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India’s Journey from Ghar Wapsi to Genocide

The humiliation of Indian Muslims must end. India must take the latest warning on the backslide in democracy seriously before it is too late.

Representational use only. Image Courtesy: Aljazeera

Till the other day, not many Indians knew about Gregory Stanton. An American professor who specialises in genocide studies, Stanton had famously predicted five years in advance the Rwandan genocide of 1994 in which about 8,00,000 minority Tutsis were killed by Hutu majority militias. Today, many educated Indians are discussing Stanton’s gloomy forecast concerning India, that it, too, is going the Rwandan way insofar as its Muslim minority are concerned. Being an American, Stanton is asking his government to put diplomatic pressure on India to contain the danger before it is too late.

The question is not whether Stanton is overreacting or whether his comparison with the Rwandan situation stretches the point too far. India is 110 times more populous than Rwanda. India’s 14% Muslim minority itself towers over the entire Rwandan population: 20 crore to 1.25 crore. Rather, we should be asking, is it not shameful that a country that boasts of being the world’s largest democracy, and which advertises itself as the vishwaguru, the torch-bearer of the world, is made to stand in the witness box to explain its conduct. The Indian state may well try and exonerate itself by using all kinds of falsehoods. It may even succeed in hoodwinking its blind believers, but there is no hiding from the world community, for whom India is becoming a laughingstock with every passing day.

Anti-Muslim hysteria is now rampant in India. It has grown consistently since Narendra Modi came to power in 2014, as my monthly columns in this forum have chronicled. But what happened in Haridwar (Uttarakhand) on 17-19 December 2021 was unprecedented in its brazenness. In the midst of a fanatically charged Hindu congregation, an open call was made to take up, no, not old-fashioned swords, but the most sophisticated of weapons, to kill millions of Muslims and create a Muslim-free Hindu India. That the congregation was called Dharma Sansad is not without its own sense of irony. It evokes immediately that most famous Vishwa Dharma Sansad (Parliament of the World’s Religions) held in Chicago in 1893, where the Hindu monk, Swami Vivekananda, delivered what was arguably his most famous speech.

Addressing the Parliament, Swami Vivekananda did not mouth platitudes to the glory of Hinduism. Instead, he explained that its essence was a commitment to equal respect for all religions. Quoting from scripture, he captured the imagination of his audience: “As different streams having their sources in different places all mingle their water in the sea, so, O Lord, the different paths which men take through different tendencies, various though they appear, crooked or straight, all lead to Thee!”

In stark contrast to Vivekananda’s inclusive vision, Hindu greatness was trumpeted out of all proportion at the Haridwar congregation. One may be tempted to ignore the vitriol as gibberish uttered by a fringe group, but the presence of known BJP/RSS faces in the gathering suggests there was more to the congregation than met the eye. The sheer amount of time the Uttarakhand Police took even to register an FIR and place some of the congregation leaders in custody was a further sign of state complicity.

The sphinx-like silence of Modi and his government throughout this episode told its own story. Admittedly, law and order is a state subject and should not ordinarily require comment from a national leader or the central government. But what transpired in Haridwar was extraordinary. It struck at the heart of key fundamentals of Indian constitutionalism. It was therefore a moment that required a national leader to step in and demonstrate leadership. Modi is, after all, the Hindu Hriday Samrat (darling of Hindu hearts). One short statement from him and the nonsense would have promptly been quashed, and the Indian Constitution returned to its pedestal.

Since the Indian print, electronic, and social media are already rife with the controversy, it makes little sense to belabour their points. I would rather refer to something else. But before that, let me note that India’s democratic credentials, once the crown jewel of the Third World, have been weakening for some time now. Important bills are being passed roughshod in Parliament without adequate discussion, large segments of the Indian media are now entirely subservient to the state, an unprecedented number of people have been charged under sedition laws without adequate judicial safeguards, Income Tax, Enforcement Directorate, and CBI raids have grown beyond any reasonable measure, the list goes on and on. Anti-Muslim hate-mongering is a cog—a vital cog, but only cog—in this larger malaise.

The militant Hindu fringe, which is anti-Muslim in particular and anti-minority in general, must realise that the Indian economy is critically dependent upon the foreign exchange earnings of Indian expatriates who are gainfully employed in both Muslim-majority countries such as the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Oman, and Kuwait, and Christian-majority countries like the United States of America, United Kingdom, and the European Union countries. Let us not take the nicety of their respective majorities for granted.

Of late, a new tendency is noticeable among the Hindu right, to create a wedge even between Hindus and Buddhists. Emperor Ashoka (c. 268–c. 232 BCE), who is known for propagating the piety of Dhamma (Buddhism) and whose role in Indian history is acknowledged through the Ashoka Chakra (wheel) that figures on both India’s flag and national emblem, is being portrayed as cruel and anti-Hindu. The expansion of his empire is attributed to his massacre of the Hindu majority. If this dangerous sapling grows into a tree, an era of prolonged tension with Japan, Myanmar, and Sri Lanka cannot be ruled out.

All popular politics thrive on emotions and identity-building. It is not the monopoly of the Hindu right alone. There is a radical right lying in wait in every country. We would do well to remember this. Let us also recall that from the late seventies until the early nineties there was a phenomenon in the United States called Dotbusting. Dot here means the bindi Indian women (mostly Hindu) wear on their forehead as a fashion statement. Frustrated youth—mostly white—in Jersey City and elsewhere targeted Indian women to express resentment against a community they alleged had stolen their jobs. The lesson is straightforward. Any diaspora community is vulnerable to majoritarian politics. That vulnerability increases manifold if in their mother country their community is hostile to specific religions.

There is yet another recent development that offers an interesting subtext to the Haridwar saga. One of the main accused now in police custody is a Ghar Wapsi fellow by the name of Syed Waseem Rizvi. A recent convert to Hinduism, whereupon he took the name Jitendra Narayan Singh Tyagi, he was, prior to conversion, chairman of the Shia Central Wakf Board of Uttar Pradesh. Tyagi/Rizvi converted as recently as 6 December 2021, just thirteen days before the Haridwar Hindu congregation. The conversion took place in the presence of Yati Narsinghanand Giri Maharaj, who was also arrested along with Tyagi/Rizvi for his

vitriolic in his anti-Muslim statements.

What is intriguing is that it was Tyagi/Rizvi who was arrested first and this was highlighted by the police and the media. And yet, there was not a word of protest from the Hindu Ghar Wapsi gang, barring Yati Narsinghanand rather vehemently. Is not Tyagi/Rizvi that rare and precious catch for them, a Muslim who has ‘reconverted’ and returned to his original Hindu religion? Perhaps, to sound naughty, the Ghar Wapsi cry notwithstanding, it is possible that a huge challenge has been thrown to the caste Hindus—can they accept an erstwhile Muslim into their upper-caste Hindu fold? After all, the Tyagis are a proud and powerful upper caste who may not appreciate such a lateral entry. The water in India gets murkier by the day.

Postscript: Before independence, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru used to end his speeches by leading the audience in a chant of Bharat Mata Ki Jai (Hail, Mother India), in open defiance of the British. Indira Gandhi too routinely ended her speeches in this manner. These days, the BJP/RSS have appropriated the slogan in absurd ways. Reports now abound of how Muslims are being forced to chant the refrain. The practice has little to do with patriotism but has become a way to humiliate Muslims in public.

Following their victory in the 2019 general election, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Union Home Minister Amit Shah addressed a victory rally in Ahmedabad. They commanded the assembled crowd to chant Bharat Mata Ki Jai, exhorting their audience to be so deafeningly loud that it would rattle far away West Bengal. The BJP had performed exceedingly well in that state and was anticipating a repeat performance in the Assembly election two years later. Not to be left behind in this theatre of religio-political gamesmanship, the West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee responded to Modi and Shah by chanting equally loudly: Joi Hind, Joi Bangla, in her characteristic Bengali accent. That her party, the Trinamool Congress, convincingly defeated the BJP is a story for another day.

The author is a Senior Fellow at the Institute of Social Sciences, New Delhi. He was an ICSSR National Fellow and professor of South Asian Studies at JNU. The views are personal.

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