It took one month and immense public pressure for the police to arrest Yati Narsinghanand, who organized a hate speech conference from December 17-19 in Haridwar, Uttarakhand, where extremists called for Hindus to arm themselves and wage war against Muslims in India. The head priest of the Dasna Devi temple in Uttar Pradesh, who routinely calls for violence against Muslims, and has multiple cases against him, was arrested on Saturday for the derogatory remarks that he made against women in July, last year. On Sunday, there were reports of him being sent to judicial custody for 14 days in connection with the hate speech case. Most of the speakers at the conference are still free and Prime Minister Narendra Modi is yet to condemn this incitement to genocide. This, according to Gregory Stanton, a human rights professor and founder of Genocide Watch, suggests that it would be a mistake to dismiss the speakers as the fringe, kooks, and cranks, without any clout or influence. While it was unlikely that all of India would be convulsed in mass killings of the kind orchestrated by the state forces in countries like Cambodia, Rwanda, Sudan, and Myanmar, Stanton, in a recent conversation, told us that the danger of private actors (mobs) carrying out “genocidal massacres” in India was very real.
Stanton, who came up with the “10 Stages of Genocide” when he was with the United States Department of State, has spent decades identifying patterns of genocide across the world and was involved in setting up the tribunals which prosecuted genocide in Rwanda and Cambodia.
“What we are really worried about is what happened in the Haridwar conference in Uttarakhand. They literally called for arming Hindus and killing Muslims. This is called incitement to genocide. You are at a very dangerous stage. Incitement is actually an act of genocide,” he said.
Given the history of the Holocaust, where six million Jews were murdered by the Nazi regime, and genocides in Cambodia, Rwanda, and Sudan (Darfur), where mass killings were orchestrated by the state forces and their supporter, we asked Stanton whether genocide could occur in a sophisticated democracy like India. In other words, while there were extremists calling for violence against Muslims, 200 million of 1.2 billion people, was genocide the right term for a country as politically, socially, and culturally diverse as India? Even with large swathes of the population being radicalized, there was still a secular Constitution, judiciary, and elections. The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) controlled the lower house of Parliament, but it was not in power in several states.
Genocide, Stanton said, was possible in democracies like India and the United States. And while it was unlikely that the state would commit genocide in these countries, populist leaders and their parties had allowed for conditions in which mobs were now prepared to kill.
“I don’t think the Indian government is likely to commit genocide. I think you have a Constitution that works, but what I do think is that groups like the one in Haridwar are quite capable of carrying out genocidal massacres. Genocidal massacres is the most appropriate term for India,” said Stanton. “Look at what happened during the Partition. It wasn’t committed by the state during the partition, it was committed by mobs.”
“India is quite capable of genocide, just as the United States is. We committed genocide against our own native Americans and African Americans during the slave trade. Is it still possible in the United States? No one should underestimate the extent to which Mr. Trump has brainwashed the Republican Party in which extremists like the Proud Boys and others could carry out genocidal killings,” he said. “You underestimate the potential of violence in the United States if you ignore that.”
Also tracking genocidal patterns is the Early Warning Project at the Center for the Prevention of Genocide at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., where, in a risk assessment for mass killings in 162 countries, India ranks number two for the year 2021-22, up from five and 13 in the previous years. It has been among the top 15 countries most at risk of genocide in the past five years. Citing systematic discrimination against the Muslim minority, the 18-month long ban on the Internet and anti-dissent measures in Kashmir, the “promotion of nationalist and exclusionary ideologies,” among other factors, the project concludes that there is a 14.4%, or approximately 1 in 7, the chance of a new mass killing beginning in India in 2021 or 2022.
At the three-day conference in Haridwar, people applauded as saffron-robed Hindu monks said things like, “If we want to finish off their population, then we are ready to kill and go to jail. If 100 of us become soldiers and kill twenty lakh of them then we are the victors and ready to go to jail. Keep in mind, to protect Bharat Mata and Sanatan Dharam, you will have to become soldiers. Leave aside books and pick up weapons,” “What will come out of this conference will be the order for the nation that elected governments in Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand will have to listen, and if they don’t, we will wage a battle far scarier than the battle of 1857,” “Hotel owners who allow Christmas and Eid celebrations will have to save their hotels,” “Get ready to kill or be killed, there is no other option,” and “Who has stopped you from producing ten children.”
Even after the widespread public outrage, some of these speakers have not only stood by their remarks but vowed to escalate their call for violence against Muslims. The speaker who called for the killing of 20 lakh Muslims, a woman monk who goes by the name Annapurna Maa, went on national television and shouted, “We will kill.”
This conference was organized at a time when attacks against Indian Muslims, online and off, have become routine, open calls for violence are more frequent, and hate-mongers, many of whom have ties with the ruling dispensation and its leaders, go unpunished.
Countries that are party to The Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide are under an obligation to stop incitement to genocide. After ratifying the Genocide Convention in 1959, India never passed any law on genocide. In response to a parliamentary question in 2017, Kiren Rijiju, then the minister of state for Home Affairs, said, “The provisions of the Indian Penal Code including the procedural law (Criminal Procedure Code) provide effective penalties for persons guilty of the crime of genocide…”
The two FIRs (First Information Report) registered by the police in connection with that hate speech conference in Uttarakhand invoke three sections of the colonial-era IPC, Section 153 (A) — the act of promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion, race, place of birth, residence, language, caste, community, or any other group, punishable with up to three years in prison, a fine or both, Section 295A — deliberate and malicious acts, intended to outrage religious feelings of any class by insulting its religion or religious beliefs, punishable with up to three years in prison, a fine or both, and Section 298 — uttering, words with deliberate intent to wound the religious feelings of any person, punishable with up to a year in prison, a fine or both.
Given the gravity of what has occurred in Haridwar, legal experts tell us that India needs a law on genocide.
“India has taken no steps to create barriers to genocide. This was driven by India’s projection of itself as a land of diversity during the years of Congress government. But with Mr. Modi at the top and systematic weakening of India’s secular ethos and promotion of ‘Hindutva’ and ‘Hindu Rashtra’ narrative by BJP leaders and karyakartas, we are in a dangerous zone. The absence of strong laws against genocide provides an open opportunity for actors like Yati Narsinghanand to call for genocide,” said Ritumbra Manuvie, who lectures on international law at the University of Groningen, and is the executive director of the Foundation London Story, based in Hague.
When we pointed out that public order is a state subject in India, and the police in Uttarakhand had registered two FIRs following the conference in Haridwar, Stanton noted it was the moral responsibility of the Prime Minister, “as the leader of India,” to condemn incitement to genocide.
“Now, there are some people who say that these people are just extremists and don’t worry about them. If they don’t have much influence then why hasn’t Modi denounced them. If they don’t have much influence then why has the BJP not done more to arrest them,” he said.
Under the Genocide Convention, genocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial, or religious group: Killing members of the group; Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group; Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part; Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group; Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.
The following acts are punishable: Genocide; Conspiracy to commit genocide; direct and public incitement to commit genocide; Attempt to commit genocide; Complicity in genocide.
Article 4 of the Convention says that persons committing genocide shall be punished, whether they are constitutionally responsible rulers, public officials, or private individuals.
In Burundi in 1972, Tutsi government forces and their supporters killed 200,000 Hutus, mostly members of the intelligentsia but it was still genocide, Stanton noted. The Khmer Rouge Regime killed two million people in Cambodia from 1975-79. In 1994, Hutu government forces killed 800,000 people in Rwanda, mostly Tutsis. Jean Kambanda, the prime minister of Rwanda in 1994, was the person in history to plead guilty to genocide before an international tribunal in 1998. In 2009, the then President of the Republic of Sudan, Omar Hassan Ahmad Al Bashir, became the first sitting head of state against whom an arrest warrant was issued for crime against humanity and genocide by the International Criminal Court. In January 2020, the International Court of Justice, in response to a case brought by Gambia, ordered Myanmar to prevent genocidal violence against its Rohingya Muslim minority and to ensure that its military and police force do not commit genocide.
The Islamic State killed 10,000 Yazidis and is a genocidal force, Stanton noted. The prevention of birth and forcible transferring of children was being done in China to the Uighur Muslims, he added.
Stanton’s Genocide Watch has previously given a genocide warning for Kashmir after India’s only Muslim majority state was stripped of its autonomy and statehood in August 2019, and for Assam, where the scepter of deportations of Bengali-speaking Muslims loomed large that same year.
When we pointed out that genocide had not occurred, Stanton said, “Genocide is not an event. It is a process. When we warn about genocide, it is aimed at preventing genocide. When you say this has not happened — we didn’t say it would certainly happen. The process was evident in the revocation of the autonomy of the only Muslim majority state, the dehumanization of Muslims by calling them insurgents, terrorists, and so forth. There are already 600,000 Indian troops present. You had people calling it the ‘final solution.’ That kind of language makes you very wary,” he said. “Genocide Watch is there to warn, not declare. All we are saying is to watch out.”