on March 20, 2020
In a recent column for Livemint, the novelist and columnist Manu Joseph asks, in reference to the recent Delhi ‘riots’, “Why is it that angry Hindus have been unable to tell their side of the story to the world?” The story being talked about is one of their suffering which, he rightly says, should merit equal consideration as that of Muslims. Joseph reiterates the fact that although many of the dead were actually Hindus, the world and liberal India turned a blind eye to that fact and selectively reacted to the victimhood of Muslims.
Joseph and several others have given voice to these facts which could be and often are neglected in the war of narratives where facts remain the only weapons when everything else fails to stand ground. Although Joseph cherry picks two instances (Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Occasio-Cortez—two foreign nationals) to epitomize this neglect and ignores ample others wherein these facts have received a more unequivocal statement, his point that an equal acknowledgment of the Hindu suffering was wanting still stands. But is that all Joseph and his analog others want to demonstrate? That the facticity of narratives was skewed? Regrettably not.
Joseph adds a final addendum to this: that this factual turpitude, as it were, signifies that the majority, in this case Hindus, can no longer tell their story—that they were victims as well. Glaringly, he says, “Brahmins, Caucasians, Israelis, and men have all tried.” One can barely search for nuance when Joseph says it. Prima facie, all his factual heavy lifting (though facts are scarce in the piece) was done to claim that since a number of Hindus were victims as well, the majority’s suffering remains unacknowledged and hence their story unheard.
Are we to assume that since once in a while a couple of Israeli soldiers die fighting knife-wielding Palestinian children or in an ambush, Israelis have a story of suffering to tell wherein they are the victims of the Palestinian oppression? Certainly, Joseph’s argument has gone way off its premise. He has turned the deaths of a certain number of Hindus into a pathos of the majority’s suffering and put his own spin to the assumption that the majority can’t play the victim card. Simply by claiming that they can’t play the victim card he already portrays them as victims.
The analytical gimmickry of such apologetics in favor of majoritarianism is vividly visible in the case of Joseph. If by his logic, a number of Muslims dying doesn’t qualify as anti-minority violence or genocide (a term he has misgivings using about perhaps because the body count is too low), how does the death of an even lesser number of Hindus count as a majority’s story, to use his dubbing? The appropriation of stats which seems so important to majoritarian apologists like Joseph takes a backseat when a history of anti-minority violence is narrated to them. After all, majoritarianism breeds through collective amnesia. A sizable number of Europeans seem to have forgotten the wraith of Nazism. Likewise at home, the Partition, Babri demolition, and Godhra seem too ancient for such apologists to realize that when majoritarianism fools itself for a victim, the only stories left to be told are of everything but it.
For such apologists, and they are many, the count of the dead on the side of the minorities should outweigh that on the side of the majority even if basic numeracy would have it that the count of the latter may run high even if they are the perpetrators of the violence. The argument that both sides participate and are victims neglects the mechanics of how the (anti-minority) violence actually takes place. The instigation most often than not comes from the side of the majority (the Hindus in this case), the target is pre-set (the Muslims), and aggression is the chosen means of the redressal of the grievances. It is important to note how the framing of grievances happens as well. It’s the grievances of the majority that is sought redressal of—such grievances are assumed to have long stayed repressed and need to be expedited immediately even if that requires recourse to violence. The grievances of the minority are reductively framed—‘anti-CAA/anti-NRC’—and denuded of a wider context which would involve acknowledging the structural marginalization of Muslims and ever-growing socio-economic and political sequestration that has only risen since the BJP came to power in 2014. A history is iterated where the antecedent violence against Muslims in Jamia, Aligarh, etc. is blurred out.
Much important in this mechanization of violence is the facilitation which renders it immune. If there has been a leitmotif in genocides anywhere, it is that the authorities let it run its course. That the Delhi police stood for the most part as bystanders and let the violence progress shows their valorization of it and by the government. This fact is willfully ignored by people like Joseph. For them, it is not enough that an attempt was made to target a particular minority and massacre it. Too bad it stopped short of being a full-scale genocide and hence both sides are equally blameworthy!
It is laughable that Joseph invokes the bogey of growing Islamic terror outfits exploiting the false labeling of North East Delhi riots as genocide without giving an ounce of evidence. He mentions the cinematic young Muslim shooter Shahrukh and with shameful glibness evades mentioning Kapil Gujjar who set a clear precedent for Shahrukh when he attempted to shoot at a peaceful protest in Shaheen Bagh and was bailed, nonetheless, a couple of days ago. Such bias in the reportage of facts, however, does less harm than the wider argument of Joseph’s that Hindus would stay victims since their version of facts wouldn’t sell. What is missed is that victims are on both sides but the minority always stands at risk, so their victimhood is one of an immanent vulnerability more than an episodic loss of life.
The apologetics done in the name of majoritarianism can only work if one decontextualizes the violence that breaks out between the minority and majority factions. Even if spontaneity and frenzy trigger such violence, the basic arithmetic, and power politics pave way for the majority to anyhow impose itself. One needs to be sensitive to the precarity that comes natural with being a minority and how easily a small riot can endanger its existence if it takes a turn for the worse as has happened in the past. Such apologetics as well displaces the blame from the state authorities which as the record has shown have staggeringly failed to contain such violence.
Joseph argues that the claims of the genocide were exaggerated because they protect the weak. But more is at stake in the way he has undermined the contextuality of the violence than is lost by such exaggerations.
Author’s bio-note: Mir Uzair Farooq is a graduate student in political science at the University of Delhi.