College student Muskan Khan walks in front of Hindutva men jeering at her hijab in India’s Karnataka State, February 8, 2022
In Karnataka State in southwest India, Muslim female students are denied access to their college because they wear the hijab.
In the city of Gurgaon in Haryana State in the north of the country, Muslims are denied entry to a field in which they have communal Friday prayers. Right-wing Hindu groups erect large tents to perform religious ceremonies in the area.
In December 2021, festive celebrations in Uttar Pradesh in northern India were disrupted with statues of Jesus smashed and effigies of Santa Claus burned.
Last month, before a packed audience and thousands watching online, Hindu monks in the city of Haridwar in Uttar Pradesh called for a campaign to “kill two million” Muslims. The faithful are urged to carry out a systematic ethnic cleansing, similar to that in Myanmar against Rohingya Muslims. Yati Narsinghanand, who organised the event, is arrested for objectionable remarks on women —- but not for the anti-Islam hate speech.
These acts of targeted intimidation and threats of violence against a minority community, with a rhetoric once considered to be fringe extremism, are now part of India’s political machinery at State and Federal level. The expressions of hate are normalized by political leaders and local police officials: there is no condemnation of the threats, let alone action against them.
Karnataka, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh: all are strongholds of India’s ruling party, the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). All are entering a year of local and regional elections.
The Politics of Hate
The incidents are escalating, but they are not new. They were set in motion from 2014, when the BJP’s Narendra Modi was first elected Prime Minister. He has given free reign to those who believe in Hindu supremacy, energizing an “us versus them” mentality and action. Mob rule has been sanctioned against Muslims suspected of killing cows, loving couples suspected of an inter-religious relationship, and religious gatherings suspected of proselytizing and conversion.
The BJP is linked to the Hinduist right-wing, ultra-orthodox Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), which provides many volunteers — including Narendra Modi at one point — to organize elections and political action. In many cases, it is these volunteers who stoke the flames of hate to make India the land of the Hindus.
Two possible successors to Modi are linked to the RSS and play to its base. In 2018, current Home Minister Amit Shah said Muslim immigrants and asylum seekers from Bangladesh were “termites” and promised to rid the nation of them. Yogi Adityanath, the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, compared Muslim Bollywood superstar Shah Rukh Khan to Hafiz Saeed, the alleged planner of the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks.
Legislators have followed the lead. In 2019 Parliament passed a bill that gave immigrants from three neighboring countries a pathway to citizenship — unless they were Muslims. In December 2020, Uttar Pradesh enacted an anti-conversion law, making it more difficult for interfaith couples to marry or for anyone to convert to Islam or Christianity. Other states, including Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka, and Assam, have introduced similar laws, leading to widespread harassment, arrests, and beatings for interfaith couples, Imams, Christian priests, and pastors.
Gregory Stanton, the founder of Genocide Watch, recently told a US Congressional hearing that the demonizing and discriminatory “processes” which can lead to genocide are well underway in India. He drew parallels between the policies pursued by Modi and the discriminatory policies of Myanmar’s regime against Rohingya Muslims in 2017.
In its 2021 index, Human Rights Watch profiled, “Attacks continued against minorities, especially Muslims, even as authorities failed to take action against BJP leaders who vilified Muslims and BJP supporters who engaged in violence already started.”
With local and regional elections across India this year, that violence could escalate. A US intelligence report in 2019 warned that Parliamentary elections increase the possibility of communal violence as Modi’s BJP “stresses Hindu first themes”. State leaders “might view a Hindu-nationalist campaign as a signal to incite low-level violence to animate their supporters”.
Stage-by-Stage Towards Mass Killing?
With the normalisation of hate, gaslighting mobs to do the bidding of those in power, India is already at the fourth of Stanton’s 10 stages of genocide.
The Government’s “classification” creates Us v. Them: the Citizenship Amendment Bill offers amnesty to non-Muslim illegal immigrants from three neighboring countries, yet not to Muslims who have lived in India for generations. Many Muslims and other minorities are on the receiving end of symbolization, when symbols may be forced upon unwilling members of pariah groups. Discrimination has been entrenched from the introduction of the CAB laws to the Government’s unilateral action of scrapping safeguards in occupied Kashmir, making Muslim women a target of objectification and dehumanization. Senior BJP leaders expressed joy that they might marry “white-skinned” Kashmiri women.
How much further? The fifth stage, Organization, approaches as Hindu vigilante groups attack mosques and churches. In Haridwar, Sadhvi Annapurna, general secretary of the Hindu Mahasabha, proclaimed, “If 100 of us are ready to kill two million of them, then we will win and make India a Hindu nation.”
Outsiders and Accomplices
In Karnataka, a hijab-wearing student, Muskan Khan, parked her scooter in the parking lot of her college. She was heckled by a mob of Hindutva supporters, who tried to surround her. Undaunted, she continued walking towards her college building.
She later reflected, “Since I started studying, I’ve always worn the burqa and hijab. When I entered class, I removed the burqa….The principal has said nothing. Outsiders started this,”
The video of Khan has gone viral on social media. She has been offered support by high-profile figures such as Nobel Prize winner Malala Yousafzai, footballer Paul Pogba, and actor John Cusack.
But the support must come from inside the country as well. India is entering the 20th anniversary of the Gujarat riots, in which Hindu groups carried out reprisal attacks against Muslims after a train fire killed 59 Hindu pilgrims. Although the cause was disputed, the mob killed more than 1,000 people and maimed many others. About 250 women and girls were gang-raped and then burnt to death; children were force-fed petrol and set on fire.
The Chief Minister of Gujarat at the time was Narendra Modi, accused of inaction and even of ordering
security forces to stand aside.
In 2022, the issue is not inaction, It’s even worse: Modi and his Government are far from passive — they could be accomplices as India slow-walks towards mass killing.