Modi’s lesson from Israel: Demolish Muslim homes, erase their history
In early August, the world watched in horror as authorities in the northern Indian state of Haryana demolished more than 300 Muslim-owned homes and businesses in Nuh – the only Muslim-majority district in the state.
Hindu right-wing groups in Haryana followed up the violence with calls to boycott Muslim businesses and for Hindu-owned businesses to fire Muslim employees. Before the demolition drive, clashes broke out between Hindu and Muslim groups in Nuh when a procession led by the far-right Hindu organisation Vishwa Hindu Parishad reached the district.
What we are witnessing is undoubtedly a consequence of the hateful rhetoric encouraged under the current Hindu nationalist regime.
Yet, the large-scale destruction of Muslim homes and properties in parts of the country like Nuh, where the community has lived for centuries, points to something even more sinister: a concerted effort to erase all evidence of Muslim presence and heritage in the country.
Is it paranoid to worry that this, in turn, could be a first step to triggering a full-fledged genocide?
Over the years, under Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s leadership, we have seen India increasingly cosying up to Israel. And the Hindu right has been explicit in its aspiration to emulate Israel’s approach to Palestinians.
Specifically, they appear to be inspired by Israel’s effort to systematically erase Palestinian history, legacy and culture from the landscape. They are inspired by the way more than 530 Palestinian villages were systematically destroyed during and after the Nakba of 1948, as well as the way Palestinian homes continue to be demolished across the occupied West Bank and Jerusalem to make way for Israeli settlements considered illegal under international law.
Much like Israel’s Ben Gurion Airport stands adamantly on the remains of Palestinian communities forced from their homes, a new temple to the Hindu god Ram has been built over the debris of the historic Babri Masjid mosque in India, destroyed in December 1992 by extremists gathered by Modi’s party.
There’s more that they probably want to pick up from Israel, such as the way Israeli museum exhibits insistently refused to mention Palestinians or acknowledge Palestinian existence as a distinct national community.
How about laws like Israel’s that deny Palestinians even the right to mourn the loss of ancestral homes and land or seek to reclaim them? This includes Amendment 40 to the Budget Foundations Law that criminalises the commemoration of the Palestinian Nakba.
There is also the Jewish Nation-State Law, which was passed by the Knesset in 2018 and specifies that Israel is the “nation-state of the Jewish people” and that the “right of self-determination in the State of Israel is unique to the Jewish people”. Effectively, it legally enshrines Palestinians’ inability to strive for liberation or right to land that constitutes the State of Israel.
There too, Modi’s India is learning from Israel.
Like in Israel, laws in today’s India apply selectively. Indian authorities have insisted that only illegally-constructed buildings, and the homes and businesses of rioters, have been targeted.
Yet, both in Nuh and elsewhere, there is ample evidence that the demolition drives were almost entirely aimed at Muslims. We saw the systematic targeting of Muslim properties in the capital New Delhi in 2020 as activists protested the controversial Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), which fast-tracks access to Indian citizenship to only non-Muslim migrants from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan.
Hindu lynch mobs chanted angry religious slogans and marched through neighbourhoods armed with weapons and petrol bombs. Their homes are still intact.
According to the Delhi Minorities Commission (DMC), the mob “selectively targeted” Muslim homes, businesses and vehicles as well as mosques, madrasas, a shrine and a graveyard. The DMC added that to quell the anti-CAA protests, the “retaliatory plan” of the Hindu mob was devised “with support of the administration and police”.
It was no one-off.
In April 2022, clashes broke out in Khargaon City in Madhya Pradesh after Hindu devotees celebrating the Hindu festival of Ram Namavi marched “past Muslim neighbourhoods and mosques, playing incendiary music that called for violence” against Muslims. Supposedly as retaliation against Muslims who pelted stones at the Hindu devotees, authorities sent bulldozers to plough through neighbourhoods.
In June 2022, when activists protested comments made by leaders of the BJP, the ruling party, against Prophet Muhammed, the Uttar Pradesh government responded in a similar fashion and demolished their homes. The chief minister’s media adviser tweeted a picture of a home demolition and said: “Unruly elements remember, every Friday is followed by a Saturday.”
Meanwhile, chapters on the country’s Islamic history have been removed from new school textbooks. The state-sponsored deletion of Muslim presence and heritage in India is clearly on.
That India’s treatment of Muslims is inching towards the United Nation’s definition of genocide has become amply evident over the last few years – especially with acts like the demolition of homes and businesses that deliberately inflict conditions that may lead to the physical destruction of Muslim life.
A central facet of the definition of genocide is intent; that is to ask, is a group being targeted with the intent to eliminate them? It can be difficult to prove. Yet, if we look at the Hindu nationalist movement’s record of Islamophobia, it wouldn’t be a stretch to say there is a reasonable degree of intent.
In recent years, Hindu nationalist leaders have routinely incited violence and discrimination against Muslims in public forums. In October 2022, during the “Virat Hindu Sabha” event in Delhi, BJP Member of the Legislative Assembly Nand Kishor Gurjar lauded the conduct of Hindu groups during the 2020 riots in Delhi. To the 2,500 attendees, he declared, “We will kill jihadis, we will always kill jihadis”.
Another BJP leader and member of parliament, Parvesh Verma, was also at the event. In his speech, Verma said, “Wherever you see them [Muslims], I am telling you, if you have to fix their mentality, then you must completely boycott them”. He added, “We will not buy anything from their shops. We will not give them any employment”.
The chief minister of the state of Uttar Pradesh, BJP leader Yogi Adityanath, is another serial offender when it comes to anti-Muslim hate speech. All of this builds on a long history of anti-Muslim ideologies rooted deep in the philosophy of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, the ideological mentor of Modi’s BJP and many other Hindu nationalist outfits.
Some experts have already warned that a genocide of Muslims in India could “very well happen”. Gregory Stanton, the president of Genocide Watch, who had predicted an impending genocide in Rwanda in 1989, has said that a similar process was under way in India.
With the Hindu nationalist movement increasingly in firm, almost authoritarian, control over all aspects of life and politics in India, there are very few options left for upstaging their genocidal agenda. But the process is not unstoppable. Recognising how the demolitions in Nuh and elsewhere are a step towards wiping out the very identity of Indian Muslims is critical to building resistance to this agenda.