During the Holocaust Nazi Germany orchestrated the systematic persecution and genocide of approximately six million Jews. In the aftermath of this dark chapter in history, much of the world embarked on a journey of reflection, remembrance, and learning. The atrocities committed during the Holocaust have been extensively studied, documented, and shared to ensure that the memory of the victims and the lessons learned are never forgotten. The term “genocide” itself emerged as a result of the Holocaust, which has since become a key element in international law and human rights discourse.
Since then a resounding vow has emerged, one that reverberates across nations and generations: “never again”. This solemn pledge is a commitment to ensure that such atrocities are never allowed to take place in the future.
Despite this pledge, in a recent report published by Justice For All, a non-profit human rights organization dedicated to preventing genocide, concerning findings have shed light on alleged links between India’s treatment of Muslims and other minority groups and ideological influences reminiscent of Nazi practices in the 1930s and 1940s that justified violence against minority groups such as systematic discrimination, persecution, human rights abuses, and genocide.
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which is currently in power in India, is the political arm of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) movement that operates as a paramilitary organization which aims to promote racial and blood superiority. Both have faced scrutiny from organizations like Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International for their human rights abuses. Especially troubling is the explicit praise for Hitler’s treatment of Jews and the idolization of the Nazi leader as a source of inspiration for India, which can be found in the writings of MS Golwalkar, the second chief of the RSS, in his book titled “We, or Our Nationhood Defined.”
The Justice for All report, “The Nazification of India,” highlights how the BJP-RSS employs Nazi-like tactics of intimidation, violence, and propaganda to specifically target Muslims, Christians, Dalits, and other minority groups. These actions are carried out with the objective of transforming India into a Hindu nation, thereby challenging the fundamental tenets of democracy and jeopardizing the secular foundation that has been integral to India’s identity since its independence.
Indeed, the striking parallels between the RSS and the Nazi Party become evident when examining their supremacist ideologies aimed at establishing dominance. While the Nazis pursued Aryan supremacy, the RSS seeks Hindu supremacy through Hindutva, a political nationalist ideology seeking to establish Hindu supremacy in India. However, the Nazi Party targeted Jews through anti-Semitism, while the RSS employs Islamophobia and vilification of Muslims.
In comparing the practices of the BJP-RSS and the Nazi Party, striking similarities emerge as well. The BJP has utilized legislation to enact India’s Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) rendering many Indian Muslims stateless, which is very similar to how the Nazis excluded Jewish people from German citizenship with the Reich Citizenship Law.
While the Nazis had a Propaganda Ministry to control the media and spread their ideology, in India a state-controlled ‘information technology cell’ employs fake news to demonize minorities and shape public opinion in favour of Hindutva. Hate speech and ‘othering’ of Muslims occur through influential platforms of social and traditional media.
Economic boycotts, too, are prevalent in both contexts. While the Nazi Party targeted Jewish-owned businesses and professionals, India has witnessed boycotts of Muslim-owned establishments and professionals. The halal meat industry has been specifically targeted, with tens of thousands of meat shops being forced to close down in one state alone under the BJP-RSS regime.
Indoctrination played a significant role in both the Hitler Youth and the RSS. The Hitler Youth aimed to instill supremacist Nazi ideology among its young members in particular, while the RSS operates the largest school network in India, where children are indoctrinated with Hindutva ideology, perpetuating the cycle of supremacist beliefs.
Perhaps most distressing is the destruction of religious sites. Just as the Nazis vandalized and destroyed synagogues, India has witnessed the targeted vandalism and demolition of mosques. Year after year, numerous mosques suffer the consequences of such acts carried out by Hindu nationalists, fueling concerns over religious intolerance and violence within the country.
Canada’s efforts to normalize and strengthen its relationships with India have extended beyond mere diplomatic engagements to include an active pursuit of investment and growth in bilateral ties, with a prospect of signing a trade agreement in the near future. However, scholars, human rights groups, and Canadian opposition parties have been raising alarm as Ottawa not only welcomed the G20 taking place in New Delhi, where a tourism summit was scheduled in Kashmir, but also appeared to overlook the prevailing human rights concerns in the region. More concerning is the lack of public statements from Canada addressing the human rights abuses perpetrated by India, particularly against religious minorities. This has raised questions about Canada’s prioritization of economic interests over human rights considerations, and the perception that Global Affairs Canada is intentionally and actively suppressing any comment on India’s human rights abuses. The geopolitical dynamics and tensions between Canada and China have influenced Ottawa’s approach towards establishing alliances and economic ties in the region. As a result, there seems to be a reluctance to openly criticize India’s human rights record. This shift in stance represents a deviation from Canada’s historical foreign policy values, which were demonstrated by standing against apartheid in South Africa and other similar instances.
It is evident that Ottawa’s prioritization of economic interests and strategic partnerships has led to a more cautious approach when addressing human rights violations in certain countries. Notably, Canada tends to speak out against human rights abuses in countries where it perceives minimal risks or consequences, such as Syria and Myanmar. While these statements are important and meaningful, they do not carry the same weight as addressing human rights concerns in countries where Canada has significant economic or geopolitical interests, like India.
This selective approach raises questions about the consistency and integrity of Canada’s stance on human rights issues. It suggests that Ottawa’s willingness to take a firm stand on such matters may be influenced by self-interest and perceived risks. This departure from Canada’s historical commitment to upholding human rights universally undermines the country’s reputation and diminishes its impact as a global advocate for justice and equality.
The issue at hand extends beyond foreign affairs – it is a matter that warrants close attention and consideration from within Canada itself. It is widely documented that the RSS has a presence and holds activities within the Indo-Canadian communities. According to the National Council of Canadian Muslims (NCCM) and the World Sikh Organization (WSO) RSS-connected initiatives are receiving financial support from groups that hold charitable and tax-exempt status in Canada, and voices associated with or supportive of the RSS vision are spreading hateful ideas and rhetoric against other minority groups in Canada. In June 2022, Executive Director of the Hindu Conference of Canada openly called for the mass killings of Muslims and Sikhs in Canada while identifying himself as a “hardcore Hindu nationalist”. He made these inflammatory remarks in a now viral video filmed in Toronto. In an alarming trend, Canadian academics who have criticized Hindu nationalism in India are subjected to hate speech and death threats by Hindu nationalist groups, both locally and from abroad. At least one Carleton University professor, originally Dalit himself, has endured a sustained campaign of online abuse, hateful messages, and even physical confrontations. Hardeep Singh Nijjar, a Canadian and Sikh religious leader vocal about the BJP government’s policies in India, was killed in Surrey, a tragic event occuring after Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) warned Nijjar that he was in danger. Such events cannot be ignored or allowed to continue, especially given the organization’s divisive ideology and its perpetuation of hate and violence against specific faith communities.
Canada’s commitment to the global pledge of “never again” is now being called into question as it maintains a concerning silence in response to India’s disturbing adoption of practices reminiscent of the Nazi regime. Despite its reputation as a human rights champion, Canada’s imbalance of trade priorities with these concerning developments has been met with criticism and raised doubts about its stance on human rights.
Canada’s pursuit of stronger ties with India should not come at the expense of turning a blind eye to human rights concerns. As a country that is striving to regain a voice in the international community whether through the United Nations security council or human rights council, it is imperative that we stand firm in upholding human rights around the world.
Tazeen Hasan is a human rights advocate, writer and advocacy manager with Justice For All Canada.