Asia, International

Anti-Muslim pogroms break out in India’s capital

Rebecca Gilson reports on the wave of racist violence against Muslims in India facilitated by the right wing Hindu nationalist government of Narendra Modi, as well as the inspiring anti-racist resistance that students and workers are leading.

Last month deadly violence broke out in Delhi, India when peaceful protesters, most of them Muslim, were set upon by right wing extremist Hindu mobs. At least 35 people have been killed in the violence, with many others injured. Muslim-owned homes and shops have been set alight. Until this point, the capital had seen more than 70 days of peaceful protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA). But just hours after a government official gave the police three days to clear protestors, racist mobs moved in to do the job themselves.  While many reports claim that there was violence on both sides, it is clear that the majority of the violence was state-sanctioned and perpetuated by both the police and Hindu rioters. The attacks started as mobs brandished make-shift weapons and threw stones, but has now intensified to gun violence, with many of the injuries and deaths caused by shootings. The chants shouted by the right wing extremists include, “Jai Shri Ram” (a Hindu religious slogan co-opted by the right), “shoot the traitors of the country,” and “Modi! Modi!” (the current Indian president and leader of the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, BJP).

Throughout the violence, the Delhi police stood by and watched while Muslims, whether protestors or not, were attacked and beaten. Many reports indicate that the police did nothing to stop the violence or were simply absent. Even more disturbingly, the police perpetrated violence by throwing stones, joining in with mobs charging at anti-CAA protesters, and releasing tear gas into the crowds. The complicity of the state in these vicious attacks further demonstrates the racist policies of Modi’s BJP and just how far they are willing to go to enact their vision of Hindutva, the right wing policy of Hindu nationalism.

However, local communities stood united against the sectarian violence. Muslim and Hindu joined together to form a human chain, protecting Durga temple from the violent mobs. In the Brij Puri neighborhood, Muslim and Hindu residents held a peace march featuring placards with slogans such as “Hindu Muslim bhai bhai’,” meaning Hindus and Muslims are united in brotherhood. Locals are standing in solidarity against this right wing violence, refusing to allow their diverse and peaceful neighborhoods to be torn apart. 

Citizen Amendment Act

Protests against the new citizenship law have been ongoing since August when the first steps towards implementing a National Registry of Citizens (NRC) was re-established in the Indian state of Assam, where around a third of the population is Muslim. The NRC requires residents to prove their citizenship using an extremely restrictive set of documents, birth certificates, land records, and passports, which are often difficult for the poorest residents to obtain. Further, in Assam, Muslims were forced to prove that they had entered India before March 24, 1971, when Bangladesh declared independence. Clearly, the NRC aims to root out any refugees from the ensuing war.

Shortly after implementation, it became clear that many Hindu Assamese did not have the required documentation necessary to be included in the NRC. Modi’s solution was to introduce the CAA which allows all religious minorities, except Muslims, to be included in the NRC. This denies protection to persecuted Muslim minorities like the Hazaras, Baluchis, Ahmadiyyas, and Rohingyas.

In Assam, after implementation of the NRC-CAA, at least 2 million residents were not included in the NRC, approximately 6% of the state’s population. Their only recourse is to appeal to “quasi-judicial” courts. Most will face imprisonment in detention centers, newly built for this exact purpose. In fact, there are already six detention centers in Assam, and all over India new detention centers are being built. Those not detained will face life as a second-class citizen, stripped of their right to vote or own land, and in constant fear of detention.

The goal of the CAA is to divide India’s population between Muslims and non-Muslims. It breeds the idea that India is a Hindu nation, where the more that 200 million Muslim residents, who make up over 10% of the population, do not belong. Racist governments often use the legal alienation of citizens to justify their persecution and, subsequent, genocide. One must look no further than Hitler’s Germany, where in 1935, the Reich Citizenship Law stripped Jews of their citizenship, right to vote, and ability hold public office, paving the way for the systematic genocide of this religious and ethnic minority. 

In 1925 the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) was formed in India by sympathizers of the Italian fascist leader Mussolini, and likened Muslims in India to Jews in Germany. The RSS became one of the parent organizations to the modern BJP party, which continued their policies in a more official capacity, although the RSS still has a violent street militia of hundreds of thousands. Modi himself joined the RSS when he was just eight years old and rose through the ranks, eventually becoming the Chief Minister of Gujarat, his home state. Under Modi’s leadership in 2002, a similar round of sectarian and state-sanctioned anti-Muslim violence broke out in Gujarat, killing more than 1,000 people. 

Protestors of the harsh citizenship requirements set in place by the Modi government are fighting against a fascist take-over of India. All those who oppose the horrific acts of the Holocaust must stand in solidarity with them.

A broad coalition against the CAA

Since the CAA was introduced, there has been a formidable backlash of protests led by Muslims, women, and university students.

In mid-December, Muslim women began occupying the Shaheen Bagh neighborhood in Delhi to protest the CAA. The occupation has attracted hundreds, both Muslim and Hindu. Their demands are to roll back the CAA, revive the economy, and address unemployment and safety among women. These women are continuing their sit-in despite the horrific anti-Muslim violence that has erupted in Delhi.

University students at Jamia Millia Islamia University (JMI) and Aligarah Muslim University (AMU), two schools with high religious minority enrollment, have mobilized against the CAA-NRC. They have faced a violent backlash from the BJP and state government, including assaults on students, detonation of tear gas inside the JMI library, and the burning of busses and vandalization of buildings by the assailants to justify their violence.

Students at Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), India’s left wing university in Delhi, have held solidarity demonstrations for the students of JMI and AMU. Students and teachers at JNU have a history of fighting imperialism, neoliberal economic policies, and the BJP’s vision of Hindutva. Likewise, they have all too often been the victims of state-sanctioned violence. However, this has not deterred the students. In February, JNU students started an indefinite boycott of classes to stand with anti-CAA protestors and against the anti-Muslim violence. Students say that attending classes divides students between those who are able to attend classes, ignoring the violence, and those who cannot because they are the targets of this attack.

The massive protests against the CAA have been some of the largest sustained mobilizations India has ever seen. At the same time, on January 8, workers in India held the world’s largest general strike including millions of workers from across the country. Some unions say nearly a fifth of the population were away from work, shutting down railways, buses, banks, and coal mines. Strikers took aim at economic issues including wages, pensions, and industry privatization. Workers also stood in solidarity with the university student and anti-CAA protestors. This kind of working class unity and solidarity has the power to break the hold of sectarian division and shows how Modi can be defeated.

The movement against Modi and his far right politics is growing. Modi has not been able to mobilize sectarianism to divide them. To escalate their struggle and win, workers, students, and protestors should unite their efforts and bring the Indian economy to a standstill. This kind of united power would bring the far right Modi government and the neoliberal Congress party to heel. Likewise, the international left must stand in solidarity with the protestors, students, and strikers. It is encouraging to see the hundreds of young South Asians from different countries, castes, and religions leading protests outside Indian embassies around the world, including in the US and Britain. It is important for those protesting Trump in the US, Bolsonaro in Brazil, and similar figures around the world to join in protesting Modi’s actions. Trump was actually in Delhi when this sectarian violence erupted, and yet did nothing to condemn the violence and continued to uncritically praise Modi. These bigoted leaders are an international phenomenon and our resistance should be too. The upcoming March 21 international World Against Racism day should ensure that anti-fascist and anti-racist demands extend to include the attacks from El Paso, Texas and Hanau, Germany to Delhi, India.

Rebecca Gilson