It really doesn’t take much to unleash the demons of religious hatred. History has taught us that when you combine incitement on the part of prominent politicians, complicity of the police, and pliant judges it is a recipe for pogroms and massacres to take place. This is precisely the situation in India right now, but it is also so much worse. Worse because we are seeing the unravelling of democracy in the largest democracy in the world, and wanton disregard for fundamental tenets of the Indian constitution.
Just as happened last year in Sudan, it is the women of India who are leading the peaceful demonstrations and sit-ins against the injustices sanctioned by the state. It is the first time that so many Indian women are coming out onto the streets on a national issue. They are both Muslim and Hindu women who have cloaked their protests in national symbols – the Indian flag, national icons and the preamble to the constitution. It has become the largest civil movement in India in 30 years, and the message is “we are all Indian first, and Muslim and Hindu second – we are all equal and we need to take back our country.”
A series of recent developments laid the ground for an orgy of violence but contrary to the official narrative it was not simply “clashes between Muslims and Hindus,” but rather violence between fascists and non-fascists. The hate speech against Indian Muslims on the part of certain prominent members of the ruling BJP, the introduction of the Citizen Amendment Act (CAA) that discriminates against Muslims, and the National Register which obligates citizens to prove their Indian citizenship or face detention, began the legalisation of discrimination in the country. Legal experts allege that such legislation is in clear violation of the Indian constitution which guarantees the equality of all citizens.
As Hannah Arendt said, to have citizenship is to have rights. Without citizenship people are stripped of their right to land, property, social security, and the right to vote. It is widely recognised that the National Register will be used to discriminate against Muslims in particular, and will leave them vulnerable in their own country and targets of persecution.
Unless one saw the visual images and video footage of the type of violence meted out on the streets of Delhi against Muslim men recently it is hard to feel moved by just more violence, in yet another country, in a world that has lost its moral compass.
Many of those attacks were the result of visceral hatred. Hatred stoked by politicians who encouraged the singing of ultra nationalist songs that inferred the superiority of the Hindu religion over that of other religions. The chanting of “Jai Shri Ram” was encouraged meaning “victory to Lord Ram” – the favored slogan of the BJP.
One image from February 24th said it all with a young Muslim man dressed in white cowering on the ground with his arms trying to cover his head, his white garb drenched with blood. Over him surged a mob of men armed with long thick wooden sticks (sticks longer than the height of a man) which were used to beat the man. The brutality of the mob exposed the extent of barbarism that had taken over the streets of Delhi, and the men sang “Jai Shri Ram” as they beat the man senseless.
This scene was replicated in locations across the city and in many instances the police stood by and watched, leading to accusations of their complicity in these crimes. There were also reports of the police themselves smashing CCTV cameras to prevent the mob violence from being recorded, and also of the police beating wounded Muslim men piled up against eachother, and forcing them to sing the national anthem.
The reason the police are so easily complicit is due to the pronouncements of senior politicians, including Ministers, Chief Ministers, and most importantly the Minister of Home Affairs Amit Shah who have stoked incitement against Indians of Muslim faith. Shah had referred to Bangladeshi migrants as “termites,” who would be dealt with. Inflammatory speeches lasted for a whole month, and began with the Minister of State for Finance Anurag Thakur saying ‘Goli Maaro Saalo Ko’ which means ‘shoot the traitors’ – the traitors being the protesters against the CAA.
Then there was BJP member of parliament Parvesh Singh Verma who claimed that the women protesters in the sit-in at Shaheen Bagh were going to “rape our mothers and sisters.” And finally, one of the Delhi BJP politicians and former member of the legislative assembly Kapil Mishra threatened that if the protesters were not cleared out in three days, he would himself do it. Mishra delivered what was deemed a hate speech while standing next to the Commissioner of Police prior to the outbreak of violence. In the state of Uttar Pradesh, where 20 percent of the population of 200 million is Muslim, the state government is led by Yogi Adityanath, a Hindu nationalist monk known for his violent and Islamaphobic statements.
It is time to acknowledge, as the Ahmed Kathrada Foundation and many other civil society formations did this week, that the behaviour of the BJP and RSS has been outright fascism. South Africans of Indian origin are collectively saying “Not in my name.”
Shannon Ebrahim is the Foreign Editor for the Independent Media Group.