Top 10 Deadliest Riots and How They Started


Riots occur when people are hungry; hungry for food, knowledge, and even power. We all know what a riot is and how tragic they can be when they turn deadly. Most riots happen when a large group of people are unhappy with a certain event or a certain person or group of people. Riots often times begin as peaceful displays, but overtime, as unrest grows and the police force is called in for action, rioters will become violent and the police will react. This often leads to injuries and sometimes deaths.  Of course, not all riots are deadly, but below are ten of the deadliest riots that have ever occurred. While the riots may have been justified, the deaths surely weren’t.

10. Soweto uprising – 600 dead

Soweto uprising

The Soweto uprising began on June 16, 1976 in Soweto, South Africa because of the government of the time. During 1976, the government was run by the National Party, which was known for its racial segregation, also known as apartheid. South Africans who weren’t given equal living opportunities as Caucasians. Blacks had to pay for schools to stay open through taxes, even though many of them were poor and weren’t able to contribute the necessary amount of money. Those who were unhappy with the governments rule clashed with authorities, which then lead to about 600 deaths.

How it started

The uprising took about 10 years to really gain ground, but once it did, there was no stopping the young, high-school aged men and women from standing up for their rights. In 1953, a law was passed that created the The Bantu Education Act, which was to establish a learning curriculum that was designated for blacks. Dr. Hendrik Verwoerd was the pushing force behind the act as he believed that blacks needed to be taught that they would never be equal to Europeans. While they were able to learn some things, those students who did attend the various schools set up for them only learned skilled that would require labor. None of them were taught to do things that would put them above whites. As time went on, more restrictions were put on African American education. Blacks, in 1972, were told that they would only be taught in Afrikaans, which was the white man’s language. This infuriated students, who were already angry about the lack of education, the lack of money, and the lack of rights. Teachers refused to teach in Afrikaans and many staged in-class boycotts. Once this was realized, police were sent in, and various other boycotts, which eventually turned into a riot, took place.

How it ended

By the end of it all, 600 citizens were dead. Many of them weren’t older than 18 as most of them were still in high school. After citizens began throwing bottles, stones, and setting buildings on fire, the police force began to use violence to settle the crowd, which eventually killed many. Many of those who were still alive after this tragedy left South Africa. Today, June 16 is now celebrated as Youth Day. The day was made to remember and honor all of the young men and women who died during the uprising to have their voice heard.

9. 1977 Egyptian Bread Riots – 800 dead

1977 Egyptian Bread Riots

From January 18-19 of 1977, Egyptian Bread Riots took over most of the largest cities in Egypt. There wasn’t much evidence that would have lead anyone to believe that the lower class people were planning to riot. Of course, not all riots can be spotted before they really form, and this is just one example. However, it was pretty obvious that the economic reforms Anwar El Sadat was making weren’t going to make those in the lower class pleased.

How it started

In 1974, president of Egypt, Anwar El Sadat, moved his focus towards economic change in the country. He wanted to adopt an open-door policy, otherwise known as Infitah, which would help to greatly encourage domestic as well as foreign investment. However, this was a huge change for Egypt, as the previous president, Gamal Abdel Nasser, had a completely opposite goal, which ultimately led the economy in route to no private investment and nationalizations. With a new president in place, Sadat was really looking to become closer with the U.S. and completely rid of positive neutralism so that the country’s economy would attract more foreign investors. The conflict began when Sadat took loans from the World Bank to provide subsidies, including food. In 1977 it was announced that the government planned to cancel $30 million in subsidies, especially on food. Bonuses and pay rises were also cancelled.

How it ended

Because of these cancellations, people throughout Egypt were mad. Many who worked in factories or for the country’s state government walked out of work and rushed into the cities to participate in demonstrations. People from all over, including Cairo and Alexandria joined the fight to get rid of these new laws and cancellations. Citizens began burning buildings, cutting railway lines, and blocking trains from leaving. The riots were ended after the army was deployed to control the crowd and restore peace and order. However, the government decided to cancel the new policies that were in place. This pleased the crowd and the rioting did eventually stop.

8. Bombay Riots 1992-1993– 900 dead

Bombay Riots 1992-1993

From December 1992 to January 1993, the Bombay riots took prevalence in various cities. Both Muslims and Hindus were killed during the riots, which were said to be attended by 150,000 people, if not more. With so many people crowding together, it’s no wonder that deaths and injuries occurred. Various stories of the riots have been used in movies as well as in literature.

How it started

The riots were fueled by news of the demolition of the Babri Masjid, which was a mosque in Ayodhya, India by the Liberhan Commission. The demolition of this mosque sparked a lot of anger in the city, as many believed that the government would protect the mosque from being torn down; however, this didn’t happen, and as news spread of the demolition, more and more people gathered to express their emotions. People flooded the streets, often attacking public property, including buses. As crowds and violence grew, the police force grew violent as well. Several shots were fired, which killed many and the Muslims and Hindus began to fight amongst themselves. After this, riots sparked in Dongri, in which Hindus revenged against the Muslims after Hindu workers were killed. The violence continued and the police force grew more restless, continuing to kill rioters. However, rioters continued their violence as well.

How it ended

Once the riots died down after the Hindus and Muslims came together to save the Islamapura mosque , the damage in various cities was already done; $3.6 million worth of damage. By the end of it all, 900 people were dead and about 2,000 were injured. However, soon after the Bombay riots ending, the Bombay bombings occurred that killed about 250 people. While riots are never a good memory, various movies have been made to depict the rioting that occurred, the most recent film being Slumdog Millionaire. Other movies have also used the riots are part of the plot.

7. Bloody Sunday 1905 – 1,000 dead

Bloody Sunday 1905

Out of all of the riots on this list, Bloody Sunday is definitely one that many will remember, and sadly the one that turned for the worst. Thousands of Russian citizens were peacefully demonstrating in the streets of Russia to give a petition to Czar Nicolas II. However, the peaceful gathering soon turned deadly when the czar’s secret police force arrived and shot many of the demonstrators, despite the fact that they were doing nothing wrong.

How it started

Before the riot that took place on January 22, 1905 in St. Petersburg, various citizens in Russia, mostly those who worked in factories and were considered part of the lower class, were looking for a way to notify the czar of the horrible working conditions that they had to suffer through each day. Lead by Father Gapon, the crowd of people decided that a petition given to the czar would be the best way to get the word directly to the source. Almost 300,000 citizens, many of them workers and their families, walked to the Winter Palace, where they sang hymns, held religious symbols, and even sang songs praising the czar. However, when the crowd started to near the palace, the guards fired warning shots, but they continued on, and this sparked the police to shoot randomly within the crowd, despite the fact that this riot was peaceful. The crowd dispersed and violence erupted, which only caused a lot of confusion and frantic people.

How it ended

Sadly, after the shots were fired, people were struck and died. But not only did bullets kill people, the rush of people also caused some to fall and in the end they were trampled to death. The riot basically ended after the shots were fired and the rioters ran away to avoid being killed. Father Gapon, though not killed during the riot, was later assassinated by order of the government. Today, songs, movies, and books have been made to depict Bloody Sunday.

6. Copper Riot 1662 – 1,000 dead

Copper Riot 1662

The Copper Riot 1662 started on July 25 in Moscow. The main force behind the riot was the fact that the Russian economy was on a continuous downfall. This as mostly due to the wars that Russia was having with Sweden and Poland, which in the end caused a huge rise in taxes for Russian citizens. In 1654, to attempt to slow down the problem, the government decided to use copper money which was equated to silver money. The copper money was given out in very large qualities, which then only caused devaluation of the copper money. This then lead to a whole other realm of problems, including profiteering and counterfeit money, and some of those involved in these illegal activities were government officials. All of this along with rumors flying about black lists of names of those who had caused the country’s economy to fail riled up enough people to cause a riot.

How it started

In the middle 1660s, the Russian economy seemed to be on a steady downfall. After supposed black lists full of names of those people who had been somehow responsible for the state of Russia’s economy, many citizens of Russia were infuriated. The names of those said to be to blame were posted in various locations throughout Moscow. The riot began on July 25 in the early morning hours and after the proclamation was made, the rioters made their way into Kolomenskove in order to have a talk with Alexei Mikhailovich, the Czar at the time. They quickly demanded that the traitors be surrendered to them so that the economy can become stable again. Mikhailovich promised full investigations and lower taxes. After this the rioters went back to Moscow, as rioters who did not go to the Kolomenskove were destroying homes of the merchants considered to be traitors. Some of the rioters planned to go back to see the czar, but by that time, a huge military assembled to keep the rioters away. It is said that about 10,000 people, if not more, joined in the riot, many of them Muscovites, including peasants, soldiers, people from the streltsy, and plenty others.

How it ended

With an army force of 6,000-10,000 soldiers, the rioters were most definitely outnumbered. Czar Alexei ordered a full on suppression of the riot. This order eventually led to the death of 1,000 people. Some were drowned in the river, others were hanged. A few of the rioters were simply arrested and put into exile. Even though this riot only lasted the length of a day, those who participated were actually able to persuade the government. In 1663, coinage of copper was abolished, making the riot successful yet very deadly.

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  1. Harinder Singh on

    No mention of anti-sikh riots in India in 1984 in which more than 10,000 sikhs lost thier lives all over India, more than 3,000 (govt figure) in the capital city of New Delhi alone. The riots were organised by the ruling party of India after the Prime Minister was shot dead by her sikh bodyguards.

  2. Lokesh Arora on

    The deadliest riots should have included the riots which began on partition of India and pakistan. According to Wikipedia ” The partition displaced up to 12.5 million people in the former British Indian Empire, with estimates of loss of life varying from several hundred thousand to a million.[1]”

    Please Check and respond.

  3. “palestinians” are parasites who live of israel’s generocity by using its health, education systems, electricity
    food and also work in israel but still want to destroy it in the name os their alah…..what pathetic propaganda they are waving….they are no more then a midiocre criminals that dont know right from wrong.
    If anyone has any doughts, come to Israel and visit.
    Oh and by the way there were never such people as “palestinnians”…those are rioters who were kicked out of jordan for making trouble there…noone wants them.
    So stop saying its their land.

    • You are Really Funny My Friend ,,

      Go back to history, READ & READ & READ , before you say something.
      Palestine is one of the oldest cultures in the World, it had Palestinians living on it thousands years back before you people were given a land on it on Balfour declaration on 1917. (as if Britain owned it at that time).
      Jordan was always Jordan and Palestine was and will always be Palestine.

  4. Yeah, go back to Berlin in 1938 Michael. Sounds like you would fit right in.

    Anyway, total nonsense to say the 1936-39 revolt in Palestine was a riot. It was a guerilla-terrorist uprising which had a few riots involved but it was mainly waged through assassination, train and vehicle mining and bombings. It can’t be considered a riot by any definition.

  5. What about 2002 riots in Gujarat India? ,One of the most brutal riots in human history killing and burning alive 2,000 muslims…..

  6. Rioting is meant to be something different from an uprising or a civil war.

    Funny enough, though, that hunger and hatred have been the cause for most of the riots.

    The involvement of governments in instilling riots is something worth a pondering too.

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