I have studied in school that the British used the Divide and Rule strategy to rule in India. But, for them to think of applying Divide and Rule, I think some sort of communal tension between Hindus and Muslims must have already existed. I am just curious to know when the first riots or communal violence between Hindus and Muslims happened in India. The earliest I am able to find are 1905 riots in Bengal, but I don't think they are earliest.

PS: This question came from an engineer, so both the question and language of the question may sound naive.

  • Are you asking about the first incidents of religous-based civil unrest in the series that eventually split the territory into Pakistan and India, or the first time in history someone living in that geographic area picked up a rock and hucked it at someone for having a different religon?
    – T.E.D.
    Sep 4, 2012 at 20:17
  • @T.E.D. I am asking the earliest religious based civil unrest that eventually led to partition of Hindustan. PS:Sorry for late reply
    – anks71990
    Sep 8, 2012 at 15:49
  • The British strategy of divide and rule exploited more divisions than simple religious tensions. There is more than one division within India.
    – MCW
    Jul 19, 2013 at 18:04
  • Interesting Question. Since you have come across 1905 as the earliest instance, which was followed by the formation of the Muslim league in 1906, maybe exploring the years around 1892 (Indian councils act) would help.
    – user3689
    Feb 11, 2014 at 14:00
  • common public were always against muslim invaders. There are many references in history were even if king is defeated by invaders there were pockets of resistance offered to ruling muslim kings for several centuries. One instance is people living between doab (area between ganges and yamuna river) kept refusing taxes as and when they get chances and cut down the forces sent against them. Hindu-Muslims in India never got accumulated into society as whole even though they are living in india since 1100AD Dec 18, 2015 at 14:07

3 Answers 3


A quick search of Google netted this entry from Wikipedia. The page says that conflict started in 711 CE with Islamic expansion, specifically by the Umayyad Caliphate. While this doesn't qualify as a riot, this marks the start of violent relationships between the two groups. This is reiterated here and here, although the time frames differ slightly from each other.

If you want to know exactly when the first riots were (defined as "a noisy, violent public disorder caused by a group or crowd of persons, as by a crowd protesting against another group, a government policy, etc., in the streets" from Dictionary.com), that information may be impossible to find. There was almost certainly resistance against Muslim rule by Hindu groups, but this waned and waxed with the Muslim ruler. Some rulers were very open to Hindu culture, such as Akbar, and probably warranted little unrest from Hindus because he allowed them to maintain normalcy in day-to-day living. Other were more aggressive toward Hinduism, inciting revolts. The ones cited there are the late 17th century.

The complexity is compounded when you look at Hindu tolerance for diversity. Many Hindus probably felt that as long as Muslim rule didn't negatively impact the way they lived their lives, it didn't matter. Riots would be uncommon in an environment where people were already content.

In addition, the issue is further muddled by the large number of differing groups within India and those taking control of India, of which there were many. During these time periods there was no unified Hindu or Muslim group, but there may have been hatred between smaller sects. Unified deviance from one large group toward another would have been impractical given modes of transportation and speed of communication.

  • But I think this was some kind of invasion.I think in this there were no common people involved.So this is not what I am looking for .
    – anks71990
    Sep 4, 2012 at 18:20
  • This gets into an interesting discussion of common people. If the invading army slaughtered entire villages and enslaved women and children, doesn't that constitute involvement of common people? In 1323, Ulugh Khan killed 12,000 ascetics in southern India. These were not troops.
    – SocioMatt
    Sep 4, 2012 at 18:29
  • 3
    -1 Fighting between an Islamic army and a Hindu army does not qualify as "riots". Possibly the "revolts" can, but even that interpretation is quite strange. Aug 12, 2013 at 7:27
  • 1
    "A religious war or holy war (Latin: bellum sacrum) is a war primarily caused or justified by differences in religion." the war between bin Qasim and hindu kingdom wasn't cased by differences in religion. Downvoted. Jan 12, 2017 at 7:14
  • 1
    Agreed. The Umayyad invasion was in response to alleged piracy on Arab shipping by pirates sponsored by Raja Dahir, ruler of the frontier Kingdom of Sindh. It was not "huehuehue i is of going to maek infidels surrender huehuehue"
    – NSNoob
    Jan 12, 2017 at 9:46

I think first we should understand riot in its present context. Riot is an extreme form of lawlessness where administration is not able to control the violent mass which is indulged in criminal activity of many kinds targeted against particular group. Rulers or people associated with rulers massacring the helpless civilains should not be considered as riot. With this definition, though the first Hindu - Muslim Riot was Moplah Rebellion an Anti Hindu rebellion conducted by the Muslim Mappila community (Moplah is a British spelling) of Kerala in 1921. Moplahs murdered, pillaged, and forcibly converted thousands of Hindus. According to one view, the reasons for the Moplah rebellion was religious revivalism among the Muslim Mappilas, and hostility towards the landlord Hindu Nair, Nambudiri Jenmi community and the British administration that supported the latter. Adhering to view, British records call it a British-Muslim revolt. The initial focus was on the government, but when the limited presence of the government was eliminated, Moplahs turned their full attention on attacking Hindus. Mohommed Haji was proclaimed the Caliph of the Moplah Khilafat and flags of Islamic Caliphate were flown. Ernad and Walluvanad were declared Khilafat kingdoms. Annie Besant wrote about the riots: "They Moplahs murdered and plundered abundantly, and killed or drove away all Hindus who would not apostatise. Somewhere about a lakh (100,000) of people were driven from their homes with nothing but their clothes they had on, stripped of everything. Malabar has taught us what Islamic rule still means, and we do not want to see another specimen of the Khilafat Raj in India." The second and the most important was of the Direct Action Day of 16th August 1946 when the then Bengal premier Huseyn Shaheed Suhrawardy had announced a leave (for the administration!) and freedom for the rioters . . . Its a big topic.


According to the wikipedia page list of riots in India, the first riot involving Hindus and Muslims occured in the 1881. That riot is titled as "The Salem riots of 1882". This riot has its own wiki entry which says:

The Salem riots of 1882 is a term used to refer to serious Hindu-Muslim disturbances which took place in the city of Salem, Tamil Nadu in the then Madras Presidency in August 1882.

The cause of Salem riots according to wikipedia,

The riots are believed to have originated by the objection of Hindus to the construction of a mosque by the Muslims of the Sevvoypettai area of the city of Salem on the path of a Hindu religious procession.

[Note: I disagree a bit with the above quote. The riot was instigated by nationalist Hindus which should be specified. Labelling them as "Hindus" may offend the people of Hindu community.]

The wiki page further says:

Full-scale riots erupted in August 1882.[3] For three days, the British government had no authority in Salem city.[3] The mosque was pulled down and there was indiscriminate killing on both sides.1 Eventually, peace was restored. Large number of alleged suspects were arrested, speedily convicted and given harsh imprisonment terms at the Andaman Cellular Jail.

The aftermath of the riots according the wiki page,

The atmosphere continued to remain tense till 1884. The police arrested a large number of Indian nationalists accusing them of instigating the violence. The partisan behaviour of the Madras government and Governor's handling of the situation were sharply criticized by the Indian media. Indian nationalist newspaper The Hindu criticised the administration thus:

... the prosecution of the so called Salem Rioters and their convictions were the result of a premeditated design, hastily formed and executed in a vindictive spirit, not very honourable and utterly unworthy of a civilised Government....

In simple words, the Muslims wanted to build a mosque near a Hindu possession and Hindu nationalists objected. When the mosque was built or partially erected, some Hindu nationalists attacked and crushed it. This initiated the communal riots that affected the both communities. Before the riots, British divide and rule policy was responsible for making the two communities dislike each other.

  • Downvoters, may I know what's wrong with this post? Your feedback will help me improve it. Jan 12, 2017 at 11:14

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