India's George Floyds
Discrimination based on caste and religion is actively prevalent in India and should shock us as much as George Floyd’s death
46-year-old George Floyd struggled for almost nine minutes under Minneapolis police officer, Derek Chauvin's knee, begging for his life, beseeching the officer — 'I can't breathe'— his final words before he succumbed to death. The US has been burning ever since. Nationwide protests and violence engulfed the country as part of the 'Black Lives Matter' movement, which campaigns against systemic racism against African-American people in the US.
George Floyd's tragic death upset many Indians too as they protested racism in America and instances of police atrocity. Celebrities such as Priyanka Chopra too called for an end to the race war in the US. That George Floyd joined an ever-increasing list of African-American people who have been victims of race-related violence is definitely to be condemned. Racial profiling and behaviour of the American police have from time to time exposed the ugly face of America. Yes, such incidents are deeply unfortunate and upsetting. But there are enough instances of discrimination and violence in our own country that should be shocking us equally and forcing all, especially celebrities, to break their studied silence.
I'm sure a number of us are now well-versed with George Floyd but how many remember Mohammad Ikhlaq or Mohammad Faizan who were lynched to death by cow vigilantes? Who remembers Jagmail Singh of Punjab who died after being thrashed and forced to drink urine? 20-year-old Abhishek who was burnt live in Hardoi, Uttar Pradesh? Or Vashram Sarvaiya from Una who has asked the President of India, Ram Nath Kovind, to send him to a country where he will not face discrimination. In 2016, more than 40 upper-caste men stripped and beat up seven members of his family (including Vashram) with sticks and rods for skinning a dead cow. This attack, like many others, was filmed and widely circulated. Don't Muslim and Dalit lives also matter?
So, forgive me as I scoff at the bleeding hearts who mourn George Floyd and pretend that hate attacks don't happen in India. What can justify their selective outrage? To feel one with the American people while remaining completely detached and delusional to similar crimes in their own country! These hypocrites remain silent about lynchings, keep mum about communal riots, turn a blind eye to the arrest of intellectuals and anti-CAA activists, don't see anything wrong with the denial of bail for the third time for pregnant Jamia Millia Islamia University student, Safoora Zargar.
Racism is as prevalent in India as it is in the US, albeit it dons a different garb. Here, we discriminate more on the basis of religion and caste. And many times, this discrimination doesn't necessarily translate into heinous acts of murder. Sometimes they are subtle instances that show the deeply-ingrained nature of our racist attitude. Not allowing people of certain religions or communities from living in a building complex, is one such example. Former cricket allrounder Irfan Pathan correctly said that racism is not restricted to skin colour, and not allowing someone of a different faith from buying a house in a society, is also racism. He would have alluded to the problem voiced by many Muslims, who have been refused entry into building societies. In spite of being a Hindu, I faced this many years ago when I tried to rent an apartment in a residential colony in south Delhi; for them, I wasn't South-Indian enough even though one of my parents is Tamil. In India, we discriminate and there are various levels of this discrimination that is mostly subtle and sometimes violent.
Of course, there is the matter of skin colour. Fair is beautiful while dark is dirty and seedy; if you're somewhere in-between with olive skin, you're promptly clubbed in the latter. Fairness creams, skin-lightening cosmetic surgeries, fascination for 'gori chitti' brides, import of white foreigners to romance our film heroes or dance suggestively to item numbers in a language that they don't speak or understand — we revel in our promotion of fair skin. Many celebrity bleeding hearts have willingly endorsed fairness creams in the past. Today, they urge for 'clearer' rather than 'gori gori' skin. They have stopped only due to global campaigns deriding the obsession with fair skin. Trust me — look at their 'before-after' pictures and the hundreds of skin procedures that they have undergone to fit the accepted 'Bollywood' mould — there has been no epiphany. If the world was still blatantly demanding fair skin, many of these celebrities would be first in line for hefty endorsements.
It is needed today more than ever to see the obstacles facing many of our fellow citizens who face discrimination based on their religion, caste, skin colour or even lack of economic privilege. Let's rage against hate crimes in our own country that stems from discrimination too. Without diluting the emphatic 'Black Lives Matter', let us also agree that Indian lives matter, migrant lives matter… #AllLivesMatter.
The writer is an author and media entrepreneur