Millennium Post

For the love of Indians in America

Sureshbhai Patel, a 57-year-old grandfather from rural Gujarat, had gone to visit his prematurely born grandson in the state of Alabama, USA. He was brutally assaulted by the local police as he was taking a stroll in the neighborhood where his son lives. The man received severe spinal injuries and is now partially paralysed. While such gross injustice should attract condemnation as it has from various sectors of US civil society and elected representatives, there is something about the reaction of powerful brown people residing in the subcontinent that requires introspection. After the Sureshbhai Patel assault news broke, Delhi’s Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) sprang into action, putting on its “empathy” for brownman Sureshbhai and “outrage” hats at the same time at the excessive use of force by the police.

The MEA spokesperson Syed Akbaruddin said, “I can assure you that we intend to pursue this matter suitably here in Delhi through the US mission, in Washington through our mission as well as several other local authorities in Alabama.” He also added that it is important that the Indian community feels safe and secure in USA. The MEA also updated the public on Sureshbhai’s health condition. The Indian Embassy in Washington DC has planned to contact the US State Department (akin to India’s Home Ministry). A US embassy official in Delhi was also summoned by the MEA and was told how India feels about this event. People surely deserve a government that cares for them, even when they are abroad. Crimes by US police on an Indian citizen are unacceptable. But what about daily crimes by Indian police on Indian citizens? But before that lets go back to USA.

In February 2011, Krittika Biswas, the daughter of an Indian Embassy official in New York, was made to spend a night in jail on charges that were subsequently proved to be false. Krittika was outraged in the ways she had been dealt with by the New York police, including tight handcuffing while interrogation by police and taking her out of school in handcuffs in full view of her fellow students. At the jail, she was disallowed from using the restroom during detention, was kept with people who had allegedly committed serious crimes, was kept in a jail with unhygienic conditions. She was there for 28 hours. She publicly broke down while recounting her ordeal in front of the press. She gathered support from people who stood with her resolve to ensure that the price of every tear of hers needed to be paid for.

That Krittika did not take the actions of the police lying down should act as a lesson in intolerance of any kind when it comes to violation of Human Rights by law enforcement agencies. The right to not get hurt, the right to not be publicly made a spectacle of, the right to discharging bodily functions and the right to not be detained on inadequate grounds (that is “for nothing”), are all non-negotiable and Krittika’s laudable stance only strengthens that. The then Foreign Minister SM Krishna recalls, “I distinctly remember that I had intervened to get the girl released, intervened when I was in the United States and, subsequently we took it up very strongly with the State Department of the United States.”

India’s top-most diplomats worked frantically all night to get this sorted out. Krittika’s family subsequently decided to pursue legal action to ask for financial compensation from New York because of its actions. Damages claimed were of the order of 15 lakh US Dollars. At that point, the Indian MEA officially stated in a media briefing on June 10, 2011, “However, once Ms. Biswas’s family sought the Ministry’s permission to initiate legal proceedings against the concerned authorities in New York, it was granted promptly. The Ministry’s thoughts and support remain with the family at this difficult juncture and we will continue to provide them whatever assistance we can”. This means that the MEA of India also considered it just that such treatment of a person by the police does call for compensation of the grade. That is good to know. The case was settled in September last year, with New York agreeing to pay her 2.25 lakh US Dollars, that is about 1.4 crore Rupees at present exchange rate. Now let us come back to India.

If the alert, honorable, and super-patriotic citizens of India were to direct their sensitivity a little inwards, they would be actually bankrupting the country. Here’s how. If the above amount is a fair amount, what would be the probable amount of compensation owed to the parents of the Manipuri young woman Thangjam Manorama, widely believed to be have been abducted, tortured, raped and murdered by members of the security forces, namely the Assam Rifles. Who will be held accountable for not releasing the government inquiry commission report, after serious discrepancies between Assam Rifles version of events and some objective data that was incompatible with Assam Rifles version? What would be a fair amount of financial compensation for the mass gang-rapes of Kashmiri women in Kunan Poshpora, allegedly by soldiers of 4 Rajputana Rifles of the Indian Army’s 68 Brigade. And these are just illustrations. Add to this the innumerable illegal detentions, random beatings, rapes and so much more against women by police and security forces in India. Simply by tom-toming a heightened sense of what is unacceptable, one can win some kind of a self-absolving PR battle. Facts are another matter. Gods are yet another matter. The total amount of compensation for these crimes would make the Indian state go bankrupt.

By its attitude on Manorama and Kunan Poshpora, the Indian state has already proven itself bankrupt in other ways. Should brown people escape their homelands to foreign countries to be considered as human beings by their ‘own’ state powers? May be they should wait it out for the unlikeliest scenario that these reparations owed to millions of our own victims for brutality by security forces are paid. That will bring in a lot more money in the bank account of most people in the subcontinent than the mythical 15 lakhs.  IPA
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