Delhi 2020: This is organised genocidal violence

By framing what is almost always organised state sponsored terrorism as ‘communal violence’, the politicians and state are provided with a perfect smokescreen to escape responsibility.

1. Kristallnacht,1938: Germans pass by the smashed windows of a Jewish-owned shop in the aftermath of Kristallnacht, the German anti-Semitic pogrom (Photo: Universal History Archive/Getty Images). 2. New Delhi, 1984: Hindu mob after setting fire to Sikh houses in 1984. 3. Gujarat, 2002. 4. Hindu mob attacking a Muslim in North Delhi in 2020 (Photo: Danish Siddiqui/Reuters)
By Gurnam Singh | OPINION |

In a recent interview on Democracy Now, a news agency that prides itself in its independence from corporate and government interests, Cambridge historian Dr Priyamvada Gopal compares the current situation in India following the  Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) introduction of the Citizens Amendment Act (CAA) and the recent anti Muslim violence in Delhi to the 1930’s Nazi holocaust. SEE HERE

What we saw last week in North Delhi, she argues, was NOT a conflict or riot between two religious groups but organised genocidal violence by a majority Hindu community against a minority Muslim population. She goes on to suggest that much of the Indian media has succumbed to vested interests and has adopted the “language of ‘clashes,’ and even ‘riots’ and ‘communal violence’, when in fact, what we have been seeing is Hindu nationalist attacks on Muslims in India”. For Gopal, the best characterisation of the violence in Delhi is to see it as a manifestation “an uneven distribution of power” that has resulted in “deep, structural violence.”

Many critical observers of the current state of India and the unfolding violence in Delhi argue it is comparable to 1930’s Germany and Kristallnacht or the ‘Night of Broken Glass’.

On 9th and 10th Nov 1938, similar violence against Jews was carried out by paramilitary forces and civilians throughout Nazi Germany. I would add that there are frightening similarities with the anti-Sikh pogroms between 1-3 Nov 1984 when over 10,000 lives were lost and of course the violence against Muslims that were directly orchestrated by Narendra Modi in Gujarat in 2002.

Since independence, there has been a regular pattern of such violence against religious minorities and Dalit’s across India. By framing what is almost always organised state sponsored terrorism as ‘communal violence’, the politicians and state are provided with a perfect smokescreen to escape responsibility. Since there is a regular pattern of majoritarian violence in India, I fear that, unless those politicians responsible for orchestrating the violence are identified and prosecuted, last week’s violence may actually be a curtain raised for a nationwide pogrom, a trial run to test the reaction of the international community.

Some argue that the repetitive nature of these small and large scale genocides within the Indian state over the course of its 70-odd years of existence since 1947 represents the inherent nature of what is rapidly becoming a failed state. Indeed, one needs to recall that India was born in violence and bloodshed and not in some romantic democratic transfer of power.

As mentioned earlier, though the narrative of ‘communalism’ in India is often framed as Hindu vs Muslim, the reality is that the real axis of division is the ‘Hindi’, namely, the Indian states whose official language is Hindi and have a Hindi-speaking majority, namely Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh and the National Capital Territory of Delhi, and the rest of India. If communalism is a smokescreen, then the real politics is one of centralisation and economic and cultural imperialism, which is manifest in suppression of regional languages, identities and aspirations. In this regard, one could compare the policies and strategies of the BJP/RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh) with the very same strategies adopted by the British during their rule.

It is against this backdrop that we need to see the anti-Sikh violence throughout the 1980’s, which resulted in the November 1984 pogroms in Delhi and the deaths of over 100,000 Panjabis across Northern India, mostly at the hands of state sponsored actors, either through proxies posing as terrorists or extrajudicial killings of Sikh youth by the police. Sadly, through media manipulation and a powerful state propaganda machinery, much of this period was characterised as a battle between democratic secular India seeking to confront Sikh terrorism, supported by external agents!

When a state feels compelled to deploy its own security apparatus against minorities on a regular basis, then you know this is not only a dangerous place to live, but is itself afraid of its own existential death. Today we live in an internet age where social media in particular has meant that suppressing the ‘truth’ is almost impossible. Despite the efforts of state players, each episode of genocidal violence simply exposes the deep cracks and dysfunctionality of what is rapidly becoming a Hindutva Colonial state.

Many people, Panjabis and Sikhs in particular, have sacrificed much in the struggle to remove the British imperialists and establish an independent India where all its citizens were able to feel the glow of freedom. Sadly, what we are seeing is a nightmare scenario emerging, though within the darkness there is still some light in the form the solidarity shown by Sikhs who also experienced similar genocidal violence in 1984. As well as the Gurdwaras opening up their doors and offering protection and providing food for the victims in North Delhi, we have seem amazing individual acts of heroism, such as the example of 53 year old Mohinder Singh and his son Inderjit Singh who used their Bullet motorcycle and scooter to help transport 60-80 Muslim neighbours to a safe location from the epicentre of the violence which was in the Hindu-dominated neighbourhood of Gokalpuri in northeast Delhi.

It is clear that it in the selfless humanitarian intervention of Mohinder Singh that we can see true faith in action. True faith is concerned with peace, love and justice and anybody that disowns these principles has no right to identify with any faith.

The Hindutva/RSS is certainly a threat to minorities in India, be they Muslim, Sikh, Dalit, etc, but perhaps the greatest threat is to Hindus themselves, the vast majority who live in poverty and suffer state violence themselves on a daily basis. By identifying such a racist, casteist, chauvinist hateful project with Hinduism is indeed an insult to this great tradition, and it is important that the false rhetoric of ‘communal violence and strife’ is rejected. What we saw in Delhi and have been seeing in India for decades is state sponsored violence.

Individuals for sure have a responsibility towards their fellow human being, then arguably there is an even greater responsibility on those countries and international bodies such as the UN to confront India. Patrick Cockburn, in a piece in the Independent (28 Feb 2020) headed ‘While Muslims are being murdered in India, the rest of the world is too slow to condemn’, raises important questions about the failure of the so called democratic Western nations to respond to what is without doubt a classic case of fascist violence. He argues that ‘fascist behaviour by present day political leaders and their governments, similar to that of fascist regimes in Germany, Italy and Spain in the 1930s and 1940s, should not be made lightly’ but ‘Modi and the BJP appear closer than other right-wing regimes to traditional fascism in their extreme nationalism and readiness to use violence.’

The inability of the powerful nations to raise concerns probably highlights either a tacit complicity with Modi’s policy or a deep crisis of international governance or both! If nothing is done, then no doubt we are likely to see an intensification of violence against Muslims and other groups who oppose Hinduva fascism. In such a scenario, there is a real possibility of wide scale violence and perhaps even civil war with immense bloodshed and a balkanisation of the whole sub-continent. As we have seen in other places, such as Syria and Iraq, the unfolding tragedy will be responsible for unleashing reactionary, nationalist, fundamentalist and sectarian forces across the region, and in the ensuing fires of hate it will be the most vulnerable sections of the population that will suffer the most.

Until and unless the vast majority of Indians, whatever faith or non-faith tradition they identify with, and the international order, unifies to confront the politics of hate that has become the hallmark of the Indian state, then the future for India and the whole sub-continent is bleak.

[Gurnam Singh is an academic activist dedicated to human rights, liberty, equality, social and environmental justice. He is an Associate Professor of Sociology at University of Warwick, UK. He can be contacted at]

* This is the opinion of the writer and does not necessarily represent the views of Asia Samachar.


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