“Om-washing” sanitises India’s brutal track record in Kashmir

Jul 2, 2023
map of jammu kashmir landakh

In August 2019, Modi’s government revoked the semi-autonomous status of Jammu and Kashmir. That was followed by a crackdown. Political activity was banned, politicians were placed under house arrest and the internet was choked. Meanwhile, as Sheena Sood has argued, the Indian army posts photos of its soldiers in yoga poses.  And we are told that China is all bad and India is all good.

In George Orwell’s 1949 novel nineteen-eighty-four, the world is divided into three superstates Oceania, Eurasia and Eastasia, who are all fighting each other in a perpetual war in a disputed area mostly located around the equator. All that Oceania’s citizens know about the world is whatever their rulers want them to know. The alliances among these three states are continually changing so that citizens are never quite sure who they are supposed to be friends with.

This sounds very similar to today’s situation wherein the United States, with Australia clinging to its coat tails, is very friendly with China and almost overnight shifts its allegiance to India. Suddenly China is evil and India ruled by its Hindu nationalist prime minister is all good and its prime minister is the white-haired boy (no pun intended).

To hear one side of the story, India is the largest secular democracy and has a rapidly growing economy. The other side of the story is that it is a broken democracy characterised by Hindu Nationalism and caste supremist policies. Moreover, it has been far less successful in feeding its population and otherwise advancing their level of development. The GDP per capita (on a PPP basis) is $7242 whereas in China it is $19,338. When I started working for the World Bank in 1988 I recall that at that time they were basically the same.

Since becoming leader of the BJP (Bhartiya Janata Party), Modi has propagated his Hindu Nationalist agenda, first in Gujarat where he was the chief minister and then in Kashmir.

Modi was complicit in the 2002 Gujarat riots. Officially 1000 people were killed, three quarters of them Muslim. Independent sources put the death toll at 2000 mainly Muslim. During the riots, sexual violence including rape was reported against Muslim women including pregnant women. The US State Department revoked his visa in 2005 and did not restore until he became prime minister in 2014. A BBC documentary on the Gujarat riots has been banned in India.

As Sheena Sood has argued:

“In August 2019, Modi’s government revoked the semi-autonomous status of Jammu and Kashmir, which India’s only Muslim-majority state had enjoyed since it acceded to a newly independent India in 1947. That was followed by a crackdown – political activity was banned, politicians were placed under house arrest and the internet was choked, as India deployed additional troops to one of the most militarised zones in the world.

“Meanwhile, the Indian army posts photos of its soldiers in yoga poses. Contrast that with the human rights abuses the Indian military is accused of in Kashmir, and it becomes apparent how Modi and his allies also use om-washing to sanitise India’s brutal track record in Kashmir.

“Modi has also suggested that a yogic lifestyle can reverse the devastating impact of global warming and promote environmental sustainability. Calling for a mass movement against climate change, Modi has pledged India’s commitment to net zero emissions by 2070 while urging everyday climate yogis to do their part by changing their behaviours. While yoga can certainly be used to combat climate change, Modi’s continued investment in the fossil-fuel industry and military spending indicates his pledge to curb emissions is an empty promise – especially when military emissions are consistently excluded from climate change agreements. Climate scientists and environmental activists have argued that responding to the ever-threatening climate catastrophe will require radical divestment from a consumer-driven capitalist economy. But Modi remains committed to individualised solutions that make no radical changes in the structure of the economy and serve his ultimate agenda of feigning support for “green” policies while advancing programmes that actively destroy our planet.

China has been accused of mistreating its minorities in two states. In an earlier article in Pearls and Irritations, I argued that this criticism is unjustified. I doubt that anyone could argue that India’s treatment of its Muslim minority (comprising fourteen percent of its population) is humane in any respect. Its religious intolerance also extends to its neighbour Pakistan whose population is basically the same people separated only by an arbitrary partition line designed by Sir Cyril Radcliffe who had never been to India.

Currently, millions of farmers in India from over 450 organisations are protesting new laws that allow private buyers to bypass government-controlled markets that allow farmers to receive a minimum price for their crops. Protestors argue that the new laws will allow large corporate players to take advantage of them. Whatever the merits of the situation, one would have to argue it is not being dealt with very well.

With all these Human rights abuses Modi had the arrogance to protest to Albanese about Sikhs separatists in Australia, while Albanese barely mentioned, if at all, the abuse of human rights in India.

I recall what Robert Gates, the former Defence Secretary, said about Joe Biden: “I think he has been wrong on nearly every major policy and national security issue over the past four decades”. Evidently, he continues to be wrong.

But we are told by our government and our mainstream media that China is all bad and India is all good so it must be right.

Surely, this is another argument for Australia withdrawing from its commitment to the United States and charting its own course.


For more on this topic, P&I recommends:


Article updated 4 July 2023.

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