In late February a pogrom broke out in New Delhi, where I lived between February 2016 and August 2017. I was overwhelmed when I started reading about the violence, and still am while writing this. Still, I have thoughts.
Some basic facts about the violence
A mosque was burned. Footage circulated of a man from the Militant Hindu mob standing on a vandalized minaret, planting a saffron-coloured flag (BJP colours, Modi’s far-right party) and a flag of Hanuman, a popular Hindu god. Men chanted “hail Lord Ram” (a Hindu Nationalist slogan). In places, Muslim men were asked to sing the national anthem, or were beaten up right there.
To confirm their religion, Hindu mobs asked Muslims to show if they were circumcised. Elsewhere, in places Hindus put up the saffron flag so the mob would know not to torch their homes or businesses. A Hindu mob burned an 85-year-old Muslim woman to death, she was too frail to leave her home in time.
Footage of Delhi police shows them damaging CCTV cameras, so they won’t record what’s happening on Delhi streets. Yet I’ve seen a video of a police member instructing a mob to throw a brick (my friend translated the cop’s instructions).
The death toll was 4 in the initial reports from February 25. At the time of writing, it’s 53 and could still rise.
An editor in Delhi sent me pictures of victims way too graphic to post or even describe. Friends there advise me not to visit–“the country has changed.” One buddy told me, his friends aren’t talking about the pogrom–“let’s not discuss politics,” they say…as if a massacre is simply “politics.”
An Indian judge hearing the “Delhi violence” case came down on Delhi police, and was transferred away from Delhi days later. There’s other evidence this violence had explicit support from politicians and police, thought Hindus were also killed, and so was a policeman. How organized and predictable should the violence in a pogrom be?
Pogroms From all the reports I’ve read, and from everything I’ve heard from my friends there, this was a long-coming anti-Muslim pogrom organized by a fascist Hindu government.
Modi’s India is dark, but you wouldn’t know it unless you’re there. In North America, we hear reports about the supposed eradication of poverty in India–Western Big Business is looking to corner the Indian market, and they’re eager to demonstrate their presence in India benefits India.
The pogrom in Delhi threatens to pierce this painstakingly cultivated image. To maximize profits from India Big Business can’t have India associate with political instability. Actually I think they don’t have much to worry about: media coverage about Delhi’s pogrom has been predictably shameful.
Right wing outlets that still reference Trudeau’s clothing during his India trip are not reporting about Modi’s second pogrom. Priorities.
The image North Americans have been fed about India (deliberately) ignores the all-too-real real undercurrent of violence and growing militarism circulating through the country.
India is not usually associated with Militant Hindu Extremism, but with softer, nicer things: yoga, vegetarianism or butter chicken/naan, non-violent protest, infectiously joyous Bollywood movies, etc. Indians should be proud of these things! But Modi uses this them strategically.
I saw and felt militarism-creep with my own eyes: the increased public Army worship, in the form of bigger parades and more statues; a new law requiring movie theatres to play India’s national anthem, compelling everyone by law to stand up; Hindus (gau rakshaks) lynching Muslims, and the shrugs which follow.
Still, I was totally stunned when the pogrom in Delhi actually happened, even if I wasn’t surprised. That’s the paradox. No matter how much you expect and even prepare for violence, you’re never ready when it happens.
Violence has been ratcheting up since December, when Modi introduced a law (CAA) that itemized which minorities entering India would receive certain citizenship rights on their path to becoming a naturalized citizen, and Muslims were glaringly not included. You can read about the rising violence, Modi’s “detention camps” in Assam (they seem like concentration camps), the different timeline of violence in Delhi and more elsewhere.
I’m not recapping such complex events, just want to write about my perspective on the aftermath of a massacre.
How to feel, after your adopted home saw a pogrom?
There are different ways to be at a loss for words, and they are not all equal. “Be safe” feels like a trite and impersonal thing to say, equivalent to “have a nice day” between strangers.
How can you tell a friend, “please, don’t die”? But what do you say?
I wanted to know that my friends were in fact safe. I assumed they would be, since they mostly live in posh South Delhi, but I didn’t want to take anything for granted.
Actually, a friend of mine’s wife is Muslim, and her family’s business was burned down by a mob. She is safe. They don’t live in Delhi anymore. No wonder.
My Facebook feed has been Indian friends non-stop reflecting, sharing reports, grieving…my Muslim friends are still worried. Their fear is palpable. My Hindu friends also lament what the country has become and are worried too. But it’s different.
I feel impossibly close and far away from the violence. My Canadian friends don’t have the first-hand sense of things to really understand what’s happening. They could intellectualize it and sympathize it, but they won’t get it.
But here’s the thing: neither do I. I’m close enough to feel my heart breaking, but I’m thousands of miles away. It was my home city for a period, but I can’t speak Hindi. My experience living in India was like an ultra immersive movie–I really did experience that country, but always through a bubble.
I wonder what my local gurdwara in Lajpat Nagar II is doing to help desperate people get their lives back together in languages I don’t understand. This is the closeness and the distance I mean. Guilt for being unable to help, close enough to feel a visceral sense of dread.
I didn’t live in North Delhi where the riots largely took place, but I see the streetscapes from images and become nostalgic for what feels like my home.
One observation I’ve made is that maybe corny things are important to hear the closer you are to the violence. Yet I also believe the precise opposite at the same time:
“Don’t give up on the dream of a safe, secular India”…is this just twee crap that grates on the ears of people gripped by the realness of spilled blood, or is it a heartening and literal description of what peace-seeking Indians need to do moving forward?
All I know is I send my LOVE to everyone in Delhi trying to live among their neighbours in peace, who want nothing to do with Modi’s Hindu extremism. They have a proud democratic tradition amid regional challenges more complex than Canadians can imagine.
Canada has seen a mosque massacre. A Nazi unfurled a swastika at a Bernie Sanders rally just days ago, yet some North Americans simply think fascism can’t come here because our country is good, but that violence in countries like India (non-white, poorer) is expected.
At heart, Modi’s politics are identical to donald trump and doug ford’s–like McDonald’s operating in different countries, alt-right nationalist politics also makes adjustments and accommodations based on the region.
Consider, Canadian Conservatives lambasted Trudeau, not for having ties with Narendra Modi, a man so connected with mass-murder, the US wouldn’t let him enter the country for a decade–but for not having stronger ties with him. Scheer has still not denounced modi’s massacre. Neither has Trudeau.
I suppose Canadians naively think that after full-fledged mass-murder in the streets, the adults in the room will automatically stand up united to denounce all violence. In my brief experience what happens is this:
a) People who denounce modi for the Delhi pogrom are flooded by modi supporters on twitter accusing you of Fake News and being funded by an “Islamist Network” etc. (His elaborate Digital Army has been written about in detail.)
b) Modi’s radical RSS supporters claim to be the victims of a Muslim Mob, and anyone who even sympathizes with Muslim victims or blames Modi for the pogrom will face their fierce criticism and distortions of events–those who murder have no trouble merely lying.
c) outlets here that promote their own business interests as “news” will ignore a genuine massacre when their partner does it, but will fiercely denounce the wardrobe choices of non-clients for years.
d) the pattern to beware is this: alt-right parties portray critics as being outlandish and hysterical for calling them violent fascists; when the warned-about violence really does happen, they’ll say it didn’t happen, or it happened to them.
I want to send ALL MY LOVE to Delhi now! I didn’t know what to say to you through text messages in the immediate aftermath, and I still don’t know what to write even now, and I’m sorry about this. I send my love. Also, a caution: the pogrom did happen in New Delhi, and it can happen anywhere.