‘Five-alarm fire’: Genocide unfolding in India

By: Hammad Sarfraz

Karachi:Last month India made headlines when anti-Muslim fury reached a fever pitch in Haridwar and New Delhi. Hundreds of right-wing followers of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party and its parent body, Rashtriya Svayamsevak Sangh, also known as the RSS, vowed to do anything to turn India, a constitutionally secular republic, into a Hindu Rashtra, or Hindu state.

In unison, they took an oath to eliminate Muslims, if necessary, to achieve their goal of converting India into a Hindu-only nation. The dog whistle of Islamophobia in India, which also claims to be the largest democracy, became a loud and clear call for genocide against its largest religious minority – more than 200 million Muslims.

“Be ready to kill and go to jail,” Pooja Shakun Pandey, who, in the past has publicly blamed Mohandas K Gandhi, the primary leader of India’s independence movement, for the partition and even called him a ‘traitor’ at a ceremony honoring his assassin, said to her charged followers. Pandey, the leader of Hindu Mahasabha, a group created by upper-caste, middle-class Hindus that is known for its militant nationalism, was referring to India’s Muslims in her clarion call to her supporters.

But experts say such blatant calls for violence against India’s Muslims come as no surprise. The first steps toward a Hindu nation were taken during the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) rule between 1999 and 2004. Some even argue the hate had been boiling since 1992 when a charged mob of Hindu militants and revivalists demolished a 16th-century Mughal-era Mosque, exposing India’s deepening political and religious fault lines. Historians recorded the incident as the first of its nature since partition, where Hindus razed a mosque. That evening the prime minister at the time, P V Narasimha Rao termed the event as a matter of great shame and concern for all Indians. But for the Hindu fundamentalists who summoned their followers from all over the country, just as Pooja Shakun Pandey did during the three-day conference in Haridwar last month, the demolition of the Mosque of Babar, a holy site for Indian Muslims was hailed as a monumental victory and the first step toward challenging India’s status as a secular society.

Hence, the fresh calls for organised genocide of Indian Muslims are not new or surprising. Genocide, like all developments in history, is a gradual process. Its foundations are laid brick by brick by generations of ideologues until the divide between ‘us and them’ reaches fever pitch. And that is how it is unfolding in India.

In an exclusive interview in February 2021, long before Pooja Shakun Pandey’s calls for the elimination of Muslims, the founder and president of the non-governmental organization, Genocide Watch, Dr. Gregory H Stanton, cautioned that the Indian government’s actions against the Muslims in Kashmir have been an extreme case of persecution and could very well lead to genocide. Dr. Stanton who previously predicted a genocide in Rwanda years before it took place in 1994 has repeated his warning of an impending genocide of Muslims in India. During a Congressional briefing on the “Call for Genocide of Indian Muslims”, organized by a coalition of 17 civil society groups, including Indian American Muslim Council, Dr. Stanton, the world’s leading authority on genocide and ethnic cleansing, compared the situation in India under Prime Minister Modi, to events in Myanmar and Rwanda.

 

Other analysts who closely monitor the situation in India say the rise of fundamentalists is at the tip of a broader trend which has increased alarmingly since Narendra Modi, a Hindu nationalist leader, who for much of his early political career was affiliated with the RSS, came to power nearly eight years ago.

According to experts, the religious minorities in India – particularly Muslims face the wrath of extremist groups that have existed as the silent majority for decades. The hate that appears to be visible and threatening in the form of calls for the elimination of Muslims, has been brewing for years.

“The crescendo of hate and violence has been building consistently with authorities gleefully looking the other way. The open call for genocide of Muslims in the so-called Dharm Sansad in Haridwar is the latest example of how far the cancer of hate and religious polarization has reached in our society,” said Zakia Soman, a women’s rights activist and co-founder of the Muslim group Bharatiya Muslim Mahila Andolan.

“Hindutva politics which is based on hatred and outright social division on religious lines continuously stokes anti-minority sentiments from grassroots to the top under Modi. There is a well-designed architecture of dog whistles, fake news, misinformation through social media, half-truths, and lies that incessantly demonize Muslims and spread hate and division in society,” she explained.

Muslims and Christians, the Ahmedabad-based lawyer and academic, said have borne the brunt of this brand of politics, which is based on hatred and demonization of the faith, as well as the followers.

Earlier, under Congress and other governments, Soman said, there were frequent communal riots, but there was lip service being paid to upholding secularism and safeguarding the rights of minorities.

 

“The rise of Hindutva politics and formation of the Modi government at the Centre in 2014 has led to open hatred, targeted violence and demonization of Muslims and also Christians,” said the activist who writes on issues of peace and justice, secularism, human rights, minority rights and rights of Muslim women.

The timeline of anti-muslim events is long and much of it receives very little coverage inside India. Earlier this year, a group of Muslim girls were forced to sit outside the classroom because they were wearing the hijab or headscarf. According to reports published by Al Jazeera, a group of Muslim students at a state-run women’s college in Karnataka were forced to sit outside their classroom because the administration said they had violated the rules by wearing the headscarf, which, they was not part of the official uniform. In another incident, which appears to be triggered by the growing hate against Muslims, members of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, a right-wing group that believes in protecting the Hindu Dharma or faith, dragged a Muslim man and his Hindu companion out of an Ajmer-bound train, in Madhya Pradesh, accusing the former of ‘love jihad’, a lethal religious conspiracy theory by the Sangh Parivar, ‘family’ of Hindu nationalist organizations, which accuses Muslim men of luring Hindu girls to convert them to Islam.

According to The Wire, the incident took place on the evening of January 14, 2022. Citing a video that has been doing rounds on social media, the New Delhi-based news and opinion website said the Muslim passenger was forced off the train and assaulted.

The Guardian has also documented several cases of hate crimes against Muslim men accused of love jihad in India. In September last year, a mutilated body of a 24-year-old Muslim man, Arbaaz Aftab Mullah, was discovered on a railway track in Belgaum (or Belagavi), Southern India. In its report, the British newspaper says, the conspiracy has gained legitimacy after laws were introduced to prevent forced religious conversions, particularly through marriage. Muslim men, accused of violating these laws, are subjected to severe punishments by charged Hindutva supporters. The conspiracy gained the endorsement of the BJP government and was further strengthened after Yogi Adityanath, a firebrand Hindu cleric-turned-politician assured his supporters that the Modi administration has planned a crackdown against the ‘love jihad’. To a cheering crowd of Hindu nationalists, Adityanat, the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh said: “If Muslims don’t end their ‘love jihad’, we will.” Ultimatums of this nature have given Hindutva groups and individuals carte blanche to target Muslims with impunity. Similarly, last year, anonymous trolls, that many believe were part of the ruling party’s direct or indirect network of online operatives, named dozens of Muslim women in online auctions.

Commenting on the overall situation, Zakia Soman said Muslims are being targeted through laws such as the Citizenship Amendment Act, which openly discriminates against them owing to their religious background. “The bogey of love-jehad is floated by registering fabricated cases and perpetuated by draconian anti-conversion legislation in BJP ruled states besides vigilante mobs harassing couples who marry interfaith. There have been multiple incidents of mob lynching of Muslims in the name of gau raksha or saving the cow,” said the activist who has edited a book on Dalit Muslims.

“The Prime Minister’s silence speaks volumes about his politics and worldview. Many Hindus feel that such thinking is based on adharm as Hinduism is a very eclectic faith unlike Hindutva which is a political ideology,” she explained from Ahmedabad where she belongs.

 

According to the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), an independent, bipartisan federal government entity that monitors, analyzes, and reports on threats to Religious Freedom, in recent years, the BJP-led government has challenged the secular principles of the constitution by implementing laws and policies at the national and state levels promoting Hindu nationalism, thereby posing severe challenges to freedom of religion or belief and related rights.

While India’s constitution establishes it as a secular nation, and Article 25 grants all individuals freedom of conscience, including the right to practice, profess, and propagate religion, the Muslim community is being oppressed and forced to live a regimented life in India.

Despite India’s constitutional protections for religious freedom, the USCIRF states in its report that approximately one-third of India’s 28 states limit or prohibit religious conversion to protect the dominant religion from perceived threats from religious minorities.

“While the new legislation in Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh targets interfaith marriage, in particular, several other states prohibit conversion based on vague criteria, including force, inducement, allurement, coercion, fraud, or misrepresentation. These anti-conversion laws, the document states, are too often the basis for false accusations, harassment, and violence against non-Hindus that occur with impunity,” the USCIRF stated.

“In 2020, for example, mobs—fueled by false accusations of forced conversions—attacked Christians, destroyed churches, and disrupted religious worship services. In many cases, authorities did not prevent these abuses and ignored or chose not to investigate pleas to hold perpetrators accountable,” said the USCIRF, a federal agency that monitors the universal right to freedom of religion or belief (FoRB) abroad and makes policy recommendations to the US President, Secretary of State, and Congress.

In a statement, Commissioner Johnnie Moore of the USCIRF urged India to resist allowing political and intercommunal conflict to be exacerbated by religious tensions. India’s government and people, Moore cautioned, have everything to gain and absolutely nothing to lose from preserving social harmony and protecting the rights of everyone.

The politics of religious hate, Zakia said, is against the democratic principles of India’s constitution, as well as, against all forms of human decency. “Average Indians, though religious, have been secular in their public dealings. Many are agitated at the situation today in our country,” she added.

The deafening silence and the future

 

India, the largest democracy in the region, has shocked many at home and abroad. Its social media space alone is teeming with hatred directed at the Muslim community.

Messages and posts are accompanied by calls for violence. Anyone who criticizes the concept of Hindu supremacy, commonly known as Hindutva, is attacked, and forced into compliance. Much of this is ignored by the BJP government.

On the government’s silence over the alarming calls for violence against Muslims in recent years, US-based Kashmiri Journalist, Raqib Hameed Naik said: “I don’t understand why people are expecting Mr. Modi to speak.”

All such calls, Naik, who recently interviewed Juan E Mendez, the first UN Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide, for Al Jazeera, said have the tactical support of the ruling BJP and its leaders.

“Those who are calling for genocidal massacres are in one way or the other linked to BJP’s ideological mentor, RSS, and revered by the senior party leaders who hold top constitutional offices. In other words, Mr Modi’s silence means an endorsement,” the Boston-based journalist explained.

With several states in India preparing for polls, Naik predicted the calls for violence against Muslims are likely to increase. “In the short term, we are going to see a sharp rise in anti-Muslim hate, bigotry, and even widespread violence in some cases.

But in long term, with the uptick in anti-minority sentiment, genocidal speeches, and a continuous pattern of radicalization among Hindus, an impending genocide is not a far reality,” he cautioned.

India, the journalist said, is a signatory to the Genocide Convention of 1948 and is obligated to protect those who are at risk. He urged the international community to monitor the developments inside India – which in recent years has witnessed a dangerous backsliding on rights.

All experts interviewed for this report concur with Naik’s prediction. They agree the government’s silence will further embolden India’s right-wing groups. Responding to the same question by email, CJ Werleman, global correspondent for Byline Times, and an activist against Islamophobia warned that the silence of the global community – particularly the United States over what’s shaping up to be the world’s largest-ever humanitarian crisis, could potentially lead to the displacement of upwards of a quarter of a billion people in an instant.

“This silence stems from the fact that so many countries are dependent on Indian trade, while the US and its democratic allies view India as an integral cornerstone in their strategy to contain an ever more aggressive China in the Indo Pacific,” added Werleman.

 

Washington, the vocal critic of the Indian government’s policies in Kashmir, pointed out, will come under increasing domestic political pressure to speak out against the Modi regime should attacks against Christians continue to spike upwards, given the influence of the evangelical Christian right over the Republican Party.

Like Naik, the popular host of the CJ Werleman show also believes Muslims and other religious minorities will face an increase in attacks because most Indian voters are rewarding politicians who demonize them with hateful and dehumanizing rhetoric.

According to Werleman’s Hate Crimes Database, attacks against Muslims in India have exploded since Narendra Modi’s BJP came to power in 2014, with religious-based hate crimes surging nearly 30% during the 2014 to 2017 period, and doubling since his landslide reelection in 2019.

“Warnings of imminent genocide against Muslims should be interpreted as a five-alarm fire, because not only has India recorded a year-on-year upward surge in hate crimes against the religious minority, but also the Modi regime refuses to condemn these attacks, while its supporters and even members of parliament echo Hindu nationalist calls to transform India into a Hindu-only nation,” said Werleman.

Recalling Modi’s time as Gujarat’s Chief Minister, Danielle Khan, who is part of the Kashmir Action Network, a Washington-based advocacy group for Indian Occupied Kashmir said: “Let’s not forget Modi’s complicity in the Gujarat massacres of 2002.”

The Indian Prime Minister, Khan, another critic of the BJP administration’s policies toward India’s Muslim community, said already has blood on his hands.

 

“His party openly calls for a Hindu-only nation and the ethnic cleansing of Muslims. My views align with the clear evidence that the Modi government supports Muslim genocide with little care or concern for what the rest of the world thinks about it,” the human rights and gender equality advocate cautioned by email from Washington DC where she is based.

Prime Minister Modi and his administration’s silence, Khan said, exposes their clear complicity in Muslim genocide. “However, I would argue the Modi administration has not been silent but has strongly encouraged fascism and the genocide of India’s Muslims and Kashmiris,” Khan said referring to a recent viral video that shows Hindu nationalist leaders calling for the death of India’s Muslims and other religious minorities.

After immense international backlash and media scrutiny, India’s Supreme Court sprang into action, promising a probe into the hate speech delivered by Pooja Shakun Pandey, leader of Hindu Mahasabha, and others. However, Khan believes the damage has already been done. The speeches that were loaded with anti-Muslim rhetoric have fanned the flames of hate against India’s most tormented religious minority.

On the atrocities being committed by Indian forces in occupied Kashmir and the manner in which Muslims are generally being treated in India, the gatekeepers of global norms simply seem content to look the other way.

“The silence of the international community regarding the Kashmir crisis is not only deeply disturbing from a human rights perspective, but also incredibly dangerous. While the world remains silent, Hindu radicalism is on a stark rise, resulting in deadly discrimination and hate crimes against Kashmiris and other religious minorities across India,” the activist warned.

“Acts of violence by these Hindu extremists have become so severe, we are essentially witnessing a situation equivalent to that of the Nazi regime as they sought to dehumanize the Jews and exterminate them,” she added referring to the atrocities being committed against Muslims in Kashmir.

Quoting a post by Arjun Sethi, a Washington-based lawyer and activist, Khan said: “India has shown again that it is not the world’s largest democracy, it is the world’s largest authoritarian regime.”

The world, she explained, is turning a blind eye to India’s authoritarian regime and war crimes because acting does not benefit their national interests and strains western alliances with New Delhi.

Asked about her fears for India’s Muslims, Danielle Khan said: “They have already come true and will only continue to worsen. These fears include the growing suffering of India’s Muslims and Kashmiris and their ethnic cleansing.

Kashmir genocide

 

According to several human rights organizations, now barred from entering the Indian occupied Kashmir, thousands of people have been killed since 1989, when New Delhi deployed its troops to quell what it claims was an armed rebellion.

For decades the situation inside, Indian occupied Kashmir has raised concerns. Rights activists and groups have limited or no access to the occupied territory where more than 600,000 Indian troops are stationed to control the Muslim-majority region.

Journalist and activist Raqib Naik described Kashmir as an open-air prison. “The region is currently under an undeclared emergency with no room for any dissent or criticism of the Indian government policies,” he said.

The year began with a fatal blow to the limited press presence in Indian occupied Kashmir. On January 17, Indian police officers took over the press club only to shut it down later. The incident, according to The Guardian, was the culmination of several months of harassment and detention of journalists in Kashmir.

“As a journalist who has worked in the region for many years, the throttling of freedom of press, detention, and arrest of journalists is even more concerning. The colleagues who I worked with are either harassed, intimidated, or jailed, just because of the stories they tell,” said Naik by email.

If coercion and repression were not enough, the government in New Delhi has added a new trick to its playbook. The Modi administration is now experimenting with what is being dubbed as the demographic flooding of the occupied valley.

Through a new law, introduced in 2020, the Indian government has granted thousands of domiciles which allows outsiders to enjoy citizenship rights and entitles them to residency and government jobs in the region – previously reserved for locals only.

“Following the recent policy decisions that the Indian state has introduced in Kashmir along the lines of its Hindu nationalist vision, the ground is being prepared to change the demography of the Muslim-majority Himalayan region which is supplemented with egregious violations of human rights and religious freedom,” said Naik who hails from the Indian occupied Kashmir.

Asked about international silence over the deteriorating situation in Kashmir, Naik said: “For the international community, especially the major western powers, when it comes to Kashmir, human rights appear to be a tradable commodity.” To further their business and other geopolitical interests, the journalist said the western powers are willing to overlook the oppression that the people of Kashmir have braved for more than three decades.

 

“Many Muslim countries have maintained a conspicuous silence on this issue because India is a big market for them and they can’t afford to spoil their relations with the incumbent government by speaking up on Kashmir. It is shameful and inhumane, to say the least,” Naik added.

While much of the global community has remained silent over the atrocities being committed in Kashmir, several rights organizations have called out the Indian government for violations of basic human rights in the occupied valley. Freedom House, Human Rights Watch, and Amnesty International, which was forced to cease all operations after it exposed India’s actions in Kashmir, are on the list of organizations that have criticized the BJP administration repeatedly in their annual reports.

Citing information gathered by the Human Rights Watch, a New York-based advocacy group, Danielle Khan said Indian security forces have been implicated for various abuses in enforcing restrictions since August 2019, including routine harassment and ill-treatment of Kashmiris, arbitrary detention, torture, and extrajudicial killings. “I urge readers to review the latest report by Stoke White Investigations on India’s war crimes in IIOJK, which details 2,000+ civilian testimonies regarding human rights abuses by India in Jammu and Kashmir, including torture, extrajudicial killings, and detention of minors,” she said.

Khan’s family is one of many from Indian occupied Kashmir being targeted by the Modi administration. According to the activist, her husband’s family in the occupied valley is currently being harassed by the Jammu and Kashmir Police. “The desperation to arrest, harass and coerce Kashmiris into silence has even extended to the Kashmiri diaspora – including my own family – which is another fear of mine that has come to fruition. Recently, Jammu and Kashmir Police have been interrogating and harassing my Kashmiri mother and father-in-law in Srinagar to build a ‘case’ against my Kashmiri husband, who is a permanent resident in the US,” she shared by email.

Describing the global community’s collective inaction, Khan said: “It is frankly disgusting that the world chooses power over concern for human (particularly Muslim) lives, especially considering the term “Never Again” is always echoing in peace talks – yet nothing is ever done to prevent genocide.”

Solutions

 

According to Danielle Khan of the Kashmir Action Network, a Washington-based advocacy group, the Modi administration is leaving no stone unturned to stall the Congressional momentum on the Kashmir issue.

Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal, she mentioned, introduced House Resolution 745, urging the Republic of India to end the restrictions on communications and mass detentions in Jammu and Kashmir and preserve religious freedom for all residents. “Unnerved by these developments, the Indian government lobbied aggressively to prevent the Resolution from moving forward,” Khan told the Express Tribune.

Despite these challenges, the solution, according to Khan, is simple: “The United Nations and international community must hold the Indian government accountable and push to instill the security council resolutions.” Activists, especially in the US, must continue grassroots advocacy efforts, and US lawmakers must not let aggressive lobbying by the Indian government prevent them from pursuing House resolutions and committee hearings on the Kashmir crisis.” The Washington-based activist also urged the Biden administration to pursue sanctions on India for its war crimes in Kashmir – where according to external investigations, thousands have been killed by the members of the occupying force that receives its orders from New Delhi.

“These combined efforts have the power to pressure India into peace talks and a resolution. It is not about picking sides – it is simply about doing what is right, and that is allowing Kashmiris their UN-backed plebiscite,” Khan concluded.