Lives of Marginalised Matter: When Will Their Suffocation End?

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People march through the streets of New Orleans on Wednesday, June 3, 2020, during a protest over the death of George Floyd, who died after being restrained by police in Minneapolis. — AP

PROF RAM PUNIYANI | Clarion India

IN Minneapolis, US an African American, George Floyd, lost his life as white policeman Derek Chauvin caught hold of him and put his knee on his neck. This is a technique developed by Israel police. For nine long minutes the knee of the White policeman was on the neck of George, who kept shouting, “I can’t breathe”.

Following this gruesome murder, America erupted in protests aptly called ‘Black lives matter’. The protestors were not just African Americans but also a large section of Whites. Within the US one police chief apologised for the act. In a touching gesture of apology, the police force came on its knees. This had reverberations in different parts of the world.

The act was the outcome of the remnant of racial hatred in the Whites against the Blacks. It is the hatred the perceptions which are at the root of such acts of violence. What was also touching was that the state of democracy in the US is so deep-rooted that even the police apologised to the nation while the Whites and the Blacks stood up as a sensitive collective against the violence.

The US is not the only country where the brutal acts of violence torment marginalised sections of the society. In India, there is a list of dalits, minorities and adivasis who are regularly subjected to such acts. But the reaction is very different. We have witnessed the case of Tabrez Ansari, who was tied to the pole by a mob and beaten ruthlessly. When he was taken to a police station, the police took enough time to take him to hospital and Tabrez died.

Mohsin Sheikh, a Pune techie, was murdered by Hindu Rashtra Sena mob on the day Modi came to power in 2014. Afrazul was killed by Shambhulal Regar, videotaped the act and released it on social media. Regar believed that Muslims are indulging in love Jihad, so deserve such a fate. Mohammad Akhlaq is one among many names who were lynched on the issue of beef. The list can fill pages after pages.

Recently, a young dalit boy was shot dead for entering a temple. In Una four dalits were stripped above waste and beaten mercilessly. Commenting on this act, Union Minister Ramvilas Paswan said it was a minor incident. Again the list of atrocities against dalits is long enough. The question is what Paswan is saying is the typical response to such gruesome murders and tortures.

In the US, loss of a single Black life evoked the democratic and humane response. In India, there is a general silence in response to these atrocities. Some times after a good lapse of time, the prime minister will utter, ‘Mother Bharati has lost a son’. Most of the time victim is blamed. Some social groups raise their voice in some fora but by and large the deafening silence from the country is the norm.

India is regarded as the largest democracy. Democracy is the rule of law, and the ground on which the injustices are opposed. In America, though the present President is an insensitive person, its institutions and processes of democratic articulations are strong. The institutions have deepened their roots though prejudices may be guiding the actions of some of the officers like the killer of George, there are also police officers who can tell their President to shut up if he has nothing meaningful to say on the issue.

The prejudices against the Blacks may be prevalent and deep in character, still there are large sections of the society which stand up on the principles of ‘Black lives matter’. There are large sections of vocal population which can protest the violation of basic norms of democracy and humanism.

In India, by contrast there are multiple reasons as to why the lives of Tabrez Ansari, Mohammad Akhlaq, Una dalit victims and their likes don’t matter. Though we claim to be a democracy, insensitivity to injustices is on the rise. The strong propaganda against the people from margins has become so vicious during the last few decades that any violence against them has become a sort of new normal. The large populace, though disturbed by such brutalities, is also fed on the strong dose of biases against the victims. The communal forces have a great command over effective section of media and a large section of social media, which generates hate against these disadvantaged groups, thereby the response is muted, if at all.

As such also the process of deepening of our democracy has been weak. Democracy is a dynamic process; it’s not a fixed entity. Decades ago, workers and dalits could protest for their rights. Now even if peasants make strong protests, dominant media presents it as blocking of traffic! How the roots of democracy are eroded and are visible in the form where the criticism of the ruling dispensation is labelled as anti National..

Our institutions have been eroded over a period of time, and these institutions coming to the rescue of the marginalised sections have been now become unthinkable. The outreach of communal, divisive ideology, the ideology which looks down on minorities, dalits and adivasis has risen by leaps and bounds.

The democracy in India is gradually being turned into a hollow shell, the rule of law being converted into rule of an ideology, which does not have faith in Indian Constitution, which looks down upon pluralism and diversity of this country, which is more concerned for the privileges of the upper caste, rich and affluent.

The crux of the matter is the weak nature of democracy, which was on way to become strong, but from decades of 1980s, as emotive issues took over, the strength of democracy started dwindling, and that’s when the murders of the types of George Floyd, become passé. One does complement the deeper roots of American democracy and its ability to protect the democratic institutions, which is not the case in India, where protests of the type, which were witnessed after George Floyd’s murder may be unthinkable, at least in the present times.

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Ram Puniyani is an eminent author, activist and former professor of IIT Mumbai. The views are personal and Clarion India does not necessarily share or subscribe to them.

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