The world leaders are joining hands and have spoken against racism in any form and any country. Most of them have supported people’s right to protest and concerned raised by the African American in the United States and other countries. Today, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau participated in an anti-racist rally in his country, stood with the protesters, listened to others and took to his knee in the rally as a mark of protest.
Many Indians are speaking up the racial prejudices in the United States but many are trying to find fault with those who support the anti-racist movement.
What can India learn from the things that are happening in the western world?
True, there is racism but as African American friend Prof Kevin Brown told me a couple of years back in an interview that he found Indian the most racist.
Brown is a regular visitor to India and he has come across those staring and awkward questions about his nationality and identity right from the airport. Even a cab driver would laughingly ask him whether he is from Kenya or Nigeria but they have to sheepishly take a treat when they know that he is an American citizen.
There have been solidarity protests as well as statements in the Western world. Individuals have come out in London, Paris, Copenhagen, Auckland, Sydney, and in various cities of Europe, Australia, Canada and Newzealand to express their solidarity and support to the #Blacklivesmatters but more than that they all feel that same thing exists in their societies and need a serious answer. You can see a huge number of white population supporting the #blacklivesmatter event. With in the United States, we have seen police person expressing their solidarity and kneeling along with others.
At one place the police chief spoke up powerfully asking President Trump to shut up if he has nothing constructive to give to people.
Many governors of the states have rejected Trump’s effort to bring the army to ‘dominate’ the protests. US media and others in the western world have been critical of Trump’s policy which has put the US on a historical crisis where people feel that democracy is threatened. Many of the close associates of the US president, former Military generals have openly come out against his policy of using the army for the internal affairs. Social media platform like twitter did not verify some of Trump’s tweets. This shows the autonomy of the institutions and power of the people.
While the issue of the blacks become international news and concern, back home, we remain quiet on horrible caste violence against Dalits. Many people suggest as why it does not become a major issue when violence or atrocities happen in India. The polarisation in India is actually bigger and in the last six years, it has increased. Now, we have media and academics who are justifying things and ensure that every issue is converted into a national-anti national debate and then bring a conspiracy theory in it. So slowly, the issue is relegated into backstage and we start discussing politics and individuals. It suits all as most of those claiming to ‘fight’ against too don’t want an issue to be resolved because the issue here becomes getting the eye-balls and media attention.
Frankly speaking, social media in India is not really engaged in constructive discussion but more on building a brand.
At every level, each one of us actually suffer from a mindset and thinking of us as a brand. Now, the issue of caste discrimination and the related issue of untouchability and gender discrimination does not become news because we don’t have strong institutions in India. They have been dismantled and people never bothered. Each party who form the government actually use these institutions to serve their own political interest and the result is that we never have proper discussions to strengthen them and their autonomy. No purposeful debate happens as political leaders know the weaknesses of each other and hence rather than providing a constructive critique they actually start giving us details about their opponents who have now been treated as ‘enemies’.
Most of the media is heavily inclined towards the government or official viewpoint because of the advertisements. Unlike the Western world where we don’t see government pampering media with its adverts and that make them independent. That is why a journalist can counter question the most powerful man in the world. That is why people can mock at their ‘leader’. Officers can speak up and ask the president to shut. Why is it not possible in our country because political parties and leaders don’t want people to remind them of their rights and duties. Politicians or leaders for us are like ‘messiahs’ or my baaps.
A strange kind of varna system also exits in our administration as Dr Ambedkar said about the socials structure of caste, ‘ascending order of reverence and descending order of contempt’. The police wallah do the same. Birthday cakes for the ‘famous’ families and beating for the poor. We have seen how the police personnel actually humiliated the poor. Here the police are under tremendous persons and most of their CRs are based on the higher-ups and political connection matters hence they do become part of the structure. Rather than protecting the people, they side with the leaders. They follow the order from the higher-ups even if that order is morally incorrect or wrong in law but since the order comes from the above, they follow it up. There were certain brave officers but they were punished.
The importance of the western world is on strengthening the institutions and freedom of individuals. On both the counts, we do not stand near them. In our part, an individual is not free and can not really live a life on his or her own. All acts of individuals must be ‘approved’ by the society even if they have done everything legal. We have our khap panchayats everywhere and they are ready to kill and therefore most of the individuals become fiercely loyal to their caste identities. There are very few who come out of it but those who come out of it actually are persons of nowhere. Their own caste reject them and the new ones where they go for solidarity too does not accept them. So most of such people suffer in deep anguish and suffocation. Living an individual life in India is impossible, to say the least.
Political parties have rarely spoken on the issues. When a Dalit girl commit suicide as she is unable to join her online classes due to inability to possess a phone or computer, our media don’t question the policies of the government that web-based work can not replace the physical classes and that it is the responsibility of the state to look after the people. When a child wants to have milk from her mother who is lying dead because of walking from city to home or pressure of work, there is no outrage. Our media does not discuss. In fact, such stories which should have been discussed widely are not discussed at all.
Why this happens?
As I said, it is the power politics. Everybody is enjoying power, whether money power or political power or social power and none is ready to cede that for an inch. This does not come in our mind that if the country has equality and good institutions, life will be better. When there is equality and peace, life will be better but many people who have enjoyed the suffering of others still think that their freedom and happiness is impossible without the pains and anguish of others. India has to trace back its root of Buddha’s wisdom of enlightenment and the middle path. Important for us to feel that the country can never be powerful and happy if the majority of its people are denied dignity and self-respect and it is also true that we all can live happily if this historical wrong is undone.
For that to happen, our institutions must be made to understand the importance of social justice, human dignity, human rights and respecting the individual. As long as each one of us feel pride’ in our caste identities and the cultural heritage which is linked to this false pride, we will never be able to be a strong nation. India needs to celebrate diversity, question the wrongs of the past and build up its future based on not merely on equality of opportunity but equality of outcome too. Without the inclusion of people of diverse cultures and faith in our decision-making bodies, in our cultural spheres, media and judiciary, we won’t be able to understand its meaning and will always develop superficial ideas about nationalism and national identity.
Vidya Bhushan Rawat
June 6th, 2020