Issue 31, Cultural Genocide


Cultural genocide has existed for as long as there have been wars and battles between different groups of people, as one group seeks to dominate a territory or people. But the fact that it continues today is alarming. Why, after seeing the horrors of the Holocaust, do people still manage to justify the extermination of another group, their identity, and way of life? How have we unlearned our historical lessons?  In the intervening years since World War II, have we forgotten our common humanity?

Yet today, as nationalisms grow in the guise of protecting a nation against some presumed “threat” – whether from an enemy inside or outside their borders – we are witnessing increased hatred and attempts to expel and destroy others. Even neo-Nazis are on the rise in Europe and the US today, despite the strongest international condemnation of genocide and a moral reckoning about global responsibilities following the atrocities of World War II. Equally disturbing are the systematic attacks of groups of people, leading to record numbers of refugees as people flee persecution and war.

A bleak as this picture looks, humans have developed many additional tools to exterminate people and their identities through cultural genocide. Whereas mass extermination and gruesome mutilation attract international scrutiny, the insidious elimination of cultural traditions, knowledge, languages, and material culture draws far less attention. This also isn’t a new phenomenon, although our methods continue to evolve with new technologies. We rewrite histories to categorize certain peoples as outsiders or as enemies. We block Internet access and create false narratives about people as terrorists. We fortify walls. We insist that the only way to be a patriot is to abandon anything that marks one as different. We prohibit the use of foreign or indigenous languages in the guise of integration. We ban textbooks that do not fit with new hegemonic narratives. We destroy places of worship, statues, and relics as well as indigenous languages along with their speakers, traditions, and artifacts. We eliminate the practices and livelihoods of many cultural minority groups within our borders and neighborhoods.

How and why should we care about these intangible genocides? Compared to gruesome horrors of death, these acts appear less malign. However, the willful destruction of tangible and intangible aspects of culture is just as devastating in both the short and long term. Moreover, a particularly disturbing method of cultural genocide involves violation of women – as bounties of war, or as victims of rape. Does this receive the same degree of international condemnation as the deaths that result from persecution and war? Why not? It’s also worth remembering that women – as mothers, grandmothers, sisters, and daughters – are traditionally the preservers of culture. What happens to a culture when women are destroyed in such ways?

Destroying cultures, traditions, and languages is a certain way to ensure that a particular group’s way of life is forever altered or eliminated. Even if people survive, their cultural knowledge and identities do not. The consequences of this eradication are immense. Less diversity, less creative potential to solve global problems, and less resilience are but a few of the long-term impacts. No one is spared when those losses are counted.

The eradication of cultural diversity is often justified by invoking the rhetoric of economic development or the doctrine of “one nation, one people, one culture”. The former, for example, is manifested in the state-sanctioned expropriation of indigenous-owned lands in South Asia by mining companies. It is also seen in the decimation of land owned by indigenous groups in western Amazon due to encroaching oil lots seeking to meet the increasing demands of companies and consumers. The latter justification is reflected in the forceful indoctrination of the Uyghur minorities in Xinjiang to Chinese communist ideology. The latter is also evidenced in Bangladesh when secularists, LGBT+ activists, and minorities were brutally targeted by radical Islamists with impunity and likely with a complicit state. It is also seen in India, where Muslim minorities are categorized as outsiders and enemies, despite being Indian for generations, and persecuted and killed in the name of protecting a Hindu India.

As a systemic attack on a group of people, its culture and identity, cultural genocide is a crime against diversity, pluralism, and tolerance. Shuddhashar’s issue on Cultural Genocide focuses on why and how such practice continues in myriad forms, who benefits from it, how to prevent the loss of culture, and why this should be alarming to all of us.

With this issue, we hope to turn our readers’ attention to the importance of preserving cultural diversity. Just as there is a need to preserve natural diversity, there is a parallel need to protect cultural diversity. A culturally diverse world makes our lives meaningful. This argument does not endorse cultural relativism or require us to conclude that all cultural practices are humane and equal. Instead, the emphasis is on upholding the core human rights related to language, culture, and tradition. It our duty to fight any attempts at violating these rights, and we should all be alarmed at the widespread acts of cultural genocide around the world today. We must, therefore, defend people’s rights to live, talk, practice, and look differently – for the good of us all.

Genocide and (Ongoing) Colonisation

How should we understand indigenous peoples’ cultural and physical destruction that often occurs gradually, sometimes abruptly, within the (colonial) states in which they live? Many indigenous peoples are of the view that their lived experience as colonised peoples should be seen as a genocidal process. Such as suggestion is frequently met with derision and condemnation …

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“Languages” to “dialects of Hindi”: A relegation of the languages of Bihar in the agenda of Hindi nationalism

India, unlike several European countries, does not have any ‘national language’. Article 343 (1) of the Indian Constitution says “Hindi” (written in Devnagri script) is one of the “official languages” alongside English. Additionally, the eighth schedule of the Indian constitution recognises 22 scheduled (regional) languages, of which only one language of Bihar, Maithili, was added …

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The politics of “Adibashi” recognition

“Native peoples will continue to exist and flourish whether or not we are recognized legally, and you can bet on the fact that terms and definitions will continue to evolve” – Chelsea Vowel (âpihtawikosisân), Métis writer and lawyer from Alberta, Canada in her book Indigenous Writes: A Guide to First Nations, Métis & Inuit Issues …

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Cultural Genocide? The Ongoing Persecution of Christians Under the Kim Regime in North Korea

North Korea remains one of the most isolated countries in the world. Access from the outside world is minimal and freedom of movement of North Korean citizens, whether within the country or abroad, is strictly monitored, and in most cases, prohibited. The Kim family has been in power for three generations and citizens of the …

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Cultural Genocide in Ukraine: The Systemic Destruction of a People

Brief history and the key definitions In 1944, Raphaël Lemkin, a Polish Jewish lawyer,  coined the term “genocide” to describe the brutal practices in countries occupied by Nazi Germany during World War II. Having experienced different elements of genocide first hand, through the extermination of his family and being forced to flee Poland, he wrote …

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Minority in My Own Land, Losing My Religion in My Own Temple

Part one: The Spinning of the Propaganda Machine The year was 2016. I was in Dhaka, Bangladesh. I received a proposal from a publisher acquaintance of mine to write on a topic about the indigenous people of Bangladesh. Without even pausing to think, I said yes, only to realize my mistake minutes after hearing the …

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The Persecution of the Baha’is of Iran, Why?

While Baha’is have been oppressed in Iran during various periods since the birth of their religion in that country in the nineteenth century, the establishment of a Shi‘i theocracy after the 1979 Islamic Revolution began an era of intensified and systematic persecution for this community. Recent scholarship has convincingly suggested that the Islamic Republic regime …

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Systemic racism in European migration politics?

In 2020, when George Floyd was murdered by four officers from the Minneapolis police department in the United States, a debate concerning systemic racism in the American police made international headlines. It quickly expanded to encompass the reality systemic racism as such, spreading to Europe and confronting nations allegedly incorporating structural racism that devalues black …

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The Indigenous People Shall Be Involved in National and International Politics

After over two decades of negotiations and multiple drafts, the UN in 2007 adopted the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP)[1] for the promotion, development, and maintenance of indigenous rights, and the ability of indigenous people to apply and adhere to customary laws within their local communities. This has laid the …

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Fear, the Other, and Internet Manipulation in Culture Genocide

Although we can’t know exactly why humans started developing symbols or how they were first used, we can speculate on some things about this ancient history. About 100000 years ago symbols were used by the First Peoples. Symbols were used as body markings of tribe members or drawn on the walls of caves illustrating everyday …

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