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Opinion: Indian student societies must do more to advocate against anti-Muslim violence in India

Passivity of student societies does little to support affected students at U of T
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NATHAN WATSON/THE VARSITY
NATHAN WATSON/THE VARSITY

As US President Donald Trump visited Prime Minister Narendra Modi in India recently, a neighbourhood in North East Delhi was the site of the “worst communal violence” against Muslims the city had seen in decades. Despite the international attention garnered by a presidential visit, Indian groups abroad, such as the U of T Indian Students’ Society (ISS) have remained relatively silent about these attacks.

The attack came after Kapil Mishra, a member of the ruling Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janatiya Party (BJP) who recently lost his seat in local elections, warned Muslim women protesting in northern Delhi against the recently imposed Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) that if they did not clear the roads before Trump left the country, they would face the wrath of the BJP’s supporters after Trump’s departure. BJP’s supporters, however, took that as an immediate signal and formed a mob within minutes.

The CAA fast-tracks Indian citizenship for religious minorities from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, and Pakistan, claiming to help those who have fled religious persecution. The act explicitly excludes Muslims, threatening to expel those without proper documentation who fled to the country in 1971 after the Bangladesh Liberation War and have been calling India home ever since.

The CAA is coupled with a plan to implement the National Registry of Citizens nationwide, which has already stripped two million Muslims of citizenship in the state of Assam. The escalating violence has left Muslims in India feeling as though their livelihoods are at stake. Hindus form the nation’s religious majority group while Muslims are a sizeable minority in India, which has a long history of Islamophobic immigration policies.

The ISS released a statement concerning these events on Instagram more than one week after what occurred in Delhi. It only did so after making posts promoting several of its upcoming events during that week across its social media platforms. Although the society’s work and events primarily focus on the experiences of Indian students in Toronto, the time it took the ISS to comment on the situation implied a lack of either knowledge or concern about injustice in India, either of which are troubling.

The statement itself has several problems. Although the ISS condemned the violence and its religious basis, it does not mention that the victims of these attacks were Muslim, nor does it place blame on the BJP’s goons. This indicates to readers that the violence was two-sided, when in reality it was a blatant, targeted attack on Muslims and anti-CAA protestors. Furthermore, the student group has not released any statements or hosted any events about the CAA and National Registry of Citizens, the lockdown in Kashmir, or any other acts of violence, censorship, and suppression that have been plaguing the country for months.

The pogrom in Delhi lasted for three days, as Hindus attacked the Muslim population and Muslims fought back. The violence killed more than 40, injuring more than 200, and lead to the devastation of 79 homes and 327 shops. The victims were mostly Muslim.

Journalists reporting on the event were also assaulted, with many being asked to prove their religion. A mosque in Delhi was subject to arson attacks and vandalism, with rioters even going so far as to climb to the top of a minaret and place a saffron flag depicting the Hindu god Hanuman. The police did little to help those being attacked, with some even joining in to shoot at and taunt severely injured protestors who were lying helplessly on the ground.

As I read obsessively about what was happening in Delhi, it reminded me of one thing: Kristallnacht. As a history student, you learn time and time again about this pivotal event in the rise of the Nazis in 1930s Germany when Sturmabteilung officers — the Nazi paramilitary force — and civilians launched a series of pogroms against the Jewish population in 1938.

They attacked synagogues and Jewish-owned shops and homes, and Jewish people were killed as German security forces did little to intervene. The instance came to be known as the “Night of Broken Glass,” as shards of glass littered the streets in the aftermath of the pogroms. I have been taught that Kristallnacht was a clear foreshadowing of what was to come in Germany, and when I look at the events in Delhi in the same light, it sends chills down my spine.

While Kristallnacht was of course done on a much larger scale, one thing stands out as common to me in both events: the silence of the international community. The international community has done little to condemn the actions of Modi’s jingoistic government, but what is even more heartbreaking is to see the silence, barring some exceptions, of U of T’s Indian diaspora.

The ISS and other organizations of Indians abroad need to come out on the right side of history and not shy away from calling out political leaders on hate-mongering that has had real, horrific consequences. They must not hide the truth about what is happening in India nor ignore the fear that Muslims in the country are feeling. Finally, they must acknowledge that this was not an isolated incident, but part of a larger chain of events that is posing a threat to the lives of India’s 201 million Muslims.

Sana Rizvi is a third-year International Relations, History, and Women and Gender Studies student at Victoria College.