Genocides in India: From Past to Present

Posted on May 6, 2012 in Society

By Astitwa:

Genocides that have been executed all across the globe since centuries have destroyed tens of millions of innocent men, women and children. While the world is aware of the brutalities of China’s Mao Zedong, Soviet Union’s Stalin, Lenin and their successors, Germany’s Hitler, Cambodia’s Pol Pot and Pearl Harbor’s Hideki Tojo, there have been numerous other instances of mass killings that have shocked the world.

India’s genocide history, particularly, has been stained with endless struggles between the upper and lower castes, the religious minorities, the dominant groups, the state and the organized militia. The Godhra killings of 2002, in which nearly 2000 Muslims were butchered into pieces can be counted as a case of genocide even if we go by the UN definition of genocide. Similarly, the consistent mistreatment of people in the insurgency areas of J & K and the North East, under the draconian AFPSA law, is nothing less than genocide as the military has been engaged in unfair treatment of the civilians like illegally detaining, torturing and killing rebel suspects. On the other side, there are Maoists who are hell bent to prove a lost ideology. They have been engaged in some brutal mass murders of Indian security forces since ages. There has been bloodshed, mass killings and endless violence spanning over a period of several decades in all aforementioned cases. If we go back into India’s past, following are the genocides that shook the conscious of India and have always been remembered as the worst chapters of our history.

The Kalinga Battle Genocide

The third emperor of the Mauryan dynasty, Ashoka, hailed to be one of the most famous ancient rulers of India, was involved in a ghastly battle that led to the mass killings of hundreds of thousands of people. By attacking Kalinga in 260 BC, King Ashoka slaughtered, butchered and brutally killed everyone who came in his way. History is testimony to the brutal and inhumane warfare practices adopted by King Ashoka. It was the battle of Kalinga that later created a deep sense of remorse in Ashoka’s heart leading to his conversion to Buddhism. Most of the history texts have hailed Ashoka for spreading Buddhism in many parts of the world.

The Great Bengal Famines

It is now established that the fertile land of Bengal had nearly 30 to 40 famines during the approximately 200 years of British rule. The greatest famine of 1770 that hit Bengal resulted in the death of nearly 10 million people, almost one-third of the Bengal population. Similarly, the loss of lives in the last big famine that occurred in Bengal between 1942 and 1945 had been close to 4 or 5 million. Historians argue that since the statistics had been put forth by the British colonialists, they are just a conservative estimate and the actually loss could be more than what is available in history records. Even economists like Amartya Sen have time and again stated that it was the poor food policies of the colonial rulers that led to the devastation of the millions of Indian families. The brutal mass murders by using hunger and starvation as tools was one of the most barbaric faces of colonialism in India.

Partition of Indian 1947: The Communal Genocide

The violence ensued in the wake of partition was targeted to exterminate a particular group of people and has its genesis in the genocidal tendencies that engulf the minds of perpetrators during extreme violence. It was the poor Hindu and Muslim families, living on the fine line of ethnic divide that bore the brunt of bloodshed and treachery, making the partition one of the worst nightmares of Indian independence history. The Muslims, who accounted for nearly 25% of the India’s population before partition, were reduced to minority after the social and political climate of India changed post riots and violence. It was India’s partition that sowed the seeds of endless communal tensions between the two religious groups Hindus and Muslims that has been since then used as a political tool by Hindu fundamentalist parties to rule this country. Riots between the two communities have been rampant throughout the length and breadth of India ever since the partition. The loss of lives during the violence that erupted during partition runs into millions.

The Dehumanized Dalit Massacres in Jehanabad and Laxman Bathe, Bihar

Jehanabad, a tiny village in Central Bihar shot to national infamy, on June 15, 1997, when 20 Dalits, residents of this village were massacred for daring to fight for their rights. The incident was orchestrated by the Ranvir Sena, a right-wing upper caste landlord militia, chiefly operational in Bihar. Similarly, on the night of 1 December, 1997, 58 Dalits were butchered by the Ranvir Sena. While the Jehanabad killings happened because the Dailts were fighting for their rights, the Laxman Bathe carnage was a retributive step taken by the Ranvir Sena, for the killings of 37 upper class men by Maoists in Bara, Gaya.

The Kherlanji Horror in Maharashtra

The village Kherlanji, 120 Km away from Nagpur, in Maharashtra, witnessed the ugliest face of our social vices on September 29, 2006, when the family of a Dalit man, Bhaiyyalal Bhotmange became the victim of a shameful act, that send shock waves to the nation. The acts of public mutilation and rapes of the mother and daughter followed by naked parade of the entire family was merely not ghastly but they exposed the deeper flaws that prevail in our social system.

The genocides that I have discussed above certainly don’t equal the ones committed by Hitler or Pol Pot, where the number of people who died crosses hundreds of millions, nor do all of them fall in the strictest definition of a genocide as we know it, but considering India’s social, political and cultural system, these were the atrocities that awakened the national consciousness to the brutality of caste system, shackles of slavery, and religious intolerance.