India possibly is the most religiously and culturally diverse country in the world. Five faith traditions: Jaina, Hindu, Buddhist, Sikh and Ahmediya Muslim were founded here in addition to many traditions whose imprint can be detected in pluralistic religious practices witnessed among its people. India’s population of over a billion is mostly Hindu but it has the highest number of Muslims, Jaina and Sikhs living in any country in the world. Besides this, the sub-continent has been home to some of the earliest Jewish, Zoroastrian and Christian populations that have for centuries practiced their faith. India has over twenty languages with their own alphabets, corpus of literature and cultural appurtenances, history and historical baggage. The country has also has been open in its history to foreign trade, invasions, occupation, conversions and diverse cultural influences.

This diversity that the country offers has been a mixed blessing. While certainly contributing to the richness of its culture, the Indian diversity has been more a result of its historical experiences over the centuries. The Indian society has had to deal with not only internally generated diverse influences but also major influxes of diverse external influences through mass migrations and/or invasions. The changing mix of people of diverse faith persuasions, languages, ethnicities and cultural backgrounds generated its own stresses on the society to continue to maintain peace and harmony.

That perhaps is the main reason why India today also does not present a picture of societal peace and harmony. Let us try and understand the realities that co-exist in contemporary India and that possibly have developed over the centuries.

For this we will try to take a peep into its history though we will mostly restrict ourselves to the Northwestern parts because of a couple of reasons. For one thing, this part of the sub-continent was bountifully endowed by nature with natural resources, hospitable climate, fertile soil, plenty of fresh water rivers and availability of food in abundant quantity and variety. This also was the region which geographically was the most safe, given the protection provided by the Himalayan mountain ranges in the North and West, the dense forests on the East and Sea to the South. This hinterland had access to mountain passes which provided the trade routes to other lands beyond. Such access obviously also provided the migrants and invaders the land route to this oasis of plenty in the bygone days. The region was referred to as sapta sindhwa [hafta hindwa], nirdukha, madra des, uttarapath, sukhbhumi, in ancient texts.

Invasions and migrations were therefore a common experience of the populations in these parts over the centuries. Many of the series of invaders brought to bear their influences on the local people by staying on and merging with the population to be subjected by later invaders to similar treatment that some of their forebears had meted out to the then local populace.


The early known civilization in these parts has been named Indus Valley Civilization [IVC]. One of the earliest world civilizations, it flourished in the northwest part of the Indian sub continent at and around its main centers at Harappa and Mohenjodaro during 3300–1300 BCE.

All excavations near the coastal part of Indus proved that the decline of Indus Valley Civilization occurred suddenly between 1800 BC and 1700 BC; attributed by some western historians to the aggression by Vedic people who devastated the earlier civilization.[1] This view is contested by some recent researches.

The Indus Valley appears to have had a primitive religious system and it is difficult to fit names for their gods. Hindu interpretations by John Marshall of archeological evidence from Harrapan site were rejected by many critics and some discovered icons have been interpreted by Jains and Buddhists as representing early Tirthankara or early Buddha. [Wikipaedia] Findings show lack of large temples suggesting that the religious ceremonies may have been performed in homes, small temples or in open air. Some Indus people buried the dead. The graves often contained pottery, ornaments and mirrors which the dead may need after death. People might have been nature worshipers, or followed Jainism – a speculation supported by some of the discovered evidence.

A relationship of Harappan language with the Dravidian or Elamo-Dravidian language family is favored by a section of scholars giving credence to the speculation about the displacement of the original Dravidians southwards due to conflict with Aryans. Significantly the tract between the Himalaya and the Vindhya ranges is named Aryavarata in Manu Smriti and other ancient texts. A conclusion that, at the dawn of known Indian history, belief rooted conflicts may have occurred cannot be ruled out.


 Moving further down the history we learn that the Hindu caste system began to solidify between 1000 and 200 BCE. The system is defined in Manusmriti or Laws of Manu, c. 200 BCE-200 CE and is thought to have started out as a way to classify a person’s work. It however turned into a practice where a person was considered to be born into an unalterable cast or varna based social status. Four primary castes were identified: Brahmin – priests; Kshatriya – warriors and nobility; Vaisya – farmers, traders and artisans; and Shudra – tenant farmers and servants. In addition there were some people who were born outside of and below the caste system, avarna – untouchables. The importance of caste has been emphasized in the Bhagavad Gita.

Hindu theology envisages that after each life, a soul is reborn into a higher or lower form of life depending upon virtuousness of its behavior in previous life. Within a life cycle, however, every person was expected to follow certain rigid codes per their caste. Only Brahmins were allowed to conduct religious rituals and services. While Kshatryas and Vaisyas had full rights to worship, a Shudra was not allowed to offer sacrifices to the gods. This got extended to deny Untouchables entry into temples or temple grounds and even to lay face-down at a distance when a Brahmin passed lest their shadow should pollute the Brahmin.

That caste system based Brahmin supremacy could cause conflict is evident from an account in tradition suggesting that insistence by Vasishta Muni, a venerated Brahmin sage, that learning of Vedic texts and conducting of religious ceremonies were exclusive privileges of Brahmins, was opposed by Viswamitra, a highly regarded non-Brahmin sage. Caste system continued as did its inter-religious as also intra-religion conflict generating potential.


Gautam Buddha’s advent is placed around 500 BC. He was born into a Hindu family but on his enlightenment, his preaching tended towards atheism, emphasized that salvation had to be achieved in life, rejected caste system and did not commend practice of sacrifice and many other Brahmin principles.  

Buddhism appealed to the people for its simplicity and its non discriminatory ethos of rejection of caste distinctions. As time rolled by, Hindu Chandragupta Maurya founded the Mauryan Empire. He ruled from 322 BC to 298 BC when he abdicated in favor of his son and lived out his residual life as a Jaina. During his rule Buddhism and Jainism continued to flourish.

His grandson, Ashoka [c. 273–232 BC], conquered the Kalinga country during the eighth year of his reign. The sufferings that the war unleashed touched him deeply. He adopted Buddhism and renounced armed conquests. He extended patronage to Buddhism that helped its spread all over India and poised it for growth beyond.   

With the institutional acceptance of Buddhism and with their growing numbers, the Buddhists came to be viewed as threat to the Hindu way of life and became a target of Brahmin persecution in 2nd century BCE. Pushyamitra Sunga [185–149 BC] assassinated the last Mauryan King and proclaimed himself the King. He brought much of Northern India under his Hindu rule and is said to have destroyed 84,000 Buddhist stupas. There are also counter claims that some Buddhist temples, including the ones at Ajanta Caves, were built under the patronage of Hindu kings. In any case, Brahminism regained patronage and was soon on a resurgent path, embellished by the Golden Hindu period under Gupta dynasty – c 320-550 C E. 

Around early 7th century CE, Brahminism began efforts to drive out Buddhism and Jainism from the South. Islam had come to the coastal Malabar with Arab traders around the same period. The emerging tensions caused many Jains in Kerala and Tamilnadu to accept Islam.

Brahminism also moved North to consolidate Hindu revival. When Muhammad ibn Al-Qasim attacked Sindh in 710 C E, Muslim historians claim that the comparative ease with which he defeated the Sindh forces was because of voluntary surrenders by the local Buddhists. By 950 C E, the dominantly Buddhist Sindh and Kabul had turned mostly Muslim.

Shankaracharya started his Hindu revival and reforms in early 9th century. There is mention of destruction of several Buddhist centers that were converted to Hindu temples. By perseverance and waging an extended struggle, Brahminism regained supremacy over Buddhism and Jainism, little realizing that possibly a greater challenge was on the horizon.  


The Arab invasion of Sindh in early 8th century was a sort of expansion of Islam as a religious movement. Islam of a different variety arrived in 11th century to coastal Gujarat and in north India in 12th century with Turkish invasions. Turks, Mongols and Afghans swept over India entering through north-western passes, from time to time, for loot, rape, ravine and iconoclasm as well as to stay on as rulers with its potential to proselytize.

Muslim invaders were invariably hard on Hindus. Invasions by Mahmud of Ghazni during early 11th century are cited for iconoclastic plundering and destruction of Hindu temples at Mathura and Dwarka. He destroyed the Somnath temple and killed over 50,000 Hindus.

The first mosque in Delhi was built by Qutb-ud-din Aibak in13th century after the demolition of a Hindu temple built previously by Prithvi Raj. During his reign [1206-1210 C E], 27 Hindu/Jain temples were destroyed.

The invading Ulugh Khan desecrated the shrine at Srirangam and killed 12,000 ascetics in 1323. During the reign of Feroze Shah Tughlaq [1351-1388 C E] Hindu communities were monitored, recorded as infidels, forced to pay Jizya tax, and temples they built, destroyed.

The Turkish ruler Timur’s army of 90,000 set upon India in 1398. They killed 10,000 Hindus at Bhatnir in one hour before the battle of Delhi in 1398, where, one hundred thousand Hindus are said to have been taken prisoners by soldiers, mostly killed.  

Malik Kafur, a general of Allauddin Khilji attacked Srirangam temple in 14th century, massacred the Brahmin priests, plundered the temple treasury and desecrated and destroyed religious icons.


In the face of the overwhelming power of the invaders, Hindus were not able to militarily oppose the invasions. They chose to hunker down. Defensive posture enhanced the influence of religious leaders over the masses.

Islam with its concept of one God, open and egalitarian ethos, simple worship and a theology of non- discrimination appealed to many among the lower castes who had endured institutionalized religious discrimination for centuries. Conversions were common through various means and devices – official or domestic influence, battle slavery, offering inducements, forced and through the influence of religious preachers like Sufis.

The Muslim society was layered. The immigrant Muslims mostly were rich and powerful having been close to the present or an erstwhile ruling elite. Locals who had converted to Islam mostly were in the same vocations as before. Both the segments had their sub layers that included the orthodox Mullahs and Qazis. Then there were the Sufis who lived in their monasteries in poverty and abstinence and were influenced by yoga, vernacular and hindwi music. They believed that the lower self, nafs, must be annihilated to free heart of evil. Qalandar, the wandering darveshes, practiced magic & occult powers.

The non-Muslim society had its own groups of religious leaders. Hindu Brahmins were caste & form bound. Many of them learnt Farsi and got jobs with the rulers yet maintained their control over Hindu masses. Jogis were tantric, ascetic, warrior beggar recluses who rejected caste, idols, temples and pilgrimages. Bhagats believed that salvation could only be attained through loving devotion to the divine and caste, rituals, pilgrimages et al were not critical. The Saktas believed in goddess worship. Sants had belief in non-incarnated, formless, immanent God. They did not accept caste system and had a liberal social approach.

The town morphology was separatist, elitist and discriminatory. Rulers, riding on caparisoned elephants, wearing ornaments, were accompanied by a retinue of courtiers and guards. The non-Muslims were not allowed to carry arms, ride horses and were expected observe certain codes. The impression one gathers from historical accounts and from the Sikh scriptural literature is of a society infested with moral and ethical decline due to prevalence of discrimination, caste system, hypocrisy, corruption, ritualism or asceticism, decadent intellectual life, acute poverty, greed and chicanery.


Guru Nanak, the founder Guru of Sikhs, was born in 1469 C E at Talwandi, known presently as Nanakana Sahib, near Lahore in Pakistan. At that time, Afghan Lodhi dynasty [1451-1526] ruled from Delhi. Assignees of Lodhis in countryside were often corrupt, capricious and unjust.

Guru Arjun was the first Sikh Guru martyr. Jahangir, who succeeded Akbar, has recorded in Tuzk i Jahangiri that ‘— a Hindu named Arjun — [who] had captured many simple-hearted Hindus and even ignorant and foolish Muslims — when Khusro passed this way — [he] made a finger-mark of saffron on his forehead that the Indians call Qashqa and is considered propitious. When this came to my ears and I fully knew his heresies, I ordered that he should be brought into my presence and having handed over his houses, dwelling places, and children to Murtaza Khan and having confiscated his property I ordered that he should be put to death with tortures.’

Sikhs were stunned at the torture and martyrdom of Guru Arjun and rallied around Hargobind who was barely 11 when nominated to succeed Arjun. The groundswell in the spirit of resistance that reverberated through the small but growing community was given a visible expression by the Guru. He recruited an armed retinue of trusted guards, wore an aigrette on his turban, sported two swords and moved around with a canopy overhead. He took to hunting and was addressed as ‘sacha patshah’ – the true king – by the Sikhs. Opposite the Harmandar he constructed the Akal Takhat, Temporal Seat of the Divine, and held court there. 

The Sikhs now were armed and in time Guru Hargobind had to defend against armed attacks by Imperial forces which he successfully did but he decided to retire to Kiratpur in 1635 to ward off further conflict with the Mughal government. His ministry saw the transformation of Sikhs to armed defense. He did not initiate any fight but did not evade it when it was inevitable.

The drift from religious tolerance was particularly brutal in the reign of Aurangzeb [1658–1707]. In 1665 Aurangzeb forbade Hindus to have illuminations at Diwali. In 1669 governors of all the provinces were directed to destroy schools and temples of infidels and in 1671 he issued an order that Muslims only could hold crown lands. In 1674 lands held in religious grants by Hindus were confiscated in Gujarat. Around then, the Governor of Kashmir started forcible conversions of Hindus to Islam that led Kashmiri Pandits to request the Guru Tegh Bahadur to intercede on their behalf. The Guru told them to inform Aurangzeb that if he could force the Guru to embrace Islam they would follow suit.

Guru Tegh Bahadur accompanied by three devout followers was arrested soon after and brought to Delhi. The Guru was made to watch his one companion killed by sawing his body in two, another by being boiled alive and the third by burning alive. On November 11, 1675 the Guru was publicly beheaded.

Guru Gobind Singh later wrote in his autobiographical account that ‘in a great event in the Iron Age Tegh Bahadur protected the forehead mark and sacred thread (of Hindus). For the sake of saints, he laid down his head without even uttering a sigh. For the sake of Dharma, he sacrificed himself. He laid down his head but not his creed. The saints of the Lord abhor the performance of miracles and malpractices’.[2]

Guru Gobind Singh [1675-1708] and Sikhs were traumatized at the martyrdom of a second Guru. Around 1685 the Guru repaired to Paonta but he had to defend against an armed attack in 1688 – the battle of Bhangani. After his victory the Guru left Paonta and established the village of Anandpur.  The Guru and his Sikhs were involved in another battle with a Mughal commander, Alif Khan, at Nadaun on 20 March 1691. About end to the conflict the Guru says ‘Alif Khan fled away leaving back his belongings. All the other warriors also did not stay and were gone.’ We should note here that in the battle of Bhangani the Guru had to fight a group of Rajas that included Bhim Chand and in the battle of Nadaun he accepted to support Bhim Chand against aggression by Alif Khan. In both cases the Guru was on the side defending aggression and against intimidation whether it was by a Hindu or a Muslim chieftain.

Guru Gobind Singh created the order of Khalsa in April 1699. The process of initiation into the fraternity created a variety of symbolisms to remind Sikhs of their cherished postulates. Asking the initiates to drink off from a shared cup signaled a formalized rejection of caste prejudices. Narrow loyalties were de-emphasized in favor of a broader communal identity by dropping caste from names. The outward symbols also reflected on their determination to carve out their place in the society on their own in full glare of visibility. These changes definitely made people take notice and in several cases, with rising concern about their impact on vested elitist interests.

The immediate effect of creation of the Khalsa was a deep sense of insecurity and anxiety among hill Rajas who in early 1701 sought help of Delhi government to subdue the Sikhs and Delhi sent Din Beg and Painde Khan each with five thousand men to support their attack. Painde Khan was killed in a fierce battle and Din Beg with the hill chiefs left the field.

Again later in 1701, a group of Rajas marched onto Anandpur and asked the Guru for rent for the city. The Guru refused saying that the land on which the town was built had been purchased by his father. At this the hill Rajas launched an attack but could not overcome the Sikhs by direct assault. They then put the city under siege lasting for a few weeks but it was not successful.

The Rajas persevered with a couple of more encounters with help from Delhi but were not able to dislodge the Guru. The turn of events caused major concern at Delhi and the Governors of Sirhind, Lahore and Kashmir aided by more than a dozen hill chiefs and Gujars and Ranghars of the area laid a siege and cut off supplies to Anandpur.  

At last through an envoy the Guru was brought a signed letter from the Emperor saying, “I have sworn on the Quran not to harm you and if I do, may I not find a place in God’s court hereafter! Cease warfare and come to me and if you do not desire to do so, then go wheresoever you please.” The Guru finally decided to leave Anandpur at night on 20-21 December 1705. In spite of sworn assurances Sikhs were pursued across the flooded Sarsa River. Many got drowned and the Guru’s mother with two younger sons got separated from the group. The Guru with his two elder sons and forty Sikhs decided to face the enemy from within the Garhi of (mud fortress) Chamkaur.

Both sons of the Guru were killed fighting. Sikhs passed a ‘Gurmatta’ (resolution) asking Guru to leave the fortress. He accepted their instruction and left. Wandering lonesome in the wilderness of Machhiwara, Daya Singh, Dharam Singh and Man Singh caught up with him. The Guru wrote ‘Zafarnama’ and sent it through Bhai Daya Singh and Dharam Singh to Aurngzeb in Deccan. This letter is said to have made him repentant and he asked for travel arrangements to be made for the Guru so he could meet him. The Guru decided to proceed to the south to see Aurangzeb but received news of his death on the way and did not go further.

In the battle of succession that followed Bahadur Shah was victorious and presented the Guru a royal robe of honor at his coronation in Agra on July 24, 1707. The Guru later accompanied the King to South and parted company to go to Nanded where he reached in July 1708. Two Muslim intruders attacked him on October 7, 1708. He succumbed to his injuries and died.

Guru Gobind Singh a little before his passing picked on a new convert, Lachman Das[3]a bairagi renamed Banda Singh and charged him to punish those who had persecuted Sikhs and murdered his young sons. Banda had not long left when the Guru expired. He nonetheless continued with his assigned task and perchance became the transitional link from leadership by the Gurus to post Guru period Sikh political[4] leadership. Banda received enthusiastic and in a short period of less than two years became the virtual master of territories between Yamuna and Sutlej. He had new coins struck in the name of Guru Nanak – Guru Gobind Singh, abolished zamindari and declared cultivators as owners of land.[5]

Soon the Mughal king came down with full force to quell the Sikh uprising. Beleagured and heavily outnumbered, Banda and his followers were captured on 7 December 1715. After the fall of Banda a garrison was stationed in Amritsar and an edict issued to apprehend all Khalsa and kill any that resist arrest. Those determined to fight on retreated into hills creating a roving Sikh army, deeply connected to the peasants. Sikhs revived the biennial gatherings, now at Amritsar, where all decisions were taken at sarbat khalsa.

At the sarbat khalsa on Baisakhi 1733 Zakarya Khan, Governor of Lahore, sent a conciliatory offer of a jagir of three villages. Sikhs decided to accept the offer and nominated Kapur Singh as the jagirdar with the title of Nawab. Sikhs came out of hideouts and jathas were reorganized.

In 1738 Mani Singh who had sought permission to hold a fair at Diwali could not pay the agreed fee because the pilgrims did not show up due to a force sent by Zakarya Khan. Mani Singh was arrested and offered reprieve if he accepted Islam. On refusal, he was killed by torture. Zakarya Khan now launched full-scale persecution of Sikhs – plunder of their homes was made lawful and price placed on their heads but they remained defiant.

In 1746, in a fracas brother of Lakhpat Rai who was an important official at Lahore, was killed. This resulted in retaliatory killing of Sikhs. Imperial troops drove Sikhs northwards where 700 were killed and those arrested taken to Lahore and killed at Shahid ganj. This episode is known as chhota ghalughara – minor holocaust in Sikh history.

With Sikhs rebellious, the Mughal control in Punjab was weakening. Earlier in 1738 Nadir Shah had invaded and Delhi was plundered. In 1747 Shah Nawaz, Governor of Punjab, invited Abdali to invade India. Abdali’s first invasion started a series of his invasions. Sikhs harried Abdali all the way back to Indus. Mir Mannu became Governor of Punjab in April 1748. Abdali was back in Dec 1748. Mannu ceded territory west of Indus and revenue of four districts to Abdali.

Abdali invaded again in 1751 and under a treaty ratified by the Emperor, Lahore and Multan were ceded to Abdali who also annexed Kashmir before returning. Abdali came again and plundered Delhi in Jan 1757. Laden with loot and catch of women he was again harried by Sikhs when returning. Abdali razed Amritsar, blew up Harmandar and polluted the sarovar.

Abdali invaded again and defeated Marathas at Panipat in Jan 1761. On his way back, Sikhs attacked Abdali and rescued over two thousand young women and returned them to their homes.[6] Irritated by the Sikh action, Abdali attacked Amritsar and blew up Harimandar.

Abdali returned in 1762 and relentlessly pursued Sikhs and most of 30,000 men, women and children surrounded in the pursuit were killed. Abdali then razed Harmandar and filled pool with cow carcasses again. This catastrophe is termed by Sikhs as vadda galughara.

In late 1764 Afghans were back. Abdali again razed Harmandar and polluted the pool. As Abdali went back he was again harassed and looted. In Nov 1766 Abdali came again. The campaign was desultory and Abdali went back. Sikhs retook Lahore and by end 1767 had control of Punjab.

Abdali came again in 1769 but returned from Jehlum and died in 1772. He decimated control of Delhi, defeated Marathas and was ruthless with Sikhs. Now in absence of threat from Afghans or Mughals, Sikhs made various incursions to Jamuna and beyond. Mughals, Oudh Nawab Wazir and Rohillas now sought Sikh mercenaries.

Baghel Singh’s army invaded Delhi first time on January 18, 1774 and captured the area up to Shahdra. In the second invasion which took place on July 1775, they captured the area of Pahar Ganj and Jai Singh Pura. A mosque built at the place, where Gurdwara Bungla Sahib is situated, was demolished.  But the Khalsa Army faced acute shortage of supplies for life subsistence, and voluntarily withdrew. The Singhs continued their intrusions from time to time, which made Mughal King, Bahadur Shah, to concede to give the Singhs one eighth of the revenue collected from the area in between Rivers Ganga and Jamuna.

In April, 1782 when Wazir Najaf Khan who was the power behind the throne died and struggle for power followed, Sikhs spent their time in the neighborhood of the capital and crossed into Uttar Pradesh across the Ganges, instead of capturing the Capital.

In 1783 the Maharatas abandoned Delhi. Shah Alam, wished the Sinhgs to come back. Taking advantage of the situation, thirty thousand of Sikhs came and encamped at the place of Kashmiri Gate. After a fierce battle the Singhs captured Red Fort, hoisted the Kesri Flag, and put Panj Pyare, including Sardar Jassa Singh Ahluwalia, on the throne of the Delhi. Baghel Singh often distributed sweetmeats, bought out of this Government gift, to the congregationalists at the place which, now, is know as the Pul Mithai.

Baghel Singh controlled Delhi for eight months, March to December, 1783, used for construction of Gurdwaras in Delhi.

In Jan 1784 Ramgharia and Karam Singh started collecting rakhi from villages but when sounded by the emperor they shrank from taking Delhi under their protection [p. 178].

Baghel Singh again invaded Delhi in 1785. Shah Alam signed a treaty with the Maharatas who in turn initialed an agreement with the Singhs and consented to pay one million rupees as Gift.

In 1787 Baghel Singh joined Ghulam Qadir Rohilla, plundered land between Delhi and Agra and let loose a reign of terror in Delhi culminating in blinding of Shah Alam in August 1788. Sikhs broke off due this dastardly act. Qadir was executed and his family sought asylum with Sikhs. With the death of Madhaji Scindia in 1794 Sikh incursions increased. Sikhs had become petty mercenaries [see note 15, p. 181] and bad brigands [see note 16, p. 181] Marathas then stopped and in fact pushed Sikhs back into Malwa.

K S thinks the cause of discord between misls was ‘the relaxation of external pressure and the love of loot’. [p. 182] In note 17 he quotes Imamudin ‘in the country of Punjab – there are thousands of chiefs in the Sikh community. None obeys the other. If a person owns two or three horses he boasts of being a chief — [tribute] zamindars cannot afford, they [zamindars] intrigue with other Sikhs and the Sikhs begin to fight between themselves. Whoever wins receives tribute according to the capacity of villagers.’

About 18th century KS thinks that Kapur Singh, Ahluwalia and Bhangis built Sikh commonwealth and regained trust of Muslim peasants lost by Banda. Sikh resistance seemed to have created a sentiment against foreign invaders and even Mughal – preference being for own Punjabi rule. The misls however declined from being freedom fighters to ‘band of robbers’ fighting ith one another for loot.

Sikh historians remember 18th century as the “Heroic Century”. This is mainly to describe the rise of Sikhs to political power against massive odds. 1762-1767, Ahmed Shah Abdali and the Sikhs battle for control. The military power levels of the Sikh misls increased dramatically after 1762, this led to rapid increase in territory. 

On Baisakhi of 1801 Ranjit Singh was proclaimed as Maharaja of Punjab. Ranjit Singh did not wear emblem of royalty or sit on a throne. His government was known as sarkar khalsaji and he was addressed as Singh Sahib. He set up sharia courts for Muslims and for others, common law courts of their caste or community.

In 1806 the English pushed Marathas and Rohillas and Jaswant Rao Holkar came to Punjab to get Ranjit Singh’s support against the British. The Maharaja summoned sarbat khalsa at Akal Takht to take a collective decision. The sarbat khalsa approved a gurmatta giving them sanctuary, which placed the Maharaja in a difficult spot because the English threatened to pursue the fugitives into Sikh territories. He created an advisory council and on their advice decided to enter into a treaty with the English that Marathas will remove their army thirty miles+ out of Amritsar in return for the English removing encampments from Beas and promise of friendship as long as Sikhs did not entertain those inimical to the English. This saved the fight but the Maharaja was summoned by Akali Phoola Singh, then caretaker of Akal Takht and admonished for ignoring the gurmatta. 

This was the last time when the Maharaja sought the advice of Sarbat Khalsa. After that he started taking his decisions by consulting ministers and advisors that made the practice of Sikhs guiding their leaders in political matters by adopting gurmattas in sarbat khalsa to a virtual end.


Although the origins of Christianity in India remain unclear, it is a possibility that the religion’s existence extends back to the 1st century. The world’s oldest existing church structure, believed to be built by Thomas the Apostle in 57 AD, is located at Thiruvithancode in Kanyakumari District of Tamil Nadu. Kerala is home to Saint Thomas Christian community, an ancient Syriac Christianity. The initial converts possibly were from among Cochin Jews who are believed to have arrived in India around 562 BC, after the destruction of the First Temple. The Saint Thomas Christian community was further strengthened by various Persian immigrant settlers, Babylonian Christians settlers of 4th century AD and the immigrant Syrian and Persian Christians from successive centuries.

Local rulers in Kerala gave the St. Thomas Christians various rights and privileges which were written on copper plates. There are a number of such documents in the possession of the Syrian churches of Kerala.  The language used is Tamil intermingled with Grantha script and Pahlavi, Kufic and Hebrew signatures. Malabar coast Christians still use Syriac language, a dialect of Aramaic, in their liturgy.

Most Christians in India are Catholics of the Latin Church. Jordanus Catalani arrived in Surat in 1320 and was the first European to start conversions in India. Portuguese missionaries arrived in Kozhikode in 1498 along with Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama and sought to unify Syrian Christians in India under the Holy See.

In 1534, Pope Paul III placed India in the jurisdiction of diocese of Goa. Roman Catholic missionaries led by the Jesuit Francis Xavier [1506–1552] made many converts. Many Jews who had turned Christians but were suspected of secretly practicing their old religion migrated to India due to the Portuguese inquisition. Since Crypto-Jews were considered a threat to solidarity of Christian belief, Francis Xavier requested King of Portugal for Inquisition in Goa in a 1545 letter.[7] Many Catholics fled Goa Inquisition and most Mangalorean Catholics are said to be their descendants. In 1557, Goa was made an independent archbishopric, and whole of the East came under its jurisdiction.

Francis Xavier is also quoted to have said: “I order everywhere the temples pulled down and all idols broken. I know not how to describe in words the joy I feel before the spectacle of pulling down and destroying the idols.”

The first Protestant missionaries in India were two Lutherans from Germany who began work in 1705 in Danish settlement of Tranquebar. They translated Bible into the local Tamil language. Marathi Protestant Christians in Ahmednagar, Solapur, Pune and Aurangabad were converted in early 18th century. Protestant missionaries spread across India during the 18th century. William Carey, an English Baptist Minister, started the Serampore College and translated the Bible into Bengali, Sanskrit, and numerous other languages and dialects.

Tipu Sultan, ruler of Mysore [1782–1799] ordered destruction of 27 Catholic churches. During the surrender of the Mangalore fort all the Mestizos and remaining non-British foreigners were killed, together with 5,600 Mangalorean Catholics. Many Saint Thomas Christians were killed or forcibly converted to Islam. Tipu’s army included Catholic soldiers and he allowed Christians to build a church at Seringapatam, where French generals used to offer prayers.

Tipu Sultan sent a letter on 19 January 1790 to the Governor of Bekal, Budruz Zuman Khan says:  “Don’t you know I have achieved a great victory recently in Malabar and over four lakh Hindus were converted to Islam?” B.A. Saletare has described Tipu Sultan as a defender of the Hindu dharma, who also patronized Hindu temples.

Muslim rule of India ended in 1857 when the British annexed the territories and established their rule over India.

Islam has since become a part of India’s religious and cultural heritage. Over the years, there has been significant integration of Hindu and Muslim cultures across India


Sporadic and sometimes serious acts of religious violence continue to occur in India in spite of its democratic form of Government, huge law enforcement establishment, judicial system, civic bodies, voluntary organizations and an intrusively vibrant media. It can be speculated that root causes of religious violence possibly run deep in the history, religious activities, and politics of India. Let us see how.


The last two centuries have seen a growing Neo-Buddhist movement in India that can be very anti-Hindu.  while Hindus have begun seeing Hinduism more as a national identity and less as a religion. These nationalist Hindus are usually more tolerant of traditional Buddhists, though India lacks any real dialogue between Buddhists and Hindus, and many followers see the two systems as mutually exclusive. Read more:

There have been sporadic conversions of Dalits to Buddhism in recent decades ostensibly to get out of the humiliation associated with caste practices. This continues though the momentum has been dampened by the Nationalist Hindu soft line towards Dalits. ??????????


The pre-medieval invaders of India generally settled in India and culturally merged in the land. Islamic conquerors indulged in mass killings, forced conversions and impose an alien Arab-Turk-Perso culture in the name of religion. Since then, the socio-cultural division between the two communities had remained a permanent feature of Indian society.

After 1857 Indian Rebellion, the British followed a divide-and-rule policy to prevent repeat of similar revolts. The ‘divide and rule’ policy has also been blamed by many scholars for Hindu-Muslim conflict. It has been argued that the British emphasis on communal harmony was limited to prevention of break down in law and order and that Muslim communalism was used by them to counter the emerging Indian nationalism and that roots of communalism lay in Morley-Minto Reform of 1909 of communal electorates.

We however know that in the pre-colonial period exclusivist communal policies followed by Aurangzeb and Tipu Sultan on the Muslim side and Jai Singh II of Jaipur (1688-1743) on the Hindu side were responsible for causing communal conflict.

Such policies were continued by the British through separate electorates for religious minorities, which resulted in large-scale ethno-religious violence in colonial India and ultimately culminated in its territorial division into the Islamic state of Pakistan and the Hindu dominated but secular India. Language, religion and ethnicity have since been issues that keep challenging the democratic character of a pluralistic India.[8]

In early 1900s a faction of freedom movement led by Bal Gangadhar Tilak emerged whose aim was independence. In 1906 the few Muslim delegates in Indian National Congress left to form Muslim League. In 1915 Mohandas Gandhi arrived in India. and mobilized movement for Indian independence.

Though Hindus and Muslims were living together for more than a millennium but both groups had remained in social isolation from each other. At the instance of Gandhi and to induce Muslims to join Congress, Hindus supported Khilafat Movement launched by the Muslims against the British for restoration of Ottoman Empire but this unity was a temporary one.

Inspired by Khilafat movement, the Kerala Moplah Muslims went on a rampage, murdering, looting and forcibly converting Hindus to Islam in 1921. 100,000 Hindus were driven from their homes making Malappuram a Muslim majority district. Annie Besant wrote: “The Moplahs murdered and plundered abundantly, and killed or drove away all Hindus who would not apostatize — Malabar has taught us what Islamic rule still means, and we do not want to see another specimen of the Khilafat Raj in India.”

British Parliament passed the Government of India Act in 1935, giving Indians a legislative law-making body. The Muslim minority had little influence in the elected legislature and was barred from building new mosques. This was cited as a reason for Muslim League to demand a separate Muslim state.

In 1939 India’s Viceroy declared India’s entrance on the side of the Allies. The Indian National Congress responded by quitting India’s government. The British offered independence at the end of the war, and the Indian National Council cooperated for much of the war.     

Partition of British India (1947)

In 1946, a Cabinet Mission was sent to India to discuss and finalize plans for transfer of power to Indians. With inflammatory articles and twisted reports appearing in Hindu and Muslim newspapers against each other, communal tension had been strong throughout India.

An alternative plan to divide the British Raj into a Hindu-majority India and a Muslim-majority Pakistan was proposed by the Muslim League. It was rejected by Congress. Muslim League planned general strike on 16 August terming it as Direct Action Day to protest this rejection, and to assert its demand for a separate Muslim homeland.

Bengal had a Muslim League government was in power. Following declaration of 16 August as the Direct Action Day, the Congress urged Hindus to not submit to the hartal. The notices drew divine inspiration from the Quran, emphasizing on the coincidence of the Direct Action Day with the establishment of the kingdom of Heaven in Arabia in holy month of Ramzaan. Hindu public opinion was mobilized around Akhand Hindusthan (United India) slogan. Such propaganda gave legitimacy to communal solidarities and reinforced identity politics.

The protest triggered massive riots, within 72 hours, more than 4,000 people lost their lives and 100,000 residents in the city of Calcutta were left homeless sparking religious riots in Noakhali, Bihar, United Province, Punjab, and the North Western Frontier Province – sowing the seeds for the eventual Partition of India.

As India and Pakistan became independent on August 15, 1947, 14.5 million crossed borders to ensure their safety in an increasingly lawless and communal environment. This is said to be the largest such migration in history of mankind. It was accompanied by terrible violence. Estimates of deaths are placed roughly at 500,000.


The creation of Pakistan in the name of religion and failure of post independence Indian rulers to bridge the gap between Hindus and Muslims have only exacerbated the distrust between the two communities. Indian constitution adopted in 1950 divided the people into majority and minority on the basis of religion by incorporating special privileges for the latter. This provided impetus to communal consciousness and encouraged emergence of organizations to lobby for and to protect communal interests of various groups. Such groups were not limited to religious identities. To it were added lower caste groups, backward classes and tribes et al setting off new social tensions in an already frayed society. Distribution of communal sops to the minorities particularly in pre-election years accelerated the identity politics played by the politicians in power.  

The answer lies in a strong political will to shed their politics of vote bank as otherwise country will continue facing the challenge of the medieval legacy. Muzaffarnagar riot will not be the last and we will only see more riots in future.

Constitutionally India is a secular state, but large-scale inter-religious violence has periodically occurred in all parts of India since independence. Contrary to expectations, in recent decades, the incidences of communal conflicts and their ferocity have increased; as has the shrillness of civil and political discourse become more strident.

Ethnic cleansing of Kashmiri Hindus

In early 1990, some Urdu newspapers called upon Kashmiris to wage jihad against India and to expel Hindus from Kashmir. In the following days notices were placed on the houses of Hindus asking them to leave and masked men with AK-47 guns roamed in the streets threatening to kill. Many Kashmiri Pandits were killed by Islamist militants and around 300,000 to 500,000 Pandits migrated out of Kashmir for reasons of safety.

Religious involvement in North-East India Militancy

The separatist group National Liberation Front of Tripura seeks to convert all Hindu or Buddhist tribals in the state to Christianity. According to Government of Tripura, the Baptist Church of Tripura is involved in supporting the Front. The United States does not designate the groups that continue violent separatist struggles in India’s northeastern states as terrorist organizations.

Anti Muslim Violence

On 6 December 1992, members of the Vishva Hindu Parishad and the Bajrang Dal destroyed the 430-year-old Babri Mosque in Ayodhya. It was claimed by the Hindus that the mosque was built over the birthplace of the ancient deity Rama. The resulting religious riots caused at least 1200 deaths.

The Godhra train burning incident in which Hindus were burned alive allegedly by Muslims, led to the 2002 Gujarat riots in which mostly Muslims were killed in an act of retaliation. According to the death toll given to the parliament on 11 May 2005 by the government, 790 Muslims and 254 Hindus were killed, and another 2,548 injured. 223 people are missing. The report placed the number of riot widows at 919 and 606 children were declared orphaned. Local police took no action against the attacks on Muslims and their property.

Anti-Christian violence

Christians have been subjected to violent attacks, often perpetrated by Hindu Nationalists, in the recent years. These acts are often directed at the missionaries and include forcible reconversion to Hinduism of those converted as Christians. A particularly gruesome case was when Graham Staines, an Australian missionary, was burnt to death while he was sleeping with his two sons, aged 9 and 7, in his station wagon at Manoharpur village in Keonjhar district in Orissa in January 1999. Christians have been very active at proselytization.

Proselytism includes activities such as the following with a view to convert:

  • making unjust or uncharitable references to or ridiculing others’ beliefs and practices
  • employing physical violence, moral compulsion, psychological pressure or political, social and economic power
  • extending explicit or implicit offers of education, health care or material inducements
  • exploiting weaknesses or lack of education especially when in distress.  

Anti-Hindu violence

Prominent attacks on Hindu temples and Hindus by Muslim militants include the 1998 Chamba massacre, the 2002 attacks on Raghunath temple, the 2002 Akshardham Temple attack and the 2006 Varanasi bombings. Recent attacks on Hindus by Muslim mobs include Marad massacre, Godhra train burning etc.

In August 2000 a Hindu priest was shot to death inside his ashram in Tripura by NLFT. Eleven of the priest’s ashrams, schools, and orphanages around the state were closed down by the NLFT.

Lesser incidents of religious violence happen in many towns and villages in India. In October 2005, five people were killed in Mau in Uttar Pradesh during Hindu-Muslim rioting, which was triggered by the proposed celebration of a Hindu festival.

On 3 and 4 January 2002, three Hindus and two Muslims were killed in Marad, near Kozhikode due to scuffles between two groups that began after a dispute over drinking water. On 2001 three Muslims were killed by Rashtreeys Sevak Sangam. in response of this incident on 2 May 2003, eight Hindus were killed by a Muslim mob, in what is believed to be a sequel to the earlier incident.

International Human Rights Reports

The 2008 Human Rights Watch report notes: India claims an abiding commitment to human rights, but its record is marred by continuing violations by security forces in counterinsurgency operations and by government failure to rigorously implement laws and policies to protect marginalized communities.

Religious violence in India have been a topic of various films and novels.

    Firaaq a film set in the aftermath of the 2002 Gujarat riots.

    Garam Hawa a film by M. S. Sathyu based on a story on partition written by Ismat Chugtai.

    Tamas A film on partition based on a book by Bhisham Sahni

    Bombay – a 1995 film centred on events during the period of December 1992 to January 1993 in India, and the controversy surrounding the Babri Mosque in Ayodhya.[181]

    Maachis a film by Gulzar about Punjab terrorism

    Earth – a 1998 film[182] portraying Partition violence in Lahore.

    Fiza – a 2000 film,[183] plot setup amidst Bombay Riots.

    Hey Ram – a 2002 film[184] with a semi-fictional plot centres around Partition of India and related religious violence.

    Mr. and Mrs. Iyer – a 2002 film.[185] The story revolves around the relationship between two lead characters Meenakshi Iyer and Raja amidst Hindu-Muslim riots in India.

    Final Solution – a 2003 documentary film about the 2002 Gujarat violence, banned in India.[186]

    Hawayein – a 2003 film about the struggles of Sikhs during the 1984 anti-Sikh riots.

    Black Friday – a Hindi film on the 1993 serial bomb blasts in Mumbai, directed by Anurag Kashyap.[187]

    Amu – An award-winning film about a girl orphaned during the 1984 Anti-Sikh riots.

    Parzania – a 2007 film about the riots in Gujarat in 2002.[188] The film was purposely not released in Gujarat.[189][190]

    Train to Pakistan, a novel by Khushwant Singh set during the Partition of India and a movie based on the book-Train to Pakistan (film)

    Toba Tek Singh, a satire by the writer Saadat Hasan Manto set during the Partition of India.

Bloodshed in Kashmir is centuries old. The initial rift in Hindu-Muslim relations was created during the Islamic invasion in the 600s. Will Durant, author of The Story of Civilization, wrote, “…the Islamic conquest of India is probably the bloodiest story in history.” Obviously, if there is no god but Allah, then polytheistic Hinduism cannot be peacefully unified with Islam.


Sufism and spread of Islam

Hazrat Khawaja Muin-ud-din Chisti, Nizam-ud-din Auliya, Shah Jalal, Amir Khusro trained Sufi groups for the propagation of Islam. They attracted followers from artisan and dalit communities and in bridging the distance between Islam and the indigenous traditions.

 [edit] Law and politics

Muslims in India are governed by the Muslim Personal Law (Shariat) Application Act, 1937 that includes marriage, mahr, Divorce, maintenance, gifts, wakf, wills and inheritance. The attempt to integrate society under common civil code is viewed by Indian Muslims as an attempt to dilute their cultural identity.

[edit] Muslims in Modern India

There have been three Muslim presidents of India, Dr. Zakir Hussain, Dr Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed and the current president, Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam.

Aligarh Muslim University, Jamia Millia Islamia, Hamdard University, Al Ameen College Bangalore, Al-Kabir educational society,.

Islam is India’s largest minority religion, with Muslims officially constituting 16.20% of the country’s population, or 174 million people as of 2001census. However, unofficial estimates show a far higher. Justice K.M. Yusuf, a retired Judge from Calcutta High Court and Chairman of West Bengal Minority Commission, says that the real percentage of Muslims in India is at least 20%. [4].

About 47% of all Muslims in India–live in Uttar Pradesh (30.7 million) (18.5%), West Bengal (20.2 million) (25%), and Bihar (13.7 million) (16.5%), according to the 2001 census. Muslims represent a majority of the local population only in Jammu and Kashmir (67 % in 2001) and Lakshadweep (95 %). High concentrations of Muslims are found in Assam (31 %) West Bengal (25 %), Kerala (25 %) and Karnataka (12.2%). Muslims are a highly urbanized religious community. Mumbai has Muslim growth rate of 60% and Delhi of 55%. Among large cities, Muslim percentage in Hyderabad is (27%), Sri Nagar (94%), Bhopal (40%) and Lucknow (26%). Kerala’s Kozhikode has more than 35% Muslims, Maharashtra’s Aurangabad over 40%, Mumbai (22%), Kolkata (21%) and Delhi (around 12%). If middle-level cities are included in the list, Aligarh has 40% Muslim population, Meerut around 37%, Kanpur and Allahabad around 22-25% and Varanasi 30%. Some of the cities with nearly 30% Muslims include Karnataka’s Bidar, Gulbarga, Hubli-Dharwad, Maharashtra’s Parbhani, Nanded, Nalanda (Bihar), Bhagalpur and Firozabad. In cities with population between 0.5-1 million (5-10 lakh), some have a clear Muslim majority including Moradabad, Malegaon and Bhiwandi. In Cities that have a population between 1,00,000 to 5,00,000, the number of such cities is even more. There are dozens of such cities from Rampur to Mau in UP, Burhanpur in MP etc. There are many cities and towns under 1 lakh population that have over 50% Muslim population.

The decadal growth of the Muslims was the highest (36.0%) among the six major religious communities at the 2001 Census. This led Indian media[23] and Pro-Hindutva parties raising an alarm at the growing number of Muslims and the demographic imbalance[24].

[edit] Islamic Traditions in South Asia

A large number of Indian Muslims follow Sunni Barelwi (Sufi) traditions attached to the memory of great Sufi saints. Sufism is a mystical path (tarika) as distinct from the legalistic path of the sharia. A Sufi attains a direct vision of oneness with God, often on the edges of orthodox behavior, and can thus become a Pir (living saint) who may take on disciples ([murid]s) and set up a spiritual lineage that can last for generations. Orders of Sufis became important in India during the thirteenth century following the ministry of Moinuddin Chishti (1142-1236), who settled in Ajmer, Rajasthan, and attracted large numbers of converts to Islam because of his holiness. His Chishtiyya order went on to become the most influential Sufi lineage in India, although other orders from Central Asia and Southwest Asia also reached to India and played a major role in the spread of Islam. Many Sufis were well known for weaving music, dance, intoxicants, and local folktales into their songs and lectures. In this way, they created a large literature in regional languages that embedded Islamic culture deeply into older South Asian traditions.

The leadership of the Muslim community has pursued various directions in the evolution of Indian Islam during the twentieth century. The most conservative wing has typically rested on the education system provided by the hundreds of religious training institutes (madrasa) throughout the country, which have tended to stress the study of the Qur’an, violence toward non-Muslims, and Islamic texts in Arabic and Persian but little else. Several national movements have emerged from this sector of the Muslim community. The Jamaati Islami (Islamic Party), founded in 1941, advocates the establishment of an overtly Islamic government. The Indian branch of the party had about 3,000 active members and 40,000 sympathizers in the mid-1980s. The Tablighi Jamaat (Outreach Society) became active after the 1940s as a movement, primarily among the ulema (religious leaders), stressing personal renewal, prayer, a missionary spirit, and attention to orthodoxy, and violence toward Non-Muslims. It has been highly critical of the kind of activities that occur in and around Sufi shrines and remains a minor if respected force in the training of the ulema. Conversely, other ulema have upheld the legitimacy of mass religion, including exaltation of pirs and the memory of the Prophet. A powerful secularising drive led by Syed Ahmad Khan resulted in the foundation of Aligarh Muslim University (1875 as the Muhammadan Anglo-Oriental College)–with a broader, more modern curriculum — and other major Muslim universities.


Pakistan was born in 1947 amidst ghastly communal violence but the partition did not solve the Hindu-Muslim problems. Muslims were blamed for the division of the country and conflict with Pakistan kept the communal tension alive. Indian Muslims had to defend their loyalty to India.

Entire Muslim community in India has not been under pressure. They form majority in one state and 13.5 to 24 percent in five states. There are 39 districts in India in which they comprise from between 20 percent to 94 percent of the population. 73 percent live in villages. After 1947, most of the Hindu-Muslim riots occurred in middle-size towns. In the big cities like Bombay, Delhi, Ahmedabad, the communal fury has remained confined to the older parts of the city. Villages have remained largely undisturbed till 2013 Muzafarnagar riots ??????????????

Muslim fears have been provoked by decline in the status of Urdu, widespread use of Hindu mythologies and symbols in school textbooks, police and administrative machinery siding with violent Hindus.

Communal character of Congress Party in the form of Patel was more pronounced at provincial level. The new generation of leaders started exploiting caste and religious divisions at the local levels and has used divisive politics of the vote bank. Muslim votes can swing political fortunes.

– See more at:  VarshneyAshutosh

 [edit] Hindu-Muslim Conflict

Hindu-Muslim communal conflict is inherited from the convulsive and turbulent course of history, starting with the Islamic invasion of India. The aftermath of the Partition saw large scale sectarian strife and bloodshed. Since then India has witnessed occasional bouts of violence due to the underlying tensions between majority Hindu and minority Muslim communities.

The sense of insecurity experienced by Indian Muslims has been compounded with demolition of the Babri Mosque in Ayodhya in 1992 by Bharatiya Janata Party and its sister organisation like Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh , Shiv Sena, Bajrang Dal, Vishwa Hindu Parishad. At ‘Ayodhya, a group of well-trained Hindu volunteers demolished the controversial Babri mosque, while a huge crowd of more than 100,000 frenzied Hindu fanatics chanted slogans and danced, have seen India slowly slipping back to the sixteenth century… ‘Ayodhya’ was not an incident of a day. It was built up over years, while the so-called secular leaders played the politics of religion and caste for expediency without shame.’  

In addition, the 1993 Mumbai Bombings perpetrated by the Muslim Mafia don Dawood Ibrahim following the Bombay Riots against Muslims by Hindu Nationalists fomented the communal divide. 13 bombs exploded in Bombay causing at least 250 deaths and 1,200 injured.

Muslim-Hindu conflicts has also been fomented due to the mushrooming of radical organizations like SIMI (Students Islamic Movement of India) whose goal is to establish Islamic rule in India. Other groups such as Lashkar-e-Toiba and Jaish-e-Mohammed have been fomenting bias in the local Muslim populace against Hindus. These groups are believed to be responsible for the 11 July 2006 Mumbai train bombings.

Some of the most violent events that took place in recent times include Gujarat riots in which around four thousand Muslims were killed. The riots started in retaliation for the death of 50 Vishwa Hindu Parishad activists returning from Babri mosque at the Godhra railway station by being burnt alive in train fire suspected to be caused by Muslims.[1]. The commission appointed to investigate this finding proved that the fire was an accident.[2].

It should be noted that most of the below issues contribute to the Ghettoism of Muslims.

How ghettos get made: 

Rakhi Chakrabarty | Jan 13, 2014

Muzaffarnagar has a notorious crime record, but in the Jatland, Muslims and Hindus have lived in harmony for centuries – during Partition or Babri masjid demolition. Village communities had a mixed population from all backgrounds. Muslim farm laborers worked on land owned by Jats. Artisans were settled by landlords to make the village self-sufficient. Economy was the overriding factor with religious or social identity being part of a cohesive whole. The September 2013 riots changed that, rupturing social relations cemented over centuries.

Muzaffarnagar district magistrate Kaushal Raj Sharma estimates that the riots had destroyed ancestral homes and displaced 51,000 people from 150 villages – 27,198 from Muzaffarnagar and the rest from Shamli.  

During the riots, community leaders and village pradhans emerged as saviours and guardians. Muslims are beholden to their community leaders, Hindus to theirs for pandering to the majority’s victimhood. The riots drove out Muslims. Many riot accused still roam freely. The government has failed to remove fear and restore confidence so a large section of victims refuse to return home ever.

Instead, Samajwadi Party’s government forced many of them to sign affidavits never to return to their ancestral villages if they accepted the Rs 5 lakh compensation. Other mainstream political parties have been scarce in their solidarity with or relief for riot victims. The vacuum left by political parties and civil society groups has been filled in by religious outfits. A fact-finding team from Delhi University and JNU found that the UP government has outsourced relief work to religious outfits. Muslim religious organizations have been helping with relief, mass marriage of daughters victims, build houses and help riot victims earn.

Post-riot villages could have communal homogeneity by a blend of religious segregation and political opportunism – ghettoisation. These pradhans and community leaders are potential ghetto overlords and ghettos could well become the newest captive vote banks controlled by ghetto overlords.

When the Supreme Court rapped Akhilesh’s government for suffering and deaths in the relief camps, the UP government responded with a drive to dismantle most of the 58 camps.

On New Year excavators had rolled into Muzaffarnagar’s Loi village and demolished shelters of about 3,600 riot victims.

History, as Stephen Chan says, shows that reconciliation is difficult in a polarized society till each pole lives out its subjectivity. Muzaffarnagar’s communal frisson spells the end of certainty, at least for now.


The event was a day-long “fast against communalism” organized by political, academic and artistic leaders of Kerala who asserted that religious violence was foreign to the tradition of religious pluralism intrinsic to Kerala culture. One of the key speakers Yesudas, a Christian musician and a devotee of the Hindu God Aiyappan managed to convey to a mixed Christian, Muslim, Hindu, and atheist present, the importance of mobilizing around the issue of pluralism despite the important differences that might exist between them.

Kerala has the oldest traditions of Islam and Christianity in India and is known for the relative harmony that exists between the various religious groups. However, it also has recently seen violence between its Hindu and Muslim populations which testifies to the fact that not all share the vision of religious unities.

There have always been important movements for social justice that have critiqued elitist religious ideas. Those such as Kabir are today held up as models of religious pluralism despite their stringent critique of the political implications of elite religious worldviews.

This is all to say that interfaith struggles are necessarily implicated in politics and must ultimately take a political stand in order to be effective. The result will be the alienation of some. However, this focus on issues will free many from the hegemonies of groups and identity politics to participate in causes they believe in.

In his Nationalist Thought and the Colonial World (1986), Partha Chatterjee suggests Gandhi’s greatness resided in his ability to articulate the interests of disparate groups of society around the common cause of freedom for India from British rule. Gandhi managed to mobilize masses divided on issues of race, class, education, politics, ethnicity, national language, religion, etc, into a movement that ultimately became a force to challenge British rule.

In some ways the social worlds we inhabit are even more plural than they were a hundred years ago. Our social worlds are divided by the politics of class, gender, sexuality, religion, ethnicity, nationality, education, economics and so on. We need charismatic leaders who like Gandhi, are able to mobilize people by articulating multiple interests towards a common goal. Perhaps the challenge to those of you working on interfaith issues is one of framing your efforts in different ways to appeal to different groups and individuals. Perhaps this is also the challenge of politics in a world increasingly marked by the pluralism of politics and belief.


2. At Sabrimala devotees are required to first pay their respects at the shrine of a Muslim saint before worshipping Aiyappan at his temple.

COPYRIGHT 2005 Association for Religion and Intellectual Life


Starting in August 1980, mounting communal tension between Hindus and Sikhs in the state of Punjab led to violent clashes, in the last year [1992] in particular. Punjab is a state with the highest per capita income. It is the seat of the Green Revolution in India, whose biggest beneficiaries have been the rich Sikh peasants. In Punjab, Sikhs are a majority, Hindus, a minority.

Although religious symbols have been used for the mobilization of Sikhs and the secessionist slogan of Khalistan has been raised, the Sikh’s charter of demands, drawn from the Anandpur Sahib Resolution, has strong economic and political components.

The “major” religious demands by the Sikhs, including greater radio time for religious broadcasts over federally controlled radio, and a separate legislative act for Sikh religious shrines, were granted by New Delhi this past February. The major political demands are greater powers, including financial, for the states vis-a-vis New Delhi. A commission has been appointed to review these demands.

The economic demands include a greater share of river waters for irrigation and larger central investment in the industrial sector of Punjab. The territorial and the waters issues are the only unsettled points left. Other demands, minor at present, may later assume importance.

Classes, Religion and Green Revolution in Punjab

According to the 1971 census, Sikhs constituted 60.2% of Punjab’s population and Hindus 37.5%. In the villages, the Sikh majority was even greater, constituting 69.4 % of the total rural population as opposed to 28.6% Hindus. In the urban areas, however, Hindus formed the majority, 66.4 % against 30.8 % Sikhs. Trade and services, rather than manufacturing, are the main sectors of urban economy in Punjab, and Hindu traders are dominant in both. The agricultural sector is dominated by the Sikh cultivating castes, known as jats.

Green revolution has deeply linked trade with agriculture and made the latter dependent on the market. So long as the economic pie kept increasing, this incongruity did not much matter, but when prices of food grain and other crops stopped increasing, a clash of interests between the Sikh farmer and the Hindu trader was created.

Irrigation problems have worsened the situation. While 1.4 million hectares are canal-irrigated, two million hectares are dependent on tubewells. Tubewell irrigation, is “three to nine times more costly” (India Today). The prosperity of the rich peasantry has thus slackened.

Landlessness had increased from 17.3 percent in 1961 to 32.1 percent in 1971. The Untouchables and low caste Hindus and Sikhs landless, have become politicized by the leftists. Sikhs in urban trades are neither economically nor numerically as dominant as the Hindus. And finally, the proportion of Sikhs in the Army has fallen from 35 percent to 20 percent.

Amid these mounting uncertainties, religion both divides and unites.

For the rich Sikh peasantry, faced with Hindu traders on the one hand and politicized labor on the other, religion performs a useful role. It unites the Sikh trader, who is also opposed to the Hindu trader, and the low caste Sikh laborer by dividing the agricultural labor into low caste Sikhs and low caste Hindus or Untouchables. Religious slogans appeal to the religiosity of the insecure small Sikh peasant and the unpoliticized Sikh laborer.

Power, Electoral Politics and Religion

It is unlikely that these links would have automatically led to political action without the mediation of political parties. The two main rural parties, the ruling Congress and the Akali Dal, a party dominated by the rich Sikh peasantry, have contributed much towards this deepening. Scholars have noted Punjab politics has a “dual political system and a dual political area,” one secular and the other religious and confined to Sikhs.

Since the exhaustion of the green revolution in Punjab, Congress returned to power in 1980. The Akali elite, when in power, did not take up any of its present demands with New Delhi where its partner in electoral alliance, the Janata Party, ruled, but soon after the rival Congress returned, agitations were launched in support of the demands. The power implications seem reasonably clear: unless the enhanced economic power of the rich Sikh peasantry is matched with political power, peace will be difficult to maintain in Punjab. Either political power should compensate for the halt in its economic prosperity, or greater economic incentives must return as expressed in the river waters issue. Interests of the Akali political elites have thus coincided with those of the discontented peasantry.

The Congress, in an effort to weaken Akali Dal it supported Sant Bhindranwale, in the SGPC elections. The Congress is clearly not interested in settling the problem unless some political or electoral gains are likely, or unless the violence reaches explosive proportions.



In the Indian sub-continent, the British recognized the existence of differences that kept the faith groups socially separated and chose to let these differences prevail and progressively acceded to the demand for separate electorates and eventually the demand for partition of the Country along religious lines between the dominant Hindu and Muslim groups. This division led to bloody riots against the minorities on both sides leaving about a million dead and the largest known migration of minorities in history. The Indo-Pak region continues to be hotbed of religious strife even today and peace continues to elude the region. In India and the Philippines, Christian institutions have studied Islam and pursued dialogue programs for decades.

As a student passionate about anything dealing with religious beliefs, I thought India was the perfect choice for my semester abroad. The majority of India’s population identifies as Hindu. Hinduism, Jainism, Buddhism, and Sikhism are all said to have originated in India, and many Muslims call India their home. I wanted to become part of a culture with a worldview different from the United States’, with a different backbone to society.

Pluralism and prejudice are present in India and in the United States; however, the interfaith movement as I conceive of it is either nonexistent or is hidden in Kolkata. Poverty, sex trafficking, inadequate care for the elderly and people with disabilities, along with many other problems, could be addressed through an interfaith effort.

This piece was first featured in the Jay Phillips Center for Interfaith Learning’s May newsletter.

Please share your comments on IFYC’s Facebook page


On behalf of Interfaith Foundation, India I deem it to be a privilege and honor to welcome Ms Anju Bhargava, the first Indian American to have become a Member of President Barack Obama’s Council on Faith-based and Neighbourhood Partnerships.  

In Interfaith Foundation, India is making humble but consistent efforts to assist the global movement of Interfaith for peace and harmony among people of different faiths and cultures.

Dr Verma extensively referred to the teachings of Guru Nanak- his love for humanity, gender equality, Unity in Diversity, purity, dignity, self-respect, community living, Kirat ki Kamai, wand chahko, langar, sangat, righteous deeds, religious tolerance and broadmindedness. Nanak name charhdi kala, tere bhane sarbat ka bhala. Guru Nanak did not make any distinction between the Hindus and the Muslims. His mission was reconciliation and transformation. Guru Nanak insisted: “Religion must join the life current of humanity and should be socially and spiritually consistent.” The essence of all religions is the same (Sukhmani Saheb and Asht.24). Mandir, Masjid, Church and Gurdwara are the same. Prayer, Namaz, Mass and Ardas are the same, said Guru Gobind Singh. Dr Verma referred to the message of the Holy Quran and the sayings of Prophet Muhammad. Dr Verma said: Islam is a religion of peace. Islam believes in religious tolerance, brotherhood and nonviolence. Dr Verma referred to the Vedas and the Bhagavad-Gita. He said: the concepts of Truth, one God, one world family (Vasudhevam Kudumakam) were the central themes of Hindu philosophy. Dr Verma urged: As religious people we should understand our responsibility towards mankind. Let all Interfaith NGOs collectively work for world peace, harmony and brotherhood.                                           – Dr M M Verma


Shankaracharya Onkaranand – May good thoughts come to us from all sides.   May all quarters be my friends.  We pray for harmony in the society.  Let our minds be united through mutual knowledge.  Let’s worship Him with hearts united.  Let’s not fight against the divine spirit within us.  Let’s have friendship with all living beings and look at each other with friendly eyes. 

Dr A K Merchant – a member of the Baha’i community, said: we are living in the most tumultuous period in human history.  However, the period into which the humanity is moving will open to every individual, institution and community, unprecedented opportunities to participate in the writing of this planet’s future. 

Fr. Dr M D Thomas (National Director CBCI) – Religious difference is a positive phenomenon. The diverse religious traditions have evolved from the unique experiences of great sages and saints.  They have their roots in multifarious geographical, historical and cultural settings.

Prof. Z M Khan said: one who correctly understands Islam will not take to violent methods.  Islam clearly forbids violence on the part of a Muslim, and even a state can take up arms only in self-defence. Prof. Khan laid emphasis on sura 2:213, and 2:285 which teach respect to all prophets and all Holy Scriptures of other faiths.

Summing Up

-Dr M M Verma

Interfaith Foundation, India, organized a grand function to felicitate Ms Anju Bhargava, a member of President Barack Obama’s Council on Faith-Based and Neighbourhood Partnerships at the Conference Hall, Gurdwara Rakab Ganj Sahib, New Delhi, on Saturday, the 13th November 2010.  Sardar Parmjit Singh Sarna, President, Delhi Sikh Gurdwara Management Committee, chaired the Event.  Dr M M Verma introduced the “Theme”, conducted the proceedings of the whole program and made relevant and interesting observations. 

The Event turned out to be a useful meeting of spiritual leaders of different faiths, including, Shankaracharya Onkaranand Sararaswati, Swami Arvind Guruji, Dr A K Merchant, Prof. Z M Khan, Ish Narang, Fr (Dr) M D Thomas, Dr Jaswinder Singh (Principal, Guru Teg Bahadur Khalsa College) S. J S Ghuman, (Principal, Guru Har Krishan Public School, India Gate), S Harvinder Singh Sarna (former President, Delhi Sikh Gurdwara, Mgn. Committee.

S. Parmjit Singh Sarna assured full support to Interfaith Foundation to organise similar functions in future, at Gurdwara Rakab Ganj Sahib or any other Gurdwara in Delhi.  Mr K L Malhotra, in his vote of thanks said: “Dr Verma is interfaith personified.  Dr Verma is in the vanguard of interfaith movement in India “.


7 Members Traditions: Christian, Islam Muslim, Hindu Action Area: Youth Region: Asia

Label: Purpose & Activities  

Our purpose is to promote harmonious co-existence among students, religions, and all sectors of society. [United Religions Initiative URI] Our Cooperation Circle is the umbrella organization for the Interfaith Students Movements in India. We offer a plethora of programming: leadership training, educational counseling, interfaith dialogue, and youth exchanges to encourage campuses to spread the message of peace and harmony.


Interfaith dialogue isn’t actually new. In the 16th century A.D. Emperor Akbar encouraged tolerance in Mughal, India, a diverse nation with people of various faith backgrounds.

There is evidence in the Sikh scriptural literature including SGGS, Dasam Granth and writings of Bhai Gurdas that the Gurus engaged in interfaith conversations and experienced both support and attacks from the other faith groups. These encounters however seem to have been episodic and even though some of the events did serve to defuse tensions at the time, the legacy of mistrust seems to have survived. In any case the events did not induce any tradition of interfaith conversations as a means to reduce inter-religious conflict or to promote understanding between groups warring over religion.


Global PeaceWorks India 2003 Report – Chad Johnson, USA

Global PeaceWorks is an organization that arranges for people of many faiths live and work together for two weeks, creating a model of peace. The core work of Global PeaceWorks is to provide ‘cooperative interfaith service to people in need’ to complement traditional interfaith dialogue meetings.

For Delhi Peace Summit interfaith conference a diverse group of thirty volunteers from nine nations were invited by them. The volunteers visited religious sites in Delhi including the famous Sis Ganj Gurudwara, the Jama Masjid and Shahi Masjid, Mother Theresa’s Sisters of Charity, the Laxmi Narayan Hindu Temple and The Bahá’í House of Worship (the famous “Lotus Temple”). They presented prayers of six traditions at the opening session on Youth and the Culture of Peace and facilitated discussions on interfaith cooperation.

The group chose to work in Janta Colony, Jaffarabad which had a history of problems between Muslims and Hindus with Chetanalaya, a social action NGO of the Catholic Diocese of New Delhi. Global PeaceWorks interfaith volunteer teams of Hindu, Muslim, Christian and Sikh visited homes in the community to listen to concerns and share their vision of peace among religions. In the mornings, this group went to Janta Colony in Jaffarabad to serve the local people by building a community center and in evenings they heard religious leaders and statesmen like Dalai Lama and President of India A.P.J. Abdul Kalam.

The experience was enhanced by visits with Dr. Mufti Mukarram Ahmed, Imam of the Shahi Masjid; Dharma Master Hsin Tao of the Museum of World Religions; Peace Activist Ela Gandhi, granddaughter of Mahatma Gandhi; Dilip Kolhatkar of the Everest Peace Project; Baba Virsa Singh of Gobind Sadan; devotees from Sri Sri Ravi Shankar’s Art of Living Foundation; and members of the Central Baptist Church and a community Gurudwara.


A Human Approach to World Peace [Dalai Lama]

When we rise in the morning we are confronted with the same sad news: violence, crime, wars, and disasters. No former generation has had to experience so much bad news as we face today.

I speak simply as a human being, as an upholder of humanitarian values that are the bedrock not only of Mahayana Buddhism but of all the great world religions. From this perspective I share with you my personal outlook – that:

1. Universal humanitarianism is essential to solve global problems;

2. Compassion is the pillar of world peace;

3. All world religions are already for world peace in this way, as are all humanitarians of whatever ideology;

4. Each individual has a universal responsibility to shape institutions to serve human needs.

Solving Human Problems through Transforming Human Attitudes

Of the many problems we face today, some are natural calamities and must be accepted and faced with equanimity. Others, like conflict of ideologies, political or religious, are of our own making and can be corrected. We must remember always to maintain supremacy of humanity over matter and ideology.

A more general and concrete idea of happiness is a combination of inner peace, economic development, and, above all, world peace. To achieve this, it is necessary to develop a deep concern for all. The wiser course is to think of ‘mutual interest’ also when pursuing our own happiness.

Compassion [dhaeiaa] as the Pillar of World Peace

What can we do to control delusion, greed, and aggression behind almost all troubles in the world?

In the Mahayana Buddhist tradition, love and compassion are the moral fabric of world peace. Love based on attachment changes. Real love is based on altruism, not attachment.

The rationale for compassion is that every one of us wants to avoid suffering and gain happiness. If at the beginning and end of our lives we depend upon others’ kindness, why then in the middle should we not act kindly towards others?

The development of a feeling of closeness for all human beings is a powerful feeling that we should develop and apply. The practice of compassion and wisdom is useful especially to those responsible for running national affairs, in whose hands lies the power and opportunity to create the structure of world peace.

World Religions for World Peace

Every major religion has similar ideals of love, of benefiting humanity through spiritual practice, and of making their followers into better human beings. All religions agree upon the necessity to control the undisciplined mind. All the religions are needed to enrich human experience and world civilization. The need for better understanding among religions is particularly urgent now. However we cannot hide the doctrinal differences that exist among various faiths.

There are two primary tasks facing religious practitioners concerned with world peace. First, we must promote better interfaith understanding to create workable unity among all religions by respecting each other’s beliefs and by emphasizing our common concern for human well-being. Second, we must emphasize the common denominator of humanitarian ideals.

Individual Power to Shape Institutions

Anger plays major role in current conflicts. Hatred and fighting cannot bring happiness to anyone. Let international tourism, mass media, the UN become the instruments of world peace. Let communities self-determine own political and socio-economic systems.

We should think about justice, harmony, and peace in terms of human benefit in the long run. There is a growing need for human understanding and sense of universal responsibility. National societies must act as the building-blocks for world peace. Politics devoid of ethics does not further human welfare, and life without morality reduces humans to the level of beasts.

That religious persons should seclude themselves as hermits lacks a proper perspective on individual’s relation to society and the role of religion in our lives. Ethics is the foundation of every religion. Since governments do not shoulder such responsibilities, humanitarian and religious leaders must strengthen the civic, social, cultural, educational, and religious organizations to revive human and spiritual values.

We must set an example by our own practice. The ultimate purpose of religion is to serve and benefit humanity with no national boundaries. We should constantly check our attitude toward others and we should correct ourselves immediately when we find we are in the wrong.

I see nothing wrong with material progress but materialistic knowledge is not capable of creating lasting happiness that springs from inner development.

For renewal of human values and attainment of lasting happiness, look to the common humane heritage of all nations.



His adoration is best done by means of love. Cultivate attitude of oneness between men of all creeds and all countries.

Let the different faiths exist, let them flourish, and let the glory of God be sung in all the languages and a variety of tunes. Respect the differences between the faiths and recognize them as valid as long as they do not extinguish the flame of unity.

If each one lives the ideals propounded by the founders of their religion, unaffected by greed or hate, then the world will be a happier and a peaceful habitation for man

There is only one religion, the religion of Love;

There is only one language, the language of the Heart;

There is only one caste, the caste of Humanity;

There is only one law, the law of Karma;

There is only one God. Appearances are many, but Reality is One.

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[1] In 1953, Sir Mortimer Wheeler proposed that the decline of Indus Civilization was caused by the invasion of Indo-European Aryan tribe from Central Asia. Today, many scholars believe that the collapse of the Indus Civilization was caused by drought and a decline in trade with Egypt and Mesopotamia. It is also suggested that immigration by new peoples, deforestation, floods, or changes in course of the river may have contributed to the collapse of the IVC.

[2] Tilak janjhoo raakhaa Prabh taa kaa Koono ba?o kaloo maih saakaa Saadhan het(i) itoo jin(i) karoo Soos(u) dooaa par soo na ucharoo Dharam het(i) saakaa jin kooaa Soos(u) dooaa par sirar(u) na dooaa  – Bachitar Natak p. 131

[3] Encyclopaedia of Sikhism entry says ‘According to Hakim Rai, Ahwali Lachhman Das urf Banda Sahib, his father Ram Dev, a ploughman, came of the Sodhi subcaste.’

[4] Teja Singh Ganda Singh qualify Banda’s succession to Sikh’s political leadership, ibid, p. 78

[5] ‘Banda promised land to the landless and loot to everyone’ [ibid, p. 105]

[6] James Browne, History of the Origin and Progress of the Sikhs, London, 1778, II, p. 22

[7] . On 16 May 1545, Xavier wrote to King of Portugal to establish the Inquisition in Goa: “The second necessity for the Christians is that Your Majesty establish the Holy Inquisition in Goa because there are many who live according to the Jewish Law and according to the Mohammedan Sect, without any fear of God or shame of the World. And since there are many Hindus who are spread all over the fortresses, there is the need of the Holy Inquisition, and of many preachers. Your Majesty should provide such necessary things for your loyal and faithful subjects in the Indies.”

[8] Bayly on Prehistory of Communalism  < sahoo>   


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