The escalating crisis caused by the murder of George Floyd has confirmed that irrational beliefs and unthinking prejudice can only ever lead civilised society to a path of ruin
Even after so much scientific and technological advancement, instead of rationally accepting the varied nature of creation, people are still obsessed with inhuman prejudices of race, colour, sex, religion, caste, etc. As a result, the boiling lava of bottled up insults and pent up anger, latent among the helpless victims, keeps erupting. However, while the killing of George Floyd by an apolitical white policeman has spurred the United States into protests, in India, hundreds of killings of religious minorities by politically-driven police, and lynching by mobs of right-wing bigots, do not stir the souls of HR activists and the higher courts, showing the indifference of our society ridden with several prejudices.
In our country, where a female child is still unwanted, obsession for fair-skin is the staple fodder for the beauty industry. We are enamoured by fair-skinned film and public personalities; a pitch-dark boy demands to have a milky-fair bride; grandmas advise pregnant women to consume saffron to bear fair babies and people treat a fair child preferentially, unmindful of the hurt and inferiority complex caused to the dark ones. It is to shun such discrimination that our rational ancestors deified some dark or monkey-faced characters in our mythology — like Kali, Krishna and Hanuman. Vedas along with our culture teaches us oneness of humanity irrespective of differences in shape, features, race and colour; and science emphatically tells us that, beneath the skin, all humans have the same organs and same blood in their veins that can be shared when needed.
Yet, irrational prejudices and discriminations continue. We still look down upon people of SCs and STs. We mock and tease people of the NE, yellow-skinned, with Mongolian features, calling them 'Chinkies'. Added to several such narrow-minded thoughts is the politically-sponsored discrimination of people of the Islamic faith.
In this ethos, not uncommonly, we take liberty in name-calling, spitting, stone-throwing, etc., at people of African origin. But, we feel miffed only when Indians get a dose of discrimination in countries where 'white' is a symbol of racial superiority.
Apostles stood for peace and harmony. George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King Jr, all fought against racism. When Martin Luther King Jr was shot dead in 1968, Robert F Kennedy spoke about how the country had to move past the terrible moments of racial strife — a choice comment that was later credited with preventing further unrest. Yet, the incident of George Lloyd is only a spectral line in the continuum of discrimination.
Apparently taken off-guard in an election year, after the Coronavirus debacle, Donald Trump is trying to retrieve some lost ground. However, his suggestion that authorities could respond with violence to the ongoing protests and calling the protesters 'thugs' by reviving a civil-rights-era phrase fraught with racist overtones, have only served to fuel the fire further. In these troubled waters, like in the last election, he is again stoking the feelings of superiority of whites by appealing to the economically marginalised among them, forcing people to believe that he is the symptom and cause of the disease and resultant unrest.
Although a $1,200 stimulus cheque has been given to ten per cent of the 35 crore population who lost their jobs due to Coronavirus, it is not extended to all those who have not lost their jobs but are not getting salaries. Similarly, losing the lives of over one lakh people is unbelievable to the citizens of the United States, where, there is no government health service and hospital bills are prohibitive; and, billionaires in the insurance and health industry are on their way to becoming trillionaires. The youth are also frustrated as corporates become richer still and the poor only get poorer. And people like Berny Sanders, who advocate free health services and increased taxation of the rich to help the poor, are not nominated to contest the Presidency
Non-whites reaching the top is not an adequate solution since they get incorporated in the system in which corporates have a stranglehold so that all policies and actions are pro-rich. Cumulatively, the tension resulting from such skewed systems operating brazenly in America's democratic setup has finally come to a boil with the latest act of injustice in the form of the killing of George Floyd.
US police, an autonomous organisation, professionally sound, secure in their tenures, equipped to the teeth, like the army, has wide powers disproportionate to their accountability. It is so free from political interference that the Houston police chief, who is white, can even tell President Trump "to shut his mouth if he cannot come out with constructive plans". However, the US has witnessed a history of police brutality against non-whites, as if they carry with them a racial prejudice. There are now widespread demands for curbs on their powers and the kind of equipment they work with.
The flare-up in the US brings our focus back to our country where politics is business, democratic institutions are being choked and dissent decimated with active roles of police and media as SC looks on.
Not surprisingly, Indian police, with shaky tenures for officers and being at the mercy of the Government for resources, are at its beck and call to perform even illegal tasks like killing people in encounters and sabotaging cases against the cronies of those in power. MP police beat up a bearded advocate mistaking him to be a Muslim. Displaying the ethos of brutal colonial times, a constable kneels on a man's neck for not wearing a mask. And, in the absence of a 'will' from any political party for police reforms to make it an autonomous organisation as recommended by several police commissions and as ordered by the SC, professionalism gets thwarted. Under these circumstances, irrational religious prejudices and religious bigotry of those in power go unabated.
They care the least to recall that men of science and rational thoughts, whose discoveries and learnings unify humanity. Similarly, as and when religions got steeped into superstition, irrational rituals and practices, enlightened apostles made the course correction. Buddha rebelled against the prevailing practices and rituals of Hinduism. So did Christ who set an example of sacrifice. The Prophet spoke about universal brotherhood. Guru Nanak rebelled against irrational rituals and strove to become a symbol of harmony between the Hindus and Muslims. They were all men of rational thoughts, and like science, worked for the welfare of humanity in general.
Yet, our irrational rulers can misguide our society by way of irrational, divisive beliefs that deny the efforts of the learned and the enlightened. They provide tacit support to bigots in lynching people, attacking bars and discos, desecrating churches and chapels. It is this irrationality that is causing immense harm to our country apart. The handling of the Coronavirus crisis is yet another episode that confirms the irrationality of the administration.
To give a contrasting example, the confirmed cases of Coronavirus in Vietnam only amount to 350 with zero deaths because they acted rationally in time, whereas, preoccupied with politics, we started late. Without planning or adequate preparation, we instituted a severe lockdown that caused a historical human crisis for migrant workers. Now, we have achiev the dubious distinction of being among the four most-affected countries, along with the US, Brazil, and Russia. With about 10,000 new cases adding every day, with the peak yet to reach, and the alarming second wave yet to come, matters are really worrisome. And yet, we continue onward, with those in power trivialising the plight of the poor and the disadvantaged in an entirely inhuman fashion, labelling the critics of the Government as mere 'vultures'. All for what? Rajiv Bajaj rightly said that the Government has flattened the wrong curve — of GDP, not of Coronavirus. Irrationality it seems, can only ever lead to human suffering.
The writer is a retired IPS officer and a former Member of Public Grievances Commission, Delhi. Views expressed are personal