A Glimpse Into India

Disclaimer: all thoughts and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author, and in no way reflect the thoughts or opinions of The Page, The Page’s staff or Las Lomas as a whole.

I remember the day the news reported that Narendra Modi, the Chief Minister of the state of Gujarat, was elected as the Indian prime minister. Any newspaper stands we passed on the streets of New Delhi that day had their front page featuring Modi and his great win. Of course, I couldn’t read the headlines, as they were in Hindi, Tamil, and other Indian languages, but his picture dominated the pages. I didn’t know much of anything about the election or who Modi was, and I didn’t have an opinion of him, as I was only 9 years old. I just remember my parents and nearly all of the diplomatic community emanating this aura of disappointment, like they were all holding their breath. Two years later, when President Trump was elected, I was hit with a strong sense of déjà vu as the Republicans and Democrats had reactions that mirrored the reactions of Indian citizens and diplomats almost exactly. I had almost forgotten about the controversy surrounding Modi, as no new controversies arose regarding Modi and 2 years later, I moved back to California. However, this all changed in December of 2019, when the Indian Parliament passed Modi’s Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB) or Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), which granted citizenship to illegal immigrants from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan of all religions–but there was one catch: Muslims were excluded. 

Immediately after CAB was voted in by both houses of Parliament, protesters took to the streets everywhere from the northern state of Delhi to the far-east state of Assam. Wasting zero time, critics denounced the law, with their main contention being that the law was blatantly discriminatory towards Muslims. This only added fuel to the fire of Modi revoking the highly contested (and India’s only majority Muslim state) Jammu and Kashmir’s standing as a mostly autonomous Indian state, annexing most of it as the new state of Ladakh.

The climate remained as a typical protest-type situation until late February, when scores of violence erupted in New Delhi, Delhi, the nation’s capital. The anti-CAB protesters and a rally for pro-CAB people began to clash and started attacking each other, and police did little to nothing to stop the violence. Both sides began throwing rocks and pavement at each other and set fire to cars, and the pro-CAB side began to vandalize Muslim stores and beat up Muslims. After reports came in of the deaths of a police constable, a civilian and 35 people hospitalized, police soon set a ban on all gatherings in the violence-prone areas in an attempt to stop it all. However, two days later, a sit-in in a different part of Delhi ended fatally, with over 30 reported dead.

I sat at my dining table the Wednesday before last, eating my bagel and reading the news on my phone, when I first came across a Washington Post article on the second wave of Delhi riots. I read as the authors, Joanna Slater and Niha Masih, described in great detail how a sit-in of women protesting CAB turned into dozens dead, many more injured, debris everywhere and local mosques burnt to the ground, and the first thought that flew through my mind was: “This reads like our lessons on the Holocaust and Kristallnacht.”

At first, I thought that that was crazy, it must’ve just been one of my many impulsive thoughts influenced by learning about the Holocaust and World War II in both English and World History simultaneously.

And then I thought about it some more.

My brain kept thinking of similarities between what we read about Kristallnacht and what I had just read on my phone. Instead of Nazis going on a violence spree against Jews, here were pro-CAB people–and therefore people who supported at least some of Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party’s ideals–attacking Muslims. Instead of Jewish synagogues being burnt to the ground, here were Muslim mosques standing, charred. Muslim businesses were being destroyed and vandalized with hate. Even the name of Kristallnacht, the Night of Broken Glass, saw parallels in Delhi; there they were torn posters, burnt out gasoline bombs and other debris used to attack the Muslims instead of broken glass.

In addition, before Modi was elected prime minister, he served as the Chief Minister of the state of Gujarat and was in power during the violence in Gujarat in February of 2002, almost 18 years to the day before the Delhi riots. The Gujarat violence is viewed as “the worst religious violence ever seen in independent India,” as stated by The Guardian journalist Aditya Chakrabortty. That violence claimed over 2,000 lives, according to independent counts, with a large majority being Muslim. During this event, mobs raped and tortured young Muslim girls and women and killed hundreds of other Muslims. Although Modi was cleared of all personal involvement in the brutality, this does give him a track record of being in power during large swaths of violence against Muslims. 

While these riots are almost completely unlikely to turn into a genocide, let alone one the size of the Holocaust, it does raise a few of the “red flags” of persecution and prejudiced violence we learn so much about in World History and English class. India, and Modi in particular, should be watched by other nations for any signs of prejudiced or government-sanctioned violence to prevent anything similar to the Darfur genocide–a genocide that was denied for years by the Sudanese government and other nations for fear of diplomatic repercussions by the Sudanese government–from happening again.