Jan 22 (1 day ago)
Please see the attached pdf files
Communal Riots in India
A Chronology (1947-2003)
Communal riots have become a distinct feature of communalism in India. Whenever conflicting
groups from two different religions, which are self –conscious communities, clash, it results in a
communal riot. An event is identified as a communal riot if (a) there is violence, and (b) two or
more communally identified groups confront each other or members of the other group at some
point during the violence.1 The reason for such a clash could be superficial and trivial, though
underlying them are deeper considerations of political representation, control of and access to
resources and power. There have been many incidents of riots recorded during the course of
British rule and even before that. For example: In Ahmedabad there were riots in 1714, 1715,
1716 and 1750. But according to Bipan Chandra, in his book “Communalism in Modern India”,
communal tension and riots began to occur only in the last quarter of the 19th century, but they
did not occur in India on any significant scale till 1946-472. Before that, the maximum
communal rioting took place during 1923-26. A clear relationship between communal riots and
politics was established for the first time in 1946, when the Muslim League gave its direct action
call on August 16, 1946. 3
This chronology reveals that communal riots are not caused spontaneously and also that they are
rarely caused by religious animosity. They arise due to conflicting political interests, which are
often linked to economic interests. There is a significant change in the pattern of communal riots
since the 1990s, which could be noticed in the later part of this chronology. This brings forth the
shifts that have occurred in the nature of communal riots in India. Moreover, the aim is to
underline that religion in most of the cases is not the reason why communal riots occur. The
reason for the occurrence of communal violence has been different in the two different phases.
During the time of partition, it was the clash of political interests of the elite of two different
communities which resulted in communal riots.4 But, from the 1960s till the late 1980s, the local
political and economic factors played a very important role in instigating riots. The emergence of
Hindutva politics in the last two decades has been a cause of communal riots in this phase where
the local factors have also helped in instigating riots.
Communal riots that took place from the 1960s to the 1980s follow a particular pattern. They
have mostly occurred in urban towns which are either industrial belts or trading centers with the
economy largely based on a particular occupation. Most of these places had a considerable
percentage of Muslim population whose political or economic interests clashed with those of the
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Hindus. Moreover, the major riots occurred when the Congress was in power in these states or
during the short and uncertain phase of the Janata Party coalition rule at the Centre. Riots in this
phase might have occurred in the villages or rural areas like the Biharsharif riots, but they have
often remained unreported. Therefore it is important to distinguish this phase from the 1990s
during which the BJP and its sister organizations have been active in instigating communal riots.
Communal violence since 1990s needs to be seen in the light of the changing political equations
in the country. The decline of the Congress and the emergence of the BJP as a strong political
force resulted in shifting patterns of communal riots. Communal violence in the last two decades
is a result of the manipulation of the religious sentiments of people by the Hindu right-wing
organizations for political gains. The politicization of the Mandir-Masjid issue and the
subsequent demolition of the Mosque gave the BJP the opportunity to consolidate its vote bank.
But in the process the controversy created a communal divide, and frequency of riots also
increased during this time. Since partition, never before has one particular incident resulted in the
emergence of violence in almost all the states. From the 1960s till 1980 local factors played a
very important role in the emergence of riots, but since the late 1980s this trend seems to be
changing. Communal violence has always occurred when the BJP has wanted to expand its base.
In the recent years the South Indian states, particularly Kerala and Tamilnadu, have also
witnessed communal violence and are slowly growing into communally sensitive areas. This is
primarily because of the recent entrance of BJP in the political arena of these states.
Apart from Godhra, the other incidences of communal violence in the 90s have been minor, yet
they cannot be dismissed. These eruptions of communal violence have not been spontaneous, but
are organized, and often have the support of the local administrations. The state support to riots
is a long established feature in India, yet the state has never been such an active participant in the
violence before the Gujarat riots.
Communal violence has entered a new phase with the Christians and members of other minority
religions being made the victims of planned attacks. Communal riots in this decade have been
both urban and rural features, but the extent of damage is always greater in the thriving centers of
trade and commerce. Tribal population in the rural areas is being forced to get involved in the
attacks on Christians and Muslims by bringing them within the Hindutva framework. Apart from
economic reasons, the call for Hindu unity which is primarily a means to achieve political
advantage is the main source for communal violence in this decade.
Godhra was indeed the first major communal riot that got such a wide media coverage
particularly from the satellite channels. Therefore the media now needs to be more responsible,
considering the influence that it can have over the masses. It is time that the media stopped any
kind of biased reporting as it can further encourage the communal elements to instigate the
Political parties have always had a hand in instigating and exploiting communal violence so as
to meet their electoral interests. Though communal riots are condemned in various quarters, there
is still complete inaction both from the administration and the ruling governments in many states.
Though religious festivals and processions are generally the starting points of communal riots,
still sufficient security is not provided during these times. There is also not much response
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against incidents of communal violence from the civil society. Till the time the political parties
which instigate communal riots are voted to power, the incentives to combat communalism will
not be able to develop fully.
1 Ashtosh Varshney, Ethnic Violence and Civic Life, (New Haven : Yale University Press,
2 Bipan Chandra, Communalism in Modern India, (New Delhi: Vikas Publishing Home, 1984),
3 Ibid, 6
4 Asghar Ali Engineer, “Gujarat Riots in the Light of the History of Communal Violence,”
Economic and Political Weekly, December 14, 2002, pp. 5047-5054
Riots in India I (1947-1986)
By Violette Graff, Research Fellow (rtd.), CERI, Sciences Po. Written in collaboration with Juliette
Galonnier, PhD Student, Sciences Po and Northwestern University (Chicago).
[Short biographical notices and background information are provided through hyperlinks for the most important
personalities and organizations mentioned in the text that follows. The reader might refer to them for further understanding.]
All along the years when the fight for an independent India was at its peak, a number of Congress
personalities, led by an already well-known leader"a brilliant man who hailed from the historically famous
United Provinces (now Uttar Pradesh, UP)"Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, carried a dream : once India was freed
from the British rule, a modern state would be built, a state that would see that its caste and communal
ancestral traditions were forgotten. A secular state that would bring people together. A new Socialist order
would be built. New Temples i.e. heavy industries would appear which would bring the new India into
modernity (Parry and Struempell 2008). Some of these dreams would take shape indeed. However, the
tragedies of the Partition and the violence which swept Northern India from 1946 to 1948 came as a shock
and destroyed many illusions (for a historical background, see "India from 1900 to 1947" by Claude
Markovits  and for further details on the Partition violence, see "Thematic Chronology of Mass
Violence in Pakistan, 1947 2007" by Lionel Baixas ). The assassination of Mahatma Gandhi in
January 1948 was a watershed moment for India. It put an end to the murdering frenzy and to mass
violence. Law and order could be restored. A strong leadership saw to that. Among those leaders was the
"Iron Man of India" that was the Union Home Minister, Sardar Patel. He was the one who had gathered in
time the 560 Indian princely states which had a special status (Menon 1961). In the larger country, he had
made it very clear that no nonsense would be tolerated. What he had in mind were of course the various
agitations of those days, mainly the Communist-led guerillas (Graff 1974), but also the linguistic or ethnic
claims and, very clearly, the grievances of the religious minorities"whose behavior could threaten "Mother
India." These last categories, however, were more than willing to demonstrate their loyalty. They were in a
state of shock. After the dramatic exchanges of populations which had taken place during Partition, Hindu
refugees had finally adjusted rather well. Muslims, however, had not. They were the guilty. They were
those who had divided the Motherland (Robinson 1993). Those who had not left for Pakistan (which meant
the majority of Muslims and most definitely the poorest among them) were left high and dry, even more so
because their patrons, upon whom they depended, were no longer present (Azad 1959 ; Khaliquzzaman
1964). The only thing they could do was to concentrate on their day-to-day survival. Nearly four years
proved necessary to reach a certain degree of peaceful coexistence between the communities concerned
(Spear 1967 ; Philips and Wainwright 1970 ; M. Hasan 2004). Who were these communities ? And why
this gulf between them ? What is feeding the so-called "communalist cancer" in India, the word referring to
the sense of insecurity, even hostility, which many communities feel at heart towards the "Other" (Pandey
1990), and which can lead them to take violent action in order to protect themselves, and further their own
India is a giant country, a subcontinent which is extremely diverse, and where one finds people who, for
millenniums, have cohabited in a narrow proximity but have never merged. They belong either to local
indigenous tribes (adivasis) or descend from various waves of invaders who have settled, over the
centuries, along the country s rivers, in the large valleys of the Indus and of the Ganges, or in the hills,
cultivating, plundering, settling or building but remaining organized along different strata and statuses. It is
around 1500 B. C. that these various populations met and interacted. On the one hand, there were the
Dravidians, people earlier associated with the Harappa civilization in the Indus valley, who had seemingly
pushed aside the adivasis. On the other hand, there were the Aryans, who had come though successive
waves from the Caucasia regions (from 1500 B. C. to approximately 1000 B. C.). These Aryans were very
different from the populations they met when they came, with specific practices and religious traditions,
articulated around the Vedic poems. They brought along the premises of an organization, centered on the
notion of sacrifice, monopolized by a sacerdotal caste, the Brahmin varna. These Vedic times are still
remembered throughout India with utmost reverence. They are at the roots, together with the Upanishads
and the great popular epics (Ramayana, Mahabharata), of what is being called Hinduism today, an
accomplished civilization which is both open and tolerant as far as faith is concerned, but extremely rigid
regarding the rules of society (see infra the four-varna model). It is altogether a system, a sophisticated
philosophy, and a faith translated into a myriad of local popular creeds and devotion to thousands of deities.
With time of course, transformations and reforms have occurred : the major ones, Buddhism and Jainism,
were born in the 5th century B. C., in present Bihar. They have tried to get rid of the caste system, and they
have put the accent on meditation and non-violence. Sikhism on the other hand, was born much later in
Punjab (in the 15th century), with a first sant, Guru Nanak, who tried to elaborate a kind of syncretism
between Hinduism and Islam, centered on a unique God. Guru Nanak had several successors, and it is the
fifth guru who built the much revered Golden Temple in Amristar in 1604. The next gurus faced serious
problems with the Mughal Empire, and organized the community around martial and fiery traditions (the
Khalsa order). The lineage stopped at the tenth guru, and Sikhs now rely on a holy book, the Guru Granth.
All of these religious traditions, born on the sacred Indian soil, are considered as a part of the Hindu world.
They represent now 85 percent of the total Indian population.
But who are the other 15 percent ? On the margins of this Hindu world, at times completely imbricated,
there are important minorities, born out of foreign religions, which have survived, in glory or in submission
(see table 2 and 3).
The Parsis (Zoroastrians) have their origin in Persia, and migrated when the Sassanid Empire fell under
Arab conquests (8th to 10th century). They are a tiny elite group which is today on the way to a possible
extinction (too many outside marriages). At the moment, they are the main industrialists in India and its
most educated benefactors. Their community is mainly centered in Bombay.
Christians (2.4 percent of the whole population) have a long history, going back to the 1st century : Saint
Thomas is said to have landed in South India, to eventually reach Madras, where he is supposedly buried.
Historical evidence underlines the venue of merchants from the Middle-East and with them the first real
efforts of evangelization, during the 4th century, thanks to the activities of the Oriental Churches and their
missions. Contrary to later converts, these Syrian Christians benefited from a high status in society ; today
most of them are wealthy planters or businessmen, and they have a dominant role in Kerala politics.
Quarrels are frequent as they are divided along many rival Oriental Churches. A second wave of
conversions to Christianity occurred in the 15th and 16th century with the arrival of Portuguese
conquistadors (Vasco de Gama in 1498). The Roman Catholic clergy was well-organized, extremely active
(notwithstanding the Inquisition attempts), and they were able to reach the lowest castes (Untouchables and
tribal people). As for today, for instance, most Christian fishermen in South India are Latin Catholics. The
last wave of conversions started with Protestant missionaries from the 18th century onwards. Contrary to a
general feeling in the West, the churches involved in missionary work were not British. Both the East India
Company and the Church of England were very clear : nobody from their side should intervene in the
Hindu private life and religious traditions. It explains why the job was done by non-British missions
(Denmark, Germany, Switzerland, the Netherlands, and Scotland), and why the various denominations look
quite disconcerting to outsiders. All in all, Christians today are not very numerous, and they are mainly
concentrated in the South. Most of them are highly educated, running hospitals and educational
establishments. It is to be noticed that Christian staff includes many literate and well-trained nuns........
Also read about Nellie Massacre
A dot of a town in Assam’s Nagaon district, Nellie, hit the national headlines in 1983 for all the wrong reasons. In just six hours on the morning of February 18, over 2000 Muslim villagers of East Bengal origin were massacred there.
With the then ongoing anti-foreigner movement in the State as the
backdrop, the incident attracted great attention. Hundreds of cases were
filed against the attackers composed of indigenous tribal Tiwa
and Koch communities; a commission was set up too to probe the massacre. But nothing came of it. The attackers and the attacked began living side by side yet again.
Three decades later, Japanese academic Makiko Kimura attempts to search for clues from the narratives of the attackers and the survivors through “The Nellie Massacre of 1983”. The recently published Sage book is the result of Makiko’s post doctoral research at the Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.
In an email interview from Japan, Makiko, associate professor at the Tsuda College, Tokyo, says she zeroed in on the subject while looking at doing some work on ethnic issues in the Northeast. “I chose the anti-foreigner movement led by the All Assam Students’ Union (AASU) as my Ph.D theme. I wanted to know how indigenous tribal groups were involved in the movement, and was suggested to go to Nellie,” she states.
Makiko Kimura, author of the recently published “The Nellie Massacre”, tells us that the killings would not have happened if the elections had not been imposed on a tense and divided society
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