By Abdul Samad Israr from Jamia Millia Islamia
“I am not a racist. I am against every form of racism and segregation, every form of discrimination. I believe in human beings, and that all human beings should be respected as such, regardless of their color.” — Malcolm X
After the death of an unarmed Black American citizen “George Floyd” at the hands of a white police officer in the U.S state of Minnesota, protests start raging across America and other parts of the world. The #BlackLivesMatter started trending all on social media all over the world. The African-American has a long history of struggles and injustice, many persecuted and marginalised communities across the world seek inspiration from them. Many countries of the world supported this movement while expressing concern over racism and police brutality.
Similar support has also been extended by the citizens of India on ongoing protests, police brutality, condemning acts of racial violence and discrimination. While #BlackLivesMatter needs and deserves all the attention coming its way, the sudden outrage by Indians on this issue seems rather hypocritical, considering India’s long history of brutality against Dalits, Adivasis, Muslims, Kashmiris, North East people, Transgender people etc. Solidarity is important while dealing with oppression, but solidarity means nothing when it is wrought with hypocrisy. “If incidents that happen to Dalits, Adivasis and Kashmiris in India had happened in the US, there would be so much more outrage. However, no one notices the human rights violations of the Indian Army in Kashmir even when documented, are generally not condemned by mainstream commentators in India. Nothing seems to shock or shame most of India into standing up against the brutal injustices of its own order.
Historical Overview of Indian Racial Injustice
India is ethnically diverse, with more than 2,000 different ethnic groups and over 800 languages are spoken in India. However, there’s no official language. There is also significant diversity within regions, and almost every province has its own distinct mixture of ethnicities, traditions, and culture. Throughout the history of India, ethnic relations have been both constructive (as with mutual cultural influences) and destructive (as with discrimination against other ethnicities). Mahatma Gandhi himself was against the caste discrimination and used to called Dalits as “Harijans” in his speeches. Consequently, article 15 of the Indian Constitution also states that “The State shall not discriminate against any citizens on grounds only of religion, race, caste, sex, place of birth or any of them.”But in reality, there’s plenty of that going around. Discrimination based on caste and religions is not only going on but it’s thriving under a government that wants to promote the “divide and rule” formula. There are numerous cases of violence against minorities in India and it’s not wrong to say that with increasing violence against minorities hashtags like #MuslimLivesMatters and #DalitLivesMatters are echoing the sentiments of #BlackLivesMatter. There are different kinds of discrimination in India such as Religious discrimination, Color discrimination, Caste discrimination, Sex Discrimination, Job Discrimination etc all of them are in itself as horrific as it seems. Many desi liberals who were supporting the protests of America turns a blind eye to the persecution of Muslims and Dalits in their own country and also do not challenge the casteist and Islamophobic remarks of their own family. This shows the hypocrisy of Indians towards their own country.
The constitution of India has declared India a “secular” country. And Indeed, India is home to many religions. But it’s also a country with the traumatic past experience of 1947 partition based on “religion”. Ever since the “Muslim State” of Pakistan was formed, the integrity and loyalty of Muslims who chose to stay in India have been questioned by the majority. Unfortunately, it prevails even today and has come back stronger with a vengeance in the last few years. In 2015, a 52-year-old man, Mohammad Akhlaq was lynched to death by a group of “Hindutva cow vigilantes” in the town of Dadri, Uttar Pradesh for allegedly killing and consuming cow meat- cows are considered “holy” by many Hindus. It soon spreads like a wildfire to other parts of the country. It’s been five years since the death of Akhlaq and there have been so many cases of cow vigilantes killing people in the name of religion and it’s very shameful that it’s common in our environment now. However, religious minorities, and Muslims in particular also, became the target of slurs like “terrorist,” “jihadi” and “Pakistani.” And those who came out in support of the minorities are branded as “anti-nationals.” Attacks on them, some even leading to killings, started to become a regular item in the news.
In February 2020 alone, more than 50 people were killed in a targeted mob violence in the North East Region of Delhi, more than 70 percent of people killed were Muslims. Their crime was that they were protesting against the controversial Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA). Interestingly, the people who ignited the whole violence through hate speech have not only gone free but seem to have been rewarded with the highest government positions. The students who were protesting against the Act have been slapped with UAPA( Unlawful Activities Prevention Act 2019). The UAPA Acts allow the government to designate an individual as a “terrorist” without giving them a chance to present their case. When a pregnant elephant in Kerala died after consuming a pineapple stuffed with crackers — a common snare used to scare away wild boars from plantations. Social media outrage rose to a crescendo over it, with condolences pouring in on every platform. The death of the elephant was extremely disturbing and sad. However, what is rather revealing and heart-wrenching about India’s reality is that when a pregnant activist “Safoora Zargar” who was accused of making an inflammatory speech was in jail, the people of India shared obscene videos and made derogatory remarks on her character and normalized an awful crime for which they will be never held accountable. This reflects the truth about how the lives of some communities in this country hold a different value when compared to others, and the value is nowhere close to the attention that an animal gets. India is not new to skirmishes between majoritarian Hindus and the Muslim minority. But with a Hindu nationalist government at the helm, the fault lines have become starker. Their idea of India, often described as a Hindu Rashtra (a Hindu nation), has inspired the majoritarian population to brazenly ignore the Constitution and take over, even if it sometimes means crushing the minorities, literally to death.
Hindu society is based on the system of “varnas”. It indicates not only the caste but the colour, type and class of people. There are four varnas in Hinduism.
- Brahmins (priests, gurus)
- Kshatriyas (warriors, kings, administrators)
- Vaishyas (agriculture and traders)
- Shudras (servants)
The Shudras were meant to live in the service of the three.
Even today, menial jobs like cleaning toilets, manual scavenging, skinning dead animals and performing last rites for the dead are performed exclusively by people from the lower castes. In Uttar Pradesh’s Amroha district, a Dalit teen was shot dead on June 6 by four assailants, just days after having an altercation with an upper-caste family over entering a local temple. In Madhya Pradesh, a Dalit couple consumed pesticides while resisting eviction from a land in Guna District. There were several videos of police brutally beating them.
Article 46 of the Constitution says, “The State shall promote with special care the educational and economic interests of the weaker sections of the people, and, in particular, of the Scheduled Castes (SC or Dalits) and the Scheduled Tribes (ST or Adivasis), and shall protect them from social injustice and all forms of exploitation.” But these kinds of acts are happening in open and sometimes, they are government-sponsored. Caste discrimination is more usual in rural areas of India. However, in some areas, it’s also seen that Upper caste people don’t eat food prepared by the low caste people. They consider them “unholy”. According to a study by Common Cause in 2018, the percentage of people detained in India without being sentenced for a crime was 32 percent in 2003-2005, and 31 percent in 2013-2015. 67.2 percent of under trials happen in India — double the global standards’ percentage. The survey also clearly indicates that the fear among Dalits, Adivasis and Muslims of being vulnerable to accusations of crime are quite significant.
In India, words like “kallu”, “Kalia”, “kaalicharan” are very common and often used in day to day purposes of many Indians including children and adults both. Discrimination based on color was visible from the British period where skin color served as a signal of high status for the British who actively promoted the idea. Thus, those individuals with a lighter skin color enjoyed more privileges from the British were considered to have a more affluent status and gained preference in education and employment. Darker-skinned individuals were socially and economically disadvantaged. Nowadays also children are often complimented by relatives and friends for being the ‘fairer one’, in teenage and this bias keeps growing with age. It can be blamed on peer pressure, societal prejudices or advertising and product manufacturing. In many rural areas, there’s saying that
“Ladki kaali hogi to shaadi kaise hogi? (If the girl’s skin is black, how will she get married?)”
Such statements are a part of every discourse in an Indian household. In India, the idea of superiority based on the skin is totally promoted by society especially young women and men. Bollywood also plays an important role in promoting color discrimination by endorsing “skin fairness brands”. As of 2016, the Indian fairness cream industry was worth “$450 million”. A West Indian cricketer Darren Sammy shared on social media that he had been called “kallu” (black) by many Indian cricketers.
Discrimination against North East People
North East people are also called with slangs like “cheeni”, “momos”, “chinki”, “Nepali “ and nowadays “corona” since the pandemic started from Wuhan, China. In the time of COVID-19, there have been several cases of rampant discrimination against the north-eastern community. They have been spat on, denied entry into shops, expelled from rented apartments and abused on grounds of internalised racist assumptions around the virus. Stereotyping North-eastern women as “easily available”, accusing Africans of cannibalism and spitting and throwing stones on them, are all examples of the appalling and disgraceful attitude that has been meted out to not only foreigners but North-Eastern Indian citizens, who are often treated as Non-Indians and called names because of their Mongoloid features. In 2012, in an attempt to prevent such discrimination, the Indian government asked all of its states and union territories to arrest anyone who commits an act of atrocity against a North-Easterner under the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989. However, the horrific acts still continues. In 2014, a North Eastern student named “Nido Taniam” was killed in New Delhi’s Lajpat Nagar market after indulging in a fight with persons who were mocking him for his looks. A girl from Manipur was spat with “pan” and called corona by a middle-aged man at Delhi’s Vijay Nagar. There are several incidents like this that didn’t get the nation’s attention. The North-East people have been facing this humiliation for a long time for their looks and character. Many North East people have reported these kinds of atrocities and they said it’s very painful and hurtful to be treated like this in your own country.
The Black Lives Matter movement in the U.S. is a great opportunity for India to look inwards upon its own shameful past and present. So, while we lend our voice to that movement, we must also make an attempt to question our own privilege. We must recognize our own biases.