March 3, 2020 | By Sikh Siyasat Bureau
by: Pieter Friedrich*
Last month, a widowed Muslim woman in India was arrested and charged with sedition — that is, with inciting an insurrection.
Here’s the background. India’s Hindu nationalist government wants to pass a law requiring that every resident of the country prove their citizenship.
In the state of Karnataka, this proposed National Register of Citizens was the subject of a school play which portrayed a worried family discussing their fears about how the NRC could be used to strip Muslims of citizenship.
The 10-year-old daughter of the detained widow, acting in the play, delivered a line about how she would use her shoes to beat anyone who demanded that she prove her citizenship.
The child’s brief dialogue caused a national scandal.
Police accused the girl of “insulting” the prime minister. They arrested her widowed mother as well as the school’s headmistress. And they visited the school at least five times to gather evidence and interrogate the students about the play.
A month earlier, another school play in Karnataka received a very different reaction.
While ministers from the Central and State governments sat in the audience, child actors surged onto the stage to re-enact the mob destruction of the Babri mosque while an off-screen narrator praised them for “demolishing the structure” with anything they could get their hands on. Later, the school’s director — a member of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, a Hindu nationalist paramilitary — defended the play, arguing that it taught children how to “live for the country” and showed them how to “remove insults to the nation.”
Police only acted after demands by a third-party prompted them to file minor charges against the school’s administration — but, according to the complainant, they “have not bothered to proceed with the investigation.”
The 16th-century Babri mosque, built in the city of Ayodhya in the state of Uttar Pradesh, stood on a site that Hindu nationalists insist is the location where the Hindu deity Ram was born.
After affiliates of the RSS paramilitary launched a campaign to remove the mosque, the Bharatiya Janata Party officially joined the movement. While the president of the BJP toured the country to promote the campaign, an RSS worker named Narendra Modi worked behind the scenes, pulling the strings as he took responsibility for logistics, crowd mobilization, and other arrangements.
The campaign culminated in December 1992 as hundreds of thousands rallied around the mosque to listen to speeches by BJP leaders — sparked by their fiery rhetoric, the mob surged forward and destroyed the mosque.
The destruction was followed by pogroms throughout northern India which left up to 3,000 Muslims dead.
The destruction represented what international relations expert Dibyesh Anand calls a “poetics of fear” where “minority Muslims have no option but to accept their subjugation or face further violence” — but it was also, in the words of sociologist Prema Kurien, “a watershed event in the history of the Hindu nationalist movement” which “propelled the BJP… into the limelight.” According to Human Rights Watch, the violence “helped catapult the BJP into power in the early 1990s.”
That’s how the BJP always rises to power. On the blood of the innocent. On a wave of hatred manifested in vicious atrocities that are always met with impunity and in which the perpetrators are invariably punished with promotion to ever higher positions of power.
The BJP still held national power in 2002 when Modi was elected chief minister of the state of Gujarat.
Three days later, the state was the site of India’s first and worst pogrom of the 21st century.
Commanded by BJP politicians and RSS leaders, and joined by the police, mobs ran rampage across Gujarat for three days, slaughtering Muslim men, women, and children, raping them, dismembering them, burning them alive. Leaders of the pogrom later bragged that Modi sanctioned their violence, ordered police to allow the massacre, and told the killers that they could have free reign to do whatever they wanted for three days. At the end of those three days, 2,000 — or more — lay dead.
That’s how Modi earned the nickname “The Butcher of Gujarat.”
Modi was complicit — but he was never charged. A state minister from his own party blew the whistle, and then he was assassinated. A senior police officer also blew the whistle, and then he was fired and later arrested on trumped up charges. Modi was banned from entering the US and the UK, but then he became Prime Minister of India and is now greeted with open arms.
Since Modi rose to power as the Butcher of Gujarat, it was no secret how he would govern India nor should it be any surprise that his administration is now marked by extreme violence. Nor should we be shocked that India is on the brink of genocide — the only surprising thing is that it hasn’t happened yet.
Every major action the BJP has taken over the past year has brought India exponentially closer to the edge of catastrophic violence.
In 2019, Modi’s regime scrapped the constitutional article that had granted the state of Jammu and Kashmir semi-autonomous status for over 70 years. Then he ramped up the troop presence and put the entire region on lockdown — where it remains. Kashmir has remained cut off from the rest of the world — a complete black zone — for over six months.
Modi’s regime passed the Ayodhya verdict, giving the same violent Hindu nationalists who destroyed the Babri mosque permission to build a temple on the site. His government is now entrusted with ensuring construction of the temple. Thus, the BJP, discarding all semblance of secularism, entered the temple-building business.
Modi’s regime passed the Citizenship Amendment Act, providing undocumented immigrants a fast-track to citizenship — as long as they’re not Muslim. The CAA marks the first time in the history of the Republic of India that religion has been made the criteria for citizenship. The CAA also serves a crucial role when partnered with the proposed National Register of Citizens.
Modi’s regime, which already implemented the NRC in the state of Assam last year, now wants to impose it nationwide. That would require that every resident of the country prove their citizenship. That’s a scary idea for every Indian — but it’s truly terrifying for Muslims because of how the CAA and the NRC are designed to work in sync with each other.
The NRC would require that every Indian resident prove they are a citizen, but the CAA is the loophole allowing any non-Muslim who cannot do so to remain in the country and get on a fast-track to normalizing their status and securing their citizenship. Muslims, on the other hand, have no loophole. Even if they are citizens, if they can’t prove it, they potentially face being sent to a detention center and… God only knows what from there on.
A legal method for cleansing the country of Muslims is exactly what the BJP intended the CAA and the NRC to provide.
And they’ve made no secret of it.
Amit Shah — president of the BJP, Home Minister of India, and the man responsible for pushing through the CAA — has declared that all Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, and Christians will get citizenship whether they can prove they are citizens or not. Clarifying that the CAA is intended as a loophole to enable the government to target Muslims while putting no one else at risk, he says that it was brought in “exactly” to ensure that no non-Muslims lose their citizenship. When the NRC comes in after the CAA, he says, undocumented immigrants need not worry “but infiltrators should.”
Infiltrators. Shah loves that term. “Every infiltrator will be thrown out of the country,” he has promised. They will be thrown out “one by one” and “no infiltrator will be allowed to stay.” Shah pledges to ensure “a nationwide identification of illegal infiltrators living in the country” and vows that, once the NRC is conducted across India, “each and every infiltrator [will be] identified and expelled.”
Termites. That’s another term Shah loves. “Infiltrators are like termites in the soil,” he declares. “The illegal immigrants are like termites.”
Lest there be any confusion which people — or which community — Shah means when he speaks of “infiltrators” and “termites,” his fellow party leaders have spoken to remove any ambiguity.
A virus. That’s what the BJP’s Yogi Adityanath, the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, calls Muslims. A “green virus” — green being identified as the color of Islam — which has “infected” the opposition. “Muslims did no favor to India by staying here,” he says. Nor will they stay, if he has anything to do about it.
As protests against the CAA and the NRC have swept across India, Modi’s regime has met the largely peaceful protestors with brute force. Until recently, Uttar Pradesh was the epicenter of the government’s violent attempts to stamp out the resistance.
Since December 2019, over 20 people have died in UP’s anti-CAA protests. Countless videos show masses of peaceful protestors breaking like waves on the rocks as police charge them and begin randomly brutalizing people. Sanctioning the unprovoked attacks, Chief Minister Adityanath has even vowed to “take revenge” against protestors.
The BJP leader’s “revenge” has manifested in targeted violence against Muslims throughout the state.
In one instance, a 73-year-old Muslim attorney was arrested and taken to a police station in the dead of night. While they beat him in custody, police threatened to destroy his family, throw them all in jail “where they will rot for life,” and rape his mother. The many other allegations of atrocities include claims that Muslim teenagers are being picked up by police and subjected to emotional, psychological, and physical torture for hours or days on end.
Police are also accused of breaking into mosques, schools, and homes to terrorize Muslim families. In the midnight hours, they appear at Muslim homes to threaten women and children unless they disclose the location of the male members of the family. Forcing their way in, they ransack houses, splintering the furniture, and stealing valuables. Along the way, they vandalize cars and smash security cameras to erase evidence of their crimes.
Universities — strongholds for pluralistic protests against the CAA and the NRC — are also under attack.
At Aligarh Muslim University, police laid siege to the campus, calling the students “terrorists” and chanting “Jai Shri Ram” — a slogan meaning “Hail Lord Ram” which Hindu nationalists have adopted as a war cry.
The violence mirrored that at Jamia Millia Islamia, a university in Delhi. Invading the campus, police fired tear gas into the library, then entered to begin trashing the rooms as they randomly thrashed traumatized students.
At the height of this unchecked violence, a national cabinet minister poured fuel on the fire.
In late January, as Finance Minister Anurag Thakur spoke at a BJP rally, he led the crowd in chants of “shoot the traitors” — a slogan that was previously raised by masked members of the RSS’s student wing as they ran rampage across the Jawaharlal Nehru University campus in Delhi, screaming “Jai Shri Ram” while they attacked students with iron rods, bricks, and acid.
Who, exactly, are the “traitors”?
The traitors are anti-CAA protestors — but, more specifically, they are any non-Hindus living in India. That much was made obvious when, as several people acted on the call to “shoot the traitors” by opening fire on anti-CAA protests, one of the shooters shouted: “In our country, only Hindus will prevail.”
That’s the goal of Hindutva.
Hindutva is the religious nationalist political ideology that claims India is a country of Hindus, for Hindus, and only for Hindus and that anyone who is not a Hindu is a foreigner, an internal threat, and a traitor.
Hindutva is the guiding ideology of the RSS.
Founded in 1925, the RSS is the oldest and largest non-governmental paramilitary organization in the world. It is all-male, uniformed, and armed. It developed in parallel with European fascist movements like those in Mussolini’s Italy and Hitler’s Germany. It took ideological inspiration from — and even engaged in direct contact with — Europe’s fascists. And it is responsible for at least a dozen pogroms since India achieved independence in 1947.
In 1925, Hitler published Mein Kampf and founded the Schutzstaffel, or SS, the organization responsible for the Holocaust; meanwhile, in India, Hindu nationalists founded the RSS.
The RSS’s founders claimed that “we are Indians because we are Hindus” and that “Indian patriotism” is synonymous with “Hindu patriotism.”
They insisted that the subcontinent should actually be called “Hindustan” because it is a “a nation of Hindu people” just like a “Germany of Germans.”
Looking to Western fascists for inspiration, the man who mentored the first Supreme Leader of the RSS traveled to Italy to meet Mussolini.
Upon meeting the Italian dictator, he praised “the idea of fascism” for bringing out the “conception of unity amongst people.” Applauding the fascist youth organizations in both Italy and Germany, he called them necessary and “eminently suited for introduction in India,” insisted that Hindu nationalists should imitate them, and declared that “our institution of [the] RSS… is of this kind.”
Meanwhile, the Nazis came to power in Germany, Hitler was made dictator, and the first concentration camp was constructed.
Soon, they began laying the groundwork for the Holocaust as they passed the Nuremberg Laws and then staged the first pogrom against the Jews. While Kristallnacht left 100 Jews dead as tens of thousands more were deported to concentration camps, the RSS’s ideologues argued that their concept of a Hindu nation was justified by the dominance of the racial majority in Nazi Germany.
The ideologues warned that Indian Muslims may have to “play the part of German Jews,” even as the RSS’s founders complained that “the Muslims are making themselves a nuisance,” claimed that “we shall have to fight” them, and suggested that, for that purpose, “The RSS may be useful and handy.”
While the Nazis sparked the Second World War with the invasion of Poland, the second and longest-serving Supreme Leader of the RSS published his manifesto as the “first systematic statement of RSS ideology.”
Today, Golwalkar is revered as the Guru of the RSS. In 1939, the year that he published his manifesto, he was already second-in-command of the paramilitary. A year later, he became chief of the RSS, a post he held until his death in 1973.
“In Hindustan, the land of the Hindus, lives and should live the Hindu nation,” he wrote. “Only the Hindu has been living here as the child of this soil.”
He was convinced that “Hindus” were not a religious community but a racial group — a “Hindu Race” that possessed the right to dominate India. He believed that European fascism had demonstrated the right to define nationality by race and proved how “every Race” possesses the “right of excommunicating from its Nationality” all those who have “turned traitors” by holding aspirations different from those of the “National Race.”
“Different aspirations” meant, simply, not being a Hindu. He accused converts away from Hinduism of changing their “national identity” and betraying the “spirit of love and devotion to the nation.” He declared that the only “nationalist patriots” are those who “glorify the Hindu Race and Nation” and that all others in the country are “traitors” who have joined the “camp of the enemy” and left their “mother-nation in the lurch.”
He described non-Hindus like Christians and Muslims as “internal threats” and members of “foreign races” who were infected by a “foreign mental complexion,” had failed to “merge in the common stream of our national life,” and must be stripped of citizen’s rights.
And he praised Nazi Germany for protecting its racial and cultural purity by “purging the country of the Semitic races — the Jews.” Calling it “race pride” manifested at its highest, he pointed to the purge as an example of how different “races and cultures” cannot be “assimilated into one united whole.” And he called it a “good lesson for us… to learn and profit by.”
That’s the ideology of the RSS, the fascist paramilitary whose six million or more members include Narendra Modi, Amit Shah, and 75 percent of India’s cabinet ministers.
That’s the ideology which motivates BJP leaders to shout “shoot the traitors” as people pack the streets of India to protest efforts to turn the country into a religious apartheid state.
That’s the ideology which has set Delhi on fire over the last week.
Delhi has been burning since the 23rd of February, when a BJP leader instigated mobs to take to the streets to disperse the peaceful anti-CAA demonstrators who have spent over two months occupying public spaces all around the city in continuous, 24/7 sit-in protests.
Now, blood flows in the streets of Delhi as the city is swallowed up by violence. Muslims are being systematically hunted down, dragged from their homes, beaten black and blue to be left lying in the gutter — even publicly tortured by police as they’re forced to sing the National Anthem. Mosques are burning as thugs climb their minarets to raise the saffron flag of the RSS.
More than 40 people lie dead from the worst communal violence in the country’s capital since the 1984 Sikh Genocide. Their killers are proudly raising the same slogan we heard during the 2002 Gujarat Pogrom: “The police are with us.”
“What happened in Delhi was a pogrom,” says journalist Mira Kamdar. “Mobs targeting a single religious group were allowed to run riot, unchecked by police. That is the definition of a pogrom.”
No longer is Modi merely the “Butcher of Gujarat” — under the reign of his RSS regime, he has become the Butcher of India.
“India is descending into a night of dread and despair,” says Indian political scientist Pratap Bhanu Mehta. “The ongoing riots in Delhi are not a tactical aberration, some absent-minded lapse of attention. They have been in the making for a while, and represent the future that our ruling classes, with our aid and support, have imagined for us. The idea is to carpet bomb the Indian republic as we know it, and replace it with a regime that thrives on cruelty, fear, division, and violence.”
Fascism is not rising in India — it has risen.
And the threat of genocide looms large.
Here in America, sitting literally on the other side of the world, we face a choice.
Will we just watch and wait for the next pogrom, for the next genocide warning, for the next community to be “othered,” targeted, and systematically exterminated?
Will we just watch and wait for the Indian version of “Schindler’s List” to hit the silver screen so that we can take a couple hours on a Saturday evening to munch popcorn as we shed crocodile tears and wring our hands, asking, “How could it have happened?”
Will we imitate the Americans of the 1930s and remain mute spectators while the fascists abroad use our soil in America to spread their doctrines of hate, violence, and supremacy?
That is exactly what is happening today. Modi’s regime is drawing moral and material assistance from a support base in the USA — from the thousands of Indian-Americans who belong to the overseas wings of the RSS and the BJP, who organize his rock-star receptions around America, who fund his campaigns, and who travel to India en masse to work for his election.
Meanwhile, President Trump is busy putting profits over people as he does the dance of love with Modi at his rockstar receptions, negotiates trade deals with him, and then turns around to tell us that Modi “very strongly” wants people to have religious freedom even while the Butcher of India is sending religious minorities to the graveyard.
Decades from now, will we look back and shake our heads over the travesty and tragedy that the USA supported yet another brutal dictator just as it did with the Shah of Iran, Pinochet in Chile, Suharto in Indonesia, Saddam Hussein in Iraq, the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia, and countless other authoritarian regimes around the globe?
Or will we be silent no longer as we stand against the current of the times to lift up our lamps and provide a flicker of hope that liberty, peace, and prosperity can touch the shores of every nation of the world?
America is unique for at least two reasons.
We have a culture of liberty. Though imperfectly practiced and inconsistently protected, our enumerated rights are correctly understood as inalienable — meaning that they are absolute, non-negotiable, and cannot be taken away. Flowing from our Creator, our rights exist not by some whim of the government but by virtue of our very own existence.
We are also a land of refugees. The sole purpose of America’s existence is to provide refuge for the tired, the poor, the wretched, the homeless, the huddled masses yearning to be free. From the day that the Mayflower first landed at Plymouth Rock all the way to the present day, every resident of America ended up here as a refugee in some way or another — whether they arrived in search of freedom from religious, economic, social, or political persecution, every American in America is here because it is the land of opportunity. The opportunity to be free.
But our freedom doesn’t exist so that we can grow rich and fat and arrogant. Our rights are accompanied by a single sacred duty — the duty to speak out against tyranny and show all other nations of the world that they, too, can be free. For those of us gathered here today, the first and best way to do that is to be a voice for the voiceless persecuted people of India — for the widows who are thrown behind bars because their daughters dared to stare fascism in the face.
Let us remember that our silence in the face of oppression means that we have chosen the side of the oppressor — and let us not fail at our duty to speak.
You must speak out.
* About Author: Pieter Friedrich is a South Asian Affairs Analyst who resides in California. He is the co-author of Captivating the Simple-Hearted: A Struggle for Human Dignity in the Indian Subcontinent.
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