By Mallika Kaur| OPINION |
While Trump and Modi display further bonhomie this week, #DelhiBurning trends on Twitter, and mainstream media rushes to control the narrative around plumes of smoke rising from New Delhi neighborhoods right now. The extent of injuries and casualties are unconfirmed; the videos and photos that have made it out are chilling.
“Friends are in East Delhi. Police won’t allow our attempt to take medical supplies in. I am worried. Can I text back later?” writes a former student. Her family lived through the anti-Sikh pogroms in Delhi past. The inconvenient memories of the survivors of that violence know how it can escalate into even a pogrom, know how victims are blamed for their own victimization, know that the targeting is a deathly signal to minorities much beyond the scope of the current violence: after all, this violence has been performed in the capital city, kilometers away from where Trump dined! These inconvenient memories reject the politically expedient explanations of “Hindu-Muslim riots.”
Since December, much before Trump’s mega visit, citizens in India have been protesting new laws that are widely understood as anti-Muslim. These laws were barely cloaked with rationales of national security and government benevolence. India’s Muslim minority has felt deathly vulnerable in the face of legalized discrimination and social emboldening of the anti-Muslim Indian right-wing.
Now, Muslims are bearing the bloody brunt in the capital of the country. Social media shares videos of police engaging in violence against injured Muslims lying collapsed on the ground, of forcing bloodied Muslim men to sing the national anthem and chant Hindu slogans, of encouraging armed mobs shouting vicious anti-Muslim slogans, of assailants running right by the police and then proceeding to attack Muslims. Indian media houses have minimized the violence as “between two groups”and the government characterized the whole crisis as “orchestrated.”
A BJP spokeswoman tweeted the violence and killing (of a police constable) was a “ploy to embarrass India,” and ironically attributes it to the same “anti-India forces” that accompanied Bill Clinton’s visit to India in 2000. On the eve of Clinton’s visit, 35 Sikh civilians were summarily executed in Chattisinghpora village in Kashmir, by masked assailants. The role of the Indian forces in the massacre and the later cover-up — including by executing local Kashmiri Muslims men, dubbed “Pakistani terrorists” — was alleged by locals from the onset; then reported internationally; and eventually confirmed in part by the Indian Supreme Court.
By now, many across Delhi, and Sikhs across the world, are retriggered by memories of the pogroms of 1984, when Delhi was shut down for days while armed, organized, government-backed mobs unleashed sadistic, sexualized, ravaging violence against Sikhs (many in their own homes, lists for which had been provided to the “mobs”). Thousands were murdered in days.
The survivors seethed at the mockery and shaming to which they were subjected in the aftermath. Being taunted walking down a street — “Yeh Sikh Kaise Bach Geya” (How did this Sikh survive)? Being prodded with gibes about the recent trauma — “Sardar toh sirf chiriya ghar mein milenge” (You’ll have to go to the zoo to find a Sikh now)!
These memories are inconvenient to any narrative peddled now about “antinational” “bad” Muslims “clashing” with “good” Hindu Indian citizens. It is also inconvenient to Indian liberal narratives which while intent on rejecting the current politics of hate, ignore the pre-Modi, the pre-2002, the pre-1990 history of India. Meanwhile these ignored histories contribute to the popularity of the current strongmen; directly relate to the draconian clampdown on the entire Kashmir Valley; fuel India’s oft-rung alarm bells against nuclear neighbor Pakistan, triggering inter-generational traumas for those living along the volatile border.
For too long, there has been an electorally expedient blueprint that actively fuels divisions and mistrust, creates an enemy community, and stokes communal hostility to prevent everyday citizens from exhibiting everyday humanity.
Rather than condemning the armed attackers, Indian politicians of various hues have rushed to issue concerned statements that India’s ‘image’ is being sullied by the protestors, who are the targets of the violence. Meanwhile, once my former student confirms the well-being of her Muslim friends in East Delhi — and now that some lawyers have succeeded in obtaining a midnight court order for medical access for the injured — I’m sure she will text me back. Hope is hounded, but kept alive by these citizens.
Black November: India’s judicial system failed 1984 victims (Asia Samachar, 25 Nov 2019)