India has had a violent history, and majority of that violence have been as a result of religious intolerance. In colonial period, British took advantage of these fault lines and pitted one community against the other culminating in a violent bifurcation of India. Moplah rebellion of 1921 is one of the earliest example, and one of the bloodiest, of communal riots as we recognize it today. The Direct Action of 1946 in Kolkata was another one of the bloodiest communal riots India witnessed. Against that backdrop India gained independence from colonial rule.

Unfortunately, religious intolerance too got carried forward post independence, and India witnessed regular manifestation of that intolerance like Jamshedpur 1964, Ahmedabad 1969, Jamshedpur 1979, Nellie 1983, Delhi 1984, Hondh-Chillar 1984, Ahmedabad 1985, Meerut 1987, Bhagalpur 1989, J&K Ethnic cleansing 1989, Mumbai 1992, Gujarat 2002, Aligarh 2006, Deganga 2010…it’s an incomplete list of communal riots that have taken place post independence.

Though most of those riots were a manifestation of existing religious intolerance, politics have played an important role in exploiting those fault lines for polarization of the electorate and many of those riots can be categorized as pogroms. It’s important to separate pogroms from riots, for a riot to be described as a pogrom, it should meet at least the following criteria:-

a) Proven inaction by Police.

b) Hush-hush inquiry following the incident and a report that never sees the light of the day.

c) Active media’s connivance in burying the news and is never mentioned after a while.

d) No demand from the so called civil society and intelligentsia for prosecution & conviction.

e) Little or no conviction rate by judicial process.

 Let’s objectively scrutinize the riots against these criteria to ascertain if they were a pogrom. Unfortunately, precious little information is available in public domain of most riots and ethnic cleansing that have taken place including those that have witnessed thousands of deaths and those rendered refugees, proving active connivance of the media in burying the news.

Take Nellie Massacre of 1983 for example, about 2000 people lost their lives as per official figures, there is no evidence of any tough police action, the inquiry commission under Tribhubhan Prasad Tiwary never saw the light of the day, Media seldom brings up the subject and there doesn’t seem to be any civil society or op-ed writer’s outrage over lack of conviction in the case. And yes, not a single person was even prosecuted. If we ever had a Pogrom, this was definitely one.

Mumbai riot of 1992 saw about 900 deaths officially, there “is” evidence of tough police action in the form of 356 deaths due to police firing.Inquiry commission under Justice Srikrishna was never made public nor any action taken against those that the report allegedly indicted by successive governments, and media seems to have buried the news for good, there is no outrage over lack of conviction only lamentation by leading intellectuals over viciousness of the communal envioronment. There was precious little conviction in the case that involved close to thousand deaths. It meets four out of five criterias that would categorize it as a pogrom except that police acted with force.

Bhagalpur Riot of 1989 saw 1200 deaths by one estimate, it met the same fate as Mumbai 1993 with regards to media’s and civil society’s silence over the incident and it meets all the above mentioned criteria except that courts have convicted about 50 persons for riots.

Delhi riots of 1984 saw about 2700 deaths in Delhi as per official figures. there is no instance of tough police action against rioters, despite constitution of 10 inquiry commissions, just 6 people have been convicted (, and like Nellie, it too qualifies to be categorized as a pogrom.

J&K Ethnic cleansing that took place beginning from 1985 made about 300,000 people refugees by one estimate and also resulted in deaths of no less than tens of thousands of people in what can only be termed as terrorism than riot. Though Police as well as Army has acted with force but media, intelligentsia, civil society, NGOs and all the otherwise highly opinionated commentariat have been conspicuous by their near silence on the issue. We are yet to see any prosecution of those allegedly guilty of involvement in the ethnic cleansing of such a proportion, neither is their any demand from any section of the commentariat except the muted voices of the affected themselves. This event too qualifies in all the above criteria to be termed as a pogrom.

Gujarat riots of 2002 saw about 1200 deaths by one estimate. About 170 people were killed in Police firing. Media and so called intellectuals have been relentless in it’s criticism of the riot. 11 persons have received death sentences and at least 51 persons have received life sentences, many cases got delayed due to stay on trial court by activists. We know so much about Gujarat riots because there was no attempt by the media to bury the issue and delete it from public memory like in innumerable other riots of which we know precious little about and because information is easily available in public domain. In none of the above criteria it can be categorized as a Pogrom by any objective standards.

Needless to say, successive riots that were suppressed by the establishment and media resulted in rioters going scot free and in all probability repeated their acts with impunity. Existence of religious intolerance in India was bad enough, riots that never saw any delivery of justice only made a bad situation worse.

The following two tabs change content below.

Sanjay Chetia

Latest posts by Sanjay Chetia (see all)