Weeks after Hindu right-wing groups made an open call for genocide against Muslims at a dharma sansad (religious conclave) in Haridwar in north India, Gregory Stanton, the founding president of Genocide Watch, warned of similarities between the current situation in India and that which existed in the run-up to the Rwandan genocide.
Speaking at a U.S. Congressional briefing Stanton urged Congress “to pass a resolution that warns genocide should not be allowed to occur in India.”
In a subsequent interview with the news portal The Wire, Stanton said that India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi “has a moral obligation to denounce the hate speech (at Haridwar).” Drawing attention to increasing polarization, discrimination, stigmatization, propaganda, and dehumanization of Muslims in the country, he said that India was dangerously close to the stage of extermination, i.e. genocide.
At the religious conclave at Haridwar between December 17 and 20 last year, several saffron-clad Hindutva leaders addressed the gathering and exhorted “real Hindus” to take to up arms and kill minorities, specifically Muslims. Videos of the gathering, which went viral on social media, sparked outrage, with some calling for the arrest of the meeting’s organizers.
Both the federal government and the state government of Uttarakhand (of which Haridwar is the capital) were conspicuously silent. Both governments are run by the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
It is no coincidence that right wing Hindutva groups have stepped up their stoking of communal hatred and open incitement of violence against Muslims at a time when five states are going to elections next month. The BJP has repeatedly used the communal card to appeal to voters and has been unambiguously championing its Hindutva agenda. It could benefit electorally from such communal polarization.
As the pressure mounted, the Uttarakhand government arrested Jitendra Narayan Tyagi (formerly Waseem Rizvi) and then the organizer of the conclave, Yati Narasinghanand, the controversial head priest of Dasna temple in Ghaziabad, near Delhi. Confident that no action would be taken against him, Narasinghanand threatened the police, warning them of dire consequences.
Even a month after the Haridwar conclave, it continues to make ripples at home and abroad. Members of 28 global Indian diaspora organizations including those from the United Kingdom, the U.S., and South Africa, have demanded the arrest of those responsible for the “genocidal hate speech” at the conclave. Under fire from several quarters, a Special Investigative Team has been constituted by the Uttarakhand state government.
India’s Supreme Court is also seized of the matter, after several petitions were filed pressing for a thorough investigation into the conclave.
As reported previously by The Diplomat, hate speech has become a daily occurrence under the BJP regime. Yet, the Haridwar enclave was especially shocking. Many were taken aback by the brazen manner in which leaders called for genocide repeatedly over three days. As disturbing was the complete silence of the authorities.
The Haridwar conclave has also brought out into the open the layers within the right wing’s hate machine. There are the “Trads,” or traditionalists, who openly call for genocide against minorities. These are hardcore “protectors” of the Hindu faith (Sanatan Dharma) and are highly radicalized.
Then there are the “Raitas,” who are less extremist in their views; they are hardline supporters of Prime Minister Modi and the BJP. They emulate the BJP leadership and indulge in hate speech.
Interestingly, the Trads accuse the Raitas of being “too liberal” and of being “soft” on Muslims. Trads do not hesitate to criticize Modi and what they perceive, at times, as his policies of “appeasement.”
Earlier this month, Muslim women were shocked to find their profiles on an online app “Bulli Bai” created to “auction” Muslim women. The Bulli Bai app was the handiwork of Trad motivated youngsters advocating extremist views. Last year, another online app “Sulli Deals” hosted on the Github platform similarly sought to “auction” Muslim women. Victims lodged police complaints but no action was taken, even to launch a probe.
This time, however, with widespread outrage both online and offline, and with several opposition leaders also calling out the inaction of authorities, the police were forced to act. The Mumbai Police and subsequently the Delhi Police made arrests across the country.
Both the apps targeted Muslim women, who were vocal and outspoken on social media. The victims comprised successful Muslim women professionals, including a pilot, prominent journalists, activists and even the 52-year-old mother of a missing university student, Najeeb Jung. “Bulli” and “Sulli” are sexist expletives used to dehumanize Muslim women.
According to the Police, the alleged perpetrators of the “Bulli Bai” and “Sulli Deals” apps – Niraj Bishnoi (Bulli Bai’s creator), Aumkareshwar Thakur (Sulli Deals’ mastermind), Shweta Singh, Vishal Kumar Jha and Mayank Rawat – are Trads. Significantly, all of them are students of engineering and technology between 18 and 21 years of age. They were radicalized by Islamophobic content on social media and the YouTube channels of people like Narsinghanand.
In this hate-charged climate, these youths and innumerable others who are radicalized like them and educated in elite colleges are using technology and the digital landscape to wage war against Muslims, whom they perceive as obstacles to their goal of creating a Hindu Rashtra (Hindu nation).
In fact, after intensive interrogation of Bishnoi, police said he believed that he had “done the right thing” and showed no remorse for his actions. That educated youth from middle class homes can espouse such hatred for minorities, lower caste Dalits and even women has shocked many.
Shiv Sena parliamentarian Priyanka Chaturvedi, who was among those who complained to the Mumbai Police about the Bulli Bai app, tweeted: “That it had to be a woman (Shweta Singh) who’s part of this larger network behind the online harassment is saddening. For a woman to harass and demean fellow women is beyond me, but yes this is what all-consuming hate can do.”
Drawing attention to the “ongoing climate of harassment, oral and digital” in the country, eminent sociologist Shiv Visvanathan told the Indian news daily The Telegraph that “none of it is being prosecuted in a way that would deter others from doing it.”
“The danger of a majoritarian system,” he said, “is that what is majoritarian in votes becomes majoritarian in law and order. When you make that transition, you move to authoritarianism.”
Tennis legend Martina Navratilova, who has been outspoken in her opposition to the BJP’s hate politics, tweeted in response to the viral video of the Haridwar religious conclave. “What is going on?” she tweeted. Responding to a comment, Navaratilova did not mince her words, saying “This can be fixed, but it has to come from the top. And unfortunately I don’t see that happening under Modi. I hope I am wrong but…”