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Burqa row in Karnataka threatens communal harmony and peace. Here is an indicative list where ‘peaceful protests’ culminated into large scale communal riots

Over the years since Independence, 'peaceful protests', mostly led by Islamist mobs, have culminated into communal violence which is subsequently justified by 'liberals' as 'right to religious freedom'.

While the whole world was celebrating the occasion of New Year, the coastal town of Udupi in Karnataka was getting embroiled in a controversy. On January 1, some female Muslim students of a Pre-University College (PUC) in Udupi tried to enter their classes with hijabs, in defiance of the uniform dress code.

The school insisted that the students wear the school uniform and barred their entry into the classrooms with hijab. According to Karnataka’s Education Minister BC Nagesh, uniforms had been in existence in the said government PUC since 1985. He said that there had never been an issue to date regarding uniforms.

The girls then launched a protest outside their classrooms for several days to allow them entry with their hijabs. They then moved the High Court and the Supreme Court in the hopes of getting an exclusive religious exemption. Aggrieved by the situation, Hindu students launched a counter-protest sporting saffron shawls and demanded uniformity in school attire.

‘Peaceful’ Burqa protests take violent form

The issue, which started out at a college in Udupi, became internationalised after French footballer Paul Pogba shared a post supporting Hijab in colleges. Although the protests by Muslims were initially ‘peaceful’, they soon escalated to include instances of violence, assault and vandalism.

The protestors soon graduated from wearing a hijab (headscarf) to a burqa (full body veil) and insisted it was a choice. However, there have been innumerable cases in countries like Afghanistan where women are killed for not wearing burqa, hijab, proving how hijab is a choice only if you are privileged enough to not get killed for choosing to not wear one.

On February 11, OpIndia reported another incidence of violence in the Malebennur town of Davangere district wherein a Muslim mob attacked a person and stabbed him for allegedly uploading a post against hijab on his WhatsApp status. In a similar incident in Nallur village of Davangere district, another mob of Muslims have attacked a person and his 60-year-old mother for their alleged posts on social media on the hijab controversy. 

Islamists had also issued death threats to Udupi BJP MLA K Raghupathi Bhat and Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Samajwadi Party leader Rubina Khanum in UP had threatened to chop arms of those ‘putting hands on hijab’. In West Bengal, Islamists pelted stones and also hurled bombs at a school after students were asked to wear uniforms instead of the burqa.

Further reports have emerged that these protests are backed by Islamist outfits like Popular Front of India and its students’ wing, Campus Front of India (CFI). The girls have admitted to have been in touch with the members of CFI who have been guiding them on the protests.

History is replete with instances when Islamists put up a facade of ‘peaceful protest’ to get their demands met by the administration. And whenever the system refused to bend over backwards to accommodate their exclusivist demands, Islamists shed the nuance of peace, resorted to all-out violence and took the State to ransom.

Here is a list of ‘peaceful protests’ by Islamists that led to full-blown violence:

1980 Moradabad riots over ‘pig’

On August 13, 1980, a violent clash broke out between a Muslim mob of 75000 and officials of the Provincial Armed Constabulary (PAC). The incident took place on the occasion of Eid when a large group of Muslims had gathered at the Idgah mosque in Moradabad in Uttar Pradesh.

Indian Express had reported that the chaos started after a stray pig (considered ‘Haram’ in Islam) made its way into the mosque premises. The Muslims, praying inside, believed that the pig was ‘let loose’ by the police officials who were deployed there to avoid any untoward incident.

When the mob asked the cops to remove the pig, they allegedly refused to do so. The agitated Muslims pelted stones at the PAC officials, resulting in retaliatory gunfire that officially claimed 24 lives.

Screengrab of the Indian Express report from August 1980

The then Uttar Pradesh government had appointed Justice MP Saxena of the Allahabad High Court to submit his findings on the incident. In his report submitted towards the end of that year, Justice Saxena informed that there were no pigs in the vicinity of the mosque and that the clash was not caused by the entry of the animal in the Islamic place of prayer.

India Today reported that the outbreak of violence was caused by Muslim League (UP) President Shamim Ahmed Khan and two other leaders. Justice Saxena Commission gave a clean chit to PAC and noted that most casualties were caused by stampede rather than police firing. It also absolved the role of any Hindu organisiation, such as the RSS, in instigating the violence.

No action was ever taken against the perpetrators, given that the report found Muslim leaders ‘involved’ in engineering the clash. The then DGP (prosecution) Dharamvir Mehta had justified the firing by the cops and the PAC. “I had to be Mr Poison to cure cancer. Desperate maladies need desperate remedies,” he had remarked. Interestingly, his ‘iron hand strategy’ bore fruits as the city did not witness communal violence for several decades after the incident.

Islamists rioted in Mumbai over ‘The Satanic Verses’ in 1989

Following the publication of ‘The Satanic Verses’ by Salman Rushdie in September 1988, Islamists were up in arms against the author for committing ‘blasphemy’ and insulting their Faith. Iran’s first Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khomeini, even called upon all Muslims to kill Salman Rushdie.

By that time, the ‘secular’ government of Rajiv Gandhi had already banned the book in India. Khomeini’s call for the killing of Rushdie inspired and mobilised Islamists, who called for a ‘bandh‘ on February 24, 1989, in the city of Mumbai. A large demonstration was held.

Screengrab of 1989 report of United Press International

The frenzied Muslim mob was stopped by cops after they tried to march on the British diplomatic mission, which was in Mumbai at that time. The Islamists were protesting against the protection provided to Salman Rushdie by the British government. The mob of 2000 rioters burnt cars, buses, motorcycles in South Mumbai and also torched a police station.

They also open-fired at the police. It was then that the cops resorted to retaliatory firing and neutralised 12 Islamists in this process. Similar processions were banned for the day. A total of 500 Islamists were detained and 800 others were arrested.

1989 Badaun riots over ‘Urdu’

The adoption of Urdu as the second language of Uttar Pradesh in 1989 resulted in violence and vandalism in the city of Badaun, which has about 56% Hindus and 43% Muslim population.

Even before the Urdu Bill was tabled in the State Legislative Assembly on September 28, 1989, political and religious turmoil gripped the region of Western Uttar Pradesh. The student wing of the BJP, Akhil Bharatiya Vidya Parishad (ABVP), staged a procession in Badaun over the decision of the Congress government to include Urdu as an official State language.

Screengrab of the news report by Desert News

A counter pro-Urdu procession was organised on September 28 that year by students of Islamia Inter College, during which they attacked a college. This fired off a series of killings and arson attacks, with gun-wielding rioters shooting at people from rooftops.

“The riot claimed 27 lives according to some media reports. Other accounts assessed the total at more than 60 killed. Violence also spread to the countryside. During an attack on the Kasganj–Kashipur train, 13 passengers were killed by a mob. Other sources put the death toll of this attack at 24,” the report by SciencesPo.

Riots in Kota in 1989 over religious processsion

It was the last day of the Ganesha festival (September 14, 1989) for that year. A major riot broke out in the Kota city of Rajasthan after a Hindu Anant Chaturdashi procession was attacked while it passed through a Muslim-dominated neighbourhood.

“How the riot started is a subject of dispute. The Moslems say the Hindus chanted blasphemous, provocative slogans against Islam. The Hindus say the Moslems began throwing stones and acid bombs at them without warning. Either way, the streets were ablaze within minutes and shots rang out, as both sides scrambled for guns and other weapons,” a report in The Washington Post read.

According to a report in SciencesPo, Akhara members and Hindu activists allegedly chanted anti-Muslim slogans while the Muslim mobs attacked the procession when it was passing by a mosque in the Ghantaghar area of Kota. This sparked off large-scale rioting in the city, followed by looting and arson attacks.

As per the Urdu newspaper Tulu-e-Subh, a total of 26 people (22 Muslims and 4 Hindus) lost their lives in the rioting that ensued in Kota.

Riots in Uttar Pradesh between 1990 and 1992 over Ram Janmabhoomi

On September 30, 1990, a Durga Puja procession was targeted by Islamists in the Colonelganj tehsil in Gonda district of Uttar Pradesh after the Hindu devotees raised slogans in support of Ram Mandir. During the attack, Muslim mobs pelted stones and petrol bombs at the Hindu religious procession.

This sparked off riots in Colonelganj, with the violence eventually spreading to rural areas. The Hindu mobs retaliated by burning down Muslim houses. A total of 42 people (official count) were killed during the riots, although unofficial sources put the death count to more than 300. Reportedly, the nearby villages of Kanje Mau and Pandey Chaura were also affected.

During the Ram Janmabhoomi movement, Khurja in the Bulandshahar district of Uttar Pradesh also witnessed riots on 2 occasions. The first riot began on December 15, 1990, and lasted till December 23 of that year. It claimed the lives of 74 people, including 12 Hindus and 62 Muslims. The riot was sparked by a fake news report published by a Hindi newspaper named Aaj wherein it claimed that a Muslim man, who was earlier stabbed and was being treated in Delhi, had succumbed to his injuries.

The second riot started on January 31, 1991, when a bomb exploded in a Muslim household. It resulted in a total of 22 casualties, including 4 Hindus and 18 Muslims. On the day of the demolition of the Babri Masjid, Muslim mobs in the communally sensitive town of Kanpur began looting Hindu shops and administrative offices. It was December 6, 1992. This sparked off riots with Hindu mobs targeting Muslim houses.

“Particularly notorious incidents occurred in the southern periphery of the city, where the riot spun out of control. According to official sources, 11 people died during four days of rioting in the town. Unofficial reports put the death toll much higher,” SciencesPo reported, adding that the riots peaked on December 9 and 10.

Islamists wrecked havoc in Lucknow in 2006 over Danish Mohammed cartoons

Lucknow, a city not known for Hindu-Muslim riots, had become a hotbed of religious turmoil following the publication of 12 editorial cartoons on Prophet Muhammad by a Danish conservative newspaper named Jyllands-Posten on 30 September 2005.

Initially, the demonstrations against the publication of cartoons were largely muted in India but they gained momentum after a Muslim politician fanned the fire of communalism. Hindustan Times reported that on February 17, 2006, Samajwadi Party leader Haji Yaqoob Qureshi offered prize money of ₹51 crores for killing Danish cartoonist Kurt Westergaard for committing blasphemy.

This culminated in violent protests in Lucknow, two days later on February 19 of that year. A five-star hotel, a Pizza Hut and a Cafe Coffee Day outlet was vandalised by Muslim mobs. In the following days, anti-US and anti-Denmark sentiment gripped the capital city of Uttar Pradesh.

On March 3, 2006, Islamists took out a protest against the visit of United States President George Bush to India. “The Muslims from the localities of Aminabad, Kaiserganj, and Latoosh Road staged large demonstrations after Friday prayers. The violence started when they forced Hindu shopkeepers to close their shutters. Their procession was then stoned and a riot erupted, in which four persons were killed,” read a report by ScincesPo.

The Times of India had reported that the violence lasted for over 4 hours since most of the police were deployed for the visit of President APJ Abdul Kalam to the city. A total of 4 people were killed and 8 others had sustained bullet injuries.

While highlighting the extent of damage caused by Islamists, the TOI report noted, “Seven shops were gutted at Mumtaz market in Aminabad while portion of a bank building and some 27 two-wheelers parked outside it were reduced to ashes in Maulviganj. Half-a-dozen two-wheelers were torched on Cantonment road connecting Kaiserbagh crossing.”

Islamists took Vadodara hostage in 2006 after unauthorised dargah was demolished

Municipal corporations in India regularly demolish unauthorised constructions as part of urban development and city planning. In May 2006, the Vadodara Municipal Corporation (VMC) had set out to demolish one such ‘unauthorised’ dargah to widen the city’s roads.

The Muslim community alleged that the dargah was the shrine of a medieval Sufi saint named Syed Chishti Rashiduddin and was 300 years old. However, no official record existed that could corroborate such ‘outlandish’ claims. Prior to that, the civic body had demolished several old temples and received no resistance from the majority Hindu community.

The ‘naive’ VMC officials thus believed that there would be no trouble when they set out to demolish the dargah, which was located in the Mandvi area of Vadodara. They were greeted with stones by unruly Muslim mobs, forcing the police to open fire at the rioters. A total of 6 Islamists were killed in retaliatory police firing.

Police patrolling increased in Vadodara after violence, image via Ajit Solanki/Associated Press

“What followed was a grim reminder of the infamous 2002 Vadodara riots. Mobs of both communities thronged the streets, rioting, pelting stones and even stabbing people,” reported India Today. Hindus, whose houses were attacked by Islamists, resorted to violence and killed a Muslim driver. An army jawan, who was passing through a Muslim dominated area, was also killed.

When the police failed to contain the riots, the State government sought help from the reserve forces. NGOs such as the People’s Union for Civil Liberties tried to rationalise the destruction caused by Islamists by finding faults in the decision of the Vadodara Municipal Corporation.

Imam of Jama Masjid in Ahmedabad, Shabbir Alam Siddiqui, had warned, “The Muslims will oppose any attempt to demolish dargahs that have been here before the town planning schemes came into force.” Islamists were also quick to link the dominance of the BJP in the Vadodara Municipal Corporation with the decision to demolish the dargah and further the series of violent attacks.

The then Chief Minister Narendra Modi had visited the riot-torn city and warned anti-social elements with dire consequences. “All those who want to jeopardise the safety of common citizens by spreading this orgy of violence will be dealt with sternly,” he had announced.

2012 Azad Maidan riots

On 11 August 2012, Raza academy had staged a morcha at Azad Maidan ground to protest against the alleged atrocities on Muslims in Assam and Myanmar. However, the protest turned violent after the notorious group attacked the policemen.

This led to police firing, resulting in 2 deaths and 63 injuries. Raza Academy had earlier assured the Mumbai Police that only 1500 people would turn up for the protest. However, more than 15000 people assembled at the Azad Maidan, which later increased to 40000.

Amar Jawan Jyoti desecrated by rioter in August 2012, image via MidDay/Atul Kamble
Amar Jawan Jyoti desecrated by rioter in August 2012, image via MidDay/Atul Kamble

The most shocking incident of the Azad Maidan Riots was the desecration of the Amar Jawan Jyoti memorial by the Muslim mobs. Later, it came to light that the police waited for one week until Eid to arrest the 35-40 Muslim youths, who were involved in rioting. The riots had caused approximately Rs 2.72 crores worth of damages to various public properties.

2013 Muzaffarnagar riots

The deadly riots reportedly started after a Muslim youth named Shah Nawaz allegedly eve-teased a Hindu Jat girl in Kawal village of Muzaffarnagar, following which the accused was allegedly killed by her brothers Sachin Singh and Gaurav Singh. The duo was then lynched to death by a frenzied Muslim mob while they were trying to escape. The incident took place on August 27, 2013.

Another theory into the origins of the Muzaffarnagar riots suggests a bike collision between Gaurav and Shahnawaz (as claimed by the latter’s father Salim), leading to a scuffle. However, according to Gaurav’s father Ravinder Kumar, the deceased had a bike accident with a Muslim youth named Mujassim.

The FIR also named other Muslim youths, namely, Mujibulla, Furqan, Jehangir, Nadeem, Afzal and Kalua. OpIndia had even published a ground report about how the then SP government jailed the family of Gaurav. A counter-FIR filed in the death of Shahnawaz named Prahlad, Gaurav, Sachin, Vishan, Tendu, Devendra, Yogender and Jitendra.

Despite a ban on public assembly, Islamists gathered in large numbers at Shaheed Chowk on August 30 and made inflammatory speeches. On the next day, about 40,000 people assembled at Nangla Mandoud Panchayat, attacked a car carrying a family and set it on fire.

Sachin Singh and Gaurav Singh were lynhced to death by a Muslim mob.

A First Information Report (FIR) was registered against political leaders who made provocative speeches at public meetings in Nangla Mandoud and Shahid Chowk. On September 2, 2013, BJP called for a bandh in Muzaffarnagar after a place of worship was vandalised in Sanjhak and Titavi.

A case was registered against MLA Sangeet Som for circulating a fake video of the Kawal incident. It sparked off violence in the town of Shamli. An outbreak of sporadic violence was witnessed in Muzaffarnagar. The Bharatiya Kisan Union (BKU) had called for a panchayat meeting at Nangla Mandoud on September 6.

Rioters on the loose in Muzaffarnagar in 2013, image via Rediff

On the following day, people who were going to attend the panchayat was attacked. “Firing from both sides in Muzaffarnagar town as stoning, arson go unabated. Army called in and town put under indefinite curfew. 10 killed, more than a score injured in the violence,” reported India TV. The 2013 Muzaffarnagar riots resulted in 62 deaths, including 42 Muslims and 20 Hindus.

2020 Anti-Hindu riots in Delhi

The cycle of violence that started in the first ten days of December 2019 during anti-CAA protests culminated with the Delhi anti-Hindu riots that claimed the lives of over 50 people. The media went hammer and tongs alleging that the Delhi riots were an ‘anti-Muslim pogrom‘, trying to paint the Modi government as Nazis and the Muslims as Jews.

On the day the then US President Donald Trump arrived in India for his official visit, the 24th of February,, 2020, widespread anarchy and chaos erupted across the national capital. Muslim mobs went on a rampage again in Delhi and a head constable of the Delhi Police lost his life. A petrol pump was set on fire at Bhajanpura in East Delhi and many vehicles were burnt. Another DCP has been injured during clashes between two groups in Delhi’s Gokulpuri.

In the midst of all this, the photograph of a certain gun-wielding rioter wearing a maroon/red t-shirt had gone viral on social media. Some people claimed that the gunman who opened fire at police during the Delhi riots is from the ‘rightwing’ while others have claimed that the said person is a Muslim rioter. Later, the gunman was identified as Shahrukh and was arrested.

Shahrukh Pathan intimidated a cop during the Delhi riots

Since then, there was chaos in Delhi. The dead body of an Intelligence Bureau constable was recovered from a drain in Chand Bagh, spearheaded by Tahir Hussain. A Hindu man was murdered in Brahmapuri amidst chants of ‘Allah Hu Akbar’ and ‘Nara e Taqbeer’. The death toll has mounted over 50 and hundreds of people have been injured. Mosques have also been said to be damaged. A great deal of property has been damaged across the national capital.

The Delhi High Court observed, “The riots which shook the National Capital of the country in February 2020 evidently did not take place in a spur of the moment, and the conduct of the protestors who are present in the video footage which has been placed on record by the prosecution visibly portrays that it was a calculated attempt to dislocate the functioning of the Government as well as to disrupt the normal life of the people in the city.”

The court further added that the CCTV cameras were destroyed systematically that confirmed the existence of a pre-planned and pre-meditated conspiracy to disturb law and order in the city. It said, “This is also evident from the fact that innumerable rioters ruthlessly act that in descended with sticks, dandas, bats etc., upon a hopelessly outnumbered cohort of police officials.”

Interestingly, even the deadly anti-Hindu riots of 2020 started off as ‘peaceful protests’ under the pretext of saving the Constitutional idea of India. And when the opportunity presented itself, Islamists were quick to weaponise violence under the garb of ‘provocation’ to get their writ established.

While the ongoing Burqa row might look ‘peaceful’ and a fight to save ‘right to Religion’, it has already begun taking a sinister form with incidents of stone pelting and targeted attacks. It is just a matter of time when the mask of peace falls and Islamists resort to their usual tactics.

The outbreak of communal violence in post-Independent India has time and again shown how so-called peaceful protests by Islamists on socio-political and religious issues usually pave way for violence which is eventually justified by ‘liberals’ and Islamists in the name of ‘religious freedom’.

References: Violette Graff Juliette Galonnier, Hindu-Muslim Communal Riots in India II (1986-2011), Mass Violence & Résistance, [online], published on: 20 August, 2013, accessed 17/05/2021, http://bo-k2s.sciences-po.fr/mass-violence-war-massacre-resistance/en/document/hindu-muslim-communal-riots-india-ii-1986-2011, ISSN 1961-9898

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Dibakar Dutta
Dibakar Dutta
Fascinated by Indian politics

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