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Tue 17 September 2019
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As well as its aggression in Kashmir, India has been rounding up and detaining Muslims in Assam since 2016 – but what’s to stop it doing so?


While both patriotism and nationalism are often used interchangeably to describe a love of country or pride of birthplace, the respective terms couldn’t be more dissimilar. The former serves to unite people, while the latter operates to divide people or create an ‘imagined community’ against the unfamiliar or foreign ‘other’.

“Patriotism is of its nature defensive, both militarily and culturally,” wrote the novelist George Orwell in 1945. “Nationalism, on the other hand, is inseparable from the desire for power. The abiding purpose of every nationalist is to secure more power and more prestige, not for himself but for the nation or other unit in which he has chosen to sink his own individuality.”

Nationalism is arguably the world’s most deadly and dangerous religion. Whereas patriotism describes a broad love of country, nationalism instills a belief that one’s nation is supreme and that any person who doesn’t look or sound like the dominant racial, ethnic, or religious identity is an unworthy other or foreign threat.

“Admiration for Nazism – often reframed with a genocidal hatred for Muslims – is rampant in the Hindu nationalist camp, which has never been as mainstream”

Shrenik Rao

Worryingly, nationalism forms the first step in Gregory Stanton’s Eight Stages of Genocide, as an ideology fixated on discerning ‘us’ from ‘them’.

It is no wonder then that, wherever one finds nation state governments being led by ultra-nationalist forces, one also finds the construction or expansion of detention and concentration camps.

China has detained more than three million Muslims in its network of concentration camps in Xinjiang. Israel has turned Gaza into what has been described as the “world’s largest open air prison”. The United States has established and expanded its network of migrant detention centres along its southern border, and then there’s Australia, which has been illegally detaining asylum seekers in a network of offshore detention centres for the past decade.

Now India, the world’s largest secular democracy, is diving into the muddy waters of human classification, separation and detention in both Kashmir and the Indian state of Assam, located on its eastern border. In revoking Article 370 and, in turn, deploying tens of thousands of more troops, arresting hundreds of local political and civil leaders, while at the same time placing the Muslim-majority territory under a near permanent curfew, India’s ultra-nationalist government, one that is being led by a Hindu supremacist ideology, has effectively turned Kashmir into an open air Muslim concentration camp.

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“I think the entire country [India] and the international community should know what is happening with people here and the mistreatment being meted out to them,” Iltija Javed, the daughter of Kashmir Peoples Democratic Party chief Mehbooba Mufti, told The Wire. “They’re being treated like animals. They are being kept at home – they are unable to communicate or go out. In case of an emergency, there is no helpline.”

While India’s sudden move in the disputed territory has received widespread international news coverage in the past week or so, its attempts to deny and strip four million Muslims in Assam of their claims for citizenship, and then detain them in a network of detention facilities, has been taking place in near secrecy.

The Modi Government has declared that it is merely seeking to identify undocumented migrants from neighbouring Bangladesh – who India’s Home Minister Amit Shah describes as “termites”. But, many or even most of Assam’s Muslim population were born in India and have paid their taxes and voted in elections.

“State authorities are rapidly expanding foreigner tribunals and planning to build huge new detention camps,” The New York Times has observed. “Hundreds of people have been arrested on suspicion of being a foreign migrant – including a Muslim veteran of the Indian Army.”

Amnesty International has been documenting India’s rounding up and detention of Muslims in Assam since 2016. “Our study found a number of persons who have been in detention centres for months and even years, without any access to parole. They are separated from their families and have limited contact with the outside world. Other than severely restricting movement and access to livelihood, indefinite detention has devastating effects on the mental health of those detained and their families,” Aakar Patel, of Amnesty India, has said.

At the heart of India’s heartless ‘identify, detain and deport’ strategy for millions of Muslims who know no other home than India is the ruling BJP party’s Hindu nationalist ideology, which aims to eradicate non-Hindus – particularly the country’s 200 million Muslims.

The ideological DNA from which the BJP derives its political mojo is found in the manifesto of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, a Hindu nationalist, paramilitary organisation inspired by Adolf Hitler’s Nazi Party.

“Admiration for Nazism – often reframed with a genocidal hatred for Muslims – is rampant in the Hindu nationalist camp, which has never been as mainstream as it is now,” according to Shrenik Rao, the famous Indian film-maker.

Not only have mob lynchings become a near daily reality for Muslims, but Muslim culture and achievements are also being systematically erased, including the removal of Muslim names from maps and even school textbooks. The establishment of migrant or Muslim concentration camps on the country’s eastern border is a terrifying yet unsurprising extension of this intimidation and discrimination.

It would appear India has made a reasonable calculus, however. If other democratic countries and its regional peers can get away with warehousing their undesirables in concentration camps, then why can’t it?

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