Hindu terrorism, sometimes called Hindutva terror[1][2] or, metonymically, saffron terror,[3] comprises terrorist acts carried out on the basis of motivations in broad association with Hinduism.

Such acts have principally been perpetrated by members, or alleged members, of Hindu nationalist organisations such as Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh or Abhinav Bharat.[4][5][6]

The phenomenon became a topic of contentious political discourse in the aftermath of the 2007–2008 attacks which targeted Pakistanis and Muslims in India.


For broader coverage of this topic, see Terrorism in India and Violence against Muslims in India.

"Hindu terrorism" and "Hindutva terrorism"

According to Nikita Saxena writing for The Caravan, the term "Hindu terrorism" gained traction in the wake of the 2007 Samjhauta Express bombings and 2008 Malegaon blasts.[7][undue weight? ] A prominent reference to "Hindu terrorism" was made by Indian National Congress (Congress) member Digvijaya Singh in a 2007 campaign.[8][9][10][Note 1]

While the perpetrators have consistently justified these acts by their Hindu faith, some writers prefer to use the term "Hindutva terrorism". Writer and activist Subhash Ghatade asserts that "most critics" have avoided describing the term as "Hindu terrorism" and instead talked about "Hindutva terrorism".[1] Political scientist Jyotirmaya Sharma argues that "there is no Hindu terrorism" because the perpetrators do not represent the Hindu faith.[12]

The position of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh is that Hindu terrorism does not exist, because "Terrorism and Hindus are an oxymoron and can never be related to each other".[13][14] According to the journalist and BJP leader Balbir Punj, the term "Hindu terror" was invented and used by the Congress party in the aftermath of the 2007–2008 incidents in order to denounce the party's political opposition as terrorists.[15] In the 2018 book Hindu Terror: Insider Account of Ministry of Home Affairs, Ramaswamy Venkata Subra Mani, a former officer in the Home Ministry, alleged that the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government had forced Home Ministry officials to manufacture a narrative about the presence of "Hindu terror".[16]

However, in 2019, BJP's narrative has been put into question by the revelation that the Multi-Agency Centre had created a standing focus group with the narrowly limited mandate of looking into terror funding "for Islamist & Sikh Terrorism" only, despite the existence of multiple historical terrorism cases for which individuals linked to Hindu nationalist groups, such as Pragya Thakur and Aseemanand, have been arrested and tried.[7]

"Saffron terror"

The term "saffron terror" was coined in 2002 by the Indian journalist Praveen Swami after the 2002 Gujarat riots,[17][18] and gained popularity in the aftermath of the 2007–2008 attacks which targeted Pakistanis and Muslims and were reportedly instigated by people affiliated with Hindu nationalist organisations like Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and Abhinav Bharat.[4][5][6] The term comes from the symbolic use of the saffron colour by many Hindu nationalist organisations.[19][20][21][22]

Several analysts and commentators have said that the term was being used as a smear tactic against the political opponents of Congress in the aftermath of the attacks.[23][5][6] Kanchan Gupta and Swapan Dasgupta have said that investigators of the attacks were using the term "saffron terror" in their statements to the media to promote the agenda of the Congress.[24][25]

Former Home Minister of India and Congress member P. Chidambaram urged Indians to beware of "saffron terror" during an August 2010 meeting of state police chiefs in New Delhi;[26] his remark met with backlash from politicians and Hindu religious figures.[27][28][29]

2007–2008 attacks

2007 Samjhauta Express bombings

Main article: 2007 Samjhauta Express bombings

Twin blasts shook two coaches of the Samjhauta Express around midnight on 18 February 2007. Sixty-eight people were killed in the ensuing fire and dozens were injured.[30] It was linked to Abhinav Bharat, a Hindu fundamentalist group.[31] In November 2008, it was reported that the Maharashtra Anti-Terrorism Squad suspected the attacks were linked to Prasad Shrikant Purohit, an Indian army officer and member of Abhinav Bharat.[32] Purohit himself claimed that he had "infiltrated" the Abhinav Bharat. During an army's Court of Inquiry, 59 witnesses stated to the court, along with officers who testified that Purohit was tasked with gathering intelligence inputs by infiltrating extremist organisations.[33][34] On 8 January 2011, Swami Aseemanand, a pracharak of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), confessed that he was involved in the bombing of Samjhauta Express,[35] a statement he later claimed to have made under duress.[36][37]

There have also been allegations that Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) was responsible for the bombings.[38] The United States and subsequently the United Nations Security Council added Arif Qasmani, a Pakistani national and LeT financier, to their sanction lists, stating that he had facilitated the bombings.[39][40][41][42]

2007 Ajmer Dargah attack

Main article: Ajmer Dargah bombing

The Ajmer Dargah blast occurred on 11 October 2007, outside the Dargah (shrine) of Sufi saint Moinuddin Chishti in Ajmer, Rajasthan, allegedly by the Hindutva organisation Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and its groups.[43][44][45] On 22 October 2010, five accused perpetrators, of which four said to belong to the RSS, were arrested in connection with the blast.[46][47] Swami Aseemanand, in his confession, implicated the then General Secretary Mohan Bhagwat for ordering the terrorist strike.[48] Bhavesh Patel, another accused in the bombings, has corroborated these statements but later claimed that the Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde and some other Congress leaders forced him to implicate the RSS leaders.[49]

2008 western India bombings

Main article: 29 September 2008 western India bombings

On 29 September 2008, three bombs exploded in the States of Gujarat and Maharashtra killing 8 persons and injuring 80. During the investigation in Maharashtra, the Hindu extemist group Abhinav Bharat was found to be responsible for the blasts.[50][Note 2] Three of the arrested persons were identified as Sadhvi Pragya Singh Thakur,[51][52] Shiv Narayan Gopal Singh Kalsanghra and Shyam Bhawarlal Sahu. All three were produced before the Chief Judicial Magistrate's court in Nashik, which remanded them to custody till 3 November.[53] On 28 October, the Shiv Sena, came out in support of the accused saying that the arrests were merely political in nature. Lending credence to this, the party chief, Uddhav Thackeray, pointed out a potential conflict of interest in political rivalry as the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) controlled the relevant ministry.[54] NIA, National Investigation Agency, has found no evidence against Sadhvi Pragya Singh Thakur and it has recommended the court to drop all charges against her.[55][56] following which Bombay High Court granted bail to Pragya Thakur on 22 April 2017.[57][58]

The Army officer Prasad Shrikant Purohit was also accused of being involved in the blast.[59] His counsel alleged that he was being falsely framed for political reasons because he has intelligence data of a sensitive nature pertaining to the operations of Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI) and Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence, which could embarrass some quarters.[60]

Reportedly, the terms "Hindu terror" and "saffron terror" were used to describe this event in mainstream Indian media.[61] In an analysis of the security situation during this period, B. Raman referred to acts of alleged reprisal terrorism by Hindus, criticizing "politicisation and communalisation of the investigative process" as leading to a "paralysis of the investigation machinery."[62]

In the aftermath of the attacks, Rajnath Singh, the then president of the Bharatiya Janata Party's (BJP), spoke of a "political conspiracy" aimed at the "vilification of Hindu saints and army officers in the name of Hindu terrorism".[63]

Other incidents

Members of Abhinav Bharat have been alleged to have been involved in a plot to kill Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh President Mohan Bhagwat,[64][65] Headlines Today released a recorded video tested by the Central Forensic Science Laboratory which indicated the uncovering of an alleged plot to assassinate the Vice President of India Hamid Ansari.[66] Tehelka also released alleged audio tape transcripts of main conspirators of Abhinav Bharat, which indicated involvement of Military intelligence officers with the Abhinav Bharat group, in their January 2011 edition.[67]

The Indian Home Secretary R. K. Singh said that at least 10 people having close links with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and its affiliated organisations were named accused in various acts of terror across India.[68]

According to released documents by WikiLeaks, Congress(I) party's general secretary Rahul Gandhi remarked to US Ambassador Tim Roemer, at a luncheon hosted by Prime Minister of India at his residence in July 2009, that the RSS was a "bigger threat" to India than the Lashkar-e-Taiba.[69] At The Annual Conference of Director Generals of Police held in New Delhi on 16 September 2011, a special director of the Intelligence Bureau (IB) reportedly informed the state police chiefs that Hindutva activists have either been suspected or are under investigation in 16 incidents of bomb blasts in the country.[70][71]

See also

Explanatory footnotes

  1. ^ The BJP criticised these statements and filed a complaint with the Election Commission of India, citing it as a violation of the Model Code of Conduct. The Election Commission issued a show-cause notice to Singh on this complaint.[11]
  2. ^ Material seized during house arrests has shown that the Hindu militants who were responsible for this attack were all members of a new group, Abhinav Bharat, which resorted to violent action to resist the Islamists by emulating them.[50]



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Further reading