• Ideas
  • India

Narendra Modi Looks the Other Way as New Delhi Burns

6 minute read
Ayyub is an Indian journalist and the author of Gujarat Files: Anatomy of a Cover Up

Two days before the anti-Muslim riots began in Delhi this week, a member of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s cabinet said Muslims should have been sent to Pakistan in 1947 during the partition of India.

Giriraj Singh, Minister for Animal Husbandry and Fisheries in the Modi Government, said “It is the time to commit ourselves to the nation. Before 1947, [Muhammad Ali] Jinnah pushed for an Islamic nation. It was a big lapse by our ancestors that we’re paying the price for. If at that time Muslim brothers had been sent there and Hindus brought here, we wouldn’t be in this situation.”

Shortly after one lawmaker attempted to rewrite our history, another made a call to arms. A legislator in Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party, Kapil Mishra, made a provocative speech in New Delhi standing next to a high-ranking police official, in which he condemned the Shaheen Bagh protestors demonstrating against the discriminatory Citizenship Amendment Bill that threatens the existence of the 200 million strong Muslim population in India. Either the cops must clear them out, he said, or we will take things into our own hands.

Within hours, many did. Mobs, some carrying saffron flags, vandalized mosques and set fire to properties belonging to Muslims. In one, an 85-year-old woman was burned alive while the mob outside chanted Jai Shri Ram, a Hindu devotional that has become a racist dog whistle against Muslims.

As hate festered in the national capital, the Narendra Modi government that has ignored hate speech by countless legislators and ministers in the last six years was busy hosting United States President Donald Trump in Ahmedabad. As I write this, the official number of those killed has reached 42, a majority of them Muslims. It took three days for our Prime Minister to issue a statement while his backyard was burning.

This surprised nobody. As a journalist who has covered Modi’s political career since 2002 when he was the Chief Minister of Gujarat, I have witnessed his lust for power and his ease with bloodshed from close quarters.

In February 2002, as Gujarat burned in communal flames for days and a thousand Muslims were killed, leaders of his Bharatiya Janata Party and its ally, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, gave speeches provoking Hindus to teach Muslims a lesson. Modi himself gave the most incendiary speech mocking riot victims, calling relief camps set up for Muslims, child producing factories.

I was 19 when Modi made this speech, working as a relief worker during the anti-Muslim carnage in Gujarat. In the dingy relief camps, young women raped by Hindu nationalists lay unattended with no help from the state. Their bodies marked with the scars of the sexual violence, flies sitting on their wounds, their young children making castles of mud nearby while Modi and his ministers demonized them.

Such was the intensity of the crime against Muslims in 2002 that the Supreme Court of India called the Modi government in Gujarat “Modern day Neros who looked the other way while young women and children were burnt alive.”

To this day, neither has Mr.Modi apologised for the loss of thousand lives under his watch nor addressed the press even once in the last eighteen years.

The carnage in Delhi this week took me back to those days in 2002. New Delhi’s GTB Hospital looked like a warzone with dead bodies and injured trickling in by the hour. The mortuary of the hospital with wailing mothers and children aimlessly staring at the cameras surrounding them is not a sight for the weak.

This did not take place overnight. It was a result of a sustained campaign of hate against Muslims in the six years since Modi assumed power.

The hatred is plain to see among Modi’s chief lieutenants. This week while Trump and Modi addressed a million strong audience in Ahmedabad, his minister for Corporate Affairs, Anurag Thakur sat in the front row along with Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner. Four weeks ago, Thakur addressed a rally on the topic of the nationwide protests by Muslims. Desh ke gaddaron ko, goli maaro saalon ko, he said. (“Traitors of the country, shoot them”)

The Home Minister of India, Amit Shah, the man who is responsible for maintaining law order in the country made the most communal speeches during the recently concluded Delhi elections which the BJP lost to the Aam Aadmi Party. He asked the voters to press the voting button with such anger that the (Muslim) protestors at Shaheen Bagh felt the current.

The anti-Muslim pogrom in the national capital was inevitable. Muslims in India have been waiting for it to happen. I myself am a child of the Mumbai riots unleashed by Modi’s party, the BJP, in 1992. I was nine, a cripple, when Hindu nationalists came home with swords to select me and my sister for gang rape. We survived when our Sikh neighbour came to our rescue.

For decades I have been under treatment for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and a part of various groups to help heal my manic periods of anxiety. Almost once every month, the nightmare revisits me when I wake up sweating after a night long of trauma when I reimagine men with swords at my doorstep.

But I am a privileged Muslim from a upper middle class family, with access to therapists and the best medical facilities
Those killed and injured in Delhi come from the lower socio-economic strata where therapy and psychological care is a luxury they cannot afford.

As I write, many student bodies and activists are collecting money to provide the basic amenities, medicines to those whose lives have been destroyed in the violence. Modi is yet to visit the families of those who bore the brunt of his political animus and shall continue to live in fear. He is yet to announce compensation for the families who have lost their loved ones and their livelihood burnt to ashes.

Now, hundreds of Muslim families are leaving New Delhi for safer cities fearing another attack as Modi’s ministers continue to make hate speeches.

I write this piece knowing that there will be no closure for me and thousands of riot survivors in India because we are being led by a man whose political career has been marked by the blood of innocents. But the cost of Narendra Modi giving his blessing to bloodshed is being paid by the people of this country, who fear this democracy will never be the same again.

More Must-Reads from TIME

Contact us at letters@time.com

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary on events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. Opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect the views of TIME editors.