India’s detention camps for Muslims are blatantly Islamophobic – but you won’t hear condemnation from the west

Ranjona Banerji
Labourers work at the centre's construction site in Assam: REUTERS


There’s a little test that you can do on the internet to prove whether you are an Indian citizen or not, based on the National Register of Citizens, being applied by law in the state of Assam.

You will most likely fail. The test does not allow the usual privileges of being born in India to parents born in India, plus simple paperwork. “None of the above” is the usual answer for form fillers. Because how else do you make life as difficult as possible for those whom you want to segregate and crush, except with impossible rules and arcane paperwork?

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), when it came to power in 2014 under prime minister Narendra Modi, promised to complete the National Register of Citizens (NRC) process, long in cold storage for the very reason we see around us now. The BJP, however, unlike other parties who used the NRC at election time only, wanted to provoke the incipient hatred of religious minorities and Muslims – to win electoral dividends.

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The problems left behind by British colonial rule in the northeast of India were exacerbated by migration into these areas in the 1947 partition and the Bangladesh War of Independence in 1971. But, and the but is a big but, the numbers of these so-called migrations were always open to question. They grew or shrank depending on which side of the argument you stood on. Some aspects of the “anti” argument were the usual, if false, distrust and anger with migrants, who took away jobs from locals and so on. The other, more dangerous, aspect was that this anger was directed mainly at Bangladeshis, for being Muslim. Several governments of other political dispensations made promises to the people of Assam to remove illegal immigrants, but only this Modi-led BJP government took it further.

Amit Shah, now home minister of India, referred to Bangladeshis as “termites” who had to be eradicated. There were over 40 million of them, he said. The final result, after all the heartbreaks and the hoops, has revealed a total of 1.9 million “illegals”, a formidable figure as far as personal and social tragedy is concerned, but a minuscule number when you compare it to the build-up and the outpouring of hatred. It is important to remember that these are people who have lived in India for decades and have now been stripped of their identity for petty political gain. Also remember that Bangladesh does not accept these people as theirs, which makes them both homeless and stateless.

The result is that India now joins a contemptible list of nations which have no qualms about repeating the horrors of the 20th century and putting large groups of people into concentration camps or detention centres or “re-education” camps, as China has done to Uighur Muslims. Or as Donald Trump’s version of the USA has done with all illegals, but mainly Hispanic. For those who find it acceptable to round up some humans and incarcerate them for their religion or the colour of their skin in times of war, one need not look further than the Holocaust. To do it in peacetime in the 21st century speaks only to the worst sort of regressive authoritarian bigotry and cruelty.

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The current cycle that the world is spinning through suggests that there will not be enough voices to speak out against what’s happening in India. Trump may take China on when it comes to trade tariffs, but not Uighur “re-education” camps. China is just too big. Almost no one else has spoken out for the Uighurs so you can forget India’s new entry into this deplorable list. Every world leader makes statements about the threats of Islamist fundamentalism but has no qualms about staying on the right side of the Saudi Royals. Palestine, once a beacon for all liberal movements, is practically forgotten. Only the United Nations has categorically spoken up against India’s NRC.

There is a global sort of Islamophobia. And there is the deep, prejudiced and false “victimhood” of India’s religious majority which thrives on the hatred of Muslims. The sentiment may not come from all of India’s 80 per cent Hindu population, but it is strong enough for some to applaud the incarceration of people because of their Muslim religion.

And given the voicelessness of India’s Muslims in the current dispensation in India, these detention centres will be shamelessly be ignored by a populace largely in turmoil over a collapsing economy. Unless there’s a miracle in the offing, this round has been won by hatred.

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Read more India builds detention camps for up to 1.9m ‘stripped of citizenship’

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