The term genocide is bandied about without much thought and needs to be looked at for the legitimate persecution of Hindus to be recognized.
Koenraad Elst (°Leuven 1959) distinguished himself early on as eager to learn and to dissent. After a few hippie years, he studied at the KU Leuven, obtaining MA degrees in Sinology, Indology and Philosophy. After a research stay at Benares Hindu University, he did original fieldwork for a doctorate on Hindu nationalism, which he obtained magna cum laude in 1998. As an independent researcher, he earned laurels and ostracism with his findings on hot items like Islam, multiculturalism and the secular state, the roots of Indo-European, the Ayodhya temple/mosque dispute and Mahatma Gandhi's legacy. He also published on the interface of religion and politics, correlative cosmologies, the dark side of Buddhism, the reinvention of Hinduism, technical points of Indian and Chinese philosophies, various language policy issues, Maoism, the renewed relevance of Confucius in conservatism, the increasing Asian stamp on integrating world civilization, direct democracy, the defence of threatened freedoms, and the Belgian question. Regarding religion, he combines human sympathy with substantive skepticism.
Islamic slaughter of Hindus: was it a “genocide”?
The mass killing of Hindus by Islamic Mujahedīn (Arabic: “those who strive [on the path of Allah]”) is a historical reality, costing many millions of Hindu lives. A recent Nehruvian-cum-Marxist current in Indian and India-watching historiography tries to deny this fact, but the evidence is plentiful, much of it from the horse’s mouth: the Muslim chronicles that take great pride in being able to describe the destruction of Pagan people and Pagan culture. This Negationism is an interesting topic, both for refuting it as a matter of correct history-writing and for analysing its psychological and political determinants; however, that won’t be the topic of the present article.
So, a great slaughter, spun out over a whole subcontinent and more than a millennium, did take place. But was it genocide? The word is thrown around too easily these days. This cavalier attitude to terminology causes a loss of credibility. If Hindus want to build a case that can convince mankind, rather than just themselves, they should reflect now on how exactly to characterise this crime henceforth. Nothing is gained by exaggerations or inaccuracies. As they themselves are wont to say, from the Muṇḍaka Upaniṣad to the present Republic’s national motto, that “Truth alone prevails”. We will argue that something else took place: it took millions of lives, but it was not genocide.
Definition of genocide
Genocide is: intentionally targeting a community for destruction (through killing or preventing procreation), and acting upon it. The United Nations’ General Assembly recognized it as a crime in 1946, just two years after the term had been coined by the Polish lawyer Raphael Lemkin (Axis Rule in Occupied Europe, 1944). Initially, the definition was clear enough: earmarking a community for complete physical destruction, as the Nazis had done to the Jews in 1941-44.
Unfortunately, the 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, Article II, contains an unclear definition. It starts uncontroversially: “In the present Convention, genocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group”.
Or rather, there a little controversy already starts. In the budding Cold War, this text was a compromise, and we already see the muddlethink typical of compromises in the phrase “in whole or in part”. The distinction between genocide and other mass-murders is precisely that not people but a group as a unit is earmarked for destruction: it is not genocide unless the decision has been made to destroy any and every member of the group encountered.
This confusion is worsened in the ensuing details of what “destroying” means: killing or preventing procreation, of course; but also forcibly transferring children out of the group to estrange them from the group’s distinctive culture and language. This happened to the natives in Australia and the United States, where the European conquerors sought to assimilate them, but not to exterminate them; not to destroy the group’s members, only to destroy its group identity; not genocide but ethnocide.
So those who want to muddle the definition of genocide already have the UN on their side. This is, even more, the case when we see the ensuing enumeration of the acts of destruction. This contains “killing members of the group”, or even “causing harm” to them, which falls far short of “killing all members of the group”, the defining criterion of genocide. The Nazis harmed all kinds of people, including their own fellow-countrymen, like most conquerors in the preceding millennia had done. Lemkin did not coin a new term to describe this perfectly ordinary and age-old phenomenon, but to designate the exceptional phenomenon of an effort to exterminate an entire community.
This is to be differentiated from ethnic cleansing: surviving Hindu refugees from Pakistan 1947 or Kashmir 1990 are certainly victims, but whether of genocide is debatable. In Kashmir, it was clearly not a genocide, in which all members of a community are sought to be exterminated. Rather, it was “killing one to expel a hundred”. This was, in fact, an instance of the usual modus operandi in terrorism: coercing a community into the desired conduct, in this case fleeing, by killing a small percentage of them.
The 1947 Partition massacres certainly looked like a genocide to those living through them, for in large parts of Pakistan-to-be, the Muslims killed all Hindu-Sikhs they could lay their hands on. Their death toll was also “of genocidal proportions”, as the phrase goes. But in the larger scheme of things, these massacres merely formed a particularly blood-soaked episode in a political process with another goal than extermination, viz. the creation of an Islamic state largely cleansed of non-Muslims.
The best-known genocide by far is the Holocaust. It is a Biblical term (from the Greek translation) for “sacrifice where the victim is completely burnt”, and first used as a metaphor for the Armenian genocide by the Ottomans (1915-18): at one point a group of Armenians took refuge in the city of Urfa, which was subsequently burnt down. But after World War 2, the word got fully identified with the Jewish genocide. This remained true even after the Jews themselves started preferring the Hebrew term Shoah, “destruction”.
A necessary precondition for the Holocaust was the ideological preparation by many centuries of Christian anti-Judaism and a half-century of Darwinist ideas of “survival of the fittest” and eugenics. This resulted in a Nazi intention to eliminate the Jews from Europe, but at first not through genocide. The first stage was the dissimilation of the highly assimilated German Jews from the German nation in the Nuremberg laws of 1935. This was not genocide and not even ethnocide: orthodox rabbis had complained that the ongoing secularization and assimilation into the ambient German nation amounted to a silent ethnocide, but the Nazis wanted to reverse this process, dissimilate the Jews, and push them back into their ethnic Jewish identity. (It is this policy that Guru MS Golwalkar referred to in his 1938 booklet We, often falsely presented as an endorsement of the Holocaust: whereas Hitler tried to solve the absence of the desired identity of Nation with State by alienating a minority, Golwalkar proposed to resolve the same challenge just the opposite way: by assimilating the minorities.)
Then they stimulated emigration as a “final solution to the Jewish question in Europe”, first voluntarily to the Zionist entity that was growing in Palestine, and with which the Nazi regime had concluded the Transfer Agreement; or projectedly to Madagascar (but the execution of this Madagascar plan was aborted by the start of World War II). When the war began, and the road to the world outside Europe was blocked, the emigration plan morphed briefly into resettlement in the conquered Soviet East, principally Belarus. The first trains taking Jews from German cities to the east would effectively make the journey. (This brief phase of orderly “ethnic cleasing” of the Jews to resettlement centres was later used to create an innocuous air around the transports to Auschwitz.)
But then, local German commanders of the designated resettlement areas found the incoming Jews a nuisance. Egged on by them, SS leader Heinrich Himmler crossed a line and conceived of a “final solution of the Jewish question” which he had earlier deliberately spurned, viz. by physical liquidation. Between 1941 and 1944, some 5.3 million of Jews were killed: some with a neck shot in the occupied parts of the Soviet Union; some in death camps specially designed for the purpose, like Treblinka and Sobibor; and some in Auschwitz. The latter had not been intended as a death camp: it was a labour centre (hence the inscription over the entrance: Arbeit macht frei, “Labour makes free”) in an SS-operated industrial centre, but it developed a killing centre too.
This was not the biggest genocide in history, but it was certainly the most organized and intense: there was no escape. Thus, some Jews hoped to escape by converting out of Judaism, but for the Nazis this wasn’t good enough. When the Catholic bishops in the Netherlands were not sufficiently compliant, the Nazis set an example by deporting the Jewish-born Catholic nun Edith Stein. They drove home the message that no born Jew would escape.
But escape from what exactly? After the war, it has become a habit to laugh at the explanation the German commoners gave in 1945: Wir haben es nicht gewusst, “We didn’t know it.” But in fact, the SS did try for utmost secrecy around their genocide, and made the insiders swear an oath to this effect. They expected German public opinion to protest if informed, as indeed it had done against the Nazi programme of exterminating the mentally handicapped, which had to be abandoned in 1940. That is why most people in the German empire and the occupied countries were purposely kept in the dark and didn’t know of the extermination of the Jews until 1945. That is why in the Netherlands, a Jewish council did the dirty work of organizing the deportations: they must have genuinely thought they were sending people to a labour camp where the Germans reasonably expected the Jews to contribute their bit to the war effort. This secrecy is also one factor that makes this genocide unique: earlier mass-murderers had been very open and defiant about what they were doing.
The Holocaust has become the genocide par excellence. Its discovery led to the creation of UN statutes against genocide. As a side-effect, it also triggered a competition among other victim groups to get their own suffering equally described as a genocide.
The number of Hindus killed in the name of Islam can vaguely be determined. Historians will agree that if estimates of a massacre are given by the surviving victims, they are generally exaggerated, at least in the modern age. In the premodern age, the opposite was true: people saw it as a shame to have been defeated, and consequently minimized the suffering they had been through. Either way, this problem doesn’t arise in the Hindu case, for they have practically not written anything about the destruction wrought by the Islamic invaders, possibly in application of this second rule: don’t draw attention to your own defeats and humiliations.
Practically all direct documentary evidence is of Islamic origin: court records, history books (testimonial as well as synthesizing) and autobiographical chronicles, e.g. by Timur and Babar. They are mostly in Persian, a few in Arabic or Turki. Nehruvians and their Indologist allies trying to minimize the Islamic crimes tend to say that these are exaggerations by chroniclers trying to flatter their patrons, because in Islam killing Unbelievers was held in high esteem (which still says a lot about Islam’s values). This is plausible, but is counterbalanced by the massacres left undescribed or of which the records were lost. These things happen in real life, as illustrated by Babar’s pages on his destructive stay in Ayodhya blown away by a storm-wind, as recorded in a later part of his diary. A complete count of how much killing the Muslim chroniclers themselves attribute to their patrons remains to be done.
The concomitant archaeological evidence is rarely of human massacres, as the Hindu victims were not buried; if at all given a funeral, it was cremation, thus “destroying the evidence”. But demolished forts, burned cities and temples levelled or replaced with mosques are ten a penny. Many more deserve to be inventorized, but with those we know, we already get a fair idea of the magnitude of the Islamic destruction. Historians and archaeologists have their work cut out for them in tabulating more than a millennium of Islamic destruction across a whole subcontinent, especially after half a century of willful neglect of this dimension of India’s history.
Apart from killing, we also note other large-scale Islamic crimes. Mass enslavement, partly for export, mostly prevented procreation of the male side (cfr. the disappearance of the Black population in West Asia, in spite of once constituting an enormous contingent of imported slaves, in contrast with their numerical growth in the United States). There was also mass exploitation, informally and through the formal channels of toleration tax (Jizya) and punitive-level land tax (levied effectively only on Hindus, as the growing Muslim population was mostly urban); mass cultural destruction; and mass rape or commodification as sex slaves. In the coming decades, geneticists may also contribute data on the number of Hindu sex slaves brought to Iran and Central Asia and, because of the highly praised beauty of Indian women, also used for procreation, thus transmitting their genes down to the present.
On serious estimates of the total death toll, Hindu efforts have been remarkably defective. Twitterati bandy about the number arrived at by historian KS Lal back in 1979: “80 to 100 million between 1000 and 1525” missing from the demographic figures, which already are necessarily vague in themselves. Moreover, these are not all victims of massacres: some fell as collateral damage of agricultural or economic policies that disrupted food production (as under the British or in Maoist China), or were never born because of the potential parents’ displacement or enslavement. On the other hand, in the Northwest the killing started centuries earlier, and after 1525, it resumed.
It will not do if we simply add some more speculation: let us admit that to get at some measure of exactness in these death toll estimates, we need to do plenty of research to make up for the neglect and the false history imposed for too long. But we can agree that in the aggregate, the victim toll of the Hindu massacres was certainly more numerous than of the Holocaust.
This is already clear if we limit our count to the 20th century, omitting all the killings and other crimes against humanity since the first (failed) naval invasion in 636 or the first occupation of Sindh by Mohammed bin Qasim in 712, and all that happened in the intervening centuries. In the Partition of 1947, the Hindu-Sikh death toll easily amounted to 1 million+ in West Pakistan alone. In East Pakistan, it ended up becoming a similar number, though the killing there was drawn out over several years. In 1971, in the repression campaign that led to the war that led to the country’s liberation and recreation as Bangladesh, the Pakistanis and their Jamaat-i-Islami allies killed nearly 2,4 million Hindus, 80% of the total death toll of some 3 million (as per the government of Bangladesh itself). Add the great killings of many thousands in the Moplah Rebellion of 1920-21, the Direct Action Day of 1946, the many recurring pogroms in East Pakistan, the large-scale riots in India (admittedly with a two-sided death toll), the constant petty terror in Pakistan and Bangladesh, the expulsion of the Pandits from Kashmir (1990), and you get very close to the 5,3 million estimated for the Holocaust.
Conversely, and we hope nobody minds our saying it, the Hindu experience was less intense. Contrary to the Jews in the Nazi empire, escape was always possible for the Hindus through conversion. In the heat of battle, this option was not always available, but in general, the Muslims didn’t ask for anything better: Islamizing all of mankind was their task sanctioned by the Quran. Killing Unbelievers could be helpful in establishing the power of Islam, but it was not the ultimate goal: Islamizing them was.
Numerous times in history, people have been hit by famines. This type of mass death is sometimes purposely engineered. The most famous case is the Holodomor, “hunger killing”, the Ukrainian hunger genocide of 1932-33: Josef Stalin’s intentional killing of millions of Ukrainian independent farmers or Kulaks. Its victim toll is routinely downplayed, sometimes out of awe for the nearby Holocaust, or because of sneaking Leftist sympathies for the Soviet regime. Walter Duranty, an eye-witness who denied the mass death hoping to curry favour with Stalin in order to get a prestigious interview with him, privately made the estimate of 10 million. It could be 3 million, 8 million, or some such number, and we confess we don’t know the answer to the quiz question: “What is the biggest mass-murder of 20th-century Europe? Hint: it starts with Holo…”
But while the Holodomor may have been bigger in sheer death toll than the Holocaust, it certainly was less intense. The Ukrainians had an escape: join the Communist party and toe the Communist line. At the height of the killing it may have had little chance, but in general, sheer killing was only instrumental in imposing Communism and not strictly necessary even for Stalin’s political aims.
On the other hand, the Holodomor was morally worsened by the circumstance of peacetime. It was entirely voluntary, killing as a policy instrument, not “necessitated” by war circumstances. It had a causal relation with the Holocaust, both by frightening the rest of the world into supporting any regime that credibly promised to protect them against lethal Communism and by providing an example of a mass-murder policy that startled even the generation of WW1 veterans.
The biggest mass death through a human-engineered famine in world history came in 1959-62: China’s Great Leap Forward. Its death toll estimates reach as high as 46 million Chinese peasants. Yet, this was not a genocide because of the decisive criterion of intentionality. There was no intention of exterminating the Chinese people or the peasant class; indeed, China’s demographic policy at that time was resolutely natalist. Rather, it was due to collateral damage of Mao Zedong’s economic policies and of the Communist system which made the local leaders afraid of communicating truthful data about the developing catastrophe to the centre.
India too had its share of human-engineered famines. Yet, while they killed many millions, with more than 3 million in the 1943 Bengal famine alone, they cannot be characterized as “genocide”. They were facilitated by the perpetrators’ active disdain for Hindus (Sultanate) or Indians (British), which was very explicitly stated by Winston Churchill even much before he deliberately refused to alleviate the Bengal famine. But an intention to eliminate them rather than just treat them harshly remains to be proven.
Rather: these famines were collateral damage of punitive land tax policies (Sultanate) or of motherland-oriented economic reforms (British Empire). Churchill regarding Bengal, like Mao regarding the Great Leap, voluntarily took decisions that contributed to the famine, yet neither had the intention of eliminating the group that became the victim. They amounted to “assault without the intention to kill but with death as a consequence”, not murder; to mass death, not to “genocide”.
Which term to use?
In the ongoing competition for victimhood, Hindus tend to throw around horror-provoking terms like “genocide”. But in such serious matters, they should aim for accuracy and not resort to extreme terminology until they can justify it with evidence. And apart from this general restriction out of scientific honesty, there is also a strategic consideration necessitated by the Hindu society’s besieged position.
The enemies of Hindu Dharma and of India can get away with any lie or distortion because they have the media and the India-watching academics and movie directors at their disposal. They will exploit any mistake the Hindus make, knowing fully well that they do not have the same luxury of getting away with missteps. Any sin against the canon of scholarship will be used to create an impression of an “anti-science” mentality, of “amateurism” at best, but more likely of “superstition” or “jingoistic history distortion”. In fact, even in the case of utmost Hindu conscientiousness, they will still throw all these swearwords at the Hindus and thereby still condition numerous mediocre minds against the Hindu position (or more precisely, against the historical truth), at least in the short term; but in that case, at least knowledgeable and discerning people will come over to the Hindu side of the argument, and they will make the difference in the long run.
So, drop “Hindu genocide” or its Indian translations, such as Hindū-jana-saṁhāraṇa, or Hindū-vaṁśa-vicchedana, “Hindu lineage discontinuance”. An exception can be made on a smaller scale, where within the horizon of that particular situation, all restrictions were switched off and any Hindu the enemy could lay his hand on, was earmarked for killing. The example in recent memory is the East Bengal slaughter in 1971, which among Hindus could reasonably be termed “Hindu genocide”. But still, it can only be called that in a Hindu setting, for outsiders are going to ask questions about such grim terminology, questions that very few Hindus are equipped to answer convincingly.
Most certainly, Hindus must avoid an expression that I hear sometimes: “Hindu Holocaust”. Thus, when the Shivaji Maharaj museum in Pune devoted to the Hindu struggle for survival was going to open, there were insistent suggestions to this effect. They ultimately failed in favour of the more constructive reference to Shivaji, and possibly our own advice had played a role in this choice. We mentioned two decisive considerations.
Firstly, the term has already been taken. It would create unnecessary friction with the Jews, many of whom are allies against Islamic terrorism and Christian proselytism; and Hindus don’t have the luxury of friends in excess. It is unimaginative, disrespectful and bad diplomacy to try to wrest this term from its customary users. Moreover, it could lead to the ugly sight of a competition: “My genocide is bigger than yours!”
Secondly, it doesn’t draw attention to the specificity of the Hindu experience. If you want the justified quotum of attention for your own story, the promotion of such a recognizable and specific term is all-important. It is counterproductive to piggy-back on someone else’s experience.
The importance of a correct, revealing and catchy terminology can’t be overestimated, especially in the culture wars. Thus, witness how the secularists have been put on the defensive by Vivek Agnihotri’s description of them through the apt neologism Urban Naxal.
In thinking this choice over, we were reminded of a term in the Buddha’s life story: the Śākya-hatya: “slaughter of (the Buddha’s own) Śākya tribe”. Near the end of his life, the king of Kosala, who had discovered that his mother was an illegitimate daughter of the Śākya republic’s president-for-life, had a grudge against this tribe. After briefly being dissuaded by the Buddha, he finally resolved to take his revenge by killing the whole tribe (except for those who had withdrawn from tribal life, esp. the Buddha himself) and did so.
To complicate matters a bit, this episode was actually a real genocide. Yet, it is commonly designated by the general term hatya, “slaughter”, which implies nothing about a genocidal intention. It is used for go-hatya, “cow-slaughter”, and any form of killing. Therefore, we provisionally use this flexible and open-ended term for the repeated slaughter of Hindus: Hindū-hatya. Or, as suggested by a senior leader of the Indic movement, to emphasize its collective character: Hindū-vaṁśa-hatya, “slaughter of the Hindu folk”.
Purists who object to the foreign origin of the word Hindū (Persian for Sindhū, “those who live on or beyond the Indus river”, “Indian”, brought into India by the Muslim invaders with an added religious dimension: “Indian Unbelievers/Pagans”) might prefer Ārya-vaṁśa-hatya, “slaughter of the noble-minded folk” or “slaughter of the Vedicist folk”. Those who see “Hinduism” as but a modern term for Dharma, “ethics-cum-piety”, may contrive yet another neologism.
Anyway, the choice here is up to the Hindus themselves. The most productive and logical is for one or several awe-inspiring thought leaders to take a guiding role and choose a carefully considered term. Words that catch on are not chosen by referendum but by an inspiring wordsmith. Until then we will use just such a term, one that we thought up ourselves and that then was refined by such a thought leader: Hindū-vaṁśa-hatya.
Hindus have suffered a unique experience of oppression at the hands of Muslim invaders and their successors, including many instances of mass killing. It covered more than a thousand years and a whole Subcontinent. This experience deserves to be expressed by appropriate terminology, a raised fist against those who try to muzzle the Hindu voices or wash away their memories of this experience.
Mind you, those self-made enemies of Dharma will not give up in the short run, they will still try to criminalize every expression of what really happened. They are helped in this by their international allies, who get their trusted information about India from them. It is imperative not to give them a handle by misstating the case about this experience, e.g. by hastily and sloppily terming it “genocide”. They have been able to get away with inaccuracies and plain lies, but Hindus would be deluded if they think they have the same luxury.
Even if genuine historians formulate their case impeccably, the enemy will avail of the academic and mediatic power equation as long as it remains unfavourable to the Hindus, so as to perpetuate their denialist version of history. For some time, they will still manage to mislead many into believing that the presence of Islam in India was a peaceful affair, nothing that deserves critical attention. But the fair-minded part of your audience will reconsider the prejudice they had been swallowing, and in the long run, the received wisdom will align itself with historical reality.
More consequentially for India, future generations will outgrow the false history presently taught in the schoolbooks, and Hindu society will shed its self-depreciation to come into its own. But this optimistic perspective depends on the political will to turn the stand of a handful of conscientious historians into an effective policy. Historians may write fine textbooks, but if governments fail to make them into required reading in schools and universities, they will not be very effective. We are in no position to influence that factor. But at least we have the responsibility to provide a correct outline of the facts as they really have been. Other than that, we can only hope that the people in power use it to replace the false history propagated by the dezinformatsiya factories of the [Anchor] Nehruvian establishment.