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How India Is Hurtling Towards a Genocide Against Muslims

by in World on 4th March, 2022

Since the 2014 emergence of Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government, India has seen a significant number of changes. Alongside a growing economy, a stronger education system and a growing middle class, India has seen a worrying rise in far-right nationalism. The BJP, one of the two main political parties in India, won the 2014 and subsequent elections under a manifesto that unabashedly promoted Hindutva, an ideology driven by Hindu nationalism that seeks to establish an India with Hindi language, Hindu religion for a Hindustan nation as the norm. This supremacist ideology has repeatedly been used to demonise, threaten and target a specific group –  the Muslims of India. 

How Growing Anti-Muslim Hatred is Reflected in Law and Policy

From as early as 2009, ‘Love Jihad’, a notion that Muslim men target Hindu women to impregnate and thereby increase the Muslim population, has been a conspiracy theory that was particularly pushed in Uttar Pradesh (a region in Northern India that is the most populated state in the country) by the BJP during their 2014 election campaign. It has gained more and more popularity and sown fear amongst Hindu communities of an impending wave of Muslim parentage and forced marriages. 

Assam, a state in northeastern India home to many different ethnicities including Bengalis, Assamese, Bodo and others, has also recently had an upsurge in anti-Muslim sentiment. India’s second-most Muslim populated state has also seen an exercise known as the National Register of Citizens (NRC) re-emerge since 2013. The NRC seeks to identify Indian citizens and “non-Indian aliens” and has been criticised for entrenching racial bias, spreading xenophobia and practising racial discrimination. . The NRC resulted in more than 1.9 million people being de-classified as citizens, particularly Bengali-speaking Muslims, effectively rendering them stateless and disbarring them from exercising basic rights such as voting. It is no surprise that after this discriminatory process was put into place, the BJP swept to victory in Assam, becoming the largest party in the 2014 and in 2019 elections 

Detention centres and foreigner tribunals have also since been set up and communal tension is, once again, on the rise in India’s North Easterly state. In addition to the NRC, the BJP introduced the Citizenship Amendment Act which seeks to provide amnesty to refugees coming from neighbouring countries – as long as they are not Muslim. Essentially, the bill grants citizenship on the basis of religion. This bill was heavily contested in 2019 in New Delhi leading to movements such as the Shaheen Bagh demonstration which was led mostly by Muslim women. Those who opposed the bill were labelled “traitors” and “jihadis” by the BJP who incited violence against the demonstrators. This campaign of vilification ultimately culminated in the Delhi Pogroms, a wave of violence that resulted in the death of 53 people, the majority of them Muslims.

The wave of violence we saw being unleashed in India’s northern states did not take place in a vacuum, but had precedent; Kashmir, the region which is widely regarded as one of the most militarised regions of the world has been no stranger to Indian politics in the past. From Partition, when Kashmir was divided and apportioned to Pakistan and India, the Kashmiri call for independence and freedom has been ignored.

Despite officially awaiting UN intervention for autonomy, Indian occupied Kashmir has seen wave after wave of violence, insurgency and disdain. It is the state with the highest Muslim population and until 2018, it had a certain degree of autonomy. In 2018, the BJP decided to abrogate Article 370 of India’s constitution which had granted that autonomy to Kashmir. As part of what he called his plans for a ‘New India’, Modi talked about turning Kashmir into an area for investment and tourism. In reality, Kashmir was subjected to the longest period of telecoms blackout in the world and an increased military presence that cut off Kashmir from the rest of the world and stripped away any autonomy for the Kashmiris. 

It is quite clear to see how Muslim-majority states of India have been targeted and their communities threatened by national policy which seeks to criminalise Muslims and their religious practices. In Lakshadweep, a 93% Muslim population island off the South coast of India, the past year has seen the passing of many a policy that seeks to specifically target Muslims. From bans on beef to its introduction of alcohol licences, the BJP has once again flexed its majoritarian power muscle. 

More recently during the Dharam Sansad (Religion Government) conference held in Haridwar in December 2021 and attended by many members of the RSS (the organisation which funds the BJP) as well as Cabinet officers from BJP government, anti-Muslim hate speech was promoted, unchallenged.

Speakers talked of unleashing a genocide against Muslims, with one proclaiming that  “if 100 of us [BJP] are ready to kill two million of them [Muslims], then we will win and make India a Hindu nation.” Although the Supreme Court of India subsequently arrested some of the individuals involved in spreading this hate speech, these calls for a genocide to be enacted against Muslims are not a rarity, but rather the norm in India today.

The consequences of this are immediate and deeply troubling; at the beginning of 2022, schoolgirls in Karnataka in India’s south faced a mob-led Hijab ban and have been banned from entering school unless they remove their Hijab. Many have faced intimidation and threats at Government schools and colleges resulting in a disruption to their education. 

The Hallmarks of Genocide in India

At Restless Beings, an international human rights organisation, our work has heavily centred around seeking justice and accountability for the survivours of genocide, as well as tackling the root causes of genocide at large. In the past five years alone, we have identified genocide against the Rohingya and against the Tigrayans in Ethiopia.

Through our ongoing work in India, we have been able to gain a better insight into the politics which has driven a populist agenda and made the occurrence of genocide more and more likely. The hallmarks are all there – from state-level classification, dehumanisation and now the open call for mass killings. Through our work with the Rohingya, we have been able to identify and document many of the stages of genocide in India and in early February 2022, we issued an early genocide warning in India against Muslims. The ten stages of genocide can be summarised as follows:

  1. Classification – a ‘them vs us’ strategy where a community is otherised
  2. Symbolisation – ethinc, religious or national symbols are used to deride communities of their own symbols
  3. Discrimination – excluding communities from their civil liberties such as election etc
  4. Dehumanisation – comparing communities to pests or to strip away their human identity
  5. Organisation – training of military against a community, can also include state level policy
  6. Polarisation – drawing inspiration from stage 1 but supercharging civilian populations against the community
  7. Preparation – communities find themselves segregated from society in preparation of dire consequences
  8. Persecution – displacement, moving communities into ghettos or camps
  9. Extermination – mass and indiscriminate killing by military or militia
  10. Denial – claiming innocence and blaming violence on national threat

What these stages highlight is the insidious way in which genocide comes about and the link between the different cases of genocide. Since 2010, we have been witnessing the ever-intensifying violence and discrimination culminating in the 2017 genocide of the Rohingya. We were the first organisation in Europe to support the Rohingya community when genocide was inflicted on them and to document the crimes against humanity that they were subjected to. This was an important step as the world largely failed to recognise what was happening as a genocide.

It was also during this time that Narendra Modi became the first international leader to meet Aung San Suu Kyi, herself a genocide denialist, where he offered his unilateral support to the Burmese military and their violence against the Rohingya. It didn’t stop there – the Home Minister for BJP, Amit Shah, spoke about introducing new policies against on policiesBangladeshi and Rohingya refugees,  describing them as  “infiltrators” who are “ eating the country like termites”, and suggested that they should be expelled.

This inciteful language that compares humans to pests is a worrying hallmark of most cases of genocide; in Rwanda, Tutsis were labelled as “cockroaches” during the genocide and during the war in Bosnia, Muslims were called “genetically deformed” by Serb forces who inflicted genocide on them. The Central Government of India adopting the same dehumanising language should alarm us all because history tells us what this language leads to. 

In the case of state policy in Kashmir, Assam and Lakshadweep, open discrimination is apparent. When a nation moves towards genocide, the agenda of discrimination becomes clearer and more transparent. Policy is one of the clearest ways to detect those charged agendas. It is no coincidence that these three regions are also the ones with the highest population of Muslims in India. 

The attack on Muslim identity in India is not just confined to the political sphere, but as the stages above show, it is multi-faceted. Propaganda and the railroading of public opinion is ever present in every genocide recorded thus far. Popular media promoted via Bollywood regularly associates Muslims and Islam with evil characters and identifies Muslims as the common enemy that brings Indian society to disrepute and is the biggest threat from within. Private news channels capitalise on these harmful depictions by pushing alarmist narratives that portray Muslims as a “growing threat”. The use of the media either in popular format or informational format is not new to India and has played a significant role in placing Muslims at risk.

International Trends and the Abetting of Genocide

Though the domestic angle is important when analysing the threat of genocide in India, no discussion of genocide is complete without an analysis of wider international trends. Sadly, the world has been an enabler to India, encouraging it down a dangerous path of populism and communalism with monetary and diplomatic incentives. Those at the helm of pushing the Hindutva ideology are supported by major international players; US-India trade is valued at US$150 Billion, UK-India trade at £23 billion, China-India trade at US$125 billion, EU-India trade at €63 Billion and US$20 billion worth of trade with Russia and Israel. This level of investment into a government that is openly inciting against Muslims, promoting xenophobia and enacting supremacist and violent policies is the ultimate green light from the international community for India to continue along its path of religious supremacy. 

India’s proximity to other ethno-nationalist states that have also implemented discriminatory and violent policies with the aim of eradicating a group of people should also be scrutinised. India currently has many contracts with Israel, importing its military-grade equipment and exchanging knowledge on surveillance technology that is tested on Palestinians.

Profits Before Human Rights

Much like the Rohingya, the Muslims of India don’t find themselves with many allies. Whilst the international community was tripping over itself to canonise the darling of Burma’s ‘democracy’, Aung San Suu Kyi, the military and eventually Suu Kyi’s administration allowed, initiated and successfully committed a Genocide against the Rohingya. Too little too late was offered by way of sanctions against Burma and her military and administration to prevent that genocide. In 2022, once again, the so-called international community is competing to strike deals with a rising economic giant, putting profit before human rights. Once again it refuses to see the open discrimination, vilification and persecution of a vulnerable community. 

Recently the BJP of Gujrat posted an image that has garnered much attention on social media. The image, which depicts Muslims being lynched,  is a clear threat and glorifies the killing of Muslims. It is a throw back to the 2002 anti-Muslim violence. Narendra Modi, the Chief Minister and architect of the Gujrat riots is also the Prime Minister and architect of today’s widespread attack on India’s Muslims.

In Modi’s view, the New India is one that adopts his party’s stance of Hindi, Hindus, Hindustan – it leaves no scope for any ‘other’. It is an open attack on the notion of secularism on which India gained its independence. Anti-Muslim sentiment is weaponised to create a siege-like mentality within the Hindu BJP electorate to ‘reclaim what was wrongfully taken from them’; their language, their dharma, their *desh-bakhti (extreme patriotism). Dalit, Adivasi, Muslim – it matters not, India under Modi is charging ahead with cementing its corrosive  Hindutva ideology In reality, India’s Muslims are being forced to choose between assimilation or survival, and in many cases, even assimilation is not enough to stop them from being swept up in the wave of violence gathering force across the country.

The international community also has an urgent choice to make: allow India to carry on down the path to genocide or stop it in its tracks. After its failure to act to stop the Rohingya genocide, the world has a chance to correct its course.   When the world’s biggest democracy, India, is evidently pursuing a path that erodes that democracy and the rights of 200+million Indian Muslims, the international community must neither look away nor shy away from action. Time and again, the international community has said the words ‘Never Again’.  It’s not enough. We have to move away from the past tense and into the present and demand ‘Not now, not ever!’

Rahima Begum

Rahima Begum

Rahima Begum is a human rights activist, artist and researcher. She is the co-founder of Restless Beings, an international grassroots, human rights organisation and registered UK charity that supports marginalised communities across the world.