Muslims have traditionally felt insecure in India and feared the Hindu majority. There are around 1 billion Hindus and 180 million Muslims in India. Anti-Muslim views have traditionally been a key component of Hindu nationalist political parties. It is estimated that between 1947 and 1997 about 8,000 people died in Hindu-Muslim violence. Severed pig heads thrown in Muslim neighborhoods have triggered riots in India.

Clashes between Muslims and Hindus have been occurring as long as anyone can remember. In the state of Orissa, 1,130 deaths were attributed to "communal riots" between 1964 and 1969. During that time five Muslim boys were murdered for entering the territory of a Hindu rival and it is not uncommon for a man to taken from his house and hacked to death. In the 1970s political violence was so out of control people were afraid to leave their neighborhoods or venture out after dark. Indian soldiers brought in to quell the violence chained their rifles to their bodies so the they wouldn't be snatched.


In a poll released in July 2005 by the Pew Research Group, 84 percent of those surveyed in India said that they were concerned about the rise of Muslim extremism in their country and 61 percent of those surveyed said that they felt that Muslim immigrants wished to remain distinct from their society.

Destruction of the Babri Mosque in Ayodhya

Muslim-Hindu violence reached a new level in 1990 when the 400-year-old Babri mosque in the holy city Ayodhya at the south end of Indian state of Uttar Pradesh was stormed by Hindu extremists. Thirty people died and police were called in to hold back the crowds. Hindus claimed the mosque was built on the site of a former Hindu temple believed to have placed on the spot where the Hindu god Rama (an incarnation of Vishnu) was born. They say the temple was deliberately destroyed in 1526 by the Muslim Mogul ruler Babar, who used pillars from the temple to build the mosque. The ancient epic the “Ramayana” says that Rama (Ram) was born in Ayodhya but many historians say that Ayodhya was established after the Ramayana was written.

The rise of the Hindu nationalist party, the BJP, and the campaign to destroy the mosque were tied together. In September 1990, BJP leader I.K. Advani began storming across the country in a truck rigged to look like Rama’s chariot. He was accompanied by activists in costumes and loudspeakers that blasted religious songs. The procession drew huge crowds, with some supporters expressing their devotion by offering jars of blood. The BJP did very well in election in 1991.

On December 6, 1992, the Babri mosque was assaulted again, this time by a 75,000-strong mob armed with sledgehammers, pick axes and crow bars during what was supposed to be a peaceful gathering. Egged on by Hindu holymen and ultra-nationalists, the mob tore way at the mosque to chants of “Death to Muslims” and "Kill the journalists" and the sound of conch shells and clashing cymbals. Authorities did not attempt to hold the crowd back and the mosque was reduced to rubble in a matter of hours.

The Hindu fundamentalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) was blamed for the demolition of the Babri mosque and the riots that followed. The attack was led by Vishwa Hindu Parisahd (VHP, World Hindu Council), a Hindu extremist group whose followers often carry tridents, a symbol of Shiva, and swords, another symbol from Hindu mythology, and chant slogans like “Victory to Lord Ram” and “Victory to Hindus.” They claim more than 30,000 Hindu sites have been lost to Muslims and also want to tear down mosques in Mathura, the reported birthplace of Krishna, and Varanasi.

The VHP has repeatedly said that it plans to build a new temple at Ayodhya that will have 200 giant pillars, extend the length of football field and last for a thousand years. Stonemasons in Rajasthan and Ayodhya have chiseled images of gods and completed making the pillars and other parts of the new temple. Hindu groups are just waiting for government approval. A makeshift Hindu temple that sits beside the site has been the target of terrorist attacks. It is surrounded by heavily armed police—sometimes hundreds of them—and devotees are allowed to file past it after going through metal detectors and enduring pat-down body searches. The government has banned holding rites at the site. Hindu extremists have staged rallies to hold rites and build the temple but these have gotten smaller over the years. The matter has been under revue in Indian courts for decades now.

Rama leaving for 14 years of exile from Ayodhya

Archeological Excavations of the Ayodhya Mosque-Temple Site

In the early 2000s, the New-Delhi-sponsored Archeological Survey of India was brought in to conduct digs to determine whether or not a Hindu temple did indeed exist under the mosque. Earlier archeological work at the site had not turned up anything and no historical records from the time of the Mogul ruler Babar mention anything about a Hindu temple marking the birthplace of Ram, let alone one that stood where the mosque was built. Large number of Ram worshipers did not settle in the area until the 18th century. Records from this period describe a platform outside the mosque described as the birth place of Ram. In 1885, a Hindu holyman filed an unsuccessful suit to have a temple built above the platform.

In 2003, the The Archaeological Survey of India conducted an indepth study and excavation of the site. It said it found definite proof of a temple under the mosque. However evidence indicated it was more likely a Shiva temple than a Rama temple. According to ASI researchers, they discovered "distinctive features associated with... temples of north India": "stone and decorated bricks as well as mutilated sculpture of a divine couple and carved architectural features, including foliage patterns, amalaka, kapotapali, doorjamb with semi-circular shrine pilaster, broke octagonal shaft of black schist pillar, lotus motif, circular shrine having pranjala (watershute) in the north and 50 pillar bases in association with a huge structure"

The archeological team that surveyed the site found 184 “anomalies” with ground surveying radar. These anomalies could be foundations, walls, pillars and flooring, They could also be boulders. No specific artifact linked to a Ram temple were ever found. No weapons or evidence of burning—indicating the destruction of a temple—were ever found. Even supporters of a new temples admit they don’t have conclusive evidence that a Ram temple was there. Purported “pillar bases” found in 1990 were made of brick and unable to support pillars. They were not even aligned.

Violence After the Ayodhya Mosque Incident

When Muslims took to the streets to protest the destruction of the Babri mosque they were attacked by police and Hindu mobs, especially in Bombay. Violence, looting and burning in the riots in India and Pakistan in late 1992 and early 1993 left more than 1,750 people—most of them Muslims—dead. Some of the dead were decapitated; some were burned with sulfuric acid; others were dismembered with knives and hatchets. It was the worst urban violence since partition in 1947.

People fought with knives, stones swords and firebombs. After 14 weeks of violence 1,100 people were killed. Describing what happened after her house was attacked by a Hindu mob, one Muslim woman told National Geographic, "When we realized that they were coming toward us we quickly shut the door and blocked it with our bodies. One of the ruffians climbed up onto our roof—it's not much of a roof, just scraps of tin—and pulled it apart. Just as I looked over my shoulder he threw acid on me," Before the violence she said, "We were are friends. I just don't understand why this happening to our city."

Bombings and Violence in Bombay After the Ayodhya Mosque Incident

On March 11, 1993, 13 bombs went off in Bombay killing more than 300 people and injuring 1,200. An attack on the Bombay Stock Exchange alone killed more than 100 people. It was one of the worst incidents of urban violence and terrorism ever record in India. The bombing were blamed on Muslim gangsters acting on orders from the ISI (the Pakistan intelligence service). Pakistan denied the allegations. The gangster-terrorist Dawood Ibrahim is suspected of sponsoring the attack on the Bombay Stock Exchange. As of the early 2000s, he was living freely in Pakistan. Some people believe organized crime was responsible for the bombings so they could burn down the slums and erect lucrative developments.

John Ward Anderson of the Washington Post: "Prosecutors N. Natarajan presented this scenario: Aided by Pakistan, Muslim gangsters who control the Bombay underworld from their base in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, masterminded the blasts in retaliation for the attacks on Muslims during riots over a disputed mosque three months earlier. Natarajan said political assassinations and additional terrorist attacks had been planned for virtually every major city in India, including Delhi, Calcutta, Madras and Bangalore." [Source: John Ward Anderson, Washington Post, July 23, 1994]

After sifting through 10,000 pages of evidence, investigators determined that Pakistan—through its military intelligence wing—recruited underworld figures to plant the bombs and arranged for nearly four tons of explosives to be smuggled into Bombay across the Arabian Sea. Most of the powerful Muslim underworld figures, including Dawood Ibrahim, the equivalent of a mafia don, fled the country to Dubai, a Muslim emirate in the Persian Gulf. [Source: John Burns, New York Times, April 17. 1994]

After the Bombay bombings, Hindu gangs searched for men with skullcaps and beards. Muslim gangs attacked people with Hindu devotional marks on their forehead. Innocent people were doused with kerosene and set on fire. In October, 1994, Hindu mobs killed two dozen Muslims and firebombed Muslim-owned stores after a television station aired a 10-minutes news broadcast in Urdu.

The anti-Muslim Hindu mobs were egged on, many witnesses have said, by Shiv Sena, a 30,000 member extremist Hindu group led by Hindu nationalist Bal Thackery. Thackery denies any involvement in the rioting. However, he told the New York Times: "I have created enemies. I am on a hit list. But my enemies know full well if anything happens to me, there will be flare-ups across the country. There will be communal riots everywhere. People will not keep quiet. So much love people have for me. [Source: John Burns, New York Times, April 17. 1994]

Violence flares up at the Ayodhya mosque site from time to time. In September 2003, police clashed with rock-throwing members of the VHP in Ayodhya near the site of the destroyed mosque. The members of the VHP were participating in rally to support construction a Hindu temple at the site.

Crackdown on Muslims After the Ayodhya Mosque Attack

During the Muslim-Hindu riots that followed the destruction of the Babri Mosque in Ayodhya, Muslims were dragged from their homes and thrown in jail for months without being charged of any crimes. When they were released their jobs were gone. One gardener was told when he returned to the place he worked, "You have no right to live in this country, let alone seek a job here.” [Source: John Ward Anderson, Washington Post, March 12, 1994]

Alleged Muslim rioters were charged under India's Terrorist and Disruptive Activists Act, a 1985 law sharply criticized by human rights organizations that has often been used against minorities. According to a report from the early 1990s, of the 52,998 people charged under the act between 1984 and 1993, only 434—fewer than one percent—were convicted. In 1994, the law was dropped from the books.

The Bombay government has taken little action to bring the Hindu extremist involved in violence against Muslims to justice out a fear of inciting more riots. Instead they have condoned private efforts to build lasting harmony between Muslims and Hindus. On "Hands of Harmony" day, held in early 1994, 150,000 people, mostly Hindus and Muslims, joined hands to form a human chain across Bombay. Millions of people staged similar events across India on the same day. [Source: John Burns, New York Times, April 17. 1994]

In September 2010, an Allahabad High Court ruled that the 2.77-acre (1.12-hectare) Ayodhya site would be divided into three parts, with one third going to the Ram Lalla or Infant Rama represented by the Hindu Maha Sabha for the construction of the Ram temple, one third going to the Islamic Sunni Waqf Board and the remaining third going to a Hindu religious denomination Nirmohi Akhara. While the three-judge bench was not unanimous that the disputed structure was constructed after demolition of a temple, it did agree that a temple or a temple structure predated the mosque at the same site. The excavations by the Archaeological Survey of India were heavily used as evidence by the court that the predating structure was a massive Hindu religious building. [Source: Wikipedia]

Violence Between Hindus and Muslims in the Early 2000s

Clashes between Hindus and Muslims in 2002 in Gujarat, particularly in Ahmedabad, left at least 1,000 dead, and perhaps as many as 2,500, after Muslim extremists set fire to a train, killing 58 people, mostly Hindus. After that Hindu mobs went on a rampage. More than 20,000 homes and businesses and 360 mosques were destroyed and 100,000 people, nearly all of them Muslims, became internally displaced refugees. Most of the dead in the wave of violence were Muslims. See Below

Anti Muslim sentiments run particularly high in Gujarat because its borders Pakistan and has a large Muslim population and Hindus feel threatened. In clashes in Gujarat in 2004, Muslims and Hindus burned buildings and clashed with police, throwing acid on them. Police fired tear gas and used bamboo sticks to break up rioters. Police shot dead four suspected Islamic militants, including one who was a woman.

There was fighting between Hindus and Muslims after the destruction of the Bamiyan Buddhas in Afghanistan in 2001. In November 2003, 21 people were hurt when two crude bombs were thrown a mosque in Parbhani, a town 500 kilometers east of Bombay. In August 2004, six were hurt when crude bombs were thrown at mosques in Bombay.

There has also been violence between Muslims. In November 2000, thirteen people were killed and 40 were injured when a mob of Sunnis attacked Shiites in a market in Lucknow. Lucknow has a large Shiite population and a history of violence between rival Muslim sects. There was also large scale violence in Meerut in Uttar Pradesh

See Terrorism

Train Attack in Godhra, Gujarat

In February 2002, a Muslim mob attacked a train near the town of Godhra in Gujarat state, killing 59 Hindu passengers, including 27 women and 10 children, and injuring 48. Many of the 1,500 passengers on the train were pilgrims with the Vishwa Hindu Parisahd (World Hindu Council) returning from Ayodhya, where they had participated in rites intended as prelude to building a new Hindu temple on the site of the destroyed Babri mosque.

When the train stopped at Godhra station in the middle of Muslim slum, Hindu devotes, stirred by religious fervor, poured out of the train and began chanting Hindu nationalist slogans. According to one report they ordered a Muslim vendor to say “Hail Rama.” He refused. The Hindus pulled his beard and beat him. The passengers had been making trouble the entire trip: failing to pay for tea and snacks, exposing themselves out the windows, pulling the scarves off Muslim women and throwing people off the train who failed to join their pro-Rama chants.

As the train pulled out of the station, someone pulled the emergency brake and the train came to a stop in the middle of a Muslim slum. Arguments erupted between Muslims and Hindus and the two groups began pelting one another with stones. For reasons that are not clear a mob of around 2,000 people focused its attention carriage S-6. After the windows were broken, a flaming rag was thrown inside that ignited the synthetic leather seats. Another fire broke out in the S-5 car. The fires quickly engulfed the carriages. Dozens of people were burned to death.

One witness told the Independent, “I heard screams for help. I saw a huge ball of fire. I saw people putting their hands and heads through the windows trying to escape. It was a horrible sight.” There were many theories on how it started. Most of the Muslims insist it was a spontaneous reaction to outrageous behavior by Hindu extremists. Hindu insist it was planned, perhaps with the assistance of the ISI (the Pakistani intelligence service).

A commission set up by the government of Gujarat to investigate the train burning spent six years going over the details of the case, and concluded that the fire was arson committed by a mob of 1000-2000 people. A commission appointed by the central government, whose appointment was later held to be unconstitutional, stated that the fire had been an accident. A court convicted 31 Muslims for the incident and conspiracy. [Source: Wikipedia]

A report released in January 2005, said the deadly fire on the train was caused by an “accidental fire” and not Muslims attacks. The report stated “The possibility of an inflammable liquid having been used is completely ruled out as there was first a smell of burning, followed by dense smoke and flames thereafter.”

Violence in Gujarat Following the Train Attack in Godhra

Hindus in Gujarat were outraged by the attack on the train in Godhra. Within hours anti-Muslim violence began to occur. Among the first victims was a Muslim rickshaw driver pulled from his vehicle and beaten to death with a cricket bat. Unsubstantiated rumors had been spread of Muslims abducting Hindu girls and raping them.

The worst violence was in Ahmedabad, where Hindu mobs swarmed through Muslim neighborhoods, armed with swords, sticks and gasoline, shouting anti-Muslim slogans, They burned shop and businesses, destroyed homes and pelted mosques with rocks, acid-filled light bulbs, and Molotov cocktails. Women were raped, sexually assaulted and forced to run naked through the streets. Men, women and children were beaten and doused with gasoline and burned alive. Many of the dead were Muslims who died in fires set by crude bombs made of gasoline in plastic bags.

According to a report by Human Rights Watch: “Between February 28 and March 2. the attackers descended with militia-like precision on Ahmedabad by the thousands, arriving in trucks and clad in saffron scarves and khaki shorts, the signature uniform of the Hindu nationalist—Hindutva—groups. Chanting slogans of incitement to kill, they came armed with swords, trishuls (three-pronged spears associated with Hindu mythology), sophisticated explosives and gas cylinders. They were guided by computer printouts listing the addresses of Muslim families and their properties...and embarked on a murderous rampage confidant that the police was with them. In many cases, they led the charge using gunfire to kill Muslims who got in the mobs’ way.”

Many Muslims sought refuge at the compound of a Ehsan Jafri, a Muslim Congress party politician. A mob of more than 10,000 people gathered there. Armed with swords, stones, iron, rods and tridents, they shouted, “Beat them! Burn them! Cut them!” The burst into the compound and killed Jafri and his family and all the Muslims they could catch. Police that arrived at the scene did little. Thirty-nine people were killed. Another massacre occurred in a poor Ahmedabad neighborhood called Naroda Patia. The attack was led a Hindu extremist leader Bipin Bhai. No arrests were made.

Savagery of the Violence in Gujarat

The violence continued until late April 2002, lasting almost three months. Individual Muslims were stabbed by Hindu mobs. Individual Hindus were stabbed by Muslim mobs. The worst violence was carried out by Hindus and the savagery of the some of attack was beyond belief. Mothers were hacked with swords as their children watched. Girls were raped and then set on fire. In one case a pregnant woman was split open and her fetus was raised skyward on a sword and then set on fire.

According to the Human Rights Watch report gravediggers told investigators “that most bodies that had arrived...were burned and butchered beyond recognition. Many were missing body parts—arms, legs and even heads. The elderly and handicapped were not spared. There were other reported cases of pregnant women having their bellies cut open and their fetuses pulled out and hacked or burned before the women were killed.

Muslim survivors moved into refugee camps, afraid to return to their old neighborhood. Those that return or never left were careful about removing their nameplates from their homes and businesses. A road that separated the Muslim ghetto of Juhapura from a Hindu neighborhood became like the Green Line in Beirut.

One woman told the Washington Post she witnessed her husband and several relatives burned alive after they were pulled from a milk van. She was raped by three men as he 4-year-old watched. “one by one, they pulled out the men from the van and burned them. She said. “My husband was burned alive in front of my own eyes as I screamed and pleaded with them....One of them grabbed my hair for behind and pulled me; another snatched my son away. They were ruthless.”

In September 2002, gunmen attacked the popular Swaminarayan Hindu temple in Gandhinihar, Gujarat, killing 33 people and wounding 80 with grenades and automatic weapons. This time the Indian government quicky sent in troops and the two terrorists that carried out the attacks were killed. It was the biggest attack by Muslim extremists outside of Kashmir. Ostensibly because of the presence of Indian troops, there was little retaliatory anti-Muslim violence.

Hindu Nationalist Politicians and the Violence in Gujarat

BJP leaders gave fiery speeches condemning Muslims and exhorted the mobs to make attacks. Many suggested that the riots were not riots but rather a systematic and planned pogrom led by BJP leaders. The BJP Chief Minister (governor) of Gujaratm Narenda Modi (now India’s prime minister) was accused, at best, of doing little to stop the violence. Some say he encouraged it. His party won 70 percent of the vote in the next election. A local BJP leader, Deepak Patel, was charged with being the leader a Hindu mob that burned to death 42 Muslims as they slept.

Some of the Hindu nationalist leaders associated with the riots were killed. Unidentified gunmen shot dead Harem Pandya, a senior member of a Hindu nationalist group. He reportedly testified that he had been given orders by Modi not to interfere if there were riots. A few were arrested. Praveen Togadia, a leader with VHP, was arrested and charged with sedition and giving out tridents at rally. The president of the VHP said the attacks on Muslims were “a victory for Hindu society” and boasted that entire villages were “emptied of Islam.” “We were successful in our experiment of raising Hindu consciousness, which will be repeated all over the country now.”

Relatively few arrests were made and few people were brought to justice for the violence that followed the train attack. In cases where people were arrested the charges were reduced or they were released because of shoddy police work of lack of serious effort by prosecutors. Despite numerous eyewitness accounts, in one widely publicized case, 21 Hindus were acquitted by a Gujarat court of charges involving the hacking to death 14 people at a Muslim-owned bakery during the violence. In 2004 the Supreme Court ordered a retrial, saying the state’s investigation was “perfunctory and anything but impartial.” Some of the witnesses were bribed or disappeared before they could testify. There were allegations that judges were pressured and intimidated.

Gujarat authorities closed thousands of cases relate to the violence, saying they did not have enough evidence to prosecute. The woman described above who was raped three times wasn’t even allowed by police to file a complaint.

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Ministry of Tourism, Government of India, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books, websites and other publications.

Last updated June 2015

This site contains copyrighted material the use of which has not always been authorized by the copyright owner. Such material is made available in an effort to advance understanding of country or topic discussed in the article. This constitutes 'fair use' of any such copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, the material on this site is distributed without profit. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond 'fair use', you must obtain permission from the copyright owner. If you are the copyright owner and would like this content removed from, please contact me.