Gujarat 2002: Shall we go easy on the 'G' word please?

Now that the 10th anniversary of the Gujarat communal conflagration has come and gone, we need some sober thinking on the ‘G’ word.

‘G’ as in Godhra, Gujarat and Genocide.

It has become customary to use words like “genocide”, “holocaust” or “pogrom” in connection with the post-Godhra killings, but this is nothing but verbal hype used for polemical reasons.

The word genocide has been overused ever since Hitler sent six million Jews to the gas chamber or to death in other ways. Unfortunately, the word is today being used to describe lesser crimes — or even greater crimes that can well be given other, more appropriate names. (Read The Economist on this).

Thanks to the Jewish holocaust, the UN adopted a Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide in 1948, which describes genocide as “the deliberate and systematic destruction, in whole or in part, of an ethnical, racial, religious or national group.”

It has become customary to use words like “genocide”, “holocaust” or “pogrom” in connection with the post-Godhra killings, but this is nothing but verbal hype used for polemical reasons.

This definition, apart from describing what Hitler did to the Jews, would fit the American extermination of the Indians in north America, and what the white folks did to the aborigines in Australia or Latin America.

But would this be appropriate to describe what happened in Gujarat in 2002, where the burning of a train coach led to a retaliatory attack on Muslims in many parts of the state? Even assuming one believes that the state quietly aided this violence for political reasons, it would not amount to genocide.

What we should call it is a serious “crime against humanity”.

Reason: by no stretch of imagination can the brutal murder of Muslims (790 of them, against 254 Hindus) be termed as “the destruction in whole, or in part, of a religious or national group.” Against a death toll of 790, we should place Gujarat’s Muslim population of around 5.4 million, and the Indian Muslim population of around 180 million to gain a sense of proportion.

In contrast, the retaliatory killing of over 3,000 Sikhs after the assassination of Indira Gandhi constituted a larger proportion of the Sikh population than Muslims in Gujarat, but it still would not count as genocide.

The 1984 anti-Sikh riots was not an attempt to exterminate this religious community from India — it was a Congress party revenge orgy. The fact that in this massacre, the BJP — the usual suspect when applying the ‘G’ word — was actually on the side of the Sikhs should tell us something about what genocide really ought to mean.

It would not be right to describe even the Sri Lankan war against the LTTE as genocide — though it did result in huge human rights abuses and killing of Tamils. It may be inhuman or unacceptable behaviour, but there was no intent to exterminate the Tamils.

In fact, the ethnic cleansing of Pandits from Kashmir Valley, despite the fact that it did not amount to killing them en masse, would come closer to the definition of genocide than what happened in Gujarat. It involved targeting the entire Pandit population in the valley and hence was a crime against the whole community.

The huge reduction in the Hindu populations of Pakistan and Bangladesh — which happened over a long period of time due to discriminatory policies — would also not be genocide, but would be closer to the definition than Gujarat’s treatment of minorities during 2002.

We end up calling something genocide because of the large numbers involved — though large can mean a few hundred, or thousands or millions, depending on the context.

In fact, given the UN definition, genocide is not the right word to use even when states kill large numbers of their own people for political or other reasons.

Both Russia and China sent millions of their citizens to certain deaths – but no one calls this genocide. It was much worse. Stalin sent millions of citizens to gulags and Mao to the rural areas during his cultural revolution, but neither has been accused of genocide. Pot Pot and the Khmer Rouge killed nearly 1.4 million of their countrymen in the name of communism, but, as The Economist points out, “only the killings of minorities like ethnic Vietnamese, or Muslims, fall neatly into the category of genocide.” The rest were the same race as the Khmer Rouge.

Indians should understand the ‘G’ word before they use it in any context.

Updated Date: Feb 28, 2012 11:50 AM

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