The Death Of The World's Largest Democracy

July 24, 2020

By: Alazne Qaisar, Badra Abbas

“There is a great deal of intolerance and hatred in this world, but there isn’t enough hatred towards intolerance”-Alazne 

India’s treatment of minorities and in particular her Muslim population has recently surfaced on the international stage as a trend towards systemic oppression, suppression of cultural and religious identities, a rise in intolerance and discrimination. 
Nearing the end of February, communal violence exploded in Delhi, with Hindu nationalist mobs targeting Muslims, their businesses and communities. The death toll was reportedly as high as 50 (around 37 Muslims) and hundreds were injured. The events in New Delhi marked the worst violence in more than 30 years, and it began when people peacefully protested against the new Citizenship Amendment Act (or CAA). The BJP party, the current head of the Indian government characterized these protesters as traitors, which ignited days of violence. Muslims and protesters unable to escape were killed or burned by nationalist Hindu mobs. The response from the government, in light of this appalling violence, was not only late but incredibly ineffective. Prime Minister Narendra Modi waited days before responding to the violence, before feebly calling for peace with a tweet. 

India is the largest democracy in the world, a secular state containing a multitude of cultures and religions. Despite this manufactured global persona, India holds two positions on the genocide Watch List: for the state of Assam and the previously semi-autonomous region of Kashmir. Countries are placed on the list when the early stages of genocide occur or a significant threat to an ethnic or religious group is suspected. 

India has a long and bloody history of sectarian conflict, and under the ultra-nationalist BJP government, who has been running India since 2014, the levels of violence have only increased. According to an IndiaSpend analysis of data from the home ministry, under Modi's leadership occurrences of communal violence have increased by 28% between 2014-2017. In the years 2012-2019, there have been 168 attacks by extremists in the name of protecting cows, leaving 46 people dead. On the internet, horrific videos circulate, showing Muslims being beaten and tortured while police watch or participate. Accounts of police brutality or apathy have emerged, demonstrating a new reality, the end of Indian democracy.

If the Bharatiya Janata Party and Hitler’s  National Socialist German Workers' Party are compared, many similarities would be noticed. Firstly, both parties initially campaigned on economic promises, coupled with an aggressive form of nationalism and scapegoating. The BJP not only followed the same campaign strategy, but many key party members and supporters are open about their extreme dislike of Muslims and other religious minorities. For example, BJP leader Rajeshwar Singh vowed in 2014 to wipe out Indian Muslims and Christians by December 31, 2021. Would a man like Rajeswar Singh align himself with a democratic and secular-minded party? If the RSS, one of the militant branches of the BJP, is examined, many of the same troubling beliefs are present. Many of the faction’s operations mirror the actions of the Nazi paramilitary wing, the brown shirts, or Sturmabteilung. This violent right-wing group has participated in and incited many violent altercations and attacks since its founding. Perhaps most disturbing is the fact that both the founding head MS Golwalkar and notorious member VD Savarkar were admirers of Hitler’s “cultural nationalism” and his policies concerning Jews. Consequently, the core principle of the RSS is Hindutva, which claims that India is a nation of Hindus, for Hindus alone. 

Even if PM Modi’s allies and supporters are disregarded, he espouses anti-minority sentiments and has been accused of involvement in a massacre. In 2002, PM Modi held a different position as chief minister of Gujarat. That same year, a train carriage carrying Hindu pilgrims caught fire and killed 58 people. Without any corroborating evidence, he immediately declared it the work of the Pakistani government or Muslim traitors, despite a later official inquiry reporting that it was likely accidental. But the damage was done. Riots killed more than 1000 people, almost 800 of them being Muslims, Muslim women were raped and murdered, while the state government declared a three-day strike. Narendra Modi and the government were suspected of ordering the police to stand by, earning Modi the title Butcher of Gujarat. While he was never formally charged for his alleged involvement, and an investigation concluded nothing, the U.S. still banned him from entry until he became the Prime Minister. To this day, allegations against him and party members are heard and dismissed in courts. 

Is this the kind of leader who wins landslide victories in a democratic nation? One that has never been cleared of his involvement in an atrocious massacre? What does it say about India, where such violence is justified in the name of patriotism? Does the rhetoric of ethnic cleansing not remind anyone of the Rohingya massacres or the Holocaust? When the BJP calls Muslims anti-state actors and terrorists, can the parallels to the Armenian genocide be ignored?

Many of the administration's greatest supporters seem to suggest that economic growth outweighs human life, and even if fundamental morality is removed, the Indian economy has not improved during the BJP reign. In December 2019, before the COVID-19 crash, India’s GDP grew 4.5%, the lowest rate in 5 years. Demonetisation has been devastating, as has the new goods and services tax Modi implemented. Since 2014, the previous narrative regarding economic improvements has been abandoned, and the focus has shifted to nationalist propaganda. Experts now speculate that Modi will double down on his efforts to dehumanize Muslims, another key stage of genocide. 

But for a moment, let us change the focus to something Modi has done, which would strip Muslims in India of citizenship. His party has passed two bills, the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and the NRC or National Register of Citizens. 

CAA makes it easier for people of every significant South Asian religion except for Islam to become Indian citizens. So Hindus living in Pakistan would be fast-tracked, but Muslims from Pakistan, or anywhere, would struggle to attain citizenship. This bill directly contradicts Article 15 of the Indian Constitution, which bars discrimination based on religion, caste, sex, and place of birth. A second bill is the National Register of Citizens.  On paper, its purpose is to identify illegal immigrants in India. In reality, its basis appears to be the disenfranchisement of Muslims who live in India, such as the Bengali Muslims in Assam. In August of 2019, 2 million people were disenfranchised, and it does not end there. More than 4 million people in India, mostly Muslims, are at risk of being declared illegal foreigners. Ironically, the majority of Muslims have lived in India for generations. Some, like an army officer, Mohammed Sanuallah have fought for the Indian army. The stripping away of protections and rights is eerily similar to the removal of the Rohingya's rights before the mass killing. A massive detention camp is under construction, and at least six are currently operational in the state of Assam. History has indicated that detention camps are not typically interested in the welfare of people labelled traitors or illegal immigrants. Unfortunately, even Muslims who have lived in India for generations might not have proper documentation, due to poor literacy and a lack of birth registrations in rural and impoverished areas. These people would become stateless and stripped of constitutional protections. It would also be deeply unfair if the register was discriminatory, needlessly punishing people, and driving some to suicide, by declaring them illegal in their own home. NRC is a severe threat to the safety, right to citizenship, and any protections millions of Muslims were once guaranteed. The legislation also effectively destroys any chance of political participation and a change in how the country is governed. In addition to these existing problems, it is against Article 15 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which allows people to have a nationality, and protects them from being arbitrarily stripped of their nationality. 

As the crimes committed upon innocent people in Kashmir have emerged (torture, rape, beatings, and an end to journalistic freedoms), it is becoming clear that the violence in India is only going to get worse. 

Kashmir-- Saffronising The Land
Condensing the turbulent history of Kashmir, a disputed territory marred by decades of unrest and violence into a page would be impossible. But to look at Kashmir in the current sphere of the discrimination and rise in intolerance within India is something that peaked less than a year ago. 
On August 6th, 2019, the Indian government abrogated Article 370 and 35A followed by months of lockdown, internet and communications shutdown, cancellation of flights and the arrest of several Kashmiri leaders. Jammu & Kashmir was stripped of its statehood and Ladakh separated into union territories. 

Article 370 and 35A
Article 370 was the foundation of Kashmir’s accession to India in 1947. Former princely states had the option of acceding to Pakistan or India after gaining independence from the British. Kashmir acceded to India on the condition that a referendum or plebiscite must be conducted in the future under the UN to allow Kashmiris to determine their fate and the future of their land. This referendum was never delivered. Article 370 gave Kashmir a certain level of autonomy, with the region adhering to its own constitution rather than the Indian constitution. Article 35A allowed Kashmir to operate under its own jurisdiction in defining permanent residents of the land, property ownership and rights. It prohibited outsiders from purchasing land, holding government positions or winning education scholarships in the land. Many international law experts called the abrogation unconstitutional as the State Legislative Assembly was dissolved earlier since the BJP- PDP (People’s Democratic Party) coalition government saw BJP exit thereby leaving no clear majority in the house. Any changes to the laws affecting Kashmir have to be enacted in the presence of the State Legislative Assembly. 

As the region went under lockdown, any and all protests were suppressed, mobility was restricted, all flights were cancelled and major leaders such as Omar and Farooq Abdullah (National Conference leaders) were jailed. Mehbooba Mufti the PDP leader and former Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir were also jailed despite her party’s alliance with the BJP. Supporters of the decision raise the argument that the abrogation of the article will open doors to economic development and prosperity while critics argue that the move is to suppress India’s only Muslim majority region and change its demographics. 

Army Atrocities
Kashmir is the world’s most militarised zone with almost 950,000 army members in the region. The promised rainbow of economic development while a sanctioned lockdown, deprival of internet services and the arrest of Kashmiri journalists have created a farrago of prospering BJP interests and marginalisation of Kashmiris. As more army members were stationed in Kashmir after last year’s decision to abrogate the articles, people around the world are compelled to believe in the militarised settler-colonial sentiments that have carried the legacy of past central governments before. The army has routinely oppressed and committed war crimes in the valley. According to a report by Human Rights Watch, the army has "assaulted civilians during search operations, tortured and summarily executed detainees in custody and murdered civilians in reprisal attacks". The Indian forces have also used rape as a means of torture. The incident concerning the soldiers of the 4th Rajputana Rifles of the Indian Army raping 23 women during a search operation in Kunan Poshpora village in Kuphwara district is one of the well-known cases of crimes against humanity in the region. In 1990, the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (AFSPA) was enacted in the Indian parliament which gives unprecedented power to the army including limited to no accountability for security forces with cases of human rights violations according to Amnesty International. The army has also brutally massacred Kashmiris several times with some notable examples being: 

  • Kupwara massacre- On 27 January 1994 the Indian Army fired at and killed 27 civilians in Kupwara district.
  • Hawal massacre- At the funeral of Mirwaiz Muhammad Farooq (a religious leader) on 21 May 1990 over 60 civilians were killed by paramilitary forces and hundreds injured as troops began firing on the funeral procession indiscriminately.
  • Handwara massacre- On 25 January 1990, two BSF patrolling parties in Handwara fired at peaceful protesters and killed 25 people, injuring several.

Enforced disappearances and mass graves taint the valley as a State Human Rights Commission inquiry in 2011 confirmed the existence of thousands of bullet-ridden bodies buried in unmarked graves in Jammu and Kashmir. Of the 2730 bodies found in 4 of the 14 districts, 574 bodies were identified as missing locals, a contrast to the Indian governments claims that all the graves belong to foreign militants. In 2007, US officials raised the alarm on the use of torture by the Indian army in Kashmir and in 2012, a notable human rights lawyer, Parvez Imroz, along with his colleagues began the study of torture used by the army against Kashmiris accounting for crimes against humanity. His report detailed how torture against Kashmiris is both endemic and systematic. The report outlines that one in six Kashmiris have faced torture. In Imroz's study sample of 50 villages, more than 2,000 cases of torture were documented, and he found that there were 50 centres run by the army where torture is practised since 1989. For the first time in history, on 14 June 2018, the UN human rights council released a report of 49 pages on human rights violations in Kashmir and accused both stakeholder nations--India and Pakistan on the issue. 

The overall rudimentary hypocrisy embedded within the motivation for the BJP to continue its suppression of Kashmiri voices by imposing a lockdown, blocking all communication services and abrogating laws without consulting the Kashmiris themselves, is a move towards cultural genocide and homogenisation of society to alienate minorities. BJP leader Amit Shah exclaimed in a rally on how the current situation in Kashmir and the ‘prosperity’ that will follow are indicative of integrating Kashmiris and instilling nationalism within the valley. 

How can India expect Kashmiris to chant “Hail Modi, Hail India” after the unapologetic and brazen decision that ruptured the fabric of accession and its terms, trust between two nations? When Kashmiri children are being snatched away from their childhood, tattooed by blinding pellets, when fathers are taken away at the midnight hour, houses burnt down, women widowed. How can they expect sympathy towards the rest of India when few spoke out against the human rights violations by the army in the valley? 

Self-determination and the right to decide to future of their land is an inalienable right. But one of the misconceptions regarding the effects of economic development on sovereignty and freedom is that prosperity will stifle shouts for independence. In fact, some of the world’s richest or economically well-developed regions such as Catalonia still continue to fight for self-determination despite it being one of Spain’s richest areas. Similarly, low poverty rates in the oil-rich Kurdish governorates of Iraq did not prevent Iraqi Kurds from voting overwhelmingly for independence in a 2017 referendum. The continued oppression of Kashmiris with the simultaneous promise of blossoming economic development which seeks to benefit not Kashmiris rather the Indian government is a flawed policy 

The new domicile law is another centre for recent controversies. The law seeks to provide citizenship or permanent residency to people outside of Kashmir, a movement towards demographic changes. In Tibet, the Chinese government encouraged the mass immigration of the mainland Chinese population into the territory thereby forcibly making indigenous Tibetans a minority in their homeland. The situation compares to the Domicile Law in Kashmir as it seeks to eradicate a Kashmiri majority so that if a referendum were to be held, the Indigenous Kashmiri population would be outnumbered by supporters of the BJP. 

The misinformation and media propaganda that aid in fortifying support for the ruling party coupled with the lack of awareness in the rest of India is the reasoning behind the dangerous path that India has taken, astray from its secular, tolerant values towards the principles of draconian fascism. 

The latest attacks on Muslims in India, are indefensible, mobs make no excuses anymore, they just kill and destroy. The police no longer protect Muslims, or Hindus protesting against the BJP and against violence. Predominantly Muslim universities such as Jamia Millia Islamia and Aligarh Muslim University have been targets for police brutality. Students have been attacked by police armed with tear gas at Jamia Millia, and AMU was put under siege by continuous attacks. Lynchings and beatings have put people in the hospital, and rapists and other perpetrators face no punishment. Indian celebrities and intellectuals openly condemn the killings of innocent African Americans by police, but hypocritically turn a blind eye to the violence experienced by Indian and Kashmiri Muslims. 

There have been efforts to eradicate Muslims from India’s history, despite the central role Muslims have played in India’s history from the very beginning. Muslims are responsible for some of India's greatest cultural treasures and accomplishments, such as the Taj Mahal. There are textbook changes, names of cities are altered (such as Allahabad to Prayag Raj), all to eradicate the contributions and existence of Muslims in India’s past. Approximately 182 million or more Muslims are living in India, and all of them are at risk, right now. 

There are ten stages to genocide, some of the most recognizable being discrimination, dehumanization, and of course extermination, at which point it is too late to save lives. As the Jews were once scapegoated, Muslims are easy scapegoats for an ineffective government. Muslims are blamed for a variety of imagined offences, such as domestic terrorism and transmission of the COVID-19 disease. The current slew of propaganda against India’s largest minority, the brutality of the police, and the authoritarian actions of the government might result in the loss of millions of lives unless immediate action is taken. Why must people wait for retroactive Nuremberg Trials and cries of Never Again? 

Perhaps the reason the international community is so slow to react and adequately hold India responsible is due to the rise of anti-Muslim sentiment and intolerance worldwide. There are detention camps for Muslims in China, Palestine, Myanmar, the United States, and now India. How is it possible that the 21st century still hasn’t accepted the intrinsic value of human lives? 

If the international community chose to act, the effects could be profound. As a developing nation, India could be leveraged using economic trade. For example, countries with expected economic or growing economic ties to India could apply pressure in return for Kashmir's autonomy, or the removal of policies such as NRC and CAA. If liberal democracies decide to defend the moral principles on which they were founded, India could be sanctioned for its many offences. The United States, the ‘defender of human lives’, is in a powerful position to alleviate this crisis. India ratified the UN Genocide Convention, which means India cannot commit genocide as a signatory (articles 2 and 3 of the Convention), and the member nations of this convention are obligated to protect the Muslim population of India and Kashmir against the threat of genocide. India’s government and officials that were complicit could be tried in front of a tribunal (national or international). What is unfolding in India is preventable, and the loss of innocent lives is senseless.

As a reader possibly living in a nation with the power to change this, you need to act. Peacefully protest, speak out, educate yourself, and others. Either all lives have value, or no lives do. If you live in a nation on the Genocide Watch List, or a nation with similar crimes, you are complicit if you don’t act. Acting patriotically should never be about excusing or participating in your nation's crimes, but about bettering your country. 

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