Communal Violence in India during 2016 — an analysis

As 2016 did not see any big riot, one may think the year was communal violence-free. But Union Ministry of Home Affairs has reported that 278 communal clashes took place in the first five months of the year. Low intensity violence is the new mantra of the anti-social communal elements of the society. Therefore, we can say that the year 2016 also followed its predecessor years like 2012 (668), 2013 (694), 2014 (644) and 2015 (751).

India’s largest state, UP, once again listed at the top. It was revealed by the MHA report that during the initial five months of 2016, UP alone reported 61 communal violence cases as compared to other states like Karnataka (40) and Maharashtra (40). One of the major reasons for the top rank of UP has been the upcoming assembly elections 2017. Thus Minister of State for Home Affairs, Kiren Rijiju, during his briefing to Parliament stated that UP alone has faced 61 communal incidents which resulted in the deaths of 13 and injured 185 till May 2016.

Here we try to analyse certain main incidents of communal violence during the year of 2016.

1. Malda (West Bengal), 3January, 2016 (Scroll, January 6;Times of India, January 10, 2016)

The first riots for the year of 2016 erupted in West Bengal’s Malda district when the Anjuman Ahle Sunnatul Jamat organized a protest rally against the comments made by Hindu Mahasabha leader Kamlesh Tiwari against of the Prophet Muhammad. It was a clash in a progression of demonstrations across the country against Tiwari's comment on 2 December, 2015. Suddenly, the protest turned into a brutal riot. Protesters set on fire about two dozen vehicles, attacked and spoiled the Kaliachak police station and torched several homes in the area.

At least two people were injured. Section 144 was immediately imposed on the area by the administration. Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee asserted that the violence in Malda district was not a communal conflict but a clash between the BSF force and locals of the area.

2. Fatehpur (UP), 15 January, 2016 (Hindustan Times, January 15, 2016)

The next violence erupted in Fatehpur of UP.  Here more than 30 people were injured and a woman lost an eye. Violence broke out in the famous Khichdi Mela of Jahanabad town, 35 km from Kanpur and in Fatehpur district of UP just an hour before VHP President Praveen Togadia and Union Minister Sadhvi Niranjan Jyoti were scheduled to attend a related event. The clash began after some members of a right-wing group, armed with swords and saffron flags, took out a procession, calling on people to attend the programme. When the procession was passing through the town, a youth of the group broke an electricity wire to allow a tempo carrying dozens of loudspeakers to pass through. Some members of the Muslim community raised an objection. People in the procession raised offensive slogans and the situation soon turned into full-fledged violence. As a result,   half a dozen shops were set on fire and an equal number of vehicles were damaged. Two deputy SPs were also injured in the brick-batting. However, police quickly controlled the situation and sealed all connected areas.

3. Ramganj (Rajasthan), 9 February, 2016(Outlook, 9 February, 2016)

Tension gripped a sensitive locality in Ramganj area after members of two communities clashed over a quarrel related to children. It initially started as a dispute between children in which their parents and then members of the two communities got involved. Immediately, a heavy force was deployed in the troubled locality. A case under Section 160 of IPC for upsetting peace and indulging in a communal incident was filed against members of both communities.

4.  Hangal (Karnataka), 29 February, 2016 (IndiaToday, 2 March, 2016)

Violence erupted in Hangal town over heated arguments over  the route for the procession of ‘Shivaji Jayanti’ on the cricket ground. During the riot, two people were stabbed. By the evening, the trouble soared into a full-fledged communal riot. The administration immediately deployed a heavy police force to bring the situation under control. The police registered cases against more than 50 people. In this whole incident, two dozen people were injured.

5.  Illambazar (West Bengal), 1 March, 2016 (The Indian Express, 3 March, 2016)

Tension inflamed this locality on the first day of the month due to an abusive Facebook post against Prophet Muhammad. In the clash that followed, a police station was damaged and a mosque was targeted in an onslaught by the police. One person died and three were critically injured in this conflict between police and members of the Muslim community. Police deployed its force to scatter the mob and later a huge force was deployed in the area.

6.  Gangavati (Karnataka), 6 March, 2016 (Indiatoday, 7 March, 2016)

Tension erupted when members of two communities in the Gangavati town of Koppala started a fight over a public place in Bannigida. The situation soon developed into a full-fledged communal clash which caused lots of injuries and loss of property. Six people were injured and police arrested about 10 others. But the administration immediately deployed forces in clash area and soon controlled the situation. 

7. Seoni (MP), 8 April, 2016 (HindustanTimes, 8 April, 2016)

Communal conflict erupted in Seoni after Bajrang Dal and Vishwa Hindu Parishad took out a “Hindu New Year” procession. At the end of procession, some people started an argument with a Muslim near the Chota Mission School. The argument soon turned into a clash with both sides attacking each other with stones and bricks. Before the police could control the situation, violence has reached Bhairoganj and Sufi Nagar areas also where mobs set afire over half a dozen vehicles. Immediately, heavy police force was rushed to the area and prohibiting orders were imposed invoking under Section 144 of CrPc.

8.  Imphal (Manipur),11 April, 2016 (The Indian Express, 12 April, 2016)

A clash took place between two groups, Muslims and Meitei Hindu villagers at Mayang in Imphal West district on 11 April.  In this riot around nine houses and shops were set ablaze and 33 people were injured. Police immediately rushed to the area and controlled the situation quickly and imposed curfew.

9.  Hazaribagh (Jharkhand), 17 April, 2016 (The Indian Express, 18, 19, 26 April, 2016)

The trouble started when objectionable recorded slogans were played in a Ram Navami procession causing a clash between two groups of people at Kud Rewali village near Hazaribagh railway station. During the riot, dozens of shops and more than half a dozen vehicles were set ablaze. Till Sunday, 24 April, three deaths were reported. Curfew was imposed immediately in the municipal area and surrounding police station areas of Hazaribagh district.

A company of the Rapid Action Force was deployed in the district to maintain peace. It was the first major clash between members of two communities since 1989. After a week of an incident in Hazaribagh, police discovered five bodies which evidently were buried in a hurry following their death in a blast while allegedly making crude bombs. Overall, six people died and two were injured in this riot according to the police.

10.  Azamgarh (UP), 16 May, 2016 (Business Standard, 16 May, 2016)

A clash broke out between two communities over the weekend in Khudadadpur village in SP supremo Mulayam Singh Yadav’s Azamgarh constituency. It left three officers injured following which seven persons were arrested and an FIR was registered against another 200 persons. The trouble started when a community member attacked a house of a person belonging to another community and set it afire leading to the clashes. Immediately a heavy force of police, RAF and PAC, was deployed to check the situation.

11. Roorkee (Uttarakhand), 1 June, 2016 (The Hindu, 2 June, 2016)

Roorkee town of Haridwar district on 1 June experienced communal tension. In the ensuring violence at least 32 people, including 12 policemen, were injured. The trouble started when forcible evacuation of a scrap dealer’s shop was attempted with the help of the supportersof a local politician. The tension soon developed into a communal conflict. This prompted the authorities to immediately impose strict orders in the area. Police lathi-charged and fired several rounds in the air to scatter the violent groups of two communities which were throwing stones at each other and were busy trying to set on fire police vehicles.

12. Malerkotla (Punjab), 25 June, 2016 (The Indian Express, 26 June, 2016)

Tension built up in this Muslim-majority town after the capture of torn pages of the Holy Quran outside a cemetery on Khanna Road. Angry over the disrespectful incident especially in the holy month of Ramadan, an angry mob attacked the residence of Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) leader and Chief Parliamentary Secretary Farzana Nissara Khatoon and her husband, former DGP Izhar Alam, and tried to set their house on fire. The mob entered the MLA’s house and burnt down the security personnel’s room. Police had to fire a round in the air to scatter the mob. After this, crossfire between the cops and the protesters continued. Nearly 100 bullets were fired. The mob also burnt two buses, 10 private vehicles and damaged some government property. Eight people, including the Superintendent of Police (SP) and his deputy, were injured when a mob clashed with the police. About 250 peoples were booked on attempt to murder charges but no was arrested.

13. Phagwara (Punjab), 22 July, 2016(The Tribune, 23 July, 2016)

A conflictstarted when Muslim protesters submitted a letter to SP Arjinder Singh at the local mosque blaming Shiv Sainiks for stopping Kashmiri truck drivers and writing provocative slogans on the walls of their shops. When Muslims came out of the mosque, they had a face-off with Sena men who were taking out a protest march. Suddenly, members of the two communities started to hurl bricks, stones and bottles at each other in the presence of the police at the Gaushala Road. More than 12 persons, including Shiv Sena leader Inderjit Karwal, were injured.

14. Chhapra (Bihar), 5-6 August, 2016 (Times of India, 7 August, 2016)

A communal clash broke out in parts of Saran district of Bihar on 5 August. Violence erupted after a video showing violation of idols of a community went viral on social media. The situation stayed tense next day, forcing the administration to take out a flag march in the district. Till night on the first day, violence was limited to the Maker block. But on the next morning, it spread to Chhapra.Rioters damaged several police vehicles. Immediately, more than 2000 armed security personnel were deployed on the streets of Chhapra by afternoon.

15.  Bijnor (UP), 16 September, 2016 (The Siasat Daily, 16 September, 2016)

A communal clash erupted between two groups after some Muslim girls were harassed by a few youth from the Jat community. When members of the minority community protested, they were fired at. In this conflict, three men of a harassed girl’s family died and 12 received serious injuries.  Police suspended three policemen who were allegedly present in the surrounding area at the time of clash, for “delinquent behaviour”.

16.  Hazinagar (West Bengal),12-16 October, 2016 (The Indian Express, 17 October, 2016)

Violence started on 12 October when a Muharram procession and a group going to submerse a Durga idol crossed paths. An eyewitness said, “There were clashes at a market and several shops were ransacked by a mob. A bike was set on fire and people hurled burning tires at each other. There were also stone pelting and bomb explosions.”  The clash left several people injured while an estimated 30 homes and several shops, apart from four vehicles, were ransacked or set on fire. 

17.  Gandhvani (MP),12 October, 2016 (HindustanTimes, 13 October, 2016)

Communal violence broke out at Gandhvani in Dhar district of MP on 12 October when a procession was taken out for the immersion of a Durga idol that evening. According to police records, the clash has begun after a ‘havan kund’ made in Garba Chowk was broken while a Tazia procession was passing by. Soon, groups of Hindus and Muslims clashed with each other and started to pelt each other with stones. During the riots, victims Raju and Kabir were attacked with swords.

Overall, five persons were injured and several shops were damaged in this clash. Immediately, a heavy police force was deployed in the area.

18.  Bareilly, Gonda, Rae Bareli, Sitapur, Mau, Pilibhit, Gorakhpur, Chitrakoot & Pratapgarh (UP), 12 October, 2016 (HindustanTimes, 13 October, 2016)

Communal tension gripped Bareilly, Gonda, Rae Bareli, Sitapur, Mau, Pilibhit, Gorakhpur, Chitrakoot and Pratapgarh districts of UP after Hindus and Muslims clashed during Muharram and Durga idol processions. During these clashes various people were injured and vehicles were set on fire.  Police immediately swung into action and controlled the situation by the deployment of heavy police forces in conflict areas.

19.  Gopalganj, Bhojpur, Madhubani, East Champaran, Madhepura and Kishanganj (Bihar), 14 October, 2016 (The Economic Times, 14 October 14, 2016)

Tension simmered for days until violent clashes took place during the processions of Durga idols and Tazia. At least eight people, including police officers, were injured. Mobs in different places set ablaze various vehicles and shops. The administration imposed Section 144 of CrPC and deployed heavy police forces in troubled areas.

20.  Aligarh (UP), 30 October, 2016 (The Economic Times, 1 November, 2016)

A clash started at night in the Babri Mandi locality of the city when members of two communities clashed with each other following a minor roadside altercation. In this clash, two persons were killed and at least eight were injured. A heavy police force was deployed in the area and senior police officials camped in the city to maintain peace and order.

21.  Gogol (Goa), 18 November, 2016 (The Times of India, 19 November, 2016)

Communal tension flared up in the Housing Board are in Gogol following clashes between two groups over the pasting of posters carrying photographs of Tipu Sultan. Three motorcycles were set on fire by unidentified culprits near the road leading to Gogol mutt before the arrival of the police. The situation was brought under control with the deployment of police at sensitive places in the area.

22.  Trichy (Tamil Nadu), 29 November, 2016 (The Times of India, 30 November, 2016)

A clash broke out over the location of a borewell in the village. It turned into a communal clash which led to the murder of a 30-year-old Dalit man while seven people were injured in the clash.

23. Vadodara (Gujarat), 8 December, 2016 (The Indian Express, 8 December, 2016)

Tension erupted at late night in Vadodara on 8 December. When a wedding party and locals clashed with each other over the loud-playing of DJ music, and started pelting stones at each other. Violence spread into the narrow bylanes of the old city which are divided on communal lines. A desi bomb was hurled at a vehicle carrying the Deputy Commissioner of Police. Miscreants also set on fire a private car and a two-wheeler. Police was immediately despatched to the area and lobbed at least 20 tear gas shells to scatter the mob and soon controlled the situation. About five officers suffered minor injuries, but there was no news of injury suffered by the mob. 

24.  Gangavati (Karnataka), 11 December, 2016 (The Hindu, 11 December, 2016)

A clash started at Gangavati town in Koppal district between two communities when religious banners and flags for “Idul Milad” and “Hanuma Jayanti” were put up in the town. Police immediately intervened and appealed to both the communities not to assemble in public places. After to this, a large number of members of both the communities assembled at their own places of worship. Trouble started when one group attacked the other and pelting of stones at each other started in which at least 50 persons were injured. The administration immediately deployed additional forces and brought the situation under control.

25. Malkapur (Maharashtra), 12 December, 2016 (The Times of India, 13 December, 2016)

A communal clash started in Malkapur town of Buldhana district when police tried to stop an illegal procession taken out through a locality dominated by another community. The administration had allowed the religious procession to pass through some areas only. The problem started when the rally started to move through an unapproved route and raised objectionable slogans. At this, the police blocked the route in an attempt to stop the rally but the processionists started pelting stones at the police force. Local residents also hit back by pelting stones at the rallyists. Soon the situation changed into a huge violent riot. Police fired tear gas cannisters to disperse the mob and imposed a curfew on the area. Around eight policemen and Malkapur MLA Chainsukh Sancheti, municipal council chairman Harish Rawal and some six to seven of their supporters were also injured. Ten other people also sustained injuries.

26. Howrah (West Bengal), 13 December, 2016 (The Indian Express, 17 December, 2016)

Communal tension in Howrah started since 13 December when Hindu mobs attacked Muslims during the procession of Prophet Muhammad’s birth anniversary. At the time police controlled the situation immediately. But next day, a Muslim mob allegedly attacked Hindu homes and shops and set them on fire. Again police force immediately rushed to the clash spot and managed to control the situation. But on 15 December, for almost two hours, again there was a confrontation between police and rioters from both the communities. Police said, mobs were carrying bombs, we used tear gas shells and finally, we had to call in reinforcements to bring the situation under control. We have also arrested about 25 people.

27.  Bhilwara (Rajasthan), 18 December, 2016 (Hindustan Times, 19 December 19, 2016)

A communal tension erupted in Bhilwara on 18 December when two groups started pelting stones at each other during the passage of a religious procession. They set ablaze some vehicles and around five people were injured in the clash. It was the second time within six days that tension heightened between two communities in the district. The area administration imposed strict orders. Police arrested around 22 people for disturbing  peace of the area.

28.  Vadodara — Gujarat, 29 December, 2016 (The Times of India, 30 December, 2016)

A communal clash took place in Vadodara city, Dahod and a village near Deesa after the results of the panchayat elections were announced. When a winning candidate’s group was passing through a road where his rival candidate resides, clashes broke out between the two groups and they lashed each other with pipes. The clash in another area took place when counting of votes was going on. At least nine persons were injured in both the clashes.

The author is PhD scholar in the Dept. of Political Science, Aligarh Muslim University