We all must have come across the now infamous advertisement of the Uttar Pradesh government, which shows two frames – in one, a rioter is seen pelting something which looks like a Molotov cocktail with fierce anger in his eyes, and the other shows him with folded hands, possibly in a police station, standing in front of a notice board which has his photo under the "wanted" list.
The point to note is that in the first frame, the man is wearing a kaffiyeh, the headdress worn by Arab (read Muslim) men. The Islamophobic advert, thus, very subtly labels Muslims as rioters and terrorists, a fact which is being promoted by a democratically elected, constitutionally secular and supposedly inclusive government, using taxpayers’ money.
Isn't Yogi Adityanath's Vilification of Muslims a Violation of His Oath?
This 'official' vilification of Muslims is a matter of serious concern because it not only jeopardises the security of common Indian citizens who happen to follow Islam, but also puts under scrutiny the intent of a regime which is under oath to protect its citizens.
To remind you, on 26 March 2017, Ajay Mohan Bisht, alias Yogi Adityanath, had promised the citizens of Uttar Pradesh that he will duly and faithfully and to the best of his ability, knowledge, and judgement perform the duties of his office without fear or favour, affection or ill-will and that he will uphold the Constitution and the laws.
Though only an oath, we now come to realise how important it is to administer this oath to our political executives. And, more importantly, how crucial it is for them to follow this oath.
Shouldn't those who violate this oath fall in the category of 'anti-nationals'? Nothing can be more anti-national than to disrespect the constitution of the country.
But alas! Mr Bisht seems to have forgotten the fact that he is still a chief minister under oath.
Hatred Against Minorities is Now the Right-Wing Modus Operandi
In a country where diversity of identity has a civilisational context, the publication of such hate-provoking advertisements is nothing more than a legalisation of xenophobia in general and Islamophobia in particular.
Hatred against minorities now has the official stamp of the government. The conquest of minds through media manipulation is a well-established technique in the armamentarium of the current regime.
Most right-wing regimes across the globe try and use these methods, but with deeply engrained roots of liberty, democracy, and justice, most of these regimes are forced to remain at the cusp of sanity.
US President Donald Trump's xenophobia was met with a stone wall in the form of American judiciary. Unfortunately, this wall in India is merely a smokescreen.
Islamophobia is Not Just an Election Tactic Anymore
A deeper evaluation of this advertisement by the UP government reveals many more hideous layers. Some are trivialising it by calling it just an electoral game-plan of the ruling party. Unfortunately, it is much more than that.
Legalising hate against Muslims is the beginning of the process of legalising hate against anyone and everyone whom the regime considers an enemy or an adversary. Imagine an advert a few years (or maybe months) down the line with the same viciousness against Christians, Sikhs, Dalits, or Adivasis.
This is a reality which becomes possible, because right now, the middle-class, metrocentric, mediocrity-hating, privileged Indian maintains a deafening silence of acceptance against the trashing, lynching, otherisation, and hate against Muslims. In nation states, unchecked and unchallenged hate against one cohort of citizens is a visa for future hate against others.
The hate speeches delivered at the Dharam Sansad in Haridwar a few weeks ago only ratifies the idea of creating and bashing the Muslim community as an enemy. Speakers called for an outright Muslim genocide. This was part and parcel of that same legitimisation process which Adityanath's regime aims to achieve subtly through the advert in question.
The call for genocide of Muslims in India is not just a law and order situation. It is a matter of grave concern. It is, thus, not surprising that the poisonous speeches which call for the extermination of one of the largest Muslim populations on the planet are met with eerie silence from the highest executive official of the regime.
Otherisation and Hate – The Genocide Playbook
The Rwandan genocide is a classic example of how the regime slowly wound itself like a python around the minority Tutsis through an orchestrated campaign of hate, otherisation, and allegations.
The genocide of the Tutsi tribe didn't happen in an instant in those hundred days in 1994, when more than one million men, women, and children were slaughtered with primitive weapons like machete and nail embedded clubs. It started right at the time of Rwandan independence.
In 1959, Joseph Gitera, leader of Aprosoma, a radical Hutu political party, openly called for the elimination of the Tutsi 'vermin'.
The RTLM, now the infamous Rwanda Radio, invited Hutu political leaders and called Tutsis 'snakes' and 'cockroaches' waiting to be exterminated. Back home, Home Minister Amit Shah’s remarks terming the Muslims of Bengal "termites" should be seen with the same cautious realism.
His being the incharge of homeland security of the country should only add apprehension to our understanding of his vicious comments against Muslims.
Why It is in Our Vested Interest to Fight Islamophobia
In her important book, Islamophobia and the Politics of Empire, Deepa Kumar enumerating the post 9/11 islamophobia in the United States suggests that a struggle against islamophobia is also in the interests of the vast majority of Americans, who have had trillions of dollars stolen from their healthcare, education, infrastructure, and public transportation, and funnelled into the machinery of death.
Working-class Americans of all races have nothing to gain from the spoils of empire – and everything to lose [sic].
The same logic to fight islamophobia and xenophobia applies to common Indians like me and you.
We are within the debris of an ongoing pandemic which has claimed millions of our countrymen. Cultivation of hatred against Muslims is a logical solution for the bigoted regime to distract us from asking difficult questions.
Having said this, the hate against Muslims which is so pervasive in the Indian society right now is not only a means to distract us. It is real. It has a historical context. The crossroads of history and reality is a dangerous chasm. Most, if not all, genocides can be shown to lie at this junction.
As citizens of a liberal and democratic society, we cannot hide behind the 'banality of evil'. Dehumanising language, adverts, and actions when coming from elected representatives of the state should alert us like the sweet fragrance of flowers in air heralding the onset of spring. Let's be clear that a genocide in the air is a genocide in the making; and a genocide in the making is a genocide in waiting.
(The author is a Professor of Orthopaedics at AIIMS, New Delhi. This is an opinion piece. The views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)
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