Communal Violence & Riots in India

23 Feb 2023  Read 17628 Views

Thousands of people have been killed in Hindu- Muslim communal violence/ riots since 1950s as our independent India is yet to see a violence- free nation . The conflict between these communities in our country is absolutely communal. But what causes communal riots in India? India is dominant with two major communities, Hindus & Muslims, wherein the Muslim community in India is the second largest community, that is, nearly 200 million Muslims after Hindus. So, the cases of violence between them is not very uncommon. This article deals with the riots in India with particular references to the demolition of the Babri Masjid in 1992 and the genocide of Muslims in Gujarat riots in 2002 etc. 

What is Riots?

A riot is a type of civil disorder which commonly refers to a group lashing out in a violent public disturbance against the authority, property, or people and. communal riots or communal violence are simply clashes between two or more communities owing to clashes of communal interests, this also leads to violent public disturbance.

Let’s go through communal violence in detail.

  • Religious violence during the India’s partition claimed over a million lives and displaced around 10 million people. The religious violence comprising Hindu-Muslim communities rose to a deadlier number for about a quarter century in the late 1970s until 2002, when the Gujarat riots happened. 

  • Official records provides that communal violence has been relatively stable since 2002. However, more than 2,900 cases of religious rioting were registered in the country between 2017 & 2021. 

  • Looking at the record of 2021, Haryana recorded the highest communal violence cases that, is about 8 riot cases per 100,000 inhabitants. 

  • In 2023, as per the records, electoral violence & high-profile political assassinations have declined significantly in India; even violence at polling stations fell, and deaths in such cases declined by 70% between 1989 & 2019.

  • The most famous cases were the two prime ministers’ assassinations- Indira Gandhi and her son Rajiv Gandhi in 1984 and 1991, respectively.

Source: NCRB

Reasons of Communal Violence

  • Historical factors-The partition history of India, and the two-nation theory generated the feeling of communalism & mistrust among communities.

  • Political factors-The divide and rule policy by the Britishers, and the later identity politics followed by the political parties have supported communal violence.

  • Educational factors- Many Indians have failed to adopt a scientific and technological approach and couldn’t adopt much to liberal values.

  • Socio-economic factors-The educational backwardness has led in poor representation of Muslim community in public services which contains the seeds of communal violence between the communities.

  • Cultural factors- Orthodox members of communities supports conservatism & fundamentalism.

  • Social media- Hate campaigns and fake news contributes to a much greater extent towards spreading communal riots and tensions.

  • Lack of strong action- Lack of strong, decisive action by police or delayed action are also the reasons.

Timeline of Communal violence in India

  1. 1983: Nellie massacre

On February 18th, 1983, thousands of Bengal-origin Muslims were massacred near Nellie in central Assam. 2,000+ Muslims were labeled as foreigners who were assassinated. This violence continued for 6 hours. Many people believes that the massacre was the way in which the people of the Nogaon District, including the tribal's and other Assamese population, demonstrated their resentment against the East Bengal originated Muslim population. It is also argued that these Muslim population supposedly encroached upon their land as well.

  1. 1984: Anti-Sikh riots

Many years have passed since the 1984 riots, but the shadows of those terrifying incidents are still witnessed on the faces of affected families. Constantly for 5 days from Oct 31st, reports states that around 2,800 to 8,000 Sikhs were assassinated across India. Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was shot dead by her Sikh bodyguards on October 31st, 1984, after which anti-Sikh riots erupted in few areas for several days, assassinating more Sikhs across India.

The reason for Indira’s assassination was Operation Blue Star. In the deadly events leading up to ‘Operation Blue Star’ ordered by Indira Gandhi, the militants supported by Bhindranwale assassinated around 165 Hindus in India.

  1. 1992-1993: Babri Masjid demolition/ Bombay riots

Hindu mobs attacked and destroyed the historical Babri Mosque in Ayodhya city of UP. A decade long unsettled political and communal land dispute was finally decided on Nov 9, 2019, in a unanimous judgment by the 5-judge bench of the Apex Court. This was the first that a constitutional bench judged a civil dispute than 2 judge bench. Thereafter again first in its nature, where verdict didn’t carry the name of the authors, then it was read out in the open court by the CJI and not the lead author. 

The constitutional bench of Supreme Court gave a unanimous judgment permitting the construction of temple at the site where once stood the Babri Masjid. It granted the entire 2.77 acre of disputed land in Ayodhya to deity Ram Lalla. SC also said that there should be alternate land given to Muslims to make good their loss of a mosque. 

  1. 2002: Gujarat riots

On February 27th, 2002, 59 Hindu pilgrims and karsevaks returning from Ayodhya were killed in a fire inside the Sabarmati Express near the Godhra railway station in Gujarat, PM Modi was the CM of Gujarat at that time. The background of this incident is that as the train pulled away, someone pulled the emergency brake cord when it was passing through a Muslim neighbourhood & a Muslim mob attacked the train at that time in, which two carriages were burnt. The incident led to riots in Gujarat that lasted seven days, leaving over a 1,000 dead. The victims were primarily Muslims 

This was the incident wherein Bilkis Bano, who was 19 years old back then, was gangraped in Gujarat's Randhikpur village and 7 family members, including her 3-year-old daughter, were killed on March 3, 2002, during the riots.

Constitutional Provisions

  • The Preamble of our Indian Constitution declares it as a secular state and secures the liberty of thought expression, belief faith, and worship.

  • Article 25- All persons are equally entitled to freedom of conscience and the right to freely profess, practice, and propagate religion subject to public order, morality, and health.

  • Article 26- All denominations can manage their own affairs in every matters of religion.

  • Article 29- No discrimination would be done on the ground of religion, race, caste, language, or any of them.

  • Article 30- All minorities, whether based on religion or language, shall have the right to establish and administer educational institutions of their choice.

  • Art 51A- This is a fundamental duty that promotes harmony and the spirit of common brotherhood amongst all the people of India transcending religious, linguistic, and regional or sectional diversities and to renounce practices derogatory to the dignity of women.

Legal Provisions

  • Several sections of the Indian penal code deals with the issues of communalism in the country, like section 153A, 153B

  • The communal Violence (Prevention, Control, and Rehabilitation of Victims) Bill, 2005, was to be enacted, but it didn’t. So, the Union Cabinet approved the Prevention of Communal Violence (Access to Justice and Reparations) Bill, 2004, which never came to the House, and now there has been no talk of the law since.

  • Manipur government was the first state to come up with its law against lynching in 2018.


Communal violence can be curbed by Impartial administration and directives of police reforms by the Supreme Court, which the state government must adopt. Setting up of peace committees should be made compulsory in every area. Civil societies or NGOs must help in restoring faith of common people in the local police

About the Author: Kakoli Nath | 275 Post(s)

She is a Legal Content Manager at Finology Legal! With a Masters in Intellectual Property Rights (IPR), a BBA.LL.B from ITM University, and patent analyst training from IIPTA, she truly specializes in her field. Her passion for IPR and Criminal laws is evident from her advanced certification in Forensic Psychology and Criminal Profiling from IFS, Pune.

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