Mobs of Hindu nationalists from the right-wing, Hindu-supremacist paramilitary organisation Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and RSS-linked youth group Bajrang Dal violently attacked Muslims and others who were peacefully protesting on the streets of Delhi on February 23.
Armed with guns, sticks and stones, they were given free reign by police and local politicians to wreak havoc in Muslim neighbourhoods.
Shaheen Bagh movement targeted
The attacks were targeted at women and children of the Shaheen Bagh movement, who were protesting the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA).
Surrounded by the national flag, copies of the preamble of the constitution and portraits of national icons like Dr Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar, Mahatma Gandhi and Maulana Azad, these protesters have come to symbolise solidarity, democracy and justice.
They had been sitting in peaceful protest for 70 days, before being viciously attacked as police and politicians looked on.
About 46 people died and more than 200 were injured in the attacks. Among the dead was an 85-year-old woman who was burnt alive.
The violent pogroms followed on the heels of United States President Donald Trump's visit, during which Prime Minister Narendra Modi agreed to a US$3 billion dollar arms deal.
BJP incites violence
The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader Kapil Mishra instigated the violence when he publicly threatened the sit-in protesters with forcible eviction and violence once Trump left. Many believe his speech was an assertion of power and a retaliation following his loss in Delhi’s recent elections to the Aam Aadmi Party’s (AAP’s) Arvind Kejriwal.
While addressing a crowd, Mishra issued the Delhi Police a three-day ultimatum to clear protests on the road in Chand Bagh (a Muslim neighbourhood) and threatened that CAA supporters — in other words, Hindu nationalists — would “take matters into their own hands” if the cops failed to do so.
The Delhi Police are controlled by BJP home minister Amit Shah — Modi’s “right-hand man”.
The day after Mishra’s speech, the Chand Bagh protest was subjected to a violent rampage. A petrol station and several cars were set ablaze as “volleys of stones arced through a smoke-riddled sky across Wazirabad road” Kaushal Shroff reported on February 26 in The Caravan. A truck used to transport construction materials dumped a load of rocks that were used as weapons against the protesters and allies.
A burning black object — reportedly a tyre — was hurled towards an anti-CAA protest tent. Within a few minutes, flames had engulfed the entire protest site.
Rioters chanted Hindu-nationalist slogans and “Desh ke gaddaron ko, goli maaro saloon ko” (“Shoot the country’s traitors”).
Throughout the attack, police stood by and made no attempt to stop the violence or arrest anyone. There are even reports they escorted attackers and videos circulated on social media show police breaking CCTV cameras and taunting injured Muslim men as they film them on their phones.
Over three days, the shops and homes of Muslims across north and east Delhi were targeted, a cemetery was desecrated, a mosque was taken over and pages of the Koran burnt. Muslims and protesters were forced to respond in self-defence, which was then used by the BJP to label the anti-CAA protesters as violent Islamists.
While Modi was chief minister in Gujarat state, more than 1000 Muslims were killed by Hindu supremacist thugs In a pogrom in 2002. The police were mute spectators to the violence, because they knew the mobs had the backing of the ruling party.
Delhi 2020 is no different. The Modi government has yet to publicly condemn the anti-Muslim violence, which is at the core of Hindutva — the BJP’s Hindu-supremacist ideology. With a BJP majority in the central government, it is unlikely that any proper aid or relief efforts will be coordinated by government agencies for the victims of the violence and their families.
The BJP won a landslide victory in the general elections in May, which has been followed by huge civil unrest and a weakened economy. Scapegoating Muslims and unleashing terror against minorities will be the tactic of choice for the BJP in its attempt to stay in power.
Community solidarity in the face of terror
While police refused to intervene, community members helped shield and rescue members of the Muslim community from violence.
Two Sikh men — Mohinder Singh and his son — helped Muslim neighbours who were forced to flee an area after it was seized by fascists. The duo saved 60–80 lives by ferrying people by motorcycle and scooter away from the Jamia Arabia Madinatul Uloom mosque to a nearby Muslim enclave.
Later that night, the mosque was seized and burned.
Singh told Huffington Post they rescued men, women and children and tied Sikh turbans around young boys’ heads to conceal the fact they were Muslim.
They have been criticised by some for “saving the Muslims” and now feel insecure about their own safety. “We got in the way of their plans of looting and burning," Singh said. "We are afraid that we could be targeted next.”
During the pogrom, Gurudwaras (Sikh houses of worship) in north Delhi opened up as places of refuge and communities watched over neighbourhoods to ensure Muslims were not attacked.
Dalits also blocked roads against mobs and sheltered Muslim neighbours.
During the violence, as India was securing an arms trade deal with the US, Trump praised Modi, saying: “We did talk about religious freedom, and I will say that the prime minister was incredible in what he told me. He wants people to have religious freedom and very strongly.”
However, US Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders and former candidate Elizabeth Warren both criticised the Modi regime.
In response, BJP President BL Santhosh threatened to interfere in the 2020 US presidential election.
Australian trade minister Simon Birmingham visited India on a trade mission during the violence. He touted India’s rule of law and tolerance as its strengths.
He said the violence is a “matter for India”, adding that “Australia continues to think that one of the things most valuable about India has been tolerance ... to religious diversity, and we continue to stress that in dialogue with Indian Government”.
Australian Greens Senator Mehreen Faruqi moved a motion in the Senate critical of the Indian government on February 27.
Australian Indians are also petitioning India’s High Commissioner to Australia to stand against communal violence via a petition calling for “Solidarity with the victims of Delhi riots and against the violence on peaceful anti-CAA/NRC protestors”.
The Indian diaspora in Britain protested against the Delhi violence and the CAA, and called for Shah's resignation for his “gross failure to maintain peace”.
Britain’s youngest sitting MP, Nadia Whittome, who is of Indian origin, said: “Will the government join me in rejecting the language of riots, clashes, protest and communal violence, when this is in fact a continuation of sustained and systemic Hindutva violence on the Muslims and many ethnic minorities in India that is sanctioned by Modi’s BJP government?”
Genocide Watch founder Gregory Stanton briefed US congressional and government officials in December on the situation in Kashmir and India’s National Citizens Register (NRC). The NRC was first implemented in Assam state and, if enacted across India, would require each Indian to prove their citizenship.
Stanton said “preparation for a genocide is definitely under way in India”. The persecution of Muslims in Assam state and Kashmir is “the stage just before genocide”.
“The next stage is extermination — that’s what we call a genocide.”