With increasing communal hostilities in the Indian society, this article tries to explain the drivers and the related consequences.
The Solemn Promise
This year the world marked the twentieth anniversary of the Rwandan Genocide. Addressing a ceremony to mark the occasion, United Nations Chief Ban Ki Moon said that the world would never again allow genocide to tear apart a nation. Describing it as one of the darkest chapters in human history he acknowledged that the world could have done much more to save the lives of nearly 800,000 Tutsis and politically moderate Hutus who were mass slaughtered by the extremist Hutu majority.
Academics who have carefully studied the anatomy of genocide have concluded that genocide is a process which develops in multiple stages and can be prevented if early signs are detected and preventative measures applied. The international community has made a solemn promise that it will “never again” allow genocide like Rwanda. The international community must remain vigilant.
While each ethnic conflict is different to the other there are common conditions necessary for an ethnic conflict to occur. In his book ‘Modern Hatreds: The Symbolic Politics of Ethnic War’, Stuart J. Kaufman has described three necessary conditions of ethnic war; Myths justifying ethnic hostility, fear and opportunity. According to Kaufman, myths and their incorporation in every sphere of Hutu society laid the seeds of hate against Tutsi minority. These myths led to collective fear psychosis which eventually led to the Rwandan genocide.
In this article I will explain how these necessary conditions of ethnic war are being met in India and what can be done to avoid a potential conflict.
Structural communal prejudice fuelled by myths
Just like Pre-Genocide Rwanda, communal prejudice against religious minorities has now become a structural feature of Indian society. This state sponsored and institutionalized prejudice helps the elites to fulfil their political aims and gives a sense of collective identity to the masses. The origin of this prejudice lies in the myths which have been carefully nurtured by the majoritarian forces in India over decades. Myths fuel prejudice and prejudice gives rise to new myths.
The myth of origin and ancestry
The majoritarian forces in India believe that Indian Christians and Muslims do not naturally belong to India in spite of centuries of common history and co-existence. Rwandan Hutus who formed 85% of the population believed that the minority Tutsis were foreigners who had no right to be in Rwanda even after centuries of co-existence.
“The artificial attempt to create a homogeneous society unfolds as a consequence of the acceptance of genocidal intent” ~ Jason J Campbell
The myth of the sacred homeland
The majoritarian forces in India believe in the sacredness of homeland. Any citizen who doesn’t attach divinity to the homeland is considered as the “enemy within”. A Muslim refusing to sing songs that attribute divinity to the homeland is portrayed as a traitor who would betray the nation for the sake of religion. In Pre Genocide Rwanda there were many Hutus in the Government and in the general population who strongly believed that Tutsi minority was the “enemy within”.
The myth of the golden age
Majoritarian forces in India believe that ancient Indian civilization was a world leader in cultural and scientific advancements and this golden age came to an end when barbarians from the west invaded India and forcefully converted Hindus to Islam. For a thousand years they say they were enslaved and now the time to reclaim lost glory has arrived. They hold the present day Indian Muslims responsible for the events of medieval era.
The myth of suffering
This is the most potent of all myths. The idea that the majority is suffering due a small minority evokes powerful emotional response. Since Rwandan independence in 1962 the Tutsi minority was made the scapegoat for every crisis that was faced by the country. In India the Hindutva forces claim that Muslim minority is appeased at the expense of Hindus because 13% Muslims decide the winner in India’s elections. They see this as continuance of centuries of subjugation by the foreign forces. This suffering can only end when a Government representing Hindu interests takes over and the minority Muslims are shown their place.
Social and political exclusion
Helen Fein is a historical sociologist who has written extensively on genocide and collective violence. She says:
“One condition that may predict genocide in the making is the practice of denying groups access to political and/or economic positions. In Germany prior to Nazi rule, the Jews were only marginally integrated politically. Economically Jews were overrepresented in the professions, but traditionally had been excluded from the guilds and civil service. The anti-Semitism that denied Jews access to political office, education and the professions eroded slowly during the 19thcentury, only to remerge at the end of the century; Prior discrimination and prejudice made the Jews a convenient target for Nazi ideologues”.
A survey conducted by the Government of India found that the presence of Muslims in top government jobs was minuscule, 3% in the Indian Administrative Service, 4% in the Indian Police Service and 1.8% in the Indian Foreign Service.
Even in the private sector there is an active effort to push Muslims towards causal labour jobs. In 2004-05 around 41% Muslims in Gujarat were involved in service sector which came down to 31.7% in 2009-10. In 2004-05, 59% Muslims were self-employed which came down to 53% while in case of salaried services the proportion of Muslims come down from 17.5% to 14% during the same period. It is also to be noted that Muslim share in causal labour increased from 23% to 32% during the same period (Source: CounterCurrengs.org)
The situation has become so bad that many Indian Muslims have to pretend to be Hindus to find employment. Housing discrimination has also become common. A Muslim is not allowed to buy or rent a property in a Hindu majority area. In a rare case a Muslim family was allowed to live with Hindus only when they agreed to change their names and get their house “cleansed” through a Hindu religious ritual.
In recently held Assembly elections only 8 Muslim candidates were elected from the 589 seats that went for election. That is less than 2% representation. Major political parties avoid Muslim candidates because they know that people won’t vote for a Muslim.
Development as legitimization
The fundamental assumption of the Development ideology is that the state’s sole objective is the pursuit of economic development. The Habyarimana regime masterfully played the Development card in Rwanda. He even changed the name of his party to National Republican Movement for Democracy and Development. While the Habyarimana regime kept selling the myth of Development, the pogroms against minority Tutsis continued. Those involved in the pogroms were never brought to justice. Today in India this model is popularly known as the Gujarat Model.
Mass media as tool of mobilization
In Africa of the1990s, radio was the most popular form of mass communication. A radio station named ‘Television Libre des Mille Collines’ (RTLM) was setup to broadcast hate messages against the Tutsi minority. Many observers now hold the opinion that this Radio station played a vital role in the Rwandan genocide. Ironically the stated aim of this radio station was to “to create harmonious development in Rwandese society”. This radio station was funded by wealthy Hutu businessmen, Hutu extremists and some members of the Government. Today in India the role of RTLM is being fulfilled by social media. Secular Hindus and minorities face a barrage of abuse and threats from Hindutva extremists. Journalists are threatened with rape. Mass murder is celebrated. During pogroms hateful messages and rumors are propagated. This is what a senior journalist affiliated with the Hindutva ideology tweeted during communal violence in Assam.
Anti-Tutsi pogroms in Rwanda started years before the genocide. Every pogrom was explained as a spontaneous and uncontrollable reaction. After every Anti-Tutsi pogrom the perpetrators went back to live their normal lives. There was no accountability. This led Hutu extremists to expect that they can keep killing large number of Tutsis without any consequence. Today in India mass violence against minorities is not only being ignored but it is being rewarded by major political parties. The Indian police force has often been accused of being biased against minorities. The courts have failed to bring the perpetrators of violence to justice. This has created a culture of impunity.
Role of mainstream media
The international community failed to understand that Rwandan conflict because journalists in their attempt to appear “balanced” presented it as an equal racial conflict between Hutus and Tutsis. In reality the Tutsi minority was facing massacre after massacre. Similarly the Indian mainstream media in its attempt to appear “balanced” presents the communal conflict of India as an equal conflict. Hundreds of Muslims were killed and thousands displaced during the Muzafarnagar violence yet in its attempt to appear balanced the media condemns one extreme statement from Amit Shah along side one extreme statement from Azam Khan creating a false equivalence.
According to Kaufman ethnic war can be prevented by changing hostile myths. The Government has to take proactive measures to recast nationalist myths. The extremists should be given a clear message that they will face the full force of the law if they indulge in distribution of hateful propaganda or violence. This is unlikely to happen if the far right extremists come to power in India. In such conditions the international community must closely observe the situation in India. The world simply cannot afford to sit idle as a genocide unfolds.