Posted on April 29, 2022

Religious Clashes Across India Spark Fears of Further Violence

Gerry Shih and Anant Gupta, Washington Post, April 20, 2022

For hours on Saturday, revelers celebrating the Hindu god Hanuman had wound their way through the dense slums of Jahangirpuri in north Delhi without incident. But around sundown, the trouble began.

A group of young men, clad in the saffron scarves of Hindu nationalist groups and waving swords and pistols in the air, massed in front of a mosque that was holding evening prayers during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. The men shouted abusive slogans, blared music from loudspeakers and refused to leave.

As the night wore on, locals — possibly angry Muslims in the mixed-faith neighborhood, according to witnesses and police — began hurling rocks. That set off a massive street fight that was subdued only when riot police flooded the neighborhood.


The incident was just the latest in a string of clashes between Hindus and Muslims that have shaken India in recent weeks. They have happened on different days, in different parts of the country, but there is a pattern to them: Groups of young Hindu nationalists join peaceful celebrations during religious holidays, then lead rowdy processions into Muslim neighborhoods, sparking violent confrontations.

While the country, which has a nearly 80 percent Hindu majority and 14 percent Muslim minority, has experienced far bloodier spasms of religious violence in its history, the scope and intensity of the clashes this month have alarmed observers.

“Riots are not a new phenomenon,” said Saba Naqvi, the author of “Shades of Saffron,” a contemporary history of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). “But I’ve never seen so many of these incidents at once. It feels like people are ready to kill each other.”

On April 10, a day of celebration marking the Hindu god Ram’s birthday, large-scale clashes between Hindus and Muslims were reported in six states: Madhya Pradesh, Jharkhand, Gujarat, Goa, West Bengal and Andhra Pradesh. In several cases, videos posted on social media showed scenes similar to those that played out in Delhi: crowds of men, many waving weapons, whipped into a fervor by chants hailing Lord Ram. While news of the Delhi melee dominated national headlines Saturday, rioters that night also set fire to vehicles in a separate incident in Uttarakhand. Hundreds have been injured nationwide this month, while a handful of deaths were reported in Madhya Pradesh’s Khargone district.

Adding to the sense of foreboding, observers say, are a rash of incendiary speeches over the past year by right-wing leaders, including a priest’s appeal to fellow Hindus in December to pick up weapons and “conduct a cleanliness drive” that would kill off Muslims. The cleric, Yati Narsinghanand, was accused of hate speech and arrested. While out on bail, he made another appearance this month in north Delhi, near Jahangirpuri, where he warned the audience that nearly half of India’s Hindus would be killed if the country elected a Muslim prime minister.

Naqvi said Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his BJP, which has links to the Hindu nationalist groups involved in the clashes, have not tried to defuse tensions, giving mobs a sense of impunity. {snip}