Habiba Ismail Khan can’t forget the day her eldest son ventured out to get food and water. Their Mumbai slum had been overcome by communal rioting, sparked by the destruction of the Babri Mosque by Hindu hardliners in faraway Ayodhya. This week marks the 20th anniversary of that event, one of the biggest tests since independence of India’s secular ideals. After days trapped inside, the sounds and smells of killing around them, he made a dash for supplies. “He was 18, the only earner,” says Habiba. “My heart cries for him every day.” Caught by a Hindu mob he never had a chance.
He was one of nearly 600 Muslims killed in the Mumbai riots, the bulk of the victims. At least 275 Hindus died too. But far from being spontaneous, a government commission later concluded much of the violence was an organised pogrom by Hindu extremists. Two decades later, Muslims remain a marginalised minority – although minority seems the wrong word for a group that numbers nearly 180 million, making India the third largest Muslim nation in the world after Indonesia and next-door Pakistan. Yet while its neighbour is in constant turmoil because of Islamic extremism, it’s striking how little it has emerged in India.
“Fundamentalism has not taken root here,” says Vikram Sood, the former head of India’s foreign intelligence service. Read more