The second major type of sectional consciousness bred often directly fostered by colonialism was religious division - Hindu and Muslim 'communalism'. Communal riots are supposed to have been significantly rare down to the 1880s. Thus in 1944 Coupland, a scholar with clear imperialist affiliations who surely had no reason to underplay the issue, found one major instance at Benares in 1809 (where Hindus are said to have destroyed 5O mosques), and the next big outbreak only in 1871-72, followed by a series of riots from 1885 onwards. That communalism in a large measure sprang from elite conflicts over jobs and political favours has long been a truth, and scholars have generally concentrated on this level alone.
But the tragic fact has to be admitted that communalism also acquired a mass dimension from an early date, though a dimension obviously not unconnected with the activities of elite groups. While the potentially communal dimensions of the Pabna riots or the Moplah outbreaks were not developed in our period. Hindu and Muslim elites were much more evenly balanced in the United Provinces and the Punjab; and it was in this region that riots were becoming increasingly common from the 1880s onwards. Socio-economic tensions might have been ultimately responsible in part. Thus Hindu peasants faced Muslim talukdars and landlords in large parts of Avadh and the Aligarh Bulandshahr region, urban Muslim concentrations in U.P. towns mainly consisted of artisans, shopkeepers and petty traders while most big merchants and bankers were Hindus, while in the Punjab Hindu traders and moneylenders easily became unpopular among Muslim peasants.
But the riots themselves usually occurred over issues quite far removed from such economic grievances. A rash of rioting over cow-slaughter spread over much of northern India. Gerald Barrier mentions 15 major riots of this type in the Punjab between 1883 and 1891, and such disturbances reached their climax in eastern U.P. and Bihar between 1888 and 1893, the districts worst affected were Ballia, Benares, Azamgarh, Gorakhpur, Arrah, Saran, Gaya and Patna.
Serious riots occurred also in Bombay city and a number of Maharashtrian towns between 1893 and 1895. A Gujarati mill owner had organized a cow-protection society in Bombay in 1893, while an additional factor was Tilak's reorganization of the Ganapati festival on a sarvajanik or a mass basis.
In the industrial suburbs of Calcutta, the first recorded riot took place in May, 1891, followed by disturbances at Titaghat Garden Reach during Bakri-Iid in 1896 and the large-scale Talla riots in north Calcutta in 1897.
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