Hindus exact revenge for crimes of history

IT DOES not take much to set off a riot between Hindus and Muslims in India. A Muslim's dog bites a cow and the affair can end with a dozen stabbings and a row of village shops burnt down. Faith is a potent force in India's life and its politics. And when the politicians of one community use religion as a weapon - as the Hindu revivalists have tried to do in demolishing a mosque in Ayodhya, northern India - it sets loose furies that can sweep away governments and devastate the country.

Like a thousand fires, rioting has flared in cities which have not seen religious strife since the grim days of Partition in 1947, when Britain split its empire into Islamic Pakistan and secular India. That secularist dream of Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru is under siege after the destruction of the Ayodhya mosque. More than 200 people have died so far in Jaipur, Bhopal, Calcutta and Bombay, and in scores of other cities and villages across the land. And the fury is far from over.

Why do Indian Hindus and Muslims kill each other? There are quarrels older than centuries that have the pain and immediacy of a new wound. More than 500 years ago, Muslim invaders destroyed Hindu temples; Ayodhya is a late revenge for that, since Hindus claim that the Babri Masjid mosque was built on the spot where their Lord Ram was born several thousand years ago. Abdul Mannan, a Muslim lawyer in Lucknow who was trying to defend the Babri mosque against a Hindu takeover, asked: 'Is this generation to be paralysed by the crimes of their forefathers?' It seems so, in India today.

Nor have the horrors of Partition been forgotten. Muslims slaughtered trainloads of Hindu and Sikh refugees fleeing what is now Pakistan, and they retaliated with equal barbarity. Everyone was to blame, even - especially, some would say - the British.

Today, with a wave of Hindu revivalism surging across the country, many of India's 120 million Muslims feel cornered. Their number is huge, but Muslims are a minority among more than 650 million Hindus. Indian Muslims are not wanted in Pakistan, and Bangladesh is wretchedly overcrowded.

In Faizabad, a predominantly Muslim town near Ayodhya, Muslim shopkeepers were making bombs and buying guns in the event that the state riot police, who are mainly Hindu, failed to protect them from the triumphant Hindu masses streaming back with souvenir chunks of the Babri mosque. 'The police are silent spectators,' said Wasir Khan, a prominent Muslim in Faizabad. 'We're prepared to fight. Muslims in India have nowhere else to go.'

Both the Hindu revivalists and the so-called secular Congress party now ruling India share blame for the latest outbreak of sectarian strife. The right- wing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has risen out of nowhere during the past two years to become the leading opposition party by whipping up the Ayodhya dispute. Having led 200,000 Hindu devotees up to the barbed-wire encircling the mosque, the BJP leaders were wrong to think they had power to stop the mob from going further.

The devotees had come to pay homage to Lord Ram by placing a few symbolic bricks outside the mosque. But their actions were those of Kali, the blood-smeared goddess of destruction. The BJP chief, Lal Krishna Advani, yesterday resigned as leader of the opposition, after accepting 'moral responsibility' for the mosque's destruction. The BJP also lost its stronghold of Uttar Pradesh, when the Chief Minister, Kalyan Singh, stepped down after his state police failed to protect the Ayodhya mosque. Direct rule from New Delhi has now been imposed on Uttar Pradesh. But these setbacks may be temporary. When presidential rule in Uttar Pradesh ends in a few months as expected, the BJP will probably be voted back to the state government with an even greater majority. Many Hindus, even those who abhor the BJP's sectarian tactics, rejoiced that Ram's birthplace in Ayodhya had been liberated. They lit candles outside their homes in celebration.

Narasimha Rao, the Prime Minister and a Congress party member, is also being blamed for the turmoil in India. The Ayodhya conflict helped to topple the Delhi government two years ago, and Mr Rao, too, may suffer the same fate. Even inside the Congress party, momentum is building for Mr Rao's resignation. Several high-ranking party officials joined left-wing opposition politicians in criticising Mr Rao for failing to defuse the Ayodhya crisis earlier.

With Congress weak and divided, the Hindu revivalists might be the next rulers of India. This possibility frightens many Muslim leaders. Zafyair Jilani, a Muslim activist in Lucknow, said: 'If the Muslims aren't safe in India, the other minorities aren't, either. We're not the only ones. What about the Christians, the Sikhs, the Buddhists and the Jains? They could be next.'

(Photograph and map omitted)

Leading article, page 18

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
News
Nadine Gordimer died peacefully at home yesterday
people
Arts and Entertainment
Neil Young performs on stage at Hyde Park
musicAnd his Hyde Park set has rhyme and reason, writes Nick Hasted
News
Women have been desperate to possess dimples like Cheryl Cole's
people Cole has secretly married French boyfriend Jean-Bernard Fernandez-Versini after just three months.
Arts and Entertainment
AKB48 perform during one of their daily concerts at Tokyo’s Akihabara theatre
musicJapan's AKB48 are one of the world’s most-successful pop acts
News
Ian Thorpe has thanked his supporters after the athlete said in an interview that he is gay
people
News
The headstone of jazz great Miles Davis at Woodlawn Cemetery in New York
news
Arts and Entertainment
Brendan O'Carroll has brought out his female alter-ego Agnes Brown for Mrs Brown's Boys D'Movie
filmComedy holds its place at top of the UK box office
News
newsBear sweltering in zoo that reaches temperatures of 40 degrees
Arts and Entertainment
Professor Kathy Willis will showcase plants from the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew
radioPlants: From Roots to Riches has been two years in the making
Extras
indybestThe tastiest creations for children’s parties this summer
Arts and Entertainment
TV The follow-up documentary that has got locals worried
Arts and Entertainment
Paolo Nutini performs at T in the Park
music
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Infrastructure Engineer

£28000 - £34000 per annum + excellent bens: Deerfoot IT Resources Limited: In...

Web / Digital Analyst - SiteCatalyst or Google Analytics

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: My client who are a leading publisher in...

Campaign Manager

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: A leading marketing agency is currently ...

Software Engineer - C++

£35000 - £45000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: Software En...

Day In a Page

Super Mario crushes the Messi dream as Germany win the 2014 World Cup in Brazil

Super Mario crushes the Messi dream

Germany win the 2014 World Cup in Brazil
Saharan remains may be evidence of the first race war, 13,000 years ago

The first race war, 13,000 years ago?

Saharan remains may be evidence of oldest large-scale armed conflict
Scientists find early warning system for Alzheimer’s

Scientists find early warning system for Alzheimer’s

Researchers hope eye tests can spot ‘biomarkers’ of the disease
Sex, controversy and schoolgirl schtick

Meet Japan's AKB48

Pop, sex and schoolgirl schtick make for controversial success
In pictures: Breathtaking results of this weekend's 'supermoon'

Weekend's 'supermoon' in pictures

The moon appeared bigger and brighter at the weekend
Iraq crisis: How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over the north of the country

How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over northern Iraq

A speech by an ex-MI6 boss hints at a plan going back over a decade. In some areas, being Shia is akin to being a Jew in Nazi Germany, says Patrick Cockburn
The evolution of Andy Serkis: First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

The evolution of Andy Serkis

First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial: Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried

You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial...

Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried
Refugee children from Central America let down by Washington's high ideals

Refugee children let down by Washington's high ideals

Democrats and Republicans refuse to set aside their differences to cope with the influx of desperate Central Americas, says Rupert Cornwell
Children's books are too white, says Laureate

Children's books are too white, says Laureate

Malorie Blackman appeals for a better ethnic mix of authors and characters and the illustrator Quentin Blake comes to the rescue
Blackest is the new black: Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...

Blackest is the new black

Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...
Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

The US Ambassador to London holds 'jeans and beer' gigs at his official residence – it's all part of the job, he tells Chris Green
Meet the Quantified Selfers: From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor

Meet the 'Quantified Selfers'

From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor
Madani Younis: Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

Madani Younis wants the neighbourhood to follow his work as closely as his audiences do
Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

When it comes to national stereotyping, the Irish – among others – know it can pay to play up to outsiders' expectations, says DJ Taylor