India’s tolerance for genocide

The tolerance that India was once so admired for is being systematically ripped to shreds by the ‘culural genocide’ unleashed by the RSS and its cohorts
Jairus Banaji Delhi 


Finance Minister Arun Jaitley rightly called India a “tolerant country” recently in response to a growing wave of criticism over the BJP’s apparent sanction of hate speeches and even violence against Muslims. But he wilfully missed the point. 

India is indeed a tolerant country. But elements within the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) family have been tearing that culture of tolerance to shreds since Prime Minister Narendra Modi came to power—seeking to turn India into an absurd, dystopian Hindu Rashtra. 

Jaitley and other government apologists have repeatedly claimed that the lynchings of Muslims accused of eating or transporting beef at Dadri and Udhampur were isolated incidents, even “aberrations”. 

But the word ‘aberration’ suggests that the victims just happened to be Muslims, ignoring the connection between those horrid killings and the ‘climate’ that caused them, which was engendered by hate campaigns that started even before the Lok Sabha elections and escalated rapidly after the BJP’s victory. These campaigns included not just the crusade to ban beef and stop cow slaughter, but also ‘love jihad’, ghar wapsi [forced conversions], and repeated scaremongering about Hindus being demographically drowned out by the minorities. 

Worse than garden-variety RSS cultural apartheid, these campaigns have clear genocidal implications, though not yet in the outright mass murder most commonly associated with the term. The aim of each of these campaigns is to destroy the existing culture and economic practices of entire communities with a view to subordinating them, through forced submission, to practices regarded as quintessentially ‘Hindu’. This kind of ‘cultural genocide’ has already been proven to be an important indicator of the intent to perpetrate literal genocide, William Schabas writes in his book, An Introduction to the International Criminal Court. 

Thus, the killings at Dadri and Udhampur are the result of these campaigns being taken to their logical conclusion.   

It is clear that this is neither fantastic nor alarmist. Modi built his credibility as a hardline Hindu nationalist through allowing murderous mobs to kill between 800 and 2,000 Muslims during the Gujarat riots in 2002. So it is not difficult to draw a line from his selection as the BJP’ candidate for Prime Minister and his victory in 2014 to the current wave of RSS-driven nationalism that is sweeping through India. 

However, as Prime Minister, Modi can’t behave quite like the leader of Hindu mobs that he was in 2002. Since, Constitutionally, India still isn’t a Hindu nation, running the country is not quite the same as leading a Hindu organisation like the RSS; a more complex dynamic comes into play. The recent decision by a number of writers to return their literary awards in protest against the PM’s refusal to take a firm stand against the anti-Muslim violence and associated remarks from BJP leaders is a case in point. 

Returning the awards is a way of saying, “We don’t want these tokens of recognition from you since you (Academy or government) refuse to condemn and/or put an end to the growing authoritarianism, violence and intolerance in our country.” 

Ironically, the government and its spokespersons have responded to the protests with the same intolerance for which they are being criticised. Jaitley has described the protests as ‘manufactured dissent’, another minister has called the writers’ actions an ‘international conspiracy’ to defame the country, and so on. The vituperative nature of this response only underlines the point that India’s intelligentsia has been making, that we are now into a political dispensation where even the most elementary norms of a democratic public sphere have been abandoned in the repeated backlash against anyone who disagrees or chooses to have a different politics. 

Meanwhile, though it’s tempting to dismiss the most egregious remarks and incidents as the work of the so-called fringe, all that we can see suggests that these elements have the full support of the government at the highest level. Why else would Modi refuse to condemn them and Jaitley insist on defending them?  

Despite their rhetoric about ‘development’ and about repositioning India in the modern world, Modi and the rest of the BJP leadership know they owe their positions of power not just to the way the media helped create ‘brand Modi’ but to the formidable grassroots networks of the RSS and the mass base it helped to mobilise. While he’s the Prime Minister of a country that at least formally remains democratic and nominally remains secular, Modi is a creature of the RSS and its ambition to create a Hindu state.    

This story is from the print issue of Hardnews: