India’s Tapestry of Tensions: Terror, Religion and Media

Towards a Nuanced Understanding of Media Narratives.

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Lt Col Manoj K Channan
Lt Col Manoj K Channan
Lt Col Manoj K Channan (Retd) served in the Indian Army, Armoured Corps, 65 Armoured Regiment, 27 August 83- 07 April 2007. Operational experience in the Indian Army includes Sri Lanka – OP PAWAN, Nagaland and Manipur – OP HIFAZAT, and Bhalra - Bhaderwah, District Doda Jammu and Kashmir, including setting up of a counter-insurgency school – OP RAKSHAK. He regularly contributes to Defence and Security issues in the Financial Express online, Defence and Strategy, Fauji India Magazine and Salute Magazine. *Views are personal.

Historical Overview of Terrorism

Throughout human history, violence has left its mark. Terrorism, often perceived as violence with political, religious, or ideological motives aimed at civilians, is rooted in our past. Although terms such as “Islamic terror” or “Hindu terror” have surfaced, linking large religious communities to fringe acts, it’s vital to question whether these are grounded in reality or are mere media constructions.

Defining “Terror”

Terrorism’s essence lies in its intent to instil fear to achieve certain gains. While events like the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing are clear-cut examples of terror, other acts, like many school shootings, may not be classified as such due to ambiguous political motivations.

Global Narratives on Terrorism

The “Islamic terror” narrative, especially prominent in Western media, often misrepresents the diverse Islamic traditions and experiences of its adherents. Such labels overshadow the majority’s peaceful existence due to the acts of a few. Similarly, while acts like mass shootings are indeed tragedies, not all fit the “terror” criterion. Media biases, influenced by a perpetrator’s background, further muddy the waters.

India: A Microcosm of Religious Tensions

India, a beacon of diverse cultures and religions, reflects the intricacies of these issues. Although India adopted secularism, historical events, such as the 1947 partition, have created deep-seated rifts.

Hindu-Muslim Riots – An Analysis

The riots of the 1970s and 1980s stemmed from a mix of historical events, politics, economic factors, and specific incidents.

Historical Backdrop. The 1947 partition of British India into India and Pakistan left lingering mistrust between Hindus and Muslims, impacting communal dynamics for decades.

Political Catalysts. Politicians occasionally manipulated communal sentiments, either igniting tensions or failing to address them.

Socio-Economic Triggers. Economic inequalities and job scarcities occasionally intensified these rifts.

Key Riots. Distinct events like the disputes in Jamshedpur (1979), Moradabad (1980), Meerut (1987), and the Bhagalpur (1989) riots each had unique origins but collectively escalated Hindu-Muslim tensions.

Media’s Role. In an era without instant communication, rumours often exacerbated tensions.

State Response. Reactions ranged from prompt interventions to allegations of bias or complacency.

Civil Interventions. Notably, many NGOs and community leaders endeavored to mend Hindu-Muslim relations.

Legacy. The riots indelibly impacted many, reshaping inter-community perceptions and occasionally altering urban demography. Yet, it’s essential to acknowledge the harmonious coexistence of most Hindus and Muslims in India, highlighting the danger of oversimplifying such complex events.

Assam Movement

An Exploration of Identity, Migration, and Citizenship

Historical Context. Assam, with its rich tapestry of cultural identities, has seen periodic migration waves, especially from Bengal. The British colonial regime facilitated the movement of Bengali-speaking Muslim farmers to Assam’s Brahmaputra valley, leading to a demographic shift and brewing tensions between indigenous groups and newcomers.

Assam Movement (1979-1985). Not merely spontaneous clashes, this period marked a structured movement against undocumented immigration in Assam. Driven by the All-Assam Students’ Union (AASU) and the All Assam Gana Sangram Parishad (AAGSP), it emerged from concerns over perceived demographic shifts, cultural dilution, and local resource allocation due to migrants, predominantly from Bangladesh.

Flashpoint- Nellie Massacre. The simmering tensions manifested tragically in the Nellie Massacre of 1983. In this brutal episode, approximately 2,000 Bengali-speaking Muslims were killed in a matter of hours, although actual figures remain debated.

Assam Accord (1985). A turning point came with the Assam Accord’s signing, a truce between the AASU/AAGSP and the Indian government. This agreement outlined procedures for identifying and expelling undocumented migrants while safeguarding Assamese culture and identity.

Lasting Impacts. The Assam Movement’s echoes resonate even today, especially in debates surrounding the National Register of Citizens (NRC) and the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA). These contemporary issues underscore Assam’s intricate dance between identity preservation, citizenship rights, and migration.

The Assam Movement, with its deep historical underpinnings and multifaceted challenges, is a testament to the complexities of identity and migration. Reducing this movement to mere bullet points or simplifications fails to capture its profound depth and significance.

1984 Anti-Sikh Riots – A Sombre Chapter in India’s History


Operation Blue Star (June 1984). Addressing the escalating Sikh militancy led by Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale advocating for Khalistan, a separate Sikh state, the Indian government launched Operation Blue Star. This mission involved the army entering the revered Golden Temple in Amritsar to counter Bhindranwale and his followers. The operation resulted in numerous casualties, including civilians, and inflicted damage on the temple, igniting anger among Sikhs.

Indira Gandhi’s Assassination (31 October 1984). As a reprisal for Operation Blue Star, two Sikh bodyguards, Beant Singh and Satwant Singh, assassinated Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. This tragic event precipitated the anti-Sikh riots.

The Riots

In the assassination’s aftermath, Delhi witnessed a horrifying wave of violence against Sikhs. Thousands were killed, properties were looted and set ablaze, and numerous Sikh women faced sexual assault. Allegations have arisen suggesting that certain officials from the Indian National Congress party played a role in orchestrating these attacks, with the police purportedly either complicit or indifferent.

Aftermath and Legacy

The immediate impact was devastating, with conservative estimates suggesting around 3,000 Sikhs died in Delhi alone. This violence led to a massive displacement of Sikh families, compounding the refugee crisis.

These events exacerbated the divide between Sikhs and the Indian government, fuelling further radicalisation within some Sikh factions.

Pursuits of justice have been sluggish, with convictions over the years being limited, leaving many victims feeling unheard and justice being incomplete.

Various political figures have pledged to secure justice for the victims, but a consensus sentiment suggests more actionable steps are needed.

The 1984 Anti-Sikh riots remain an indelible mark on India’s contemporary history, with the repercussions still resonating among the Sikh community both domestically and in the diaspora. Approaching this topic demands utmost sensitivity, acknowledging the profound trauma inflicted on the Sikh community.

2002 Gujarat Riots: A Deep Dive into a Contentious Episode


On 27 February 2002, a tragic fire aboard the Sabarmati Express near Godhra claimed the lives of 59 passengers, predominantly Hindu pilgrims. Initial probes deemed it arson, casting suspicions on local Muslims. This event unleashed retaliatory actions against Muslims throughout Gujarat.

Magnitude of Violence

Rapidly, violence expanded across Gujarat. Rampaging mobs targeted Muslim residences, businesses, and mosques. While casualty figures differ, it’s widely believed over a thousand individuals, mainly Muslims, perished. Thousands were displaced, with many finding refuge in temporary camps.

Coach S-6 carrying Hindu pilgrims is engulfed in flames at Godhra, a Muslim-dominated area in the western state of Gujarat
Coach S-6 carrying Hindu pilgrims is engulfed in flames at Godhra, a Muslim-dominated area in the western state of Gujarat

State’s Role Controversy

Under the governance of BJP and Chief Minister Narendra Modi, the state administration encountered allegations ranging from neglecting the unrest to potentially enabling it. Furthermore, the police faced criticism for purported inaction and, in some cases, alleged involvement.

Judicial Proceedings

Several inquiries, including the prominent Nanavati Commission, were established to examine the riots’ origins and subsequent violence. While some individuals faced convictions in the following years, a sentiment persists among many, especially rights advocates, that justice is yet to be fully realised.

Political Ramifications

The events deeply influenced Indian politics. Narendra Modi’s leadership during this tumultuous period made him a figure of contention. Critics charge him with inaction or worse, while admirers commend his leadership, especially emphasising Gujarat’s subsequent economic progress. This controversy re-emerged during Modi’s ascent to India’s Prime Minister position in 2014.

Nationwide Impacts

The riots reignited debates on secularism, the rights of minorities, and the state’s responsibilities. Discussions also encompassed media integrity, the neutrality of law enforcement, and the judiciary’s role.

Road to Recovery

While some survivors have reconstructed their lives, the trauma of the riots endures. Many still pursue justice and closure.

Gujarat Riots in Broader Context

This event remains a flashpoint in India’s societal and political discourse, encapsulating debates about communal harmony, state secularism, and India’s overarching identity.

It’s vital to differentiate between extremist factions’ acts and the majority’s beliefs. The term “Hindu terror” became prevalent in the 2000s, especially after events like the Gujarat riots. Yet, implicating an entire religious group for fringe actions is an over-generalisation. Episodes such as cow protection-related lynchings further amplified this narrative. Still, most Hindus, akin to most global religious majorities, often dissociate from radical elements.

Media’s Role in Shaping Perceptions

Media narratives play a monumental role in public perception. The perpetrator’s background often dictates the media’s framing when violent acts occur. A Muslim involved in a violent act might quickly face scrutiny for links to terror groups, while a white shooter might be analysed regarding mental health or personal history. Such disparities can normalise certain violent acts, framing them as isolated events instead of manifestations of broader systemic issues.

The danger here is twofold. First, it perpetuates stereotypes, leading to further marginalisation and mistrust. Second, it might detract from understanding the multifaceted, often intertwined socio-political and economic reasons behind such acts.

Conclusion – Towards a More Nuanced Understanding

As global citizens, dissecting and questioning the narratives presented to us is crucial. Most religious or cultural groups seek peace, harmony, and a good life for their families. By linking entire religions to the actions of a few, we risk deepening divides, perpetuating stereotypes, and misunderstanding the very essence of these faiths.

The world’s tapestry is intricate, and every thread and narrative matters. Reductive labels and generalisations, whether it is “Hindu terror,” “Islamic terror,” or associating mass shootings with an entire country’s “culture,” do a disservice to this complexity.

A holistic approach requires addressing root causes, from economic disparities to political ideologies, to understand and mitigate acts of violence. The emphasis should be on fostering dialogue, promoting mutual understanding, and championing community peace. As history reveals, oversimplification rarely leads to resolution; nuanced understanding, however, might.

The Media’s Influence on Public Perception

Media narratives wield significant power in shaping how we perceive events. Distinctly, the portrayal of violent acts often hinges on the perpetrator’s background. If a Muslim commits an act of violence, the media might swiftly delve into potential affiliations with extremist groups. Conversely, when a white individual commits a similar act, the narrative may focus on their mental health or personal past. Such divergent framings can inadvertently position certain violent acts as mere aberrations rather than reflections of broader systemic challenges.

This approach presents a dual threat.

  • It reinforces and amplifies stereotypes, facilitating further alienation and suspicion.
  • It often oversimplifies the complex, interconnected socio-political and economic drivers underlying these acts.

In our interconnected world, engaging with and critically challenging the narratives presented by media is essential. It’s a universal truth that the majority within any religious or cultural group aspires for peace, social harmony, and prosperity for their kin. By attributing the actions of a minority to an entire faith or culture, we inadvertently widen societal rifts, propagate stereotypes, and misinterpret the core tenets of these communities.

Our world is a mosaic of diverse stories, experiences, and perspectives. Oversimplifying narratives, be it through labels like “Hindu terror,” “Islamic terror,” or attributing mass violence to an entire culture, diminishes this richness.

To truly comprehend and address violence, we must consider its myriad roots, from socio-economic imbalances to prevailing political dogmas. Our focus should pivot towards nurturing dialogue, advancing mutual comprehension, and advocating for societal harmony. As historical patterns suggest, simplicity rarely offers solutions, while a multifaceted understanding paves the way forward.


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