[News] Arundhati Roy: Indian Muslims facing ‘genocidal climate’ amid pandemic

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Wed Jun 17 11:26:42 EDT 2020


  Arundhati Roy: Indian Muslims facing ‘genocidal climate’ amid pandemic

Daniela Bezzi - June 11, 2020

India’s coronavirus lockdown, which began in March, has been one of 
largest and strictest in the world. It has left tens of millions without 
work prompting a mass exodus from cities; many have attempted to travel 
hundreds of miles – on foot, by bicycle or even clinging to trucks – to 
return to their home villages.

This week, the government has begun loosening restrictions despite the 
number of reported cases continuing to rise. Although the numbers are 
relatively low for a population of almost 1.4 billion people, the 
country is yet to reach its peak.

As the lockdown lifts, we asked the acclaimed writer Arundhati Roy, who 
has been an outspoken critic of Narendra Modi’s government, what kind of 
India will emerge from under lockdown.

*The Indian government acted fairly quickly to impose a lockdown. Has it 

*Arundhati Roy*: The lockdown has been disastrous. India is the only 
country where the numbers climbed sharply through the lockdown and just 
when the graph is the steepest the lockdown has been relaxed. So we have 
a double disaster. An economic wreckage as well as a raging pandemic. 
The COVID-19 numbers have been and continue to be, in my opinion a bit 
unreliable not only in India, but everywhere. In India, for example, we 
generally count the deaths in hospitals, and who knows how many more 
have died at home, how many have died of other illnesses that could not 
be addressed because of this emergency. How many from hunger, or 
exhaustion on their long march home, in addition to the alarming death 
rates in India for more usual reasons.

The only thing we know for sure is that both lockdown and social 
distancing cannot be applicable in India, if we think of the tens of 
millions living in the slums. Take for example Dharavi, the largest slum 
in Asia in the heart of Mumbai: almost one million people in two square 
kilometers, one toilet for several hundred people, what does quarantine 
or social distancing mean in such conditions?

Instead of testing, monitoring, stopping public gatherings and shutting 
down, say, restaurants and malls, at a time when there were only a few 
hundred cases, they brought the hammer down on the whole country. They 
smashed an economy already in a deep crisis and that is now obviously in 
a massive recession. Hundreds of millions of jobs have been lost.

The cases are rocketing up, and now number 280,000. As the graph climbs 
the lockdown has been lifted. Having broken everything, the government 
has now absolved itself of all responsibility, and is telling us that we 
have to learn to live with the virus. People who should have been 
allowed to go home two months ago, are now reaching their villages, 
carrying the virus with them.

It is only Modi’s hubris, his unchallenged power and his complete lack 
of understanding of the country he rules that could have resulted in 
such a mighty disaster. He is cunning, but unintelligent. That is a 
dangerous combination.

Add to all this, the Modi Government’s overt Islamophobia, amplified by 
a shameless, irresponsible mainstream media – that overtly blamed 
Muslims for being spreaders of disease. You have whole TV shows 
dedicated to “COVID jihad” etc... All this came off the back of the 
unconstitutional dismantling of Kashmir’s special status (leading to a 
10 month on-and-off lockdown and internet seige of 6 million people in 
the Kashmir valley – a mass human rights violation by any standards), 
the new anti-Muslim citizenship law, and the pogrom against Muslims in 
North East Delhi in which the Delhi Police were seen actively 

Young Muslims, students and activists are being arrested every day for 
being “conspirators” in the massacre. While ruling party politicians who 
actually came out on the streets calling for “traitors” to be shot, 
remain in positions of power and high visibility.

*You have been criticized for* *an interview* 
you gave to Deutsche Welle, in which you describe this rampant 
Islamophobia as something that could be a prelude to genocide. Can you 
help us to understand the escalation of this situation?*

Yes. I said that the language being used by the mainstream media against 
Muslims was designed to dehumanise them. To paint an entire community as 
“corona jihadis” during this pandemic, when there is a pre-existing 
atmosphere of violence against Muslims is to create a genocidal climate.

Over the last couple of years we have had so many instances of mob 
lynchings and George Floyd-type killings – the difference in India being 
that Hindu vigilante mobs do the killing and the police, the legal 
system and the political climate help them to get away with it.

These episodes of violence and massacres against the Muslim minority in 
India are nothing new. Think of the pogrom that continued for months in 
2002 in Gujarat, when Narendra Modi was Chief Minister of that State. 
Muslims were slaughtered in broad daylight. Modi looked away and has 
never expressed regret. Quite the contrary. He has ridden to power on 
that legacy. He and his ministers are members of the Hindu supremacist 
RSS, the most powerful organisation in India whose founding ideologues 
were inspired by Mussolini and Italian fascism.

Hindu fascism has vernacular roots too. The caste system – a supposedly 
divinely ordained system of social hierarchy in which Brahmins consider 
themselves to be the master race – lays the foundation of fascist 

But to come to the unfolding of events that set the tone of our lockdown 
– from the very beginning, immediately after its announcement at the end 
of March, the media spread the news of several cases of contagion in 
Nizamuddin, an area right in the center of Delhi not far from where I 
live, that only a few weeks before had hosted a large conference 
organised by an Islamic congregation called Tablighi Jamaat, with 
numerous delegates from abroad. Immediately the hashtag /#CoronaJihad/ 
started to circulate on Twitter. Tablighis were branded “human bombs”. 
Muslims were being denied admission to hospitals and local BJP leaders 
and politicians were calling for Muslim fruit and vegetable sellers to 
be boycotted.

It was terrifyingly similar to how, during the rise of the Third Reich, 
Nazis began accusing Jews of being spreaders of disease, carriers of 
typhus. And the tone of the media – particularly channels like Zee TV 
and Republic TV began to sound like Radio Rwanda. These channels are 
specially rewarded by the Modi coterie, granted exclusive interviews by 
him and his terrifying home minister. The horror show is ongoing.

Muslims are being dehumanized, ostracised economically as well as 
socially – if you read scholars of genocide like Robert Jay Lifton, they 
tell you that this is the first step, the way it all begins.

*And yet, in the months preceding the lockdown, a protest movement was 
growing in opposition to the government’s Citizenship Amendment Bill 
that was passed in December. How do you explain such a rapid 
deterioration of the situation?*

Yes. A few months ago those protests were a little like what is 
happening in the US right now. The protests were non-sectarian. Poetic 
and beautiful. As soon as the Citizenship Amendment Bill in December, 
students rose in protest. They were put down brutally by the police. 
Police entered campuses, smashed up a library, and used weapons on 
students that would normally be used in anti-terrorist operations. This 
enraged the younger generation. There were massive protests all over India.

In Delhi, in the Shaheen Bagh neighborhood, thousands of women gathered 
to block a city road. They sat there for almost three months. Shaheen 
Bagh became the site of collective creativity, poetry readings, music 
concerts. It was mirrored in other cities like Mumbai, Bengaluru and 
Kolkata. When the Delhi state election campaign began, Modi and his 
party painted these women as terrorists, as Pakistanis – it was the most 
vicious campaign you could imagine. But they lost. The AAP (Common Man's 
Party) won 62 seats out of 70. Soon after that defeat, the anti-Muslim 
pogrom began in North East Delhi.

President Trump was visiting Delhi while the massacres and the fires 
raged. He pretended it wasn’t happening and instead showered Modi with 
praise. Fifty five people were killed. It made big news in the US, which 
enraged the BJP. So now while we are all locked down, there is a massive 
round of arrests. Young students are in jail, being made to pay the 
price for a massacre openly instigated by BJP politicians.

*The last weeks of this Indian lockdown have been particularly dramatic. 
A gas leak at a chemical plant in southern India resulted in 11 deaths 
and made hundreds ill; sixteen migrants died in their sleep under a 
freight train; and a cyclone has killed more than 80 people. What kind 
of India will emerge from lockdown?*

As with the human body, this virus had the effect of making visible and 
accelerating the collapse at the social scale. All the diseases – 
comorbidities of a deeply unjust society – have exploded into view. It 
will be a deeply wounded India, even more divided by inequalities: the 
lockdown has not only meant the undoing of the economy, but has also 
caused the disappearance of a huge labor force that was being cruelly 
exploited and paid barely subsistence wages.

It’s ironic that despite the horrifying sight of the exodus – the 
reverse migration of that working class that showed how fragile it is, 
how vulnerable, how impoverished – we have the corporate class asking 
for a further dismantling of labour protection laws (which in any case 
apply to a very small section of the working class) to enable India to 
compete with China as a manufacturing hub. It's not easy to foresee the 
consequences. If before the lockdown we had the worst unemployment rate 
in 40 years, I can’t imagine what will happen now, with an entire 
subcontinent in distress. We run the risk of mass hunger, even though 
warehouses are stocked with millions of tonnes of foodgrain.

    Injustice was hidden away, by the media, by Bollywood, by a literary
    and cultural community who considered it the acceptable price for
    becoming a superpower

The only consolation is that this mosaic of emergencies is out in the 
open: those who had the privilege of confining themselves at home, could 
not help but see the magnitude of the disaster, the horrifying injustice 
and shame of being part of a society like this. It was hidden away, by 
the media, by Bollywood, by a literary and cultural community who 
considered it the acceptable price for becoming a superpower. What may 
happen in the coming weeks and months, depends on each of us, not only 
in India but everywhere: will we fall back on the same tracks, or fight 
for change?

*You’ve suggested that human rights courts should examine government 
responses to COVID. *

Yes, because what has been done to the people is in my view a crime 
against humanity. In order to know the full contours of it, we need 
facts we can trust. On the health front, the economic front, the role of 
the media – all of it. The documentation, the gathering of evidence and 
testimonials will in itself be a revolutionary act.


Part of this interview was originally published by Il Manifesto 
<https://ilmanifesto.it/> in Italian.

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863.9977 https://freedomarchives.org/
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