When India gained its independence in 1947, tensions between Hindus and Muslims exploded and threatened India's survival. One million poeople were left dead in the wake of the fighting. Although the government eventually established order, the resentment between Hindus and Muslims continues to smolder. In the early 1990's, a Hindu nationalist movement threatened to again plunge the country of almost 900 million into religious violence.
Issues and Events
At the center of the most recent conflicts between the Hundus and the Muslims is the sixteenth century Babri mosque in the city of Ayodhya. For Hindu fundamentalists seeking to establish Hinduism as India's state religion, the Babri mosque has long been a symbol of Hindu subjugation to foreign rule. The mosque is believed to have replaced a Hindu temple to the god Rama in 1528 It was locked up in 1949 to prevent any further quarreling about the site.
Trouble began in 1984 when Hindus launched a campaign to destroy the Babri mosque and rebuild a Hindu temple on the site. In 1986 the government tried to placate the Hindus by permitting them to worship on the grounds of the Muslim shrine. This action only encouraged the fundamentalists in their drive to take over the land, and in 1989 they began collecting holy bricks for their new temple. This action sparked rioting my Muslims throughout India.
The Babri mosque issue took on political overtones when the cause was embraced by the Bharatiya Janata Party, one of India's many minor political parties. Backing from the Hindu fundamentalists gave the BJP a new base for support, and it did well in elections held in 1989. THe BJP then began to campaign actively for the destruction of the mosque, and in September 1990 they sponsored a march that once again stirred up communal violence between Hindus and Muslims. The following month thousands of militants gathered at the site and tried to destroy the mosque. Once again rioting broke out and 1,000 people were killed in clashes across India. This incident ultimatley led to the downfall of India's Prime Minister, V.P. Singh and served notice that the BJP's power was increasing dramaticallly.
In 1991 the BJP's success in stirring up Hindu nationalist sentiments was reflected in Indian elections. BJP became the leading opposition party in India, second only to the Congress party that has ruled India since its independence. Several months later the BJP-controlled government of the state in which the mosque is located took possession of the land, but the Indian Supreme Court ordered the state not to alter the site.
Despite ongoing negotiations between the Indian government and the BJP, the situation exploded in December 1992 when a BJP demonstration turned ugly and Hindu radicals reduced the mosque to rubble. Muslims throughout India and neighboring countries were infuriated by the act, and well over 1,000 people were killed in the ensuing riots that gripped the country for days.
The Indian government responded by outlawing all four BJP-controlled state governments, arguing that because they had supported radical Hindu groups banned by the Indian government they had failed to maintain the seperation of church and state.
In January 1993 an international incident was avoided when Bangladeshi police turned back 150,000 Muslims who were threatening to invade India and rebuild the mosque. Two days later severe rioting broke out in Bombay, India's commercial and financial capital, when Hindu radicals began targeting Muslim homes and businesses. Hundreds of Muslims were killed, many of them burned alive. Almost 100,000 Muslims evacuated the city. The government was accused of inaction, and the police were charged with complicity in the massacre.
In February the government tried to prevent any further violence by barring the BJP from staging in the capital of New Delhi a massive demonstration to demand fresh elections. The BJP hoped to be catapulted to power by the momentum of the growing Hindu nationalist movement.
Although the government contained the BJP by arresting tens of thousands and assaulting demonstrators with tear gas, water cannons, and rubber bullets, the BJP became known as a force to be reckoned with.
In March, just as Bombay was recovering from the January riots, the city was terrorized by a series of bombings that left several buildings in ruins and killed more than 250 people. It is widely believed that the bombings, which were carried out by organized crime figures, were in retaliation for the January riots.
In 1996 legislative elections the BJP claimed more seats than any other single party, but was unable to find enough allies to form a coalition government. As a result, the government collapsed in a mere 13 days. Two years later they won again, and this time a successful coalition was formed. In exchange for the support of other parites, theBJP was forced to temporarily abandon some of its more extremist policies.
Some fear that factional violence will rise as a result of the BJP victory. The elections were marred by violence between Hindus and Muslims, and in the city of Coimbatore more than 50 people were killed in multiple bombings attributed to one of many new Muslim extremist groups.
The BJP claims that factional violence has not increased in the states where it has gained control, and that Muslims have not been driven out or overtly discriminated against. Supporters of the party applaud the BJP's efficiency and honesty in government, but detractors warn that the party is closely allied with the National Self-Service Organization (RSS), a paramilitary group that models itself after Germany's Nazis. It was an RSS member who assassinated Mahatma Gandhi in 1948. The BJP is also supported by the Shiv Sena, another Hindu radical group that also promotes German-style fascism and is allegedly responsible for the 1993 riots in Bombay.
I took the above from pp 40-41 of the "World Facts and Maps", 1999 edition, Rand McNally.
I'd like to thank NJ in forcing me to take a look at some of the very interesting stuff that goes on in other countries, stuff that I'd only suspected, but never had enough of an interest to learn.
More to follow.