Although more people in India are practicing Hindus than any other religion, Islam is also a very significant factor. For the most part, individuals peacefully co-exist in the country. But growing tensions, arising from a dispute over a site which is holy to both religions, caused significant turmoil (and fatal consequences) in the early 1990s.
The 16th-century Babri Mosque, located in Ayodhya (in the state of Uttar Pradesh), was built at a site which Hindus claim is the birthplace of their revered deity, Lord Rama. After religious violence erupted in 1853, British officials (then in control of the area) compromised access to the mosque. Only Muslims could enter the inner court, but Hindus were allowed access to the outer.
After India became independent, tensions erupted again. In 1949, the mosque was closed to everyone and was designated a disputed area. By 1984, however, a group of Hindus (reportedly led by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad political party (VHP), formed a committee to “liberate” the site. Soon thereafter, Muslims created the Babri Mosque Action Committee.
Negotiations failed to reach a compromise.
By 1990, increasing tensions led to serious confrontation. Efforts were made to destroy the mosque. As reported in Time Magazine's November 12, 1990 issue, S.R. Bommai (president of then-Prime Minister's Janata Dal party), observed:
The country is at a crossroads. We have to choose between secularism and religious fundamentalism, between democracy and mobocracy, between unity and disintegration.
"Mobocracy" destroyed the mosque two years later, on the 6th of December, 1992, after a large crowd of Hindu activists gathered for a ceremony at the site. Permission for the event had been granted by the court, on condition that the demonstration remain peaceful. The situation (as reported by eyewitnesses) dramatically deteriorated, however, and a rushing crowd reduced the mosque to ruins.
Immediately thereafter, anti-Muslim riots erupted in various parts of the country, including in Dharavi, one of the poorest sections of Bombay (as the city was then called). It is estimated that 2,000 people died nationally, as a result of the uprisings. Some of those deaths occurred in Dharavi.
Before the 1992 riots, a large percentage of Muslims co-existed with Hindus in Dharavi. Today, however, “pockets” of Muslims live throughout the city, much as pockets of “slum areas” exist throughout the larger metropolitan area.
Something else changed, after the 1992 riots. Bombay became Mumbai (where terrorists killed or wounded hundreds of people in November of 2008). The Hindu-based name comes from Mumba Devi, patron goddess of the Kolis, who call her Mumba Aai (meaning “Mother Mumba”).
Because train rails pass straight through Dharavi, its residents could “hop aboard” and take a trip elsewhere. They could travel, for example, to the Taj Mahal.