Deconstructing the 2002 Anti-Muslim Riots and Digital India
On the surface, India’s prime minister Narendra Modi seems to be an effective leader. As governor of Gujarat, he boosted Gujarat’s economy and as prime minister, his new Digital India program has India cheering him on. However, while some are comfortable living in a country led by an oppressor, Modi’s term is the beginning of a new era of terror for minorities and a greater divide in economic classes.
Let’s start at the beginning of his political career. In 2002, when Modi was governor, Gujarat experienced one of its darkest phases in history. For three months, there were outbreaks of mass killings against Muslims that were allegedly triggered by the burning of a train in Godhra, which caused 58 Hindu pilgrims to die. However these killings were not specifically against those involved in the train incident; the government generalized and attacked the entire Muslim community based on the actions of a few. Because of this, many say that the pogroms against Muslims were orchestrated beforehand and the train fire was simply a stimulant or excuse to start the massacre. As governor, Modi had a responsibility to stop this wrongful violence, but instead he condoned it. And government officials who worked closely with Modi allegedly helped the rioters by providing lists of houses and properties owned by Muslims that they could loot and burn. But Modi claimed no wrongdoing and stated he protected the people to the best of his ability. What is interesting however is that, in the few interviews he gives, if a question about the anti-Muslim violence comes up, he often eludes the question or ends the interview altogether. While the government reports that 790 Muslims died, many commentators believe the deaths are closer to 2,000.
So thinking about it now, it comes as no surprise that since Modi’s term began, there has been a significant rise in attacks against minorities. Take present-day Panjab for example, which has been experiencing unnecessary, vicious attacks from the Panjab police force during peaceful protests.
After Modi’s big talk at Facebook with Mark Zuckerberg, it became a trend to change Facebook profile pictures to a new special theme supporting Digital India. But the reality of Digital India is not as transparent as it seems. To be clear, Digital India was an initiative created by Modi and was launched on July 1, 2015 to connect Indian citizens to the Internet and thus give them easier access to government services. While this is a noble goal to modernize India, the Digital India Campaign through Internet.org violates net neutrality principles as it provides sponsored data—where Internet Service Providers (in this case Reliance) will not charge anything for a pre-defined bouquet of websites and applications. Net neutrality is the principle that Internet service providers should enable access to all content without favoring or blocking particular websites. In this case, Reliance will singularly reap the benefits and the free access extends only to Facebook and its 50 partner sites—creating a bias on the nature and content of websites that will be available to users and leaving smaller internet based companies and startups unable to compete with the giants. You simply cannot support net neutrality and Digital India. Modi’s plan continues to support the increasing violent economic divide in India.
Overall, Modi is not “bringing India forward” if specific groups of people do not feel safe in their own homes and his new programs are causing larger economic disparities.