The difference of identity can become a tool of division. This polarization can be amplified by the use of hateful politics, slowly leading towards violence and even genocide. Genocide develops in ten stages and India stands on a dangerous platform- where open calls of killing the minority are entertained and where people are discriminated against and dehumanized.
In a country as diverse as India, a clash of ideologies and actions do occur. Riots happen and riots are stopped from happening. What does not change drastically is the authorities’ capacity to handle violence. An administration almost always can curb the start of social unrest and stop it from spreading. The Indian state (or any such government) possesses a fair quality of intelligence and a vast quantity of armed forces at any given time. With this authority, if a fully-fledged organized form of violence does take place, it must be so that there is an ulterior motive behind it and that the inaction is a choice.
Riots are an outburst of hate and the impulse of aggression brimming inside people. These can be out of dissent or in the case of India, mainly out of grievances from an ‘other’ group. These grievances are often twisted and fueled by ideologies and politicians who are often related to the ruling party. To misdirect the attention of the public from the shortcomings of their governance, they scapegoat another group and hence the destruction of this group becomes the solution of a better nation.
An aspect more dangerous than riots is the deliberate development of an environment where a group of people are othered. The othering is done in subtle ways, and parts of a whole. For example, a politician may in an election rally say that those who create violence “can be identified by their clothes.” This separatist speech might be shunned away as an election-polarization-talk, but in reality, it is one new pixel on a canvas that might as well add up to become an illustration of genocide.
The term ‘genocide’, first coined in 1944, was developed as a reaction to the Nazi policies of organized execution of Jewish people during the Holocaust, and also in response to the earlier historical instances where specific groups of people were targeted and eliminated. It is a crime under international law and is defined in Article II of the ‘Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide’. The Convention mentions few “acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group”. These acts include killing, causing serious physical or mental harm to the members of the group, calculatingly inflicting life-threatening conditions on the group to bring about its material destruction, imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group, and forcibly shifting children of the group to another group.
Genocide is a slow process. Gregory H. Stanton, former Research Professor in Genocide Studies and Prevention and best known for his studies in this area, mentions in one of his articles titled ‘The Ten Stages of Genocide’ that the progression of genocide happens in ten steps. These stages are predictable, preventable and can be concurrent. He lists them as follows: classification, symbolization, discrimination, dehumanization, organization, polarization, preparation, persecution, extermination, and denial.
Classification involves differentiating between people like us and them. Then, these classifications can be associated with signs or symbols. This symbolization in itself is not problematic in a tolerant society. The challenge arises when discrimination is done based on the difference of identity. Many people saw the probable enactment of the National Register of Citizens (NRC) coupled with the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) as a discriminatory step (mainly towards Muslims) taken by the Indian Government.
The next step towards genocide that Stanton mentions is dehumanization, where a group of people “are equated with animals, vermin, insects and diseases”. This element is sadly profoundly prevalent in India but it is materialized in very delicate and witty ways. It is never explicitly the Indian Muslims as a whole that is dehumanized but this is done to smaller groups of similar identity. In April 2019 at a rally, the head of the ruling party stooped to refer to the Muslim migrants from Bangladesh as “infiltrators” and “termites”. In January 2020, he told an audience (in Hindi) to vote for his party so that the “current is felt in Shaheen Bagh”. Shaheen Bagh was in a way the face of the protest against the CAA and the NRC led mostly by Muslim women. Many similar remarks can be mentioned for the rhetoric remains the same.
Perhaps the most dehumanizing act was during the killing of two protesters by the police in Assam during the government’s eviction drive. A video of September 23, 2021, shows a villager, Maynal Hoque, charging towards a group of armed policemen with a stick in hand. The policemen, who could have very easily overpowered him, shot him and attacked his dying body with sticks like hyenas feeding on a lion. And then came a vulture, with a camera hanging in front of him, who danced on the body of the dying lion, celebrating his death and the death of democracy.
India now looms most likely over the seventh stage of genocide, that is, preparation- following organization and polarization. Organized arrests to curb dissent have become an everyday story, socio-religious divisions are made through regular hate-speech campaigns and media propaganda. Chants for the killings of Muslims and the picking up of Muslim women are publically made- like done on July 4, 2021, in a mahapanchayat in Haryana.
Apart from the physical mobilization in various Hindutva groups, the preparation is being done on a psychological scale too. Each incidence of lynching and violence may as well be a test to see how numb a person can be. Each attack on a member or group of the minority that goes unattended by the law, adds to the probability of another greater threat. These incidents aren’t fringe- they are a part of a slow, organized ideology of hate burrowing its way inside the mindset of the majority. It is the idea that it’s alright if the minority is killed and ridiculed. That it is in a sense an undefined victory for a utopian land with an orange sky.
What we need as a society is to be watchful and aware of events that happen around us. We need to beware of the false narratives created by politicians and the hateful news we consume from the media. We need to take small steps towards unity and speak up against injustices. The silent majority also needs to understand that the minority is not just a loose conglomeration of Biryani and Urdu verses but more. We are living, breathing people. That chanting for the dead and butchering of a group is genocidal and condemnable.
Farzan Ghani is a student pursuing English Literature from Jamia Millia Islamia.
Edited by: Malaika M Khan