Any journalist or media organization using the terms ‘clashes’ or even ‘riots’ for what is now happening in India: you are directly complicit in sanitizing pogroms.
On the second day of US President Trump's visit to India, 22-year-old tailor Faizan rushed to where his mother took part in a peaceful sit-in against Prime Minister Modi's discriminatory anti-Muslim law. When he arrived, he could just see how an armed gang of Hindu nationalists attacked the demonstrators. The police fired tear gas and Faizan ran away. He ran into a police cordon and was immediately beaten up.
A video of what happened then went viral. Faizan is lying injured on the floor with four others. The policemen standing around them keep caning them. The five men are forced to sing the national anthem. Faizan was later dragged to the police station. Only a day later he was released. His family quickly brought him to the hospital, but it was too late. He died of his injuries on Thursday morning.
It is just one of the gruesome scenes of the pogroms against Muslims of the last week in the Indian capital Delhi. However, if you mainly follow mainstream media, you will not have noticed much of it.
Media has been complicit
Newspaper titles such as 'Delhi rocked by deadly protests during Donald Trump's India visit' appeared everywhere in the western media. Numerous other titles were similar. The criticism of writer and Cambridge professor Priyamvada Gopal is merciless for such reporting. Last Wednesday, she tweeted:
Any journalist or media organization using the terms ‘clashes’ or even ‘riots’: you are directly complicit in sanitizing pogroms. Directly. Do it but do it without illusions.
A criticism that she repeated more extensively in an interview with Democracy Now!. There Gopal said:
This is not a situation where equal and opposite forces are in conflict. It’s not even a civil war. What we have is a very dangerous supremacist ideology that is now out on the streets. And I’m afraid that the parallels with 1930s Germany are extremely clear. What has taken place in Delhi in the last couple of days is comparable to the Reichskristallnacht, when Jewish businesses were attacked and set on fire. And I think that the world really needs to wake up to the gravity of the situation in India, because we are in a situation not unlike what was happening in Germany in the 1930s, in its 21st century variation. But I think that to just play this out as conflicts and clashes and religious fights, I think, is deeply irresponsible.
In India, Muslims, supported by many sympathizers, have been protesting for months against increasing discrimination of the Muslim population. It started when in August of last year in the north-eastern state of Assam, two million Muslims lost their Indian citizenship because they did not have sufficient documents to prove their nationality. What happened in Assam was a test case. The Citizenship Amendment Act was voted on in December. This makes it possible for non-Muslims from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan to acquire Indian nationality more quickly. So it doesn't apply to Muslims. For Indian Muslims and their supports, this rightly feels like massive discrimination.
Violence starts with Prime Minister Modi
All of this is part of the ongoing efforts of Modi’s BJP to make India an exclusive Hindu state. The law provoked massive protests that continue to this day. The violence is a reaction to that protest from Muslims who are supported by many Indian non-Muslims. The latter also proves the recent election results in Delhi. The BJP of Modi suffered an election defeat there in February. Apparently that was the signal to stir up hatred even more.
Two days before the pogroms broke out, a minister in Prime Minister Modi's cabinet expressed his regret that in 1947 India did not immediately deport all Muslims to Pakistan. Another prominent member of Modi’s BJP in Dehli, Kapil Mishra, stood side by side with a senior police officer. He lashed out at the people who argued against the discriminatory Citizenship Amendment Bill and called on the police to clear city road of protesters. "If roads are not cleared out, we won’t even listen to you", he added.
DCP is with us. I’m making one thing clear one all our behalf—we will hold our peace until Trump leaves. After that, if roads are not cleared out, we won’t even listen to you. Please clear Jaffrabad and Chandbagh in three days. After that, we’ll have to hit the streets.
A few hours later, all hell broke loose. Armed gangs vandalized mosques and invaded houses where Muslims live. Cars and motorbikes were set on fire. Muslims were being chased with sticks. To date, 38 people were killed in the violence. It was difficult for the injured to reach nearby hospitals because, according to aid workers, ambulances were stopped by the authorities.
The violence evokes memories of the great pogroms of 2002 in Gujarat. More than a thousand Muslims died at the time. Modi was then prime minister of this Indian state. He mocked the victims in a memorable speech. The Supreme Court of India compared Modi and his colleagues with contemporary Neros who looked away while women and children were burned.
Long live the Indian Thatcher
For a moment, Modi became an international pariah, but in 2014 he was back on the forefront. He presented himself as the prime minister who would "modernize" the Indian economy and was hailed as the Indian Thatcher. When he won the election and became prime minister, there was worldwide jubilation in financial circles. Modi was the man who would liberalize and privatize the Indian economy. The Economist then wrote: "Narendra Modi’s amazing victory gives India its best chance ever of prosperity".
But six years later, the economy is falling. Poverty is rising. Young people between 15 and 24 make up one-third of the population. For them, there are few chances for a good job. In that climate, it is easy for Hindu nationalists to radicalize large sections of the population.
Thousands of young Indian people are indoctrinated and trained by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sang (RSS), a paramilitary organization closely related to the BJP. Nehru, the very first Indian prime minister, said as early as 1947 that the RSS was inspired by the Nazis both ideologically and organizationally. Modi, the reformer, again became the extremist nationalist he has always been.
Protest against the BJP
There is protest against that radicalization, even in the highest circles. A judge from the Supreme Court of Delhi criticized the police this week because they had not taken action against the hate speech of Kapil Mishra and other BJP leaders. A day later this judge was transferred to a court in Punjab.
Writer Mira Kamdar summarizes it this way:
The message from the BJP is clear: Elect whomever you like. We are still in power. Call the police; they work for us. Appeal to the courts; we’ll neutralize any judges who don’t toe our line. Continue to dissent, and we will set the mob on you.
Shortly after the first pogroms, students at the University of Delhi called for an indefinite class boycott and sit-in.
We hold it impossible to smugly walk through the naked bodies, butchered heads, rubble of the mosques and desecrated pages of Quran on the streets to reach our classrooms in order to attend lectures.
We believe that in times when hatred is so openly expressed, resistance can’t afford to be quiet. We seek to mobilise students who can volunteer to work on ground to aid the victims of the state sponsored violence in Northeast Delhi in whatsoever way possible.
Their action is a very powerful message to the thousands of Muslims who have been protesting for months side by side with secular Hindus against discriminatory laws and increasing violence. The situation in India is indeed very dangerous. Meanwhile, the Western media stick to the surface and decide to look away...