After the passage of the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) in December 2019, the Indian Muslim community, civil rights activists and concerned citizens occupied public spaces in an unprecedented way to register their protest and protect the constitutional promise secularism of India.
The demonstrators, however, were the victims of defamation, police violence and a harsh media lawsuit that called them “anti-national” and “jihadists”. This perception was built by the ruling Hindu Nationalist Bharatiya Janata (BJP) Party, as it ran one of the most commonly charged election campaigns in Delhi ahead of the regional elections.
Complaints have been lodged with police that just after their electoral loss, BJP Minister Kapil Misra openly threatened protesters in northeast Delhi, the epicenter of peaceful protests.
On February 23, 2020, violence broke out in the region and lasted for several days, resulting in the death of 53 people, mostly Muslims, and the injury of 250 people. About 2,000 have been displaced.
The government and the media were quick to label the violence as “riots” and the term remains widely used to refer to the events of February 2020. But a much more precise word to describe what happened is “pogrom” “.
That was the conclusion of a committee of inquiry formed by the Delhi Minority Commission (DMC) – an independent statutory body tasked with protecting the rights of religious minorities. The committee considered testimony from victims and key legal sources and concluded that the events of February 2020 fell within the definition of a “pogrom.”
Historically used to refer to anti-Jewish violence in Europe and the Middle East, the term “pogrom” is now also used in reference to anti-minority violence in South Asia, where the building of religious hierarchies has contributed to cycles. regular violence. Pogroms are targeted acts of ethnic violence that exploit existing fissures and arise out of a desire to show a community “its place” or are seen as an act of retribution for their imaginary sins.
The aim is to desensitize the general population to anti-minority violence and to move towards a “final solution”. More importantly, pogroms embody state participation: in planning, instigating or inaction and tolerance.
In the Indian context, the term pogrom has been used twice before – to signify the scale of the Gujarat massacre (2002) and anti-Sikh violence (1984), both of which have seen individuals exploit the device. state for their own purposes.
The DMC’s findings indicated that the violence was organized and systematic – implying that it was deliberately planned, triggered and targeted. Victims have repeatedly stated that while they could recognize some of the perpetrators as belonging to their own residential areas, the majority of them were brought in from outside. Anything that could lead to the identification of the perpetrators, such as CCTV cameras, was destroyed. This negated any defense of violence being spontaneous in nature, as is the case with riots.
Shops and homes belonging to the Muslim community had been identified before the violence, so meticulously they were the only ones to be attacked while everyone else, including those adjacent to them, remained unharmed. “Visibly Muslim” women were specifically attacked, their hijabs pulled on and some were sexually assaulted. Women also alleged that they had been threatened with rape by police officers.
Crowds attacked mosques and Islamic shrines (dargahs) and even burned religious scriptures. Gas cylinders, fires and gasoline bombs were used for arson and complete destruction of property, as well as iron bars, lathis, tridents, spears and live ammunition. The weapons used showed a clear intention to kill, destroy and terrorize the minority community.
Many testimonies reflected the inaction of the police even as violence unfolded in front of them, or the failure of the police to arrive despite repeated calls. In at least one case, police patrolling the area refused help, saying they “had no orders to act”.
This suggests that the repeal of the duty to prevent violence was not a one-off incident or localized operational failure, but a pattern of deliberate inaction over several days.
Even where they arrived at the scene, the victims said a number of police officers arrested their colleagues as they tried to disperse the crowd. In some, they simply presented themselves as spectators while the crowds applauded “Delhi Police zindabad” (Long live the Delhi police). In others, they have explicitly given the green light to the perpetrators to continue their rampage.
Following the violence, Delhi Police, which operate directly under the central government led by the BJP and under the command of Home Secretary Amit Shah, have not opened any investigation against BJP or party leaders. allies allegedly accused of inciting crowds. This despite the many testimonies of survivors and documentary evidence to this effect.
In what can be seen as a series of retaliatory measures, the victims themselves have been charged and arrested. In other cases, the police have been accused of refusing to press charges against the named perpetrators.
Instead, Delhi police wrote a story in which dissidents were accused of participating in a plot to portray the nation in a bad light. A number of students – mostly Muslims – have been charged under draconian anti-terrorism and sedition provisions, making bail almost impossible. Civil society groups have been subjected to repeated interrogations.
The current treatment of Indian minorities, in particular the dehumanization and defamation of the Muslim community, has also attracted international attention. In April 2020, a detailed report by the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) listed India as a country of particular concern, alongside Saudi Arabia and North Korea.
The report observed that “India took a downward turn in 2019. The national government used its strengthened parliamentary majority to institute nationwide policies violating religious freedom across India, especially for Muslims . He noted how the CAA, combined with the NRC, could lead to “statelessness, deportation and prolonged detention” of Muslims.
However, the Indian government was quick to dismiss the report and accused USCIRF of “false statements.” The last time India was put on this list was right after the Gujarat pogrom in 2002, which took place under the leadership of Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi.
Genocide Watch, a global movement working to prevent genocide, has placed India on its alert list, and according to the 10 Steps to Genocide, India is in Step Five: Organizing.
Over the past few years, the BJP has carefully crafted the narrative that Muslims are “foreigners” and that their cultural, religious and linguistic identity is “radically different” from that of the “Hindu” majority, to polarize and instill hatred. Citizenship occupies a central place in a nation-state, indicative of state and membership of rights.
The BJP’s attempt to redraw which belongs strongly resembles the Nazi citizenship laws of 1935 which marked the first step towards genocide of the Jews. The international community must intervene before this leviathan attempts another “final solution”.
The authors of this article contributed to the research and writing of the report of the Delhi Minority Commission on the riots in northeast Delhi of February 2020. However, the positions and arguments set out in this article are those of the authors and not the entire content of this document. piece reflect the opinion of DMC.
The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial position of Al Jazeera.