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Citizen Voices

Rise Of Majoritarianism And The Ten Stages Of Genocide

Majoritarianism has become a visible reality across the globe. Majority groups in a number of countries today are trying to undermine, persecute and even exterminate minorities from their populations. What’s more, not only are many governments of countries, that are most vulnerable to this trend, turning a blind eye towards these developments, they are even actively encouraging them.

Majoritarianism, if not checked timely, often assumes a magnitude of genocidal proportions, sometimes engineered by non-state actors and at other times, induced by the state itself. This trend is apparent in South Asian countries like India and Pakistan, and in Middle Eastern countries like Israel and Turkey. All these countries are veering away from pluralism towards exclusive nationalism.

Dr. Gregory H. Stanton’s book Ten Stages of Genocide lists a set of early indicators and symptoms of a society moving in this direction. According to him, “Genocide is a process that develops in ten stages that are predictable but not inexorable. At each stage preventive measures can stop it.” He also writes that the “process is not linear and stages may occur simultaneously.” The ten stages he delineates are as follows:

  1. Classification of a people into “us” and “them” by ethnicity, race, religion etc.
  2. Symbolisation whereby the classified groups are named and assigned symbols.
  3. Discrimination whereby laws, customs and political power are used to treat the different groups differently.
  4. Dehumanisation whereby members of a group are equated with animals, insects, objects, diseases or other sub-human things.
  5. Organisation whereby the group committing or planning genocide acts in an organised fashion, often with the state’s patronage
  6. Polarisation in which the groups are driven apart from each other and the hate for one is consolidated via tools like propaganda.
  7. Preparation of the genocide.
  8. Persecution whereby the victims are identified, separated and targeted.
  9. Extermination.
  10. Denial which accompanies and follows the entire process.

We know that in India, Muslims have time and again experienced this process in its various stages. School curricula in several states are extremely bigoted, going as far as to concoct and fabricate historical events to inculcate feelings of hatred for Muslims. A seasoned journalist of India, Iftikhar Gilani, quotes an example from an anthology of essays Hindutva: Rising Extremism in India. He relates how books for health and cleanliness approved in India by Central Broad of Secondary Education (CBSE) for class sixth teach children that “non-vegetarians are liars, deceivers and violent. They are involved in all illegal activities like theft and sexual crimes.” In Rajasthan and Maharashtra, Muslim rulers of yore are depicted as womanisers, profligates and atrocious. Naturally, the brunt of this kind of education is borne by Indian Muslims.

However, the situation is not any less troubling in Pakistan. The Single National Curriculum (SNC) recently introduced by the federal government has received scathing criticism from many eminent Pakistani educationists like Tariq Rehman, Pervaiz Hoodbhoy and Rubina Saigol, for its discrimination of certain groups among other things.

The Women Action Forum (WAF), Lahore, has highlighted many problems with the SNC. It argues that the SNC will give impetus to “sectarianism” and exclusive religious nationalism. It has also lamented that the SNC is a “gendered curriculum”, in which there is no mention of “strong and independent” Muslim women like Bibi Zainab. The role of Bibi Khadijah is only given as a passive wife and there is no mention of her role as a successful businesswoman. The history section of social studies contains no mention of the history of colonialism, popular struggles, women, peasants and minorities. It adds that the SNC will, among other things, “undermine minority religions and sects.”

The situation on the ground also remains grim in Pakistan. The plight of religious minorities remains an open secret. The outrage at the construction of a Hindu temple in Islamabad has not yet effaced from our memories. After a brief interregnum, Shia community is again being targeted for a few weeks across the country. Walls in the cities are again being graffitied with highly discriminatory and humiliating slogans against them. Social media websites have become a cesspool of expletives hurled exuberantly at them.

Anyone can testify that with every threat and firebrand oratory of some clerics against the Shia community, the space for the latter shrinks in public places, workplaces etc. Organized processions against them by proscribed outfits gravely jeopardize their life and property. These simmering sectarian tensions contain the potential to debilitate the already fragile intra-faith harmony in Pakistan. This landscape has recently impelled the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan to issue an alarming statement on September 5, 2020, pertaining to a “surge of blasphemy cases registered against Shia community.”

Meanwhile, we now know that the policy of appeasement of militant organisations by the state was not only ill-conceived, it has also cost us dearly. We have been on the receiving end of terrorism, while ideologues have used militants to propagate divisiveness and spread hate. The National Action Plan (NAP) with its raison d’être to curb the scourge of terrorism soon lost steam as it was understaffed and under-resourced. Today it exists in a completely militarised form.

We have, first and foremost, to acknowledge that a problem exists. In Stanton’s terminology, we have to come out of “denial”. The problem needs to be identified, as in the words of the novelist Khushwant Singh, “Consciousness of the bad is an essential prerequisite to the promotion of the good.”. Rule of law must be non-discriminatory and should apply equally to all. Cyber Crime Agency of FIA must raise the ante against the use of social media websites and cyberspace to fuel sectarian propaganda or nudge violence against any social or religious group. Police should demonstrate readiness for taking the bull by its horns and it must desist from lodging a glut of FIRs under blasphemy laws against any minority sect on spurious grounds. Incendiary speeches against any group must be dealt with with utmost stringency according to the prescribed laws. Most of all, state institutions must not jump on propaganda bandwagons against any group, as this can carry irreparable consequences for the safety and stability of the country.

There is much to be said on this topic, as there are myriad interconnected aspects that lead to the rise of majoritarianism and toward genocide. We cannot afford to allow this Frankenstein monster to raise its head among us. The state must act in more than a perfunctory manner if it wants to maintain the hard-won gains of Zarb-e-Azb and Radd-ul-Fasaad, as well as keep its image of being a responsible and stable country internationally.

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