In all these cases, mobs targeting a single religious group were allowed to run riot, unchecked by police. This is the definition of a pogrom.
More than an echo of the past, the recent violence in Delhi is a lesson aimed at Indian citizens who, since December, have dared to resist the transformation of the secular Republic of India into a Hindu state, a transformation accelerated by Modi’s reelection last May.
In August, Modi’s government revoked the special status of the state of Jammu and Kashmir that allowed the state to make its own laws, rounded up elected leaders and thousands of citizens, and put them in detention, where they languish still. Kashmir was put under an internet lockdown that was only partially lifted five months later to allow access to a carefully curated set of sites handpicked by the government. Also in August, the conclusion of a National Citizens Registry (NRC) in the northeastern state of Assam resulted in some 2 million people, mostly Muslims, being stripped of Indian citizenship after failing to produce sufficient documents to prove their nationality. What brought these geographically distant developments home to Indians in Delhi was Shah’s promise, in November, to implement the NRC nationwide, followed by the December ratification by both houses of India’s Parliament of a Citizenship Amendment Act that fast-tracks Indian citizenship for non-Muslims from Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Afghanistan. The new law opens the door to legal discrimination against Muslims.
These existential threats to the constitutionally guaranteed equality of Indian citizens regardless of religion, and the specter of legions of newly stateless persons stripped of their citizenship, prompted many Indians—Muslims, but also students and other alarmed citizens—to engage in peaceful protests. They waved the Indian tricolor flag, sang the national anthem, and recited the preamble to the country’s constitution.
Read: India is testing the bounds of citizenship
For a moment it seemed the Modi government had gone too far. On February 8, after waging a hateful campaign that included a rally at which people chanted “Shoot the traitors,” referring to protesters, the Bharatiya Janata Party, or BJP, suffered defeat in Delhi’s legislative-assembly election. Shah admitted that the hateful rhetoric had hurt rather than helped. But the remedy, it appears, was to take hate to a new level.
On Sunday, February 23, the BJP’s Kapil Mishra, who lost his seat in the recent Delhi election, focused his ire on a sit-in by Muslim women in the north of Delhi that was blocking a road. If authorities didn’t clear the road of demonstrators before Trump left India, Mishra warned, his supporters would clear it after the U.S. president’s departure. Loath to wait, the mob set to work within minutes, quickly moving into the adjacent neighborhoods, beating and killing Muslims and looting and burning their property. It little mattered that the American president was still in town: Trump conveyed in his praise of Modi’s defense of “religious freedom” that he either didn’t know or didn’t care what was happening in the country.