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India’s communal cancer

  • Published at 01:54 pm March 15th, 2020

Communal violence in India has long been a reality 

On February 23, followed by a fiery speech by Kapil Mishra -- a high ranking member of Delhi unit’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) -- lingering protests in defiance of the promulgation of the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) throttled into full-scale sectarian violence that has left the Indian capital looking like a war zone.  

The final casualty number, according to Delhi Police and spokespeople of the government, is 53 dead and more than 200 injured. Section 144 had been issued in certain parts of the city where most of the violence occurred, added with a shoot-at-sight order in the most affected areas. This widespread violence had left hundreds of homes burned to the ground, thousands of families who fled in fear of further persecution, shops and markets burned to the ground, and religious establishments such mosques and temples attacked and put on fire by angry mobs. 

This widespread act of terror left many Hindus as well as Muslims in a state of fear and frenzy. Although Amit Shah, the union home minister of the Indian Republic, chose to say: “53 Indians dead, we will not say Hindu or Muslim.” 

Despite conceding losses on both sides, as per media reports, it is the Muslims of Delhi who have faced most persecution. Videos of the police watching Hindu mobs attack unarmed Muslims have been circulating on the internet ever since the eruption of violence. Many are claiming that the police were actively aiding the Hindu mobs by joining them in brutalizing Muslims. 

Although the sheer brutality of the attacks comes as a surprise to many who viewed India as a role-model for a secular republic, communal violence in India has long been a reality in India’s history. 

In 1984, following the assassination of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi by her Sikh bodyguards, widespread violence erupted in Delhi. Mobs allegedly organized by the ruling Indian National Congress hunted and killed Sikhs in a killing spree that lasted multiple days. 3,500 Sikhs were killed in that purge, as per official records of the Indian government, despite other independent sources claiming the number of dead far exceeded that provided by the government. This massive escalation caused 50,000 Sikhs to be displaced as well. 

The Delhi High Court, delivering its verdict on a riot-related case in 2009, said:

“Though we boast of being the world’s largest democracy and Delhi being its national capital, the sheer mention of the incidents of the 1984 anti-Sikh riots in general, and the role played by Delhi Police and state machinery in particular, make our heads hang in shame in the eyes of the world polity.”

Similar violence also occurred in Gujarat in 2002. On February 27, a train was set on fire by unidentified assailants. This fire caused the deaths of 58 Hindu pilgrims. Incredulous violence followed this tragedy, leaving 790 Muslims and 254 Hindus dead, as per official record. Coincidentally, Narendra Modi (now prime minister), was the chief minister of Gujarat at the time.

Organizations such as Human Rights Watch criticized Chief Minister Modi and his administration’s failure in averting this bloodshed. Despite all allegations, Prime Minister Modi was cleared of complicity in the bloodshed by a special investigation team appointed by the Supreme Court in 2012.

There have also been many other instances when communal violence erupted in various parts of India; it left thousands dead and many more thousands fleeing from their homes to avoid persecution. Similar incidents occurred in 1983, known as the Nellie Massacre, where 2,000 Muslims were reportedly killed in Assam.

In 1992-1993, due to the attacks and subsequent demolition of the Babri Mosque, communal violence once again erupted in Bombay. These riots lasted for nearly a month, leaving 900 dead and more than 2,000 people injured.

Unfortunately, communal riots being followed by blood-curling violence has consistently emerged in Indian history, pre and post partition. Due to the vested political interests of state or central governments, no clear resolution has been drawn between the religious fractions of their population that tend to unleash the most vicious kinds of atrocities on their fellow countrymen. 

Wasif Jamal Khan is President, Bangladesh Forum for Legal and Humanitarian Affairs.

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