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

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA celebration of British elections
Arts and Entertainment
tvGame of Thrones season 5 ep 4, review - WARNING: contains major spoiliers!
Tottenham legend Jimmy Greaves has defended fans use of the word 'Yid'
Arts and Entertainment
Kanye West, performing in New York last week, has been the subject of controversy as rock's traditional headline slot at Glastonbury is lost once again
Arts and Entertainment
The Ridiculous Six has been produced by Adam Sandler, who also stars in it
filmNew controversy after nine Native American actors walked off set
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Digital Marketing Consultant

£28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Digital Marketing Cons...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Stores Keeper

£16640 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Assistant Stores Keeper is r...

Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

£16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer - C# / ASP.NET / SQL

£17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Developer required to join a bu...

Day In a Page

Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

Everyone is talking about The Trews

Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living