Religious shrines in India have been historically targets of extremism. From Mahmud of Ghazni's destruction of the Somnath temple in 1025 AD to the recent attacks on Mahabodhi temple, various holy places in the country have been often attacked by extremists, either with an agenda or as an "act of retaliation". While India enjoys its secular status, many of the attacks on temples, mosques and churches have threatened the communal harmony of the country. Let's look at the some of the notable terror incidents on various religious shrines in modern India.
Attack on Mahabodhi temple: Nine serial explosions rocked the internationally renowned temple town of Bodhgaya in July, 2013, injuring two monks in the blasts suspected to be engineered by some terrorist organisation. While four blasts took place inside the Mahabodhi temple complex, three occurred in Karmapa monastery, one each near the 80-ft Buddha statue and at the bus stand near bypass. Later, terror outfit Indian Mujahideen claimed the responsibility of the blast.
Golden temple: Jarnail Bhindranwale, a religious conservative in Punjab, was a strong opponent of Indira Gandhi's policies against Punjab during Dharam Yudh Morcha ("Group for the Battle for Righteousness"). He joined hands with Akali Dal, the largest Sikh party in Punjab and together they had launched the Dharam Yudh Morcha. Viewed by the central Congress government as a secessionist movement, the group was seen as a threat to the state. Bhindranwale became a target for the government. He took refuge to the Darbar Sahib (the Golden temple) and continued his political activities from there.
In June 1984, with extraordinary orders from Indira Gandhi, the Indian army stormed into the Golden temple with tanks and armoured vehicles. The military operation was called as 'Operation Blue Star', carried out with an aim of flushing out 'terrorists' from the temple and restoring law and order in the state. Despite its military success, the Indian government was severely criticised for the nature of the attack on the religious shrine of the Sikhs. According to reports, 83 Indian army soldiers and 492 civilians died in the operation. Later, the Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi had to pay the ultimate price for the attack on the Golden temple.
Babri Masjid demolition: The Babri Masjid demolition in 1992 threatened India's secular status as it led to riots between Hindu and Muslim sects in Mumbai. On December 6, 1992, members of the Vishva Hindu Parishad and the Bajrang Dal allegedly demolished the Babri Mosque in Aydohya. It was reasoned by the attackers that the 430-year-old mosque was built over the birthplace of Lord Rama, the ancient deity of Hindus. This led to riots that killed over 1000 people.
2000 Amarnath pilgrimage massacre: Amarnath yatra is an annual pilgrimage of Hindus, who visit the holy shrine of Amarnath temple in Srinagar. However, in 2000, the pilgrimage turned into a bloody massacre as Islamic fundamentalists, forcing eviction of Kashmiri pandits from the valley, killed 30 people, mostly Hindus.
Attack on churches:
Orissa: Many foreign Christian missionaries have been attacked by Hindu extremists as an act of 'retaliation' for the conversions of Hindus in many states. In a notable incident, Graham Staines, an Australian missionary was burnt to death in 1999 in Orissa by Dara Singh along with his gang.
: Hindu extremists in 2008 set fire the Cathedral Church of the Catholic diocese of Jabalpur in Madhya Pradesh. It was a successive event following the burning of a church in Ratlam district and Indore district.
Karnataka: The wave of attacks on churches in 2008 in Karnataka had increased anti-Christian violence to such an extent that it led to then chief minister BS Yeddyurappa invoked provisions of Goonda Act against those accused of attacking churches in a bid to restore the state's secular image. In September 2008, 20 churches were vandalised by Hindu extremists in various districts of Karnataka as a response to forced conversions.
Attacks on Raghunath temple
: The Raghunath temple in the Indian-administered Kashmir was a scene of violence in 2002 as it was attacked by separatist militants in two separate incidents.
March 2002: A terror attack by two heavily armed militants armed by grenades killed eleven people and injured 20 in March 2002. One of the militants fired indiscriminately at the priests and the devotees in the temple before blowing himself.
November 2002: Hundreds of Hindu worshippers were trapped in the temple when a gun battle broke out between the security forces and two militants. This was the second such attack on the temple in the same year. 12 people were reported dead in the heavy firing.
Akshardham temple attack
: Lives of more than 500 devotees were at stake when gunmen stormed the famous Akshardham temple in Gujarat in 2002. The National Security Guard (NSG) commandos were summoned to rescue the devotees. The commandos killed the two terrorists inside the temple. However, it was not before thirty people were killed and about 100 injured during the attack.
2005 Ayodhya attack: The makeshift Ram temple at the disputed site of the demolished Babri mosque was under attack by six militants in July, 2005. The attackers, who came to the temple in the guise of worshippers, started firing indiscriminately in the premises. A gun battle of almost one and half hours between the militants and the CRPF personnel killed all the attackers. Four CRPF personnel, two civilians including one woman were injured in the attack.
Attacks on Varnasi
2006 Varnasi blasts: Two back-to-back blasts rocked Varnasi, the holy city of Hindus in 2006. The first blast took place at the crowded Sankat Mochan temple on a Tuesday, believed to be a special day for Lord Hanuman, a Hindu deity. Another bomb went off at the Varnasi railway station at almost the same time. A total of 21 people died and several injured in the two attacks.
2010 Varnasi blasts: Terror returned to Varnasi as a low-intensity blast allegedly carried out by Indian Mujahideen (IM) killed an eighteen-month-old baby and injured 32, including an Italian journalist in 2010. Later, the terror outfit, IM, claiming the responsibility of the attack in an email sent to various Indian media houses vowed revenge for the demolition of the Babri mosque.
Recent riots in West Bengal
2010 Deganga riots
: It is alleged that in 2010, several Hindu residences were looted and many temples were vandalised by Islamist mobs in Deganga in West Bengal. Trinamool Congress MP Haji Nurul Islam is suspected behind the attacks. It is believed that the riots were triggered by the erection of a wall around a Muslim cemetery in at Kartikpur that Hindus claimed blocked the entry to a temple and pandal of a Durga puja.
2013 Canning riots: 200 Hindu homes were set ablaze by Islamic extremists in West Bengal in 2013. In the attack, many Hindu temples were desecrated by the mob. The violent clashes were reportedly triggered by the killing of a Muslim cleric by unidentified assailants.