Why the International Community Must Take Repeated Calls for Genocide in India Seriously
By Noelle Jones
In December 2021, Hindu nationalist leaders gathered at dharma sansads in Haridwar, Delhi, and Raipur, where the speakers not only painted Muslims as a “violent threat” but asserted that the only solution was to establish India as a Hindu nation by organizing the mass killing of Muslims. Not only do Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) continue to fail to condemn this genocidal rhetoric, but have actively profited from this polarizing rhetoric in their 2022 election campaigns, allowing said rhetoric to continue and escalate.
Recently, in the wake of the Hijabi Row controversy, which resulted in the court upholding schools’ ability to ban students from wearing the hijab, a Bajrang Dal teenager, Pooja, expressed genocidal sentiments during a Bajrang Dal protest. She claimed: “if you want the hijab all over India, we will chop you (Muslims) all with Shivaji’s sword…Let the government give us just one hour and not just these six girls in hijab, we’ll cut 60,000 in hijabs into pieces…”
These recent genocidal sentiments propagated by Hindu extremists in India are not the empty ravings of a fringe extremist group but reflect the systematic anti-Muslim discrimination and violence fueled by Hindutva ideology under Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his BJP.
The pervasiveness of Hindu nationalist or Hindutva ideology, pattern of anti-Muslim discrimination and mass violence, and the culture of impunity in conjunction with these calls for genocide demonstrate that the situation in India has parallels with the trajectory of past genocides and, if left unchecked, has the capability to escalate even further. This is why the Indian government and police as well as the international community must take these recent calls for genocide seriously and take action before this escalation occurs.
The genocidal process begins with the classification of “us and them” in which perpetrators define who belongs in society while labeling those who do not as “other.” In the perpetrators’ founding narrative for their utopian vision of society, the existence of the “other” is irreconcilable and poses a tangible threat to achieving this vision.
Nazis portrayed Jews as the source of all ills in German society and the antithesis to the future of a racially pure Aryan society. Much like the ethno-nationalist ideology of the Nazis, Hindu-nationalist or Hindutva ideology seeks to turn India into a Hindu Rashtra (Hindu Nation) and paints religious minorities (Muslims, Christians etc.) as a threat to this utopic vision for Indian society.
Hindutva ideology has become pervasive in India’s legislative, executive, judiciary, and media. This ideology serves as a base ideology for the Hindu-nationalist paramilitary group Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) as well as the collection of fellow Hindu-nationalist groups inspired by the RSS, the Sangh Parivar. Not only is India’s governing party, the BJP, a member of the Sangh Parivar, but Prime Minister Modi is reportedly a longtime member of the RSS. Under Modi and the BJP, Hindutva ideology has been codified in recent legislation and policy that threatens to disenfranchise Muslims such as the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), the National Register of Citizenship (NRC), and the National Population Registry (NPR).
The CAA fast-tracks citizenship for Hindu, Sikh, Zoroastrian, Jain, and Buddhist refugees from Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Bangladesh while excluding Muslim refugees. Those who qualify for citizenship are then included in the NRC while those who do not face expulsion or being held in a detention center. The NPR is a precursor to the NRC by listing every resident of India, allowing officials to identify and target those who may need to prove their citizenship to qualify for the NRC, namely Muslims. This is similar to the Nuremberg Laws in Nazi Germany which stripped German Jews of their citizenship before they were confined to ghettos and deported to concentration camps.
Anti-Muslim discrimination and violence have also intensified with the polarizing Hindutva rhetoric condoned and propagated by Modi and the BJP in addition to that of the RSS and the Sangh Parivar.
Since Modi’s election in 2014, DOTO (Documentation of the Oppressed) Database has documented 1324 incidents of hate crimes against religious minorities resulting in 18,968 victims, 249 of which were killed and 2,343 of which were injured. According to DOTO, 16, 305 of the reported victims were Muslims and the majority of perpetrators were Hindu nationalists.
These calls for genocide also come after incidents of mass violence against Muslims such as the 2020 Delhi Pogrom which resulted in 53 dead, 250 injured, and around 2,000 displaced as well as the vandalization of Muslim homes, shops, and places of worship. The explicit and systematic targeting of Muslims, their property, and places of worship is reminiscent of pogroms against Jews in Nazi Germany and Nazi-occupied Europe in which Jews were attacked and arrested, Jewish businesses were vandalized, and synagogues were destroyed.
Overall, perpetrators of anti-Muslim discrimination and violence have enjoyed a culture of impunity due to a lack of condemnation from Modi, his party and effective police action investigating and prosecuting those that incite and commit hate crimes.
Not only have BJP leaders failed to condemn hate crimes against Muslims but have actively encouraged and incited them, emboldening perpetrators. Furthermore, the lack of effective response by police, Modi, and BJP leaders to recent genocidal sentiments suggests that this pattern of impunity will continue, allowing the situation to escalate if immediate action is not taken.
After the Holocaust, the collective promise from the international community was “never again.” However, since the crime of genocide was codified in the 1948 Genocide Convention, the world has seen several genocides. As State Parties to the 1948 Convention, India and the international community have an obligation to prevent genocide.
Furthermore, the situation in India is yet another development in the global rise in Islamophobia which has already resulted in the genocide of Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar and Uyghurs in China. While it will take more than the condemnation of recent genocidal rhetoric to undo the influence of Hindutva ideology in India, the Indian government and the police as well as the international community must take this recent development seriously by condemning this genocidal rhetoric and hold those responsible accountable. When it comes to calls for genocide, action must be taken–there is no room for bystanders.
(The author is a Genocide Scholar and currently a Genocide Researcher with the Indian American Muslim Council.)