With a population of well over 1 billion people, the South Asian subcontinent of India is very well known as the world’s largest democracy, but international media outlets have failed to shed a light on the marginalization of minority groups within this powerhouse of a nation. Though predominantly Hindu, India is home to many minority groups including 138 million Muslims, 24 million Christians, 19 million Sikhs, 8 million Buddhists and many of other sects.
Suppression and the systematic killing of these minority groups within recent times is well documented in countless cases. Operation Blue Star in 1984 was one of the most extraordinary operations of Indian military history, during which the Indian army pounded a sacred Sikh shrine that stands in front of the more well-known “Golden Temple,” the Akal Takht, with 105-millimeter high-explosive head shells, ruthlessly killing innocent bystanders in the process. After the assassination of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, also in 1984, the systematic killings of Sikhs in Delhi and over 40 other urban enclaves began at a peak rate of one death per minute. The total deaths of Sikhs during this time period still has no consensus, and is estimated to be from 2,500 to 10,000, in an occurrence that the Indian government has eventually come to recognize as a “riot,” though many Sikh activist groups and international governments recognize it as a genocide.
This is in no way unique to the Sikhs; violence and massacres against Indian minority groups seem to have become a norm. A simplified list of the most significant Hindu-Muslim communal violence incidents from the nearly 7,000 instances that have occurred since Indian independence include: the 1969 Gujarat riots, the 1980 Moradabad riots, the 1983 Nellie massacre, the 1987 Hashimpura massacre, the 1989 Bhagalpur violence, the 1992 Bombay riots, the 2002 Gujarat riots, the 2006 Vadara riots and the 2014 Assam violence. It is also alleged that the current Prime Minister of India, Narendra Modi, a member of the pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party, had a direct role in some of these incidents during his tenure as chief minister of the state of Gujarat.
By no means are these occurrences a piece of the past. More recently, Jagtar Singh Johal, a resident of West Dunbartonshire in Scotland who ran a website highlighting the systematic injustices that have targeted Sikhs in India, was arrested on Nov. 4 during his trip to Punjab in India for his wedding, and has allegedly been tortured in custody. A spokesperson of the Scottish government has vowed to take “extreme action” if Johal is not released, but the case is still ongoing.
Having been born and raised in the United States, I recognize that we have immense problems of systematic injustices and racism within our own nation that we need to work on changing, but I urge us all to take a look across the globe to recognize ways that imperialistic governments working under the fabric of a capitalistic democracy are using their power to suppress those without voices. It is our responsibility to ensure that those without voices can rest assured that there is somebody who will hold their hand in the face of injustice.
— Dilpreet Singh Sahota M.S. ’18
Contact Dilpreet Singh Sahota at dsahota ‘at’ stanford.edu.