History is replete with instances when Islamists put up a facade of ‘peaceful protest’ to get their demands met by the administration.
And whenever the system refused to bend over backwards to accommodate their exclusivist demands, Islamists shed the nuance of peace, resorted to all-out violence and took the State for ransom.
Here are 7 lesser-known cases of rioting by Islamists in India:
Moradabad riots over ‘pig’
On August 13, 1980, a violent clash broke out between a Muslim mob of 75000 and officials of the Provincial Armed Constabulary (PAC).
The incident occurred on the occasion of Eid when a large group of Muslims had gathered at the Idgah mosque in Moradabad in Uttar Pradesh.
Indian Express had reported that the chaos started after a stray pig (considered ‘Haram’ in Islam) made its way into the mosque premises.
The Muslims, praying inside, believed that the pig was ‘let loose’ by the police officials who were deployed there to avoid any untoward incident.
When the mob asked the cops to remove the pig, they allegedly refused to do so. The agitated Muslims pelted stones at the PAC officials, resulting in retaliatory gunfire that officially claimed 24 lives.
The then Uttar Pradesh government had appointed Justice MP Saxena of the Allahabad High Court to submit his findings on the incident.
In his report submitted towards the end of that year, Justice Saxena informed that there were no pigs in the vicinity of the mosque and that the clash was not caused by the entry of the animal into the Islamic place of prayer.
India Today reported that the outbreak of violence was caused by Muslim League (UP) President Shamim Ahmed Khan and two other leaders.
Justice Saxena Commission gave a clean chit to PAC and noted that most casualties were caused by stampedes rather than police firing. It also absolved the role of any Hindu organisation, such as the RSS, in instigating the violence.
No action was ever taken against the perpetrators, given that the report found Muslim leaders ‘involved’ in engineering the clash.
The then DGP (prosecution) Dharamvir Mehta had justified the firing by the cops and the PAC. “I had to be Mr Poison to cure cancer. Desperate maladies need desperate remedies,” he had remarked.
Interestingly, his ‘iron hand strategy’ bore fruits as the city did not witness communal violence for several decades after the incident.
Riots in Mumbai over ‘The Satanic Verses’ in 1989
Following the publication of ‘The Satanic Verses’ by Salman Rushdie in September 1988, Islamists were up in arms against the author for committing ‘blasphemy’ and insulting their Faith.
Iran’s first Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khomeini, even called upon all Muslims to kill Salman Rushdie. By that time, the ‘secular’ government of Rajiv Gandhi had already banned the book in India.
Khomeini’s call for the killing of Rushdie inspired and mobilised Islamists, who called for a ‘bandh‘ on February 24, 1989, in the city of Mumbai. A large demonstration was held.
The frenzied Muslim mob was stopped by cops after they tried to march on the British diplomatic mission, which was in Mumbai at that time.
The Islamists were protesting against the protection provided to Salman Rushdie by the British government.
The mob of 2000 rioters burnt cars, buses, and motorcycles in South Mumbai and also torched a police station.
They also open-fired at the police. It was then that the cops resorted to retaliatory firing and neutralised 12 Islamists in this process.
Similar processions were banned for the day. A total of 500 Islamists were detained and 800 others were arrested.
1989 Badaun riots over ‘Urdu’
The adoption of Urdu as the second language of Uttar Pradesh in 1989 resulted in violence and vandalism in the city of Badaun, which has about 56% Hindu and 43% Muslim population.
Even before the Urdu Bill was tabled in the State Legislative Assembly on September 28, 1989, political and religious turmoil gripped the region of Western Uttar Pradesh.
The student wing of the BJP, Akhil Bharatiya Vidya Parishad (ABVP), staged a procession in Badaun over the decision of the Congress government to include Urdu as an official State language.
A counter-pro-Urdu procession was organised on September 28 that year by students of Islamia Inter College, during which they attacked a college.
This fired off a series of killings and arson attacks, with gun-wielding rioters shooting at people from rooftops.
“The riot claimed 27 lives according to some media reports. Other accounts assessed the total at more than 60 killed. Violence also spread to the countryside. During an attack on the Kasganj–Kashipur train, 13 passengers were killed by a mob. Other sources put the death toll of this attack at 24,” read a report by SciencesPo.
Islamists wreaked havoc in Lucknow in 2006 over Danish Mohammed cartoons
Lucknow, a city not known for Hindu-Muslim riots, had become a hotbed of religious turmoil following the publication of 12 editorial cartoons on Prophet Muhammad by a Danish conservative newspaper named Jyllands-Posten on 30 September 2005.
Initially, the demonstrations against the publication of cartoons were largely muted in India but they gained momentum after a Muslim politician fanned the fire of communalism.
Hindustan Times reported that on February 17, 2006, Samajwadi Party leader Haji Yaqoob Qureshi offered prize money of ₹51 crores for killing Danish cartoonist Kurt Westergaard for committing blasphemy.
This culminated in violent protests in Lucknow, two days later on February 19 of that year. A five-star hotel, a Pizza Hut and a Cafe Coffee Day outlet was vandalised by Muslim mobs.
In the following days, anti-US and anti-Denmark sentiment gripped the capital city of Uttar Pradesh.On March 3, 2006, Islamists took out a protest against the visit of United States President George Bush to India.
“The Muslims from the localities of Aminabad, Kaiserganj, and Latoosh Road staged large demonstrations after Friday prayers. The violence started when they forced Hindu shopkeepers to close their shutters. Their procession was then stoned and a riot erupted, in which four persons were killed,” read a report by ScincesPo.
The Times of India reported that the violence lasted for over 4 hours since most of the police were deployed for the visit of President APJ Abdul Kalam to the city. A total of 4 people were killed and 8 others had sustained bullet injuries.
While highlighting the extent of damage caused by Islamists, the TOI report noted, “Seven shops were gutted at Mumtaz market in Aminabad while portion of a bank building and some 27 two-wheelers parked outside it were reduced to ashes in Maulviganj. Half-a-dozen two-wheelers were torched on Cantonment road connecting Kaiserbagh crossing.”
Islamists took Vadodara hostage in 2006 after unauthorised dargah was demolished
Municipal corporations in India regularly demolish unauthorised constructions as part of urban development and city planning.
In May 2006, the Vadodara Municipal Corporation (VMC) set out to demolish one such ‘unauthorised’ dargah to widen the city’s roads.
The Muslim community alleged that the dargah was the shrine of a medieval Sufi saint named Syed Chishti Rashiduddin and was 300 years old.
However, no official record existed that could corroborate such ‘outlandish’ claims. Prior to that, the civic body had demolished several old temples and received no resistance from the majority Hindu community.
The ‘naive’ VMC officials thus believed that there would be no trouble when they set out to demolish the dargah, which was located in the Mandvi area of Vadodara. They were greeted with stones by unruly Muslim mobs, forcing the police to open fire at the rioters. A total of 6 Islamists were killed in retaliatory police firing.
“What followed was a grim reminder of the infamous 2002 Vadodara riots. Mobs of both communities thronged the streets, rioting, pelting stones and even stabbing people,” reported India Today. Hindus, whose houses were attacked by Islamists, resorted to violence and killed a Muslim driver. An army jawan, who was passing through a Muslim-dominated area, was also killed.
When the police failed to contain the riots, the State government sought help from the reserve forces. NGOs such as the People’s Union for Civil Liberties tried to rationalise the destruction caused by Islamists by finding faults in the decision of the Vadodara Municipal Corporation.
Imam of Jama Masjid in Ahmedabad, Shabbir Alam Siddiqui, had warned, “The Muslims will oppose any attempt to demolish dargahs that have been here before the town planning schemes came into force.” Islamists were also quick to link the dominance of the BJP in the Vadodara Municipal Corporation with the decision to demolish the dargah and further the series of violent attacks.
The then Chief Minister Narendra Modi had visited the riot-torn city and warned anti-social elements with dire consequences. “All those who want to jeopardise the safety of common citizens by spreading this orgy of violence will be dealt with sternly,” he had announced.
2012 Azad Maidan riots
On 11 August 2012, Raza academy staged a morcha at Azad Maidan ground to protest against the alleged atrocities on Muslims in Assam and Myanmar. However, the protest turned violent after the notorious group attacked the policemen.
This led to police firing, resulting in 2 deaths and 63 injuries. Raza Academy had earlier assured the Mumbai Police that only 1500 people would turn up for the protest. However, more than 15000 people assembled at the Azad Maidan, which later increased to 40000.
The most shocking incident of the Azad Maidan Riots was the desecration of the Amar Jawan Jyoti memorial by the Muslim mobs. Later, it came to light that the police waited for one week until Eid to arrest the 35-40 Muslim youths, who were involved in rioting. The riots had caused approximately Rs 2.72 crores worth of damages to various public properties.
2013 Muzaffarnagar riots
The deadly riots reportedly started after a Muslim youth named Shah Nawaz allegedly eve-teased a Hindu Jat girl in Kawal village of Muzaffarnagar, following which the accused was allegedly killed by her brothers Sachin Singh and Gaurav Singh.
The duo was then lynched to death by a frenzied Muslim mob while they were trying to escape. The incident took place on August 27, 2013.
Another theory into the origins of the Muzaffarnagar riots suggests a bike collision between Gaurav and Shahnawaz (as claimed by the latter’s father Salim), leading to a scuffle.
However, according to Gaurav’s father Ravinder Kumar, the deceased had a bike accident with a Muslim youth named Mujassim.
The FIR also named other Muslim youths, namely, Mujibulla, Furqan, Jehangir, Nadeem, Afzal and Kalua. OpIndia had even published a ground report about how the then-SP government jailed the family of Gaurav.
A counter-FIR was filed in the death of Shahnawaz named Prahlad, Gaurav, Sachin, Vishan, Tendu, Devendra, Yogender and Jitendra.
Despite a ban on public assembly, Islamists gathered in large numbers at Shaheed Chowk on August 30 and made inflammatory speeches.
On the next day, about 40,000 people assembled at Nangla Mandoud Panchayat, attacked a car carrying a family and set it on fire.
A First Information Report (FIR) was registered against political leaders who made provocative speeches at public meetings in Nangla Mandoud and Shahid Chowk.
On September 2, 2013, BJP called for a bandh in Muzaffarnagar after a place of worship was vandalised in Sanjhak and Titavi.
A case was registered against MLA Sangeet Som for circulating a fake video of the Kawal incident. It sparked off violence in the town of Shamli.
An outbreak of sporadic violence was witnessed in Muzaffarnagar. The Bharatiya Kisan Union (BKU) had called for a panchayat meeting at Nangla Mandoud on September 6.
On the following day, people who were going to attend the panchayat were attacked. “Firing from both sides in Muzaffarnagar town as stoning, arson go unabated.
Army called in and the town was put under an indefinite curfew. 10 killed, more than a score injured in the violence,” reported India TV. The 2013 Muzaffarnagar riots resulted in 62 deaths, including 42 Muslims and 20 Hindus.
The article was first published in Opindia on February 22, 2022.