An egalitarian society
The custodial killing of George Floyd in America sparked unrest which snowballed into a massive protest. The ensuing campaign termed, 'Black Lives Matter' has united people in the US against the country's age-old problem of racism. Though America is the epicentre of the protest, racism is not localised to just America. The recent mention of the term 'Negro' to address an African national in official documents by Punjab Police is quite unfortunate, especially when the whole world is standing up for the equality that appears to be only theoretical even in great democracies such as America and India. While the Judge to whom the NDPS case was presented rightly reprimanded the Punjab police for such a deplorable action, the entire episode underlines the inherent prejudice against African nationals in the country. The court asked the DGP to instruct the police force to not use the term while referring to black persons in case papers emphasising on how the act brings shame to a country that proclaims equality as one of its founding principles. The law of this land does not give the police leverage to mistreat foreign nationals even if they are booked for any crime. The act delineates that all black people are assumed by the police to be drug peddlers and there could not be anything more appalling to note in this regard. It marks a new low in police standards that requires the urgent intervention of senior officials. It is not merely a mistake but rather a thought process that must be duly addressed. And, if the police are found to be harbouring such assumptions and prejudices, it raises concern about society in general. In fact, a few days ago when West Indies Cricketer Darren Sammy posted on social media about how he discovered the meaning of the word 'kalu' and expected an apology from his club teammates from Sunrisers Hyderabad, the incident only threw light on a pervasive bias that runs across sections of society. To demean a black foreign national in vernacular language also counts as racial discrimination. Thereafter, one cannot express that the racial slur was a cordial call stemming from friendship. In this regard, teammates of Darren Sammy deserved to apologise to him and the Punjab Police also should feel ashamed besides rectifying their action. Not just in official papers, the police ought to not address them with offensive terms verbally as well. There have been several personal accounts wherein African nationals have been addressed a variety of racially discriminating terms that is very unbecoming of a society which ought to cherish the principle of Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam. The Sanskrit phrase from Maha Upanishad may be ancient to modern society but the Indian Constitution that enshrines equality and secularism as its basic principle is not. By exhibiting such behaviour, we not only demean ourselves as an egalitarian society but rather embark on a regressive trajectory.
For a society that has itself been tortured and racially abused for about two hundred years under the British rule, we ought to cherish the values of human dignity, love, compassion and respect for others rather than demeaning them. Years of slavery is a lesson for modern India to usher an egalitarian society free of any sort of discrimination. It is not just a matter of black people but rather all people be it East Asians whom we mix Indians from the northeast or Adivasis native to the Indian subcontinent since centuries. Any sort of prejudice signals a regressive society. It is utterly disrespectful of the freedom we won, the Constitution we celebrate and even the Father of the nation whose unparalleled contribution to the Apartheid movement is acknowledged globally. The Punjab incident should serve as a reminder to us that racial discrimination has to be eradicated in practice and not just on paper. That should be a resolve for a new India.