and King Pushyamitra of the Shunga Empire razing  stupas and viharas during his reign;

Next, during the Middle Ages (500 -1500),  there were numerous recorded instances of temple desecration by Indian kings against rival Indian kingdoms, involving conflict between devotees of different Hindu deities, as well as between Hindus, Buddhists and Jains.  For example, in 642, the Pallava king Narasimhavarman I looted a Ganesha temple in the Chalukyan capital of Vatapi.

Image result for communal riots during Middle Ages (500 -1500),

Iin 692, Chalukya armies looted temples of Ganga and Yamuna. In the 8th century, the Buddhist Bengali Pala Empire desecrated temples of Vishnu Vaikuntha. In the early 9th century, Hindu kings from Kanchipuram and the Pandyan king Srimara Srivallabha looted Buddhist temples in Sri Lanka.  In sum, the list of plundering of temples was an institutionalized activity that continued till early 16th Century.

However, according to Will Durant, the Muslim conquest of India subcontinent was “probably the bloodiest story in history”.   The first holy war or ghazwa was carried out in 644 AD against Thane. In the early 8th century, jihad was declared on Sindh by the Arab Caliphate. Muhammad bin Qasim and his army assaulted numerous towns, plundered them for wealth, enslaved Buddhists and Hindus, and destroyed temples and monasteries.

In some cases, they built mosques and minarets over the remains of the original temples, such as at Debal and later in towns of Nerun and Sadusan (Sehwan). All those who bore arms were executed and their wives and children enslaved. One-fifth of the booty and slaves were dispatched back as khums tax to Hajjaj ibn Yusuf and the Caliph.

Followed 17 raids by Mahmud Ghaznavi, king of Ghazni (971 to 1030 AD), who plundered and destroyed Hindu temples such as the third Somnath Temple, killing over 50,000 around the temple and personally destroying the Shiva lingam after stripping it of its gold, besides   Mathura, Dwarka, and other temples.

Next, Mohammed Ghori (1173–1206) invaded 7 times  raided north India and the Hindu pilgrimage site Varanasi and destruction of Hindu temples and idols that had begun during the first attack in 1194.

Image result for communal riots during Mohammed Ghori (1173–1206)

Historical records compiled by Muslim historians provide accounts communal carnage, desecration, plundering and destruction of temples.  Maulana Hakim Saiyid Abdul Hai attests to the religious violence during Mamluk dynasty ruler Qutb-ud-din Aybak. The first mosque built in Delhi, the “Quwwat al-Islam” was built with demolished parts of 20 Hindu and Jain temples. Balban after becoming the Sultan executed about 100,000 Hindus according to Firishta.

Next, religious violence during Alauddin Khalji (1296–1316) rule is chronicled by court historian. In particular, the Muslim army led by Malik Kafur, pursued two violent campaigns into south India, between 1309 and 1311, against three Hindu kingdoms of Deogiri (Maharashtra), Warangal (Telangana) and Madurai (Tamil Nadu). Thousands were slaughtered. Halebid temple was destroyed.

Image result for communal riots during Alauddin Khalji (1296–1316)In the booty from Warangal was the Koh-I-Noor diamond. 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 desecrated and destroyed numerous religious icons.

During the Tughlak (1321–1394) dynasty rule, religious violence continued. At Srirangam, the invading army desecrated the shrine and killed 12,000 unarmed ascetics. Victims of religious violence included Hindu Brahmin priests who refused to convert to Islam.

Historian K. S. Lal in his book has recorded that between the years 1000 AD and 1500 AD, the population of the Indian subcontinent decreased from 200 to 170 million.

Image result for communal riots during Tughlak (1321–1394)

During the Modern Period after 1500 AD, Timur’s invasion of Delhi was marked by systematic slaughter and other atrocities on a large scale, inflicted mainly on the Hindu population.  Lodi dynasty ruler, Sikandar Lodi, entirely ruined the shrines of Mathura. Their stone images were given to the butchers to use them as meat weights, and all the Hindus in Mathura were strictly prohibited from shaving their heads and beards, and performing ablutions.

During the Babur, Humayun and Suri (1526–1556) 30-year Mughul rule, records of the violence and trauma, from Sikh-Muslim perspective, include those recorded in Sikh literature of the 16th century – Guru Nanak in four hymns. Baburnama, similarly records massacre of Hindu villages and towns by Babur’s Muslim army. Sheikh Nizam, for example, counseled, “There is nothing equal to a religious war against the infidels. If you be slain you become a martyr, if you live you become a ghazi.

Image result for communal riots during Babur, Humayun and Suri (1526–1556)

Akbar (1556–1605), known for his religious tolerance, also indulged in communal carnage during early years of his reign. At Chittoor fort, “               They (Hindus) committed jauhar (…). In the night, the (Muslim) assailants forced their way into the fortress in several places, and fell to slaughtering and plundering. At early dawn the Emperor went in mounted on an elephant, attended by his nobles and chiefs on foot. The order was given for a general massacre of the infidels as a punishment.

During the reign of Jahangir (1605–1627) religious violence was targeted at Hindus, Jains and Sikhs. A companion of Jahangir, and Muslim historian, described the religious violence against the Jains and their splendid temples. Jahangir’s ordered torture and execution of Guru Arjun, in 1606. It led to the   Sikhs considering militancy and religious violence against the Mughal Empire as necessary to protect their faith and loved ones. Ultimately, it led to the formal inauguration of khalsa (military brotherhood) in 1699 by the tenth Sikh guru, Gobind Singh.

During Shah Jahan (1628–1658) reign, his armies attacked seven temples and “violently seized and appropriated them for their own use in Punjab.

During Aurangzeb (1658–1707) reign saw a scale of religious violence in India that lists as 23rd in 100 deadliest episodes of atrocities in human history. Aurangzeb re-introduced jizya (tax) on non-Muslims; He led numerous campaigns of attacks against non-Muslims, destroyed Hindu temples: Varanasi, Mathura and Somnath temples and large mosques built on the sites.  Mathura was temporarily renamed as Islamabad. He arrested and executed the ninth Sikh guru Tegh Bahadur. Aurangzeb’s Deccan campaign saw one of the largest death tolls in South Asian history, with an estimated 4.6 million people dead.

Asghar Ali Engineer has traced the religious conflicts during 18th and 19th centuries. In 1714, riots had taken place Hindus and Muslims in Ahmadabad, in 1719 in Kashmir, in 1729 in Delhi, and in 1786 in Bombay. In 1809, Benares experienced a bloody riot. Koil (1820), Moradabad, Sambhal and Kahsipur (1833), Shajahanpur (1837), Barielly, Kanpur and Allahabad (1837-52) and Bombay (1893) experienced communal clashes.

During the Maratha Empire, atrocities were committed in Bengal. During the invasion, the Marathas targeted Bengali Muslims, many of whom fled to take shelter in East Bengal, fearing for their lives in the wake of the Maratha attacks.  The Marathas reportedly plundered and burned villages, murdered pregnant women and infants, and gang-raped women. An estimated 400,000 people were killed.

During Sikh Empire rule, Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s Sikh governors in Kashmir followed anti-Muslim policies, including the closure of the Jama Masjid of Srinagar. In 1837, Raja Gulab Singh suppressed the revolt of the Yousafzai Tribe. Thousands of Muslim Pashtun tribe members were killed. Few hundred of captured women were sold as slaves in Jammu. The Dogra Maharaja Ranbir Singh led a major invasion of the frontier areas of Yasin and Hunza to punish Muslim rebels in 1863. General Hooshiara Singh with 3,000 troops attacked the frontier with predominantly Muslim population. Thousands were killed.

Image result for communal riots during Tipu Sultan (1782–1799)

Tipu Sultan (1782–1799) was a rabid anti-Hindu and anti-Christian.  The Bakur Manuscript reports Tipu Sultan 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.”

Tipu Sultan treated the Nairs and the Kodavas with extreme brutality for their Hindu faith and martial tradition.  Soon after the Treaty of Mangalore in 1784, Tipu issued orders to seize the Christians in Canara, confiscate their estates, and deport them to Seringapatam.

Father Miranda and other priests were expelled and fined by Tipu Sultan then threatened with execution if they ever returned. Tipu also ordered the destruction of 27 Catholic churches all razed to the ground.  According to Thomas Munro, around 60,000 people, or 92 percent of the entire Mangalorean Catholic community, were captured by Tipu Sultan’s army; only 7,000 escaped.  Many churches in the Malabar and Cochin were damaged, as well as old religious manuscripts were destroyed.

During the British period, religious affiliation became an issue what with religious communities tended to become political constituencies. In 1905, the Muslim League was formed, which catered exclusively for the interests of the Muslims. In 1915, the Hindu Sabha (later Mahasabha) was founded. The Hindu-Muslim riots became more frequent.

Image result for communal riots during Moplah Rebellion (1921)

Even the Moplah Rebellion (1921) is a milestone.  Inspired by the Khilafat movement and the Karachi resolution; Moplahs murdered, pillaged, and forcibly converted thousands of Hindus – Nambudri Jenami community.  This greatly changed the demographics of the area, being the major cause behind today’s Mallapuram district being a Muslim majority district in Kerala.

And the communal violence consequent Direct Action Day declaration on 16 August 1946, left approximately 3000 Hindus dead and 17000 injured. 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.

List of incidents of major religious conflicts after 1947 include: 1964 Rourkela riots; 1965 Jamshedpur and Pune violence; 1967 Ranchi violence;  1969 Gujarat riots (660 people were killed – 430 Muslims, 230 Hindus; 1074 people were injured and over 48,000 lost their property); 1970   Bhivandi-Jalgaon; 1971 Moradabad and Tellicherry; 1972 Firozabad; 1974 Baroda, Dhanbad and Ranchi; 1975 Delhi; 1978 Aligarh; 1979 Jamshedpur; 1980 Moradabad, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat and Delhi (Official 144 killed); 1981 Biharsharif; 1982  Pune, Malegaon, Meerut, Baroda, Kerala and Goa; 1983 Malegaon and Neli in Assam (4000 killed); 1984 Anti-Sikh riots (10,000–17,000 were burned alive or otherwise killed, 50,000 displaced and massive property damage); 1985  J and K and Ahmadabad (524 killed); 1986 J and K, Ahmadabad and Bangalore; 1987 Meerut; 1989 Bhagalpur (116 killed in Logain village); 1989 Kashmir Exodus (between 300,000 and 500,000 pundits migrated); 1992 Babri Mosque destruction followed by Mumbai riots;  1998 Chamba massacre; 2000 Amarnath pilgrim massacres; 2002 Gujarat riots after Godhra train burning incident ( 790 Muslims and 254 Hindus were killed, and another 2,548 injured. 223 people are missing), the 2002 fidayeen attacks on Raghunath temple, the 2002 Akshardham Temple attack by Islamic terrorist outfit Lashkar-e-Toiba and the 2006 Varanasi bombings (also by Lashkar-e-Toiba); 2013 Muzaffarnagar riots, and so on.

Not to be left out of consideration is also the religious violence in the North-East India. The Christian separatist group National Liberation Front of Tripura (NLFT) has proclaimed bans on Hindu worship and has attacked animist Reangs and Hindu Jamatia tribesmen in the state of Tripura. In late 2004, the National Liberation Front of Tripura banned all Hindu celebrations of Durga Puja and Saraswati Puja.  The Baptist Church of Tripura is involved in supporting the NLFT.

Similarly, in 2000, acts of religious violence against Christians included forcible reconversion of converted Christians to Hinduism, distribution of threatening literature and destruction of Christian cemeteries.  In Orissa, starting December 2007, Christians have been attacked in Kandhamal and other districts and the destruction of houses and churches. Similarly, starting 14 September 2008, there were numerous incidents of violence against the Christian community in Karnataka.

Graham Stuart Staines (1941 – 23 January 1999) an Australian Christian missionary who, along with his two sons Philip (aged 10) and Timothy (aged 6), was burnt to death by a gang of Hindu Bajrang Dal fundamentalists while sleeping in his station wagon at Manoharpur village in Kendujhar district in Odisha, India on 23 January 1999.

Data on incidents, numbers killed and injured include: 2005 – 779, 124 and 2066; 2006 – 698, 133 and 2170; 2007 – 761, 99 and 2227; 2008 – 943, 167 and 2354; 2009 – 849, 125 and 2461; 2010 – 701, 116 and 2138; 2011- 580, 91 and 1899; 2012 – 668, 94 and 2117; 2013 – 823, 133 and 2269; 2014 – 644, 95 and 1921; 2015 – 751, 97 and 2264; 2016 – 703, 86 and 2321; 2017 – 822, 111 and 2384.

Thus, the range of incidents varied between 580 in 2011 to 943 in 2008. And the number killed between 94 in 2012 to 167 in 2008 and injured between 1899 in 2011 to 2461 in 2009.  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.

In retrospect, pacifists may decry frequent eruption of communal violence in modern India after 1947; but it mercilessly exposes their intellectual bankruptcy.  Yet, they assume the role of “know-alls” and demonize particularly the Delhi Police, which is caught between the “Devil and the Deep Blue Sea”. If they decisively act that result in few getting killed, media, political leaders, and even judiciary cry hoarse and condemn them for excesses. If they fail to act decisively and look over their shoulders for definitive orders, they are condemned for intelligence failure, incompetence and complicity.  (To be concluded)

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