Ongoing Genocide

15 August 2020

Howard Zinn in A People’s History of the United States (emphasis mine):

One can lie outright about the past. Or one can omit facts which might lead to unacceptable conclusions. Morison does neither. He refuses to lie about Columbus. He does not omit the story of mass murder; indeed he describes it with the harshest word one can use: genocide.

This passage, and especially the last line, made an unusual impression on me when I first read it, and still does. Perhaps it’s the fact that one word needs to do so much work. How can one word possibly convey the magnitude of death, destruction, and suffering? On the other hand, genocide, along with words like racist, do seem to work. Those in power (and the privileged) seem more upset over being labelled racist, or being accused of genocide, than the crimes themselves.

I was reminded of the passage when reading a report describing the forced labour of Uyghurs in China, which used the term — cultural genocide (or ethnocide) to describe the Chinese government’s practises. Words matter, and the crimes against Kashmiris and Dalits need to be called for what they are, regularly and loudly.

Can the decades of military occupation of Kashmir, and the torture and killing of Kashmiris be captured by these words? Or the centuries of discrimination and persecution directed at the Dalit community? Calling these crimes for what they truly are — ongoing genocide, may not be adequate to describe the extent of the horrors that the people have experienced, nor the generational trauma, but it is a good start.