Today in Hinduphobia March 27, 2021: The South Asianist Silence over the Bengali Hindu Genocide of 1971
How did South Asian American groups mark the 50th anniversary of the single largest genocidal event to occur in modern South Asia? Not a word. They’re celebrating a Hindu-genocide-denying white historian’s talk instead.
An(other) Unspoken Hindu Genocide
On the night of March 25, 1971, the Pakistani military that occupied what is now Bangladesh achieved a grisly record along the lines of what Nazi genocidal maniacs would have liked to boast about. According to some accounts, 100,000 human beings were murdered on that one night. And that was just the beginning (you can find an authoritative list of sources on this thread here).
The numbers that we read today about the death counts from that year range from at least 300,000 to as many as 3 million. The number of women raped by the Pakistani military ranged from 200,000–400,000. The number of people displaced as refugees to India ranged from 8 to 10 million.
Consider the phrase “Mostly Muslims,” widely mentioned in media reports of the 1044 victims of the 2002 Gujarat riots. Horrible.
Now consider the phrase “Mostly Hindus” NEVER mentioned in the discourse about an event with 3 million victims.
Numbers. Labels. Humans. Why, even “humans” isn’t enough. Mothers, fathers, sons, daughters.
Why? Why the hate?
And why the silence?
As readers and writers, let’s pause to consider how our minds work when we contemplate genocide through the medium of language from behind the filters of distance, time, and analytic detachment. For many of us, unless we have lived through some harrowing tragedy or know people personally who have, these numbers become abstractions, a mere stimulus before our eyes asking for responses of a certain kind. And respond, we do, in ways that we have learned to do. In ways that we have been taught to do, a pedagogy of pain, shame, guilt, and sometimes, just sheer, cold indifference.
I wonder now why I did not realize, until recent times, the obvious sharpness of Representative Sheila Lee’s comment this week, that the Bangladesh genocide of 1971 deserved to called the “Bengali Hindu genocide.” After all, every child who studied in Indian schools in the years following this tragedy knew at least a little bit about the events; that there was a war, and that India defeated Pakistan in that war, and “East Pakistan” became Bangladesh.
As a student in India, that is about all I knew. It never occurred to me that the reason that some of my Bengali friends were even living in South India far from their lost ancestral homelands was, well, that kind of history.
Year after year, millions of young Indians have learned about these events in updated general knowledge books and other sources. The story though was mostly the same. Bangladesh wanted freedom from Pakistan. Pakistan tried to crush the uprising. Many died, and many more fled to India. The US did nothing to stop the Pakistani military. There was a war. Movies like Hindustan Ki Kasam were made. Life went on.
For most of us but, well, 3 million. Or ten million, if you count the refugees too.
I polled my friends on Twitter yesterday to find out when they first learned that the 1971 Bangladesh genocide was a largely Hindu genocide.
Over 900 people have responded till now, and almost 80% said that they did not know this was a genocide targeting Hindus until recently.
That was the case with me too. I have vivid memories of looking at photographs of half-blown up children in a book about the 1971 war as a child. I did what children do, turning away out of fear and revulsion after first looking inevitably, and of course failed to comprehend the pain of it, the implications of it, the nature of the specificity of it.
The silence over this, and many other acts of genocide, quick or slow, is what the mass Indian mind has been taught, actively and deliberately taught, to do. How does a nation of a billion people, a democracy and relatively free society with a booming media and education business, just forget about 3 million people, just like that? Just like it forgot about a hundred other wounds before I suppose. Partly, powerlessness. Partly, coping with pain. But mostly, through sheer smallness, of mind, heart, vision, language, colonialism after it ended, officially.
Anyway. I did not know this at all growing up in the 1970s and 80s. And, for years after, even as I read the South Asia studies canon in grad school, I understood the events of 1971 in relation to only some past events and forces, British colonialism, “census, map, museum,” 1905, 1947, the Cold War and US imperialism. And yet, I never understood it was a Hindu Genocide till some random poorly named twitter “RWs” I usually berate for calling themselves that began sharing stuff both scholarly and otherwise.
Every time the “Not Hinduphobia” denial card.
Bengal? Not Hinduphobia, just “Bangladeshi.”
Kerala? Not Hinduphobia, just “Peasant Uprising.”
Kashmir? “Not Hinduphobia, just Brawmin’s hogging the jobs.”
New Jersey? “Not Hinduphobia. Just Dothead Cowpissians … oops, we meant ‘Critique of Hindu Nationalists.’”
All these years.
My education prepared me to say “US imperialism” but never the “Hinduphobia of US imperialism.”
Until now. So, thank you to all you educated me since, and still do, in academia and outside.
Denial and silencing over oppression and inequity is hurtful enough. What of the denial and silencing of mass killing? How will the world ever learn to speak of this?
(Digression: My good colleagues at USF sent out an incredible teaching resource list on our email yesterday to help us learn to fight anti-AAPI hate. It included some powerful documents, like the Standing Rock Syllabus, and several dozen links to organizations offering inclusion, diversity and other sorts of training. It also included a link to one of the South Asian American groups currently un-observing the anniversary of the biggest South Asian genocide of our time. I wish I could direct them to an active, academically rigorous Anti-Hinduphobia group or resource, if and when our community comes to produce one, that is. But for now, I suppose we are where we are.)
The sociologist Eviatar Zerubavel, whose writings my father used to admire, offers an incisive critique of conspiracies of silence in his book The Elephant in the Room: Silence and Denial in Everyday Life. As he writes, “ignoring something is something more than failing to notice it. Indeed, it is quite often the result of some pressure to actively disregard it” (p 23). From everyday life to academia, what is left unsaid or unnoticed can be viewed not only as a case of mere inattention, but active and perhaps calculated distraction too. The causes of this distraction are complex, ranging from a fear of confronting the obvious to the more abstract, political and academic.
Zerubavel notes, and this might be of particular relevance to Hindus, Indians and South Asians too, that “early reports of Nazi massacres of Jews were dismissed by Jews in Europe as sheer lies” (p. 6; emphasis added).
Are Hindus, Indians, South Asians, especially in Western academia, doing the same thing when they dismiss all talk about Hinduphobia as “sheer lies,” or as nothing more than a cry for better press by rich Hindu American elites avoiding a “critique of Hindu Nationalism”?
Three million Hindus. Maybe less, maybe maybe more. Maybe not just Bangladesh. Maybe not all at once. It has happened. It happens, still.
But it does not exist. It is not spoken of.
Hindu Genocide, even one on the scale of millions and in our own time at that, is probably the biggest elephant in the room today. Academia, media, human rights groups, NGOs… the whole ‘anti-genocide’ industry. Who studies Hindu suffering? Who sees Hindus as humans when the academics are busy twisting truth on twitter that Hindus have ‘no human rights as Hindus’?
It should be obvious that if you are human you have human rights. Whether you call yourself Muslim Hindu Dalit Brahmin Woman Man Other. Sure, all pains are not the same. Speak of privilege, inequity, justice. But if you use this language to spawn a bureaucracy that will decide who deserves to live or die on the basis of some arbitrary caste-class-concoction you don’t even debate honestly, you will be exposed, sooner or later.
Academia, especially the imperialist-racist Hinduphobic hubris that dominates South Asia studies, has reached the limits of decency in its bureaucratic overreach over Hindu lives today.
Academia, your biggest Hindu genocide denier is being honored with a platform to speak about teaching Hinduism and Hindu students on a week when Hindus are remembering the biggest Hindu genocide of our times.
Six Million Jews, Three Million Hindus… How Many More?
We know Six Million. We do not know Three Million.
We know Anti-Semitism. We do not know Hinduphobia.
And we know Racism. And Islamophobia. White Supremacy. Patriarchy. “Hindu Nationalism.”
We know Rohingya. Syria. Rwanda.
This world learns as it is taught, actively, whether that teaching is true, false, born of compassion, cruelty, or a messy mix of all of them.
A billion plus Indians, and even more than that if you look at us as “South Asians,” floating around in our homelands locally displaced, or in global diasporas, teaching ourselves not a bit of who we are and what really happened and what is happening still, but floating around in our levels of privilege or lack thereof, complicity or struggle, finding bits of truth to stir our hearts and actions in our times from here and there…
How does every Hindu on the planet not know that what is possibly the second or third largest single genocidal event in 20th century history was a Hinduphobic one?
Hinduphobia-denial is not just Hindu-denial. It’s humanity-denial. Reality-denial.
I see one name in the account of the night of horrors of March 25 1971, that of a university. “A non-Muslim dormitory of Dhaka University,” says this report. Strangely enough, fifty years later, it is in universities that Hindus once again find themselves smeared, censured, silenced…
A Western university today can get away with virtually every hate-crime and offense it seems if the target is a Hindu student. That is the genocidal bottom-line of our time. Whatever human rights and protections universities and other institutions might nominally guarantee their communities, know that these do not really matter anymore. We have seen how it works. All normal definitions of powerful and vulnerable identities, teacher-student, male-female, white-POC, settler-indigenous, first world-third-world, monotheist-polytheist, all bets are off when the “H” bomb is launched on the poor wretched H’es, isn’t it?
Hindus and/or Indians feeding universities with tuition and employers with their labor around the world haven’t quite seen it as genocide perhaps because if it’s all you have seen and your parents have told you is “normal” you will never rise to challenge it.
And those that do see the problem don’t quite challenge it either because they are misinformed too about what an anti-genocide Hindu uprising might look like. They fight not against racism, bigotry, Hinduphobia (with those terms and in that powerful, globally accepted framework), but for some delusional concept of fairness, meritocracy, social status, acceptance (at least that’s how Hindu RW’s sadly come across).
(Digression 2: Here’s another twitter poll finding from a few weeks ago when Rutgers and Oxford were in the news: almost half of all people who responded think that complaining about “wokes” will be more effective in US universities than complaining about anti-Hindu bigotry or discrimination. Presumably, these are mostly people who have neither worked nor perhaps studied in a university here. Friends! There is no law that compels universities to judge or punish employees for what social media calls “wokeness.” None at all. There are laws though that every university is bound to follow when it comes to protecting students for their religion (including being Hindu), national origin (including being Indian), and race or ethnicity (South Asian/Person of Color). We just haven’t done the homework, and the groundwork (showing up in large numbers in real life with protest signs) until now. Twitter protests are no protests at all. And if done un-strategically, your loose words in public make things even worse by showing your opponents the inside of your head instead of the steely determination of your body and face in real life.
The main reason though that Hindus and Indians still get mistreated is because we have participated in the conditions of our slow and illegal genocide already; our comprador colonizer lapdogs cousins have got their cushy jobs and perks selling a lie to their white racist bosses that though technically we can’t really be proven to be White Aryan Colonizers of South Asia by their historians, they will all just act that way knowing most of us will just bend and bend and go along with it (or, occasionally rise up but in the safety of twitter and with weak words at that).
When you think about it, the precariousness of the South Asianist position defending Hinduphobia is really, really obvious. And yet, they are good at defending it. When you have a conspiracy of silence to maintain, you will have all the resources to do it well. And for Hindus, when you have a mountain of pain in your heart and fear for your future every time you learn something new about what happens to Hindus everyday still, you will give your moment of truth not to inner growth and care and strategy and forcefulness of action, but the impulse of bursting out on Twitter.
I mean, why would anyone take Hindu complaints seriously when they confront a racist one day boldly and the next day go spilling their inner fears and unnecessary guilts and weaknesses to the whole world on Twitter or Clubhouse or whatever? No wonder the racists can afford to mock you two days after you have formally and commendably complained about them to their employers. You don’t (I don’t mean the students, but their allies) gather in a group of 200 strangers online and profess or perform guilt and uncertainty about scriptures when the issue is NOT your Hinduism but THEIR racist Hinduphobia.
Social media has removed whatever commonsense might have helped earlier generations of Hindus fight and survive.
Anyway. That is what it is. Fighting Hinduphobia is serious work, partly political, partly academic. Neither has been invested in by the community (though credit is due to all concerned for the fact that the Bangladesh Hindu genocide anniversary has been marked by American political figures this year thanks to their efforts). There is so much social media and even big Indian news media noise now about “Hinduphobia,” and yet the way it is spoken of lacks the slightest persuasive capacity on the mainstream, including fellow Hindus who have chosen silent complicity in extinction as preferable to rising up with you against Hinduphobia openly.
The only sign of hope is that Nature, or our ancestors, or some divine being somewhere pities our suffering and ineptitude still and exposes the liars who profit off our pain more and more each day. The bloated, grotesque machinery of Hinduphobia is preening much too bigly now even by its own standards. The lies are just too many and too obvious for the rest of the anti-racism and decolonization activists and scholars in the world to ignore.
Aurangzeb has no clothes. Neither does Yahya. Nor Nixon nor Kissinger nor their little sold guns in South Asia studies.
One little boy or girl will poke the lie and it will burst. Be ready.