Religious violence in India left over 500 people dead recently, after days in which rampaging mobs poured gasoline on victims and set them afire, burned families in their homes and destroyed mosques.

The intense attacks and counter-attacks between Hindus and Muslims threatened the stability of the world’s largest democracy. State curfews, media blackouts and orders to shoot rioters on sight blanketed western India.

India has a population of over 1 billion people, including 150 million Muslims. It sees itself as a multi-religious, tolerant secular state in which religious discrimination is outlawed, according to BBC News.

As the nation smoldered in religious violence, the Hindustan Times reported on Tuesday that India had successfully tested its “most sophisticated surface-to-air missile.”

Violence erupted last Wednesday when Muslims burned four train cars carrying Hindu nationalists who yelled religious slogans in a Muslim community. Hindus retaliated by burning a mosque and setting fire to Muslim homes.

The fundamentalist World Hindu Council had sponsored the train trip in which Hindus were returning from the city of Ayodhya, where they want to build a temple atop the ruins of a Muslim mosque.

In 1992, Hindu fundamentalists destroyed the 16th-century mosque in Ayodhya, according to Time’s Asian edition.

BBC News reported that the Hindus believe the mosque was built on the site of a Hindu temple that marked the birthplace of the deity Lord Rama. For centuries, Hindus have gone on pilgrimage to Ayodhya, which is referred to in Hindu scripture.

The destruction of the mosque launched one of India’s worst religious conflicts, leaving 2,000 people dead.

“The bloodshed was viewed as the most serious threat since independence in 1947 to India’s secular identity,” BBC News said.

In 1947, as the British ended their colonial rule, Hindus and Muslims moved to different areas to live. The ensuing slaughter left 1 million people dead.
In February 2002, Hindu hardliners announced plans to build a temple on the site of the torched mosque in Ayodhya, with construction beginning on March 15, 2002, according to the Chicago Tribune.

India’s central government is led by the Bharatiya Janata Party, which was initially militantly pro-Hindu and favored the building of the temple. The prime minister’s moderation is blamed for the party’s recent electoral setbacks, Time reported.

BBC News reported that a number of Indian newspapers opposed to the violence.

The Hindu-language daily Rashtriya Sahara speculated that the violence resulted from “well-planned conspiracy” that “was hatched by the fundamentalists.”

“The communal conflagration can spread like wild fire unless preventative arrests are made immediately and the government makes it absolutely clear that it will crack down on the miscreants wherever they create trouble,” said the Hindustan Times.

The Dainik Jagran urged Hindus to exercise “self-control” and wondered if the conflict was “a conspiracy hatched by foreign forces.”

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