Delhi Pogroms 2020
Some of the reporting on the most recent spate of anti-Muslim violence in Delhi, bar some references to phones, could very easily be the opening to any one of Manto’s visceral stories recounting communal violence leading up to the partition of India. Our feeds on social media are full with uncensored pictures and video footage of torched buildings, men being dragged on the street and minarets desecrated. It seems the dawn of freedom unfortunately remains mottled.
This however, is Modi’s India in 2020: a state that has decided emphatically vis a vis Kashmir, the CAA and the NRC to declare who it is, whose lives it cares for and certainly whose lives it does not. The burning of homes and neighbourhoods, communal violence and terror unleashed on defenceless people is tragically, not new. This is the latest resurgence in a state led by a man who presided over the pogroms of Gujarat, and leads a party that is frighteningly open in its hatred and exclusionary intentions. The BJP and the Modi government are of course the context of what we’re watching happen in Delhi, but the violence that this resembles, be it Gujarat or the 1984 Sikh genocide, occurred when the state was led by the Congress party, which is commonly positioned as the more reasonable and secular opposition to Modi’s extreme nationalism.
A few questions must be asked of Indian democracy and secularism as a whole: How does violence of this kind continue to rear its head again and again? Which communities in particular is the state failing in each of these cases Which state institutions can victims find justice, support or even sympathy?
It is also important to consider the framing of the violence. When a minaret is replaced with a saffron flag, when Mosques are burnt, it is imperative that we clearly name what is happening as anti-Muslim violence, and not simply ‘clashes’ between two religious communities. As well as the danger of feeding readers the trope of continually warring barbaric Muslims and Hindus, we ignore who the majority of the victims are and where the attacks against them are finding inspiration and support. When a BJP leader recently tweeted "Three days' ultimatum for Delhi Police - clear the roads in Jaffrabad and Chand Bagh. After this, we won't listen to you," - it is imperative that readers and the media alike, question: Who is "we"? and what that not-listening to police will practically mean. That ‘we’ must be named as the mobs committing the violence, the far-right Hindu nationalists that the BJP inspires and is made up of. When that ‘we’ stops listening to police, it should be made absolutely clear that killing and looting is the shape that ‘clearing the roads’ will take.
Professor Gopal of Cambridge calls this ‘very deep structural violence’ and has urged and warned against the careless use of terms such as ‘riots’ and ‘religious fights’ that obfuscate the very real power imbalances between communities in India. We have of course seen this before, in the reporting of the Israeli occupation of Palestine, where violence inflicted by an advanced military occupation against those living under that occupation, is referred to as simply ‘clashes’ between two sides. Insinuating that there is any semblance of equality between the ‘two sides of the conflict’ is indeed irresponsible, and serves to protect those who are orchestrating the majority of violence either in deed, vocal support or incitement. It serves to protect Modi himself, who has of course, ‘called for calm’ and has unironically asked his ‘brothers and sisters in Delhi to maintain peace and brotherhood’. Which citizens of Delhi would consider themselves siblings of Narendra Modi? It is this brazen manipulation of events that journalists must dissect, and ensure the public is asking the right questions of the right actors - and not providing cover for the very architects of the brutality we see on our screens.