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We Need Not Condemn The US

We Need Not Condemn The US

The US is reeling under nation-wide protests sparked off by the killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer who pinned the already handcuffed 46-year-old black man for 8 Minutes and 46 Seconds on his neck.

Protests in the city of Minnesota state soon spread to more than 150 cities in all 50 states even as the main accused, Derek Chauvin has been charged with second degree murder and manslaughter and his three comrades with abetting the crime. The protests were accompanied with shocking vandalism, uncontrolled looting and the ensuing police crackdowns, brutality and excesses led by Donald Trump himself who postures himself as a ‘law and order’ president and ‘ordered’ governors to dominate the street and even tweeted ‘when the looting start, the shooting starts’. Now the protests have gone international with ‘I can’t breathe’ and ‘White lives matter’ slogans echoing everywhere.  

The history of the United States of America is marked by the shameful legal slavery of Africans and African Americans. School history books glorify the line "All men are created equal" articulated in the US Declaration of Independence in 1776 but they don’t tell us that even in the in the Constitution of the great nation the word slavery was never mentioned. How could you declare equality while continuing with the worst practice in history? Slavery in the US continued well into the 19th century as it was only in 1885 that it was abolished by the Thirteenth Amendment.

The long disgraceful intuitional slavery in the US might have officially done away with but its side effects continue. Unofficially slavery has been replaced by racism. Racism and prejudices against the black community is deep rooted. The George Floyd’s killing is just the latest in a series of similar incidents in the US in recent years involving the police. A study in 2017 revealed that officers speak with less respect towards the black people than with the white community. Overt racism in the ‘world leader’ nation led to the killing of the man accused of presenting a counterfeit 20 dollar bill, in broad daylight and on camera. 

Racism permeates in all walks of life all over the globe. Sports fans are familiar with humiliating and traumatic ‘monkey’ and ‘anti-Semitic’ chants black sports men and women face in stadia. Racism in sports is even more 'epidemic' than COVID-19 and have brought popular sports like football into disrepute. In spite of world sports associations like IOC and FIFA’s "No-to-Racism," initiative disturbing trends of racism continues in US and Europe unabatedly. As sports only 'mirror the society at large' racism pervades in all spheres of human interactions.

India has no reason to console itself as far as racism is concerned.  North eastern students and migrants face ugly racism, discrimination, and bullying in mainland India on a regular basis. In cities like Delhi, Mumbai, Bangeluru, Pune and Chennai, the north easterners are called ‘pinkis’, ‘Chinese’, ‘coronavirus’ because they look different. During the lockdown there was a case where students from Nagaland were denied entry in a Mysuru Supermarket. Another incident took place in Bengaluru where a man barged into an apartment of Women from Northeast branding them 'Corona Carriers’.

Exclusion and discrimination seems to have acquired DNA status in India. It is in our psyche. If the US has racism, India has casteism. And casteism is much older than racism. Originating in ancient India, it was exploited by the ruling elites, priests and ascetics in medieval and modern India, particularly during the Mogul Empire and the British Raj. The British even segregated Indians by caste and granted certain administrative jobs only to people belonging to certain castes till as late as the 1920s. However, we need not blame the British because, though banned in 1948 and negative discrimination replaced by affirmative actions, the evil is far from waning. To this day Dalits are still the most sufferers of this engrained system.

Minorities in India are in a suffocating situation. Hindu extremists have a hatred for Muslims. Vile rants, abuses, physical violence and lynching are a norm. It is not just the loose cannons that are anti-Muslims, the government of the day has demonstrated the same attitude. The abolition of 370 in JK, its demotion into union territories and the subverting of civil rights raises serious questions of the negative treatment by the present regime towards Muslims. The passage of Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) is a brazen anti-Muslim legislation.

Christians no longer live in an enviable environment in India. With regular attacks on their institutions and personnel, threats of physical violence, sexual assaults, killing of Christian priests , Christians face more and more discrimination. For the record in August 2017, the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), ranked India’s persecution severity at “Tier 2” along with Iraq and Afghanistan. Last year India rose from No. 31 to No. 10 on ‘Open Doors’ Watch List, only one place better than Iran, in global persecution severity. In 2020 USCIRF has placed India as ‘Tier-1’ in minority persecution with North Korea and Pakistan for company.

India has extended support to George Floyd’s movement but many have termed the move hypocritical as the situation back home is no better. The alleged police excesses in JK, mob lynchings, police brutality against anti-CAA protesters and the ruthless and inhuman police treatment of the poor during the lockdowns are examples of the most recent memory without reminding ourselves of the past and digging into history.  Ironically, the graphic and chilling videos of Chauvin’s kneeling on Floyd are freely circulated here in the country but we conveniently forget that we have in possession an abundant of worse cases.

In Meghalaya we have records of police excesses and extra judicial killing. In 2009 a criminal named Fullmoon Dhar along with seven undertrial prisoners escaped from a Shillong jail. The next day police shot him dead in a suspected fake encounter. There were allegations that the hard core criminal was linked to well-known politicians in the state. Even after eleven years the case has moved little, Was the jail breaker killed in a fake or genuine encounter? Will we ever know the truth? Another sensational case is of a militant leader, Sohan D Shira. In 2018 the chief of the then most dreaded militant group called Garo National Liberation Army (GNLA) was gunned down by the police in an ‘encounter,’  till date little light has been shed on the killing of the rebel. Should anyone be branded as criminal and then be ‘executed’ in an ‘encounter’?

What about racism? Are we free from the curse? In Khasi Hills we have the word ‘dkhar’ and in Garo Hills ‘bangal’ to describe ‘outsiders’. In other tribal states in North East similar words exists for non-tribals. Are they not racist terms? The words have degrading, belittling and even despising connotation. Should we continue to use them? Non-tribal would also narrate instances of violence against the community at different points in time in the region. While we complaint of racism in other parts of India should we not look into ourselves?

Recently a MLA in Meghalaya, Adelbert Nongrum stirred a controversy of sort. He prayed and read the Bible in the Legislative Assembly. His actions in the Legislative Assembly pleased a few enthusiasts. In the light the American scenario let us test ourselves. Besides racism, the US has issues also with ‘White and Christian supremacy’. There are lot of people out there who still think that the whites are superior than others. There lot of Americans who say Christianity is superior to other religions. Many too of us have somehow, consciously or unconsciously, been trapped into the notion and consider white and Christianity as superior.

Historically, the North East was evangelised by European and American whites. We admire and appreciate them. But did we accept them because of the colour of their skin? If they were blacks from Africa would we have accepted them readily? If they were browns from Japan or Korean or bearded Arabs would we open our doors to them? Hypothetical questions do reveal a lot of ourselves. If George Floyd were white would have he been killed? We the non-whites too may still hold on to the idea that whites are superior breeds.

In 2014 a world renowned personality was appointed administrator of a Church’s administrative unit in the ‘Abode of Clouds’. Shockingly clergymen there rejected him. If he were a white from Europe or America would have he been humiliated the same way? Would attempts been made to instigate a boycott of the official? Would have that unkind letter been passed around for signatures? In what way is this action not racism?  

With reference to Nongrum’s controversial act a person reached out to me saying ‘Meghalaya being a Christian majority state we should have the privilege of reading the Bible and praying the Christian way in the Assembly’. This is called majoritarianism. This is exactly what Hindu nationalist groups say ‘we being the majority can chant ‘Jai Shri Ram’ in parliament, minorities can’t’, ‘we can declare India a Hindu state, other religions are subservient’, ‘we can perform puja in parliament, minorities can’t’. It is presumed we in Meghalaya resist this majoritarian attitude. If we reject majoritarianism at the national level, it is not hypocritical to be exponents of the same in Meghalaya or Nagaland or Mizoram? We are treading a dangerous path.

(Published on 15th June 2020, Volume XXXII, Issue 25)