The Gujarat Genocide: A Case Study in Fundamentalist Cleansing

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BY CARL E. GUNTHER

BOOK REVIEWS

The Gujarat Genocide, by Garda Ghista

  • Paperback: 188 pages
  • Publisher: AuthorHouse (November 13, 2006)
PRECIS: In February, 2002, Hindu extreme right-wing religious organizations, under the umbrella of the Sangh Parivar, organized and carried out a genocidal ethnic cleansing of Muslims in the state of Gujarat, in western India. Between 2,000 and 5,000 Muslims were slaughtered, and more than 150,000 rendered homeless and destitute. Human rights investigators, despite having earlier visited Kosovo and Afghanistan, were completely unprepared for the horrors they found in Gujarat. To date, the victims have seen no justice – particularly economic justice – and the perpetrators continue to boast of Gujarat as a laboratory of their plans for the rest of India. With the rise of Jewish and Islamic fundamentalism in the Middle East and Christian fundamentalism in the US, the Gujarat genocide looms large in a scenario of global fundamentalist wars.
It is a story that reverberates in every corner of the globe where the wolves of religious fundamentalism howl at the gates of power. How are we to face this juggernaut of religious fascism, presently manifest in all major world religions? For all those who cherish human freedom from dogma and hatred, this book is not merely a case study in communalist cleansing, but a Neo-humanistic spark of liberation from the cycle of hatred. In His last discourse on this earth, Prabhat Ranjan Sarkar asked of humanity the following questions: “How can this problem be solved? How can we check these belligerent parties from implementing their outdated ideas, which may cause the physical disintegration of the country? What should be done? What should be our short term and the long-term policy? The approach should be both physical and psychic.
Will simple economic theory do or is something more required? Education is a long-term program. What should be done immediately in the physical and psychic realms?” Uncovering the World Historical Implications of a Defining Political Event

FROM ITS TITLE, ONE MIGHT THINK that this work would mainly be of interest to those advocating in the area of human rights, or to those living in the particular corner of the world in which the described events occurred.

But just as a perceptive observer might see a world in a grain of sand, an author with a view that is both global and historical can connect an atrocity of particular significance to a much broader cross-section of the dilemmas that presently afflict our tortured planet, explicating, in the process, the chains of events that have led us to the current worldwide crisis affecting diversity, cooperation and survival.

As a work of investigative journalism, this is almost certainly the most detailed and uncompromising account of the genocidal attacks carried out by governing Hindu extremists against the Muslim population of the Indian state of Gujarat in the year 2002. But that meticulously documented presentation is just the starting point for a broader examination of the mutually-supportive relationship between patriarchal religious institutions, racism, imperialist economic systems and totalitarian hierarchies.

Despite their apparent differences, the shared characteristic of these four tendencies is top-down hierarchical control, carried out through a process of division and fear. This commonality leads to an interplay in which each tendency tends to amplify and reinforce the others.

One such synergy is shown by the use of racial and religious hatred to support totalitarianism. It is well known that the German fascists targeted Jews for repression, but in the process they also created a more generally-directed apparatus of state terror and control that affected the entire German population. “The Gujarat Genocide” describes a similar process, in which the governing Hindu extremists of Gujarat have built a paramilitary mob of under-educated and under-employed youth whose ostensible purpose is to attack Muslims, but whose broader uses include the suppression of dissenting Hindus, as well.

The author shows that this parallel between Nazi and Hindutva methods is probably not a mere coincidence, since members of one of the central Hindutva organizations, the RSS, admired, and even directly studied under, German and Italian fascists in the period leading up to World War II. The RSS had fundamentalist counterparts in the Muslim community who were also Nazi admirers, and the two groups, while opposed, have built and reinforced each others’ power in their respective communities by inciting and playing off fear and hatred of one another. Thus, one of the prime purposes of racial and religious hatred is to build hierarchies of control within the communities that are being mobilized to hate and attack “the other.”

Another such synergy is that between religious hatred, patriarchy and totalitarianism. During the Gujarat genocide, totalitarian leaders mobilized the men of the Hindu community around patriarchal fears of losing control of the women who had been subordinated to them. The “threat” to this control (invented by the totalitarian mis-leaders) was Muslim men who were supposedly out to rape Hindu women. Such baseless fears were manipulated to incite massive attacks upon the Muslim community, including, ironically, murderous sexual assaults upon Muslim women. At the same time, the patriarchal Hindu men were mobilized to “defend” “their” Hindu women from attack, a process involving the sequestration of these women under male control, reducing the freedom granted to them by secular society to a meaningless relic of written laws.

But not only the Hindu women were controlled by this process. Patriarchal systems derive their power by maintaining the dominance of men over women, but even as they mobilize the men of a community around that goal, they build hierarchies of control that allow a patriarchal elite to control the other men of the community, as well.

Yet another such synergy is that between race/caste hierarchies and religious hatred. The book points out a striking example of this when it reveals that many Indian Muslims are former “untouchable” Hindus who converted to Islam in order to escape their position on the bottom rung of the repressive Hindu caste system. This flight from the caste hierarchy enraged the upper-caste Hindus of the Hindutva movement, whose privilege is ensured by that system, fueling their hatred and violence against these “escaped” untouchables, who seem in fact to be in a quite similar position to that of the freed slaves of the U.S. Jim Crow era, who were attacked by the KKK. Once again, the theme of violence in defense of yet another hierarchy of control emerges as central to understanding the evolution of this supposedly religious hatred that is really so much more than that.

Just as it explores the parallels and past direct associations between the Hindutva and Nazi movements, the book also explores the relationship of the Hindutva movement to the Bush Administration. The U.S. Administration embraces fundamentalist Christian supporters who are attempting to Christianize all politics and militarize all Christendom, a goal that parallels a central slogan of the Hindutva movement. The Bush Administration also finds it politically convenient to build hatred toward Muslims so that it can attack Islamic nations that happen to be situated in areas that the U.S. would like to control.

Perhaps this explains why the Bush Administration, which is so anxious to intervene elsewhere against “terrorism,” has done nothing to stop the significant flow of contributions from the U.S. Indian community to the very Hindutva groups that are engaged in the terrorist attacks against Muslims described in this book. Or perhaps this apparent apathy is due to the active support that Hindutva leaders have supplied to multinational corporations as they attempt to privatize water and other communal resources throughout India. Ironically, there are now signs that Indian Christians may be next on the hit list of the Hindutva movement.

The author makes some noble and interesting suggestions regarding how to best remedy the problems laid out in the book, but in my opinion the multiple crises described are so difficult, and so intertwined, that any such attempts could only be preliminary at best. Perhaps part of the difficulty lies in formulating a concept of universality that connects all groups while at the same time preserving and honoring the distinct characteristics of the respective communities, rather than attempting to dissolve them into some kind of a homogeneous secularism. In the absence of finished answers, the book nonetheless succeeds by bringing into view and framing the awful void of the crisis, into which we will now have to fix our gaze until solutions begin to emerge from the depths of our collective thinking.

This book may be acquired from Amazon at http://www.amazon.com/Gujarat-Genocide-Study-Fundamentalist-Cleansing/dp/1425944531

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