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Our fears need to be addressed. We are a ‘frightened’ people, sharing the small planet and looking for ways to avoid and survive the demons of coronavirus, wars, conflicts and much more. There is turbulence, confusion, and distrust in the air around us. Something sinister awaits us —to snatch away precious, human lives. Our children are in grave danger. Ancient storybooks, church sermons, and sacred texts have been recalled.
Do we ever care to remember that the bubonic plague in history, had once killed half the people of Europe? History books mention a raging fire in London, which was intense, and could not be checked for months, as the homes were turned to ashes. We have seen the likes in raging bush fires, only recently in Australia. Not long ago—a dreaded Flu had raged across the far corners of the earth. Nearly 50.0 million victims lost their lives. Biblical tales are coming up in our scripts and conversations. Is this how life may end on our planet?
Another killing field is active next door, in India’s capital city of New Delhi, where riots keep erupting like non-dormant volcanos. Wonders shall never cease!
This past week, religiously driven pockets in India’s capital city had been put to flames, where bloodletting consumed more than 40 lives, most of them belonging to Muslims. India’s government was quick to find an excuse, that the violence was spontaneous. After reality had settled in, critics said the killings were neither spontaneous nor without warning: These episodes were perhaps, inevitable.
Step by step, it was argued, that the policies enacted by Prime Minister Narendra Modi have entrenched impunity, captured institutions and fanned religious hatred — methodically building a dangerous Hindu-nationalist ecosystem. It was only a matter of time until something would literally blow up.
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Supporters of Modi’s government now feel enabled to commit all kinds of crimes. Or at least, they think they can! The evil has penetrated the heart of leadership.
Three continuous days of violence in New Delhi had left at least 34 people dead. All this had commenced with peaceful protests against a citizenship law in India that brought about exclusion to Muslim refugees. That was the consensus of India’s legal fraternity. Streetside protests erupted to shape into a direct confrontation between Hindu and Muslim groups. It seemed quieter that day than other recent days, which had allowed time—to inquire, what went wrong and what role the police may have played.
United States NPR correspondent Lauren Frayer who has an office of the India bureau in Mumbai, voiced her immense concerns:
Mr. Modi and his party, she said, ‘have allowed a culture of hate and bigotry to prevail.’ Neighborhoods in the capital that for generations had been integrated between Hindus, who make up the vast majority of India’s population, and Muslims, who comprise less than 15 percent, are tearing apart, along religious lines. Many Muslims are now leaving, hoisting their unburned remains on their heads and trudging away from streets that still smell of smoke.
To Frayer, It had felt like a sort of nervous calm at the time. Schools had remained closed in this one area of New Delhi, where bloody riots took place. Markets still remained shut. Firefighters had been roaming sort of deserted streets. They have seen Muslim homes and their places of worship burned down—with a few vehicles still left smoldering!
It is important to note that all this fracas is contained in one area. As the NPR correspondent, she was originally covering President Trump in Delhi earlier this week and made her point stating that she would never have known that such riots were raging on the other side of town. That day, families had continued lining up at morgues to claim bodies. The death toll kept rising. But it did seem like most of those people who were killed more than 36 hours ago, —their bodies were being identified.
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There do arise questions—some include what role the police may or may not have played here and of course, what was the police saying at this point? It is indeed remarkable how the media people didn’t actually know, how exactly this violence blocked off—and, who fired the first shots or threw the first stone?
And, this is what the Delhi police were doing. Let’s meet the powerful and influential Delhi police commissioner. His name is O.P. Mishra.
Translated into simple English, all that he had to say: ‘We’re here to protect you’ And that’s really him out on the streets, patrolling personally with a microphone. He was seen in his flak jacket and helmet. And he is assuring people that they do not need to be scared. Also, he has made it a point to advise the small business owners, to reopen their shops.
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There remains a genuine feeling of disgust because, in the past three days, Delhi Police had been accused of their avoidance (hesitation) in protecting the people of riot-torn areas. There have also been reports that they beat up human rights lawyers, destroyed CCTV cameras. Who knows, they may have even egged on the attackers?
The Guardian from London has reported that the attackers were believed to be mostly Hindus—and expectedly, the victims were mostly Muslims. One must bear in mind that the population divide in India is about 80% Hindus and 14% Muslims. Obviously, Muslims are the biggest minority group in India. It’s interesting to note, the Delhi Police fall under the Home Ministry, and that is headed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s right-hand man. His name is Amit Shah.
And he has also been accused of personally inciting violence against Muslims through his own speeches as well as on Twitter. And in fact, he is known to be the author of this citizenship law that triggered all this chaos, which had prompted the outbreak of nationwide protests, late last year.
Well, if there are questions about the police here and the police were headed by someone close to Modi and you have dozens of people dead, this could be a real strain on the legacy of Hindu nationalists and on Modi himself. Perhaps yes, or maybe, no.
Coming back, Lauren Frayer had felt it was still too early to say that. It had been barely 36 hours out of the major violence. She also felt inclined to say ‘probably not’. Of course, all this has happened before, in the country.
The most bloody Hindu-Muslim riots in recent memory had happened in 2002 in Gujarat, where thousands of people were killed mostly Muslims. Indian Army could have saved the lives and had reached Gujarat under the command of Lieutenant General Zameer Uddin Shah, PVSM, SM, VSM via air, but was stuck on the airfield with his troops and was not provided transport by Mr. Narendra Modi who was then the Chief Minister of the state of Gujarat, and is now the present Prime Minister Of India. Mr. Modi was accused then of failing to halt, and maybe even inciting violence. But then, he had denied any wrongdoing on his part, and went on to be elected prime minister of India!
For all of us, there’s a chilling lesson here —that sectarian bloodletting had not hurt Modi in the past. In fact, it may have helped him rile up support among his Hindu nationalist base.
As shocking as the outburst of hatred in Delhi has been, with the deadliest religious violence, which the capital had
seen in decades—this cannot be understood either as an unforeseen eruption or as the ineluctable expression of centuries-old inter-communal hostility. Instead, the 36 deaths and hundreds of injuries may be seen, as mobs set fire to mosques and businesses and invaded Muslim homes —resulting from the slow accretion of loathing, indulged and fostered by political leaders.
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These are the latest steps along India’s path, away from its founding ideals of pluralism and equality, geared towards intolerance and hate. The immediate causes of events are the fallout from Narendra Modi’s ‘unjust’ Citizenship (Amendment) Act, the dangerous rhetoric employed by the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party in Delhi’s city elections this month, and the mob incitement by BJP leaders like Kapil Mishra to violently remove a group of Muslims who were blocking a by road in the capital’s north-west to protest against the legislation. Scuffles had quickly escalated. But it is clear that many defenseless Muslims were the primary targets and early victims.
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Witnesses have described the police were simply standing by, joining crowds chanting nationalist slogans, or firing indiscriminately. BJP leaders were reportedly recorded pushing on the crowd to chant: ‘shoot the traitors’ and accusing the peaceful protesters of being ‘rapists’ and murderers who had joined the crowds chanting nationalist slogans, or were engaged in firing indiscriminately. This had been awful, but it was certainly not surprising!
The BJP’s Hindu nationalism is a style of politics that rose to power by fomenting violence against vulnerable religious minorities. Given the police’s disgraceful performance, Sonia Gandhi, president of the Congress party, was right to demand the resignation of Amit Shah, Mr. Modi’s home minister and close ally—and a man who has himself described illegal migrants, from Muslim-majority Bangladesh as ‘termites’ to be ‘thrown into the Bay of Bengal’.
Mr. Modi’s belated call for ‘peace and brotherhood’ had done little to compensate for days of silence, nor to veil, a career built upon stoking ‘division’. No wonder someone had referred to him as India’s ‘Divider-in-Chief’. He was previously barred from the US over the 2002 pogrom, which killed around 1,000 Muslims in Gujarat while he was chief minister there. Though the supreme court cleared him of deliberately failing to protect Muslims, his international rehabilitation is mostly due to his subsequent election as prime minister. It is no surprise that Donald Trump, visiting India for the first time as the violence flared, should embrace an authoritarian and nationalist leader. But plenty of others had essentially accepted Mr. Modi’s dangerous rightwing populism, as well.
Obviously, Modi has accelerated his agenda since his re-election by a landslide last year. He revoked the special status of Kashmir, the only Muslim majority state, and placed it under lockdown. He pushed through the citizenship act!
He continues efforts to muzzle civil society. Yet it is fighting back. Indian citizens have expressed their revulsion at the country’s direction. Though many have been disappointed by the supreme court’s insipid response to the citizenship act, which many believe is unconstitutional, and its judges’ admiration of Mr. Modi, it was scathing this week about the police inaction response to the violence. Delhi’s high court attacked the police commissioner for saying he had not watched videos of inflammatory speeches.
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There is nothing inevitable about India’s current trajectory. But the individuals and institutions which are resisting cannot turn its course without the support and the results will define the country for coming generations These are perilous times. Over the last three years, much of what we all hold dear has been threatened – democracy, civility, truth, and much more. This US administration is establishing new norms of behavior. Anger and cruelty disfigure public discourse and lying is commonplace.
Truth is being chased away. How long can this be suppressed? Not very long…
By Nazarul Islam.
Edited By Adam Rizvi, Copy Edited By Shafaat Khan