NEW DELHI: A Congressional briefing was held on January 12 by civil society organisations in the United States ‘to brief people who can actually do something about this threat of genocide in India.’

The testimony of Supreme Court of India advocate Anas Tanwir is reported here, and of entrepreneur and activist Amina Kausar here. Also testifying on video were Gregory Stanton, scholar and president of Genocide Watch, Govind Acharya of Amnesty International USA, and Hindus for Human Rights executive director Sunita Viswanath.

Viswanath expressed ‘grave concern about the escalating violence against religious minorities in India under the rule of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Hindu nationalist party the BJP.’

She described a spreading net of persecution, where mob attacks and laws to criminalise interfaith relationships are accompanied by a citizenship law which ‘discriminates against Muslims, Dalits, Adivasis, Women, the LGBTQ community, migrant workers: and threatens to render stateless all of India’s 200 million Muslim citizens.’

She spoke of the growing ranks of political prisoners ‘whose only crime is that they have exercised their constitutional rights and expressed their dissent about the government and its policies.’

Viswanath drew attention to the violence surrounding the dharm sansads in Haridwar and other towns.

‘There were anti-Christian hate incidents across India on Christmas Day. Hindutva mobs entered churches, threatened violence, chanted Jai Shri Ram, and in some cases even broke a statue of Lord Jesus. And on New Year’s Day over a hundred Muslim women (and we’ll be hearing from one today) woke up to find that their photograph was part of a horrific online auction.’

Coming to the ‘open calls for genocide in Haridwar, one of the holiest cities in India for Hindus,’ Viswanath described the US connections of Yati Narsinghanand Saraswati, who is for the moment in jail.

She said Yati is a priest at the Dasna Devi temple in Ghaziabad ‘who has on multiple occasions called for the extermination of Muslims and Islam. Last year this very priest assaulted a 14 year old Muslim boy for drinking water from a tap at the temple he runs, and his only comment was that the beating he gave the young boy should not have been videotaped.’

‘Unfortunately Yati also has American connections. Last year a 501(c)(3) nonprofit in the US, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad of America, announced they would be holding a series of events with Yati as the main speaker. It was only after Hindus for Human Rights launched a public campaign calling attention to his Islamophobic statements that this Hindu group cancelled their events with him,’ said Viswanath.

She documented some of the ‘explicit calls for genocide against Muslims’ at the parliament in Haridwar and the official BJP presence there.

“Like in Myanmar, the police here, the politicians here, the army and every Hindu must pick up weapons and we will have to conduct this cleanliness drive (safai abhiyan). There is no solution apart from this.” – Swami Prabodhananda Giri, president of the Hindu Raksha Sena

“If the governments do not listen to our demand for a Hindu State, we will wage a war far scarier than the 1857 revolt.” – Swami Anandswaroop Maharaj

“Nothing is possible without weapons. If you want to eliminate their population then kill them. Be ready to kill them and be ready to go to jail. Even if a hundred of us are ready to kill two million of them, then we will be victorious and go to jail.” – Pooja Shakun Pandey, general secretary of the Hindu Mahasabha.

Here Viswanathan added, ‘This organisation is more than a 100 years old, and its most infamous president Vinayak Savarkar was once accused of having masterminded Mahatma Gandhi’s assassination. The Hindu Mahasabha regularly organises public memorials for Gandhi’s assassin.’

Asking what steps the Government of India has taken in response, Viswanath said,

‘Many of the speakers have close ties with India’s ruling party the BJP. The event was attended by BJP leader Ashwini Upadhyay.. Last year Upadhyay was arrested by the Delhi Police for organising an anti-Muslim rally’ in Delhi.

‘The event was also attended by Udita Tyagi, leader from the BJPs Mahila Morcha or women’s front.’

‘Unsurprisingly, weeks have passed and Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been silent. The Deputy Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh Keshav Prasad Maurya.. said, “They have the right to say what they said in the dharam sansad. Nobody is saying anything wrong. They say what they think is right.”’

Viswanathan also recalled a video that did the rounds after the sansad.

‘Some Muslim leaders registered a complaint against the genocidal statements made in the conference. In response, some of the speakers in the conference went to a police station to file a counter-complaint. In a video that has now gone viral, they are seen laughing alongside a police officer.

‘In the video, Pooja Shakun Pandey a.k.a. Sadhvi Annapoorna then told the police officer that he should send a message that he is not biased. She said, “You are a public officer and you should treat everybody equally. That is what we expect from you. May you always win.”

‘In response, Yati Narsinghanand Saraswati, who was the main organiser of the dharma sansad event in Haridwar responded, “Nishpaksh kyun? Ladka hamari hi taraf hoga” – “Why unbiased? This guy will be on our side.” And the room burst into laughter.’

Viswanath concluded by specifying what Hindus for Human Rights want from the US government.

‘The speeches made in Haridwar are an explicit call for genocide against Muslims by religious leaders who are close to the ruling party, the government.. We call on the US Secretary of State Antony Blinken to condemn the genocidal and anti-Muslim statements made in the presence of officials from India’s ruling party, and also to point out that these gatherings and statements violate the Genocide Convention and India’s own Constitution.’

‘We call on US senators to advance the Combating International Islamophobia Act, by establishing a special envoy office at the US State Department to monitor and combat international Islamophobia. This Act has already passed in the House and now we need it to pass in the State.’

Viswanath cited a November early warning report by the US Holocaust Memorial Museum that uses risk-analysis methods to estimate that after Pakistan (15.2%) India has the highest likelihood (14.4%) of a genocide being perpetrated in the coming two years.

Recalling the Clinton administration’s inaction before the Rwanda genocide she said:

‘We can’t let the Biden administration repeat the mistakes of the past. Surveys show that the majority of Indian Americans believe that Hindu Nationalism poses a serious threat to India. The Hindutva extremists that gathered in Haridwar do not represent all Hindus or all Indians. We hope that all of you who are here representing US legislators will speak out loudly before it is too late.’

Govind Acharya, India specialist for Amnesty International, said the clutch of dharam sansads since December ‘should not be seen in isolation.’

The Haridwar sansad ‘was premised on Hindus facing a supposed existential threat from Muslims (who by the way make up about 14% of India’s population) and the conference was filled with calls to carry out large-scale massacres of Muslims in order to institute Hindu supremacy over India.’

He said these calls were accompanied by attacks on Christian Indians with the BJP involved.

‘In Chhattisgarh in September, BJP workers conducted anti-Christian marches in which they belted out, “Converters! Let’s beat them with shoes!” Later, that happened. In fact a member of the BJP youth cell in Chhattisgarh, Rahul Rao, openly bragged of slapping a pastor “5 or 6 times,” further saying that “it was immensely satisfying.”’

He said that anti-conversion laws have been strengthened in India ‘to criminalise the free expression of religious faith,’ and drew attention to Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which guarantees everyone’s right ‘to have a religion, to have no religion, or most importantly in this context, to change our religion.’

Acharya said the speakers at the sansad ‘openly urged these Hindus to emulate.. violence against Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar.. and then they boasted about this call to action in the days afterwards in the media.’

Calling this ‘illustrative of the atmosphere of bigotry that pervades these groups,’ he said the B– Bai app that surfaced days later was only one among ‘hundreds of examples of the casual dehumanising of Muslims and other minorities in India.’

Acharya warned of the under-reaction from what he called ‘the Indian mainstream’ and ‘Indian society’.

While ‘some in the Indian mainstream are dismissing this sickening act as a prank,’ said Acharya, ‘to view it in isolation really allows Indian society, even more well-meaning parts of Indian society, to ignore the systematic nature of this hate and bigotry.’

He reminded US legislators that ‘We are just a few weeks before the 20th anniversary of the horrific violence in Gujarat’.

Acharya cited The Production of Hindu-Muslim Violence in India by political scientist Paul Brass which argues the 2002 violence was ‘a methodical anti-Muslim pogrom carried out with exceptionally brutal coordination.’

He then drew attention to the targeted state violence in Delhi from December 2019 to March 2020 that accompanied the popular protests against the CAA.

‘This really bigoted law specifically discriminates on the basis of religion by excluding Muslims seeking citizenship,’ he explained.

‘This CAA passage led to widespread but peaceful protests. However four days after passage the Delhi Police entered the Jamia Milia Islamia, a very well known and prominent university in Delhi, and brutally beat up and sexually harassed student protestors.

‘Then on January 5, 2020 a mass mob entered the Jawaharlal Nehru University, laying siege for more than two hours, yelling “Kill the anti-nationals!” and “The traitors must be shot dead!”

‘Then on January 27, in an election rally in Delhi in response to a protest site led by Muslim women in Shaheen Bagh.. the Union Home Minister said that the BJP can “keep the country safe and prevent incidents like Shaheen Bagh.” And on that same day Union minister [of state] finance Anurag Thakur encouraged crowds to yell “Shoot the traitors to the nation!”

‘The next day another BJP member of parliament Parvesh Verma said that protestors from Shaheen Bagh would enter homes and “rape your sisters and daughters and kill them,” and further promised “not to leave even one mosque standing after BJP’s election in Delhi,”’ Acharya recalled.

He concluded with the NRC, drawing a parallel between Amit Shah and Rwanda.

When the Supreme-Court monitored registry was completed in Assam, ‘1.9 million people in Assam were excluded. That means that they may end up without any citizenship despite decades of residence in India. And when you combine it with that bigoted CAA, the NRC is weaponised against Muslims in India.

‘There are camps in Assam that are now housing those who have lost their citizenship. Because of the bigotry of these laws, India stands to create the biggest statelessness crisis in the world, which will create unimaginable suffering – and of course the vast majority of those affected will be Muslims.’

Genocide Watch president Gregory Stanton thanked the organisers for the opportunity ‘to brief people who can actually do something about this threat of genocide in India.’

He said his organisation which has accurately predicted genocides for decades ‘has been speaking out warning of genocide in India since 2002, when riots and massacres in Gujarat occurred that killed over 1,000 Muslims.

‘At that time the Chief Minister of Gujarat was Narendra Modi, and he did nothing. In fact there’s a lot of evidence that he actually encouraged those massacres. Now of course Narendra Modi has become Prime Minister of India, and under his BJP’s policies he has used anti Muslim, Islamophobic rhetoric in fact to build his political base.

‘And two of those specific ways has been the revocation of the autonomous status of Kashmir, which is the one state in India that is majority Muslim - and that revocation was largely aimed at restoring Hindu domination in Kashmir. The Hindu Pandits had left in 1990, as a result frankly of violence against them, but this revocation of autonomous status was specifically aimed at restoring Hinduism and Hindu domination in Kashmir.

‘The second thing that the Modi government did was pass the Citizenship Amendment Act, which was aimed at especially Muslims. Because it gave specific favourable status to refugees who had come from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh who were of certain religious groups - but the one group that was excluded was Muslims.

‘This act was specifically aimed at the Muslims who had fled Bangladesh during the Bangladesh genocide and civil war in 1971 and had settled in Assam. And there were probably 3 million of those people, and they had become regular citizens and so forth of India.

‘Well, this Act required then a census overseen by the Supreme Court of India, and the people who were brought in in the census had to prove that they were citizens of India before 1971 - through documentation.

‘Now, a lot of people don’t have that kind of documentation of course - I mean how many people have papers sitting around in their top drawers that can prove they were citizens before 1971?

‘So the people who were targeted here were these people who had come from Bangladesh, mostly Muslims. And the idea is to declare them to be essentially foreigners, and therefore to allow their deportation.

‘Now we have seen deportations before very recently, haven’t we? In 2017 that is exactly what the Myanmar government did to the Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar. They first of all declared them non-citizens, in the 1982 law that was passed in Myanmar that stripped the citizenship off the Rohingya.

‘And then they expelled them, deported them, in effect, through violence, and also through genocide – because it wasn’t just forced displacement, which is a crime against humanity, it was also genocide, because they killed well over 10,000 Rohingya.

‘And remember that the Genocide Convention doesn’t just cover genocides in whole, it also covers genocides in part – “it is specifically aimed at the destruction in whole or in part of a national, ethnic, racial or religious group.” And that is exactly what the Myanmar government did in Myanmar against the Rohingya.

‘Well, what we are now facing is a very similar kind of plot if you will – the aim here is essentially to extend this census and so forth all the way across India, and the people who will be the victims of this are the 200 million Muslims who live in India.

‘A lot of people forget that India has more Muslims than Pakistan, and they have been part of Indian society for centuries, in fact millennia, and so it’s really not – the idea of India as a Hindu nation, which is the Hindutva movement, is contrary to the history of India and it is also contrary to the Indian Constitution.

‘The Indian Constitution is specifically set up to make India a secular country, to allow for equality between all religions – it was not aimed at making a Hindu nation. And in fact during the first years of India’s existence under the Congress party that secularity was defended.

‘We should be aware that genocide is not an event. It is a process. It develops. That is what Genocide Watch is: what we try to do is to try and warn about genocide. We don’t just declare this is a genocide: because I’d say right now it would be very hard to say that there is a genocide in Kashmir or there is a genocide in Assam.

‘What there are however, are the early signs and processes of genocide in both of those places, and we believe that is what the Haridwar meeting was especially aimed at inciting.

‘Incitement to genocide is a crime under the Genocide Convention and it is law in India that incitiment to genocide is illegal. That law must be enforced. There are also other laws in India that could be enforced against the leaders of this.

‘And yet Mr Modi has not spoken out against that violence, and he has said “Oh it is not my responsibility, it’s up to the state, up to the Uttarakhand state.” The point however is that as the leader of India he has a moral obligation to denounce this kind of hatred, this kind of hate speech, that specifically calls for the killing of Muslims.

‘The Genocide Watch model of genocide process, which is the ten stages of genocide (I should really have called it the ten processes of genocide) begins with classification. It begins with trying to exclude people from citizenship.

‘It also includes dehumanisation: calling people terrorists or separatists or criminals, the kinds of language that was used in the meeting at Haridwar and has been used by the Indian Government also against Muslims.

‘It is polarisation, which includes this anti-Muslim hatred, and it is the kind of preparation that we are seeing right now where this dehumanisation is being preached.

‘So we are warning that genocide could very well happen in India. The US Holocaust Memorial Museum is right about that.

‘One of the first genocides that I predicted way back in 1989 was in Rwanda, when I lived there, and I could see from the ID cards, where it identifies Tutsis and Hutu and Twa and so forth that these cards could be used for genocide.

‘And when I asked the president of the Supreme Court, who was a Hutu himself, Couldn’t you outlaw this? Making these ID cards not have these ethnic identifications on them? And he said No, we don’t have judicial review here. So you’re going to have to talk to the president.

‘So I got an appointment to talk to President Habyarimana. I went in, we talked, I said you know, these ID cards could be used for genocide. At that point - and I said you have to get this off of the cards - a sort of mask went down over his face, because he didn’t want to hear that.

‘It turned out he was of course a leader of some of the genocidal massacres that had occurred earlier in that country.

‘But as we left that meeting, I said Mr President, if you don’t do something to prevent genocide in your country, there is going to be a genocide here in five years.

‘That was in 1989. The genocide developed, the hate speech developed, all the early warning signs developed - and as we know, 800 thousand Tutsis and other Rwandans were murdered in 1994.

‘We cannot let that happen in India.’