The term ‘genocide’ is used and perceived in many ways with varying criteria on what passes as genocide. It depends on the individual but in this article, the meaning will be that of the common understanding among scholars and academics: the deliberate killing of a large group of people belonging to a specific ethnicity, race, religion or nationality.
India is home to multiple religions, ethnicities, and races, out of which the predominant are the Hindus, making up 79% of the population. Other minorities which are also quite considerable in number are Muslims who make up 14.2% of the population, while 2.3% are Christians, and 1.72% are Sikhs.
Since independence, India’s history has been quite complex. One of the greatest icons of independence as well as peace, Mahatama Gandhi, was killed by a Hindu fanatic. The country’s only woman Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was killed by a Sikh. In India, Sikhs have met their fair share of persecution at the hands of the state. Hindu extremist groups have targeted other minorities like Christians and Dalits. However, the real beef was with the Muslims.
The complex history as well as emergence of Hindu nationalism are some factors among others which contributed much to tilt India toward its present path – the path of genocide. Many people across the world, even Muslims in India, disagree with this notion. Their argument is that the situation is not as bad as it is being portrayed and they question how it would be possible to kill more than 200 million people.
It is a valid argument if they had not overlooked one very important point: genocides do not happen overnight. It is as the celebrated Indian writer Arundhati Roy said during an interview with Mehdi Hassan on the Intercept, “Any expert on history of genocide will tell you that genocide isn’t something that just happens one Sunday morning. There is a huge cultural preparation where a community is dehumanized, profiled (etc).”
If we just turn a discerning eye towards history, we will start to see it. Excluding the Hindu-Muslim riots of 1947, the first time when the state was used against the Muslims was when the Indian military was deployed to Indian side of Kashmir to put down an insurgency against the Indian rule. There is little need to mention how many bodies were buried, how many people are missing, how many loved ones had to cry, or how many atrocities were committed. The point to be made here is that the military deployment in Kashmir was the first time when state powers were unleashed upon a specific community. Furthermore, it need not be mentioned how the defenders of the state were above the law in Kashmir during that time and even now.
The scope widened when in 2002, Muslims were massacred in the Indian state of Gujrat when Hindu extremists ruthlessly killed innocent Muslims. In addition to that horrifying event, the Chief Minister of the time, who is now the Prime Minister of India, did not do so much as order law enforcement agencies to stop the violence or even act against the extremists and bring them to justice. Kashmir is considered an autonomous region with only a select few areas like defence, foreign affairs and communication in the hands of the central government. However, Gujrat was India’s own territory, the Muslims there were full citizens who were protected by India’s secular constitution.
Fast forward to 2014, the ground realities hit a new low with cases of violence against minorities rising. Muslims were beaten up, tortured, and brutally murdered. In some cases, the killings were over beef consumption or even suspected beef consumption. Destruction and vandalizing of mosques also happened with not even a whisper of condemnation from the BJP government.
But it did not stop there. After the 2019 elections and before the municipal elections, the BJP did not even attempt to mask the hostility and hatred towards Muslims. Party candidates like Kapil Mishra openly and publicly passed appalling comments that incited violence. Such a scenario was seen perhaps for the first time in India’s history.
The BJP also made changes to the National Register of Citizens (NRC) and the controversial Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB). Never has there been a bill in India’s history which so starkly targeted a minority as the CAB. Let’s not forget to mention the time when the sitting Home Minister Amit Shah called Muslim migrants, ‘termites’. Work on detention camps has already started. The workers, some of whom are Muslims, cannot help but wonder whether they will also be detained there as well.
In terms of the peaceful protests to the controversial bill, police brutalities on university students were there for everyone to see. Despite the protestors, most of whom were Muslim, not having broken any law is reminiscent of the path that India is treading. Then there is also the vigilante violence against Muslims in the northeast of Delhi. All of this happened as the leader of the free world was at a stadium packed with 100,000 people in Ahmedabad.
Covid-19 did not help. Muslims were advertised by the government as well as mainstream media as super spreaders of corona. Tales of Corona Jihad were told by a BJP Member of Parliament Anantkumar Hegde on Facebook.
A gathering of the Tableeghi Jamaat of Islam was going on when PM Modi announced the lockdown. So when the lockdown came into effect, they were assembled in a limited space in large numbers. Hence, the term ‘corona spreader’ was tagged on the members of the Tableeghi Jamaat. This happened despite there being even bigger gatherings in Hindu temples. This situation is quite similar to when the Nazis used the typhus disease to stigmatize Jews. It is frightening that the Indian government is using the coronavirus to stigmatize Muslims.
Keeping in mind these chain of events, it leaves little doubt as to the direction in which India is heading. We can hope against hope that the situation in India will get better; hope that it regains its status of a secular state, if it ever was one, as the world’s biggest democracy, making it safe to live there for the millions of minorities. However, as much as we would like to believe India will get better, the ground realities say something different. The ball is in the global court now. It is up to the international community whether they want to keep things as they are or take action. Dissuading India from the path of genocide seems to be a plausible option unless the world wants to witness the biggest crisis in human history. Then it is another matter entirely.