Recent deadly violence in India’s capital New Delhi is an ominous sign for Muslims: They should fear the worst in coming days. It indicates how minorities will be systematically subject to pogroms in the Hindu-supremacist vision of how the country is to be reconstituted, with the active aid of state institutions.
The violence, in which at least 46 Muslims were killed, was not surprising. Experts saw it coming since the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party had come to power in India six years ago. It has particularly targeted Muslims, who form a 200 million strong portion of the population. Prime Minister Narendra Modi, his party colleagues, their armies of social media trolls and a vast majority of India’s television networks have consistently been building an atmosphere of hatred, suspicion and violence toward the Muslim minority. Analysts say the violence is the natural progression of a bigoted ideology that derives its inspiration from fascism, its legitimacy from an electoral mandate, and its foot soldiers from the troll factories.
The Muslim massacre followed after an incendiary speech made by Kapil Mishra, a member of the ruling BJP, who warned the mostly Muslim protestors opposing the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), to clear off the roads, and threatened to take the issue into his own hands if the protests did not end immediately. For months, protesters across the country have been urging the government to roll back the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), a law that paves the way for de-naturalisation and mass detention of Indian Muslims. Soon after Mishra’s speech, attacks against Muslims began. Armed mobs selectively firebombed Muslim houses, businesses and places of worship. In the Ashok Nagar area of the capital, a group chanting “Jai Shri Ram” (Long live Hindu deity Lord Ram) slogans set fire to the local mosque and hoisted Hindu-nationalist flags on its minaret.
Experts say the riots in Delhi bear some of the hallmarks of an organized pogrom. India has been there before: In 2002, in Gujarat, when Modi was the state’s chief minister, more than 1,000 people were killed in religious riots. Most were Muslims. While Modi was later cleared of wrongdoing by the country’s judiciary, critics say that he could have done much more to prevent the attacks. And in 1984, again in Delhi, an estimated 3,000 Sikhs were targeted and killed after Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was assassinated by her Sikh bodyguards. In both cases, experts say, riots could not have been conducted without some complicity on the part of the police.
According to the Time, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), and the Delhi police force his government oversees, had tacitly supported the mobs, who chanted Hindu nationalist slogans as they burned buildings and beat Muslims while the police reportedly looked on. Since the riots, hundreds of Muslims have fled the city, unsure if they will ever feel safe enough to return. For India, the violence has marked a bloody milestone after six years of governance by Hindu nationalists, who are now more politically dominant than ever before. Since winning reelection in a landslide last May, Modi has stoked his far-right Hindu nationalist base, many of whom see Muslims as invaders of a rightfully Hindu India. In August, Modi put Jammu and Kashmir, India’s only Muslim-majority state, on lockdown and stripped it of its semi-autonomous status. His government is planning to construct a Hindu temple on the site of a mosque demolished by Hindu nationalists in 1992. And his Home Minister, Amit Shah, is pushing forward plans to deport “infiltrators” from India with the help of a mass population registration program.
In its report, the BBC showed soot-laced, gutted Muslim homes with broken doors, melting electricity cables and mangled CCTV cameras stand next to unspoilt and neatly painted Hindu homes. Armed Hindu mobs rioted with impunity as the police appeared to look the other way. Mosques and homes and shops of Muslims were attacked, sometimes allegedly with the police in tow. Journalists covering the violence were stopped by the Hindu rioters and asked about their religion. Videos and pictures emerged of the mob forcing wounded Muslim men to recite the national anthem, and mercilessly beating up a young Muslim man. Panicky Muslims began leaving mixed neighbourhoods.
The New York Times observed Modi’s party had run a dangerously sectarian campaign in recent elections in Delhi. Its leaders equated the protests against the citizenship law with treason and called for the murder of protesters. The detailed accounts of violence raise fundamental questions about the role played by the Delhi police in abetting the Hindu mobs and targeting Muslims. Top police officers casually expressed their support of the Hindu mobs and their fear of Muslims. “Jai Shree Ram,” the old devotional chant praising the Hindu deity Ram, has been adopted as a war cry by the Hindu nationalist mobs in the past three decades. There were reports of the Delhi police personnel charging at Muslim neighborhoods, it noted.
Street protests and violence have raised concerns about whether investors may need to further temper expectations for Asia’s third-largest economy. Through its worst slowdown in more than a decade India has had a constant positive to show investors: political stability. That no longer holds true, the Bloomberg noted. India was the world’s fastest-growing major economy until about a year ago, when a slowdown took hold amid waning consumer demand, rural hardship and ballooning bad loans in the banking system. Yet, since his landslide re-election in May, critics say Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government has prioritized measures that have stoked divisions between the Hindu majority and Muslims, triggering deadly protests that have started to hurt India’s image among foreign investors.
The protests and deadly violence indicate that India remains too fractured and unable to rise above domestic issues while it dreams to become a world leader. Modi had won his first landslide victory in 2014 on the promise of growth and 10 million jobs each year. The Indian economy has slowed to a more than six-year low in the final three months of last year to 4.7%, according to government data. The government estimates 5% GDP growth for the fiscal year through March, an 11-year low. Rising religious tensions may make it easier for investors to turn their backs on India as the economy stutters, experts say.
Analysts say the hate against Muslims has been institutionalised by the majoritarian, anti-Muslim agenda of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, an outfit of which the BJP is a part. India’s syncretic social fabric is being shredded and the Delhi violence is a chilling prelude to it. In the situation, Muslims will be forced to take up arms to defend themselves, which would have serious repercussions for the survival of India.