The city of Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA, recently saw an instance of police brutality against an African-American man named George Floyd, which resulted in his death. It triggered protests, not just in the United States, but in other countries as well. As with many protests of such a magnitude, these turned violent really quickly. There was widespread rioting in several cities where public property was destroyed, shops were looted and an entire building, multiple stories high, was set on fire.
It is hardly a big leap of logic that this “protest” that professed the much-abused phrase “Black Lives Matter” sparked tremendous controversy and enormous backlash. Inevitably, the issue and the discussion surrounding it has reached India.
The whole subject was twisted by every side in their own way, some of which is genuinely justifiable, but mostly a highly discomforting bunch of false and unwarranted equivalences.
Since the popular political discourse in India is broadly divided into the binary of Left and non-Left, we’re forced to discuss the issue within that frame.
The Left in India largely copies their agenda from the American Left, making it much more pernicious in their effort to make it suit the Indian context. They’re not even clever enough to disguise it properly or make coherent equivalences.
While these are issues where most Indians don’t have any skin in the game, they must still be discussed for a very specific reason. It is because the Indian Left is to the Indian political discourse is akin to what certain composers are to Bollywood music. Sure, the output is seemingly unique and pleasing to fans, but, even a marginally aware music enthusiast can spot the blatant plagiarism beneath the revamped tone, typically vernacular styles and desi lyrics.
For anyone following the nerve of Indian political Twitter discourse, it is easy to spot two broad (and false) equivalences drawn to the #BLM movement. One section equates the blacks with Dalits (#DalitLivesMatter) and the other equates them with Muslims (#MuslimLivesMatter).
Dalits:India :: Blacks:USA???
Dalits, or the “lower caste” people, most certainly have a claim to make when it comes to a righteous anger for all the atrocities that were visited upon them, by the “upper caste” Hindus, Muslims and Christians alike. Only an ignorant person would overlook the tremendous evil visited upon them by the latter two, unless the person is selective. It is malicious to do so and just malign Hindus.
It must be acknowledged that Dalits were indeed handed a raw deal. They were deprived of basic things like drinking water from a well. Even a cursory look at the biography of Dr. Ambedkar is enough to make anyone with a smidgen of a conscience have several sleepless nights. And there’s tonnes of atrocity literature to speak for it.
A Historical Perspective
Is the past of Dalits really comparable in this sense to that of the Negroes? Are these “protesters” disregarding the historical contexts of these two oppressed communities?
Tragedies should not be compared in a vulgar manner, granted. The only reason I bring myself to do it here is in order to question the basis of the Left’s utterly irresponsible comparisons and false equivalences.
Africans were chained, stripped of every last bit of dignity, transported to whole different continents, sold like cattle and were made to work in the most inhuman conditions. For an average Indian, it is hard to know the impact of several centuries of this brutal slave trade simply because they are not taught this, at any level, with the appropriate gravity.
A study of slavery cannot exactly be understood by many of us, partly also because the tragedy seems so impersonal and distant for Indians in general, even though that has not been the case. Well, NCERT does discuss slave trade. It includes brief discussions on the Triangular Slave Trade, but one can always read further. It also discusses the fact that Indians were also traded as slaves to several Western countries to work in plantations. But, it is a tragedy long forgotten by Indians. In fact, I remember that we used to wonder as kids, how West Indies had players with Indian-like names, never realizing the tragedy behind it.
The cruelty of this trade was so crippling to millions of people that the trauma can only be described as trans generational in its extent. This led to an immense churn in the Western world, particularly among the classical liberal philosophers and thinkers of the same period as it was practised. Many such people openly spoke about and wrote extensively against this inhuman practice.
Several foundational leaders of America were against slavery, but it still took 80 odd years to formally abolish it. Even after that, it was another 100 years of struggle to obtain civil rights for them. And all of this is still just on paper. On the ground, the realities are not so rosy.
Sure, Dalits have been treated horribly for a long time. Centuries, even. But the atrocities visited upon them, do not even compare to that of blacks. They weren’t transported across continents or forced to work in mines and plantations, till the time they died of physical exhaustion. So, this comparison, in my opinion, is utterly dishonest.
Muslims And Their “Oppression” In India
Now, coming to the second part, where the blacks are compared to Muslims in India, even this comparison is absurd. It doesn’t even take more than a moment to understand this.
Historically, in a large portion of our nation, Muslims were the ruling class. For a long time, under the Islamic rule, several tyrannical practices like forced conversions, massacres and Jizya have been very well documented. Right up to 1947, in Hyderabad, several places were still ruled by Muslims. So, it can be safely argued with almost complete certainty, that there is no historical argument for the oppression of Muslims, and especially not by the supposed perpetrators of such oppression, the upper caste Hindus, Brahmins in particular.
What Can We Do?
Make no mistake, it is not as if the Left in India is succeeding, uncontested, in all its endeavors to draw these parallels at all levels. No. Many issues are such that they require massive public participation (like CAA or even NRC) in order to make any impact on present or proposed policy, which is why the non-Left still has a chance to sway public opinion away from any extreme cultural sectarianism and move towards the clearly better option, that of individualism.
It is a steep hill to climb, though. If the trends on Twitter are a reflection of anything about the current situation of the Indian political discourse, the non-Left, in its answer to the Left’s identity politics, plays identity politics of its own, becoming more and more rigid and dogmatic and tribal, instead of becoming more individualistic. The non-Left engages in its own boycott culture, like when Indians collectively decided to crucify Deepika Padukone’s Chhapaak after she appeared in the anti-CAA roadblock, or even Taapsee Pannu’s Thappad.
We, time and again, see this word “ecosystem” being thrown around. But forming an ecosystem mirroring that of the Left will only encourage inbreeding and mediocrity and will end up becoming a similar cesspool of incompetence and corruption, as theirs has.
We must learn from the Western experience, learn what their Left does and what their Right relies upon as the answer. They fall back upon their foundational principles of Judeo-Christian ethics and morality, combined withGreco-Roman logic and reasoning and traditions of debate.
Each one of us must read, understand, internalize and apply the reasoning and morality expounded by great personalities in our own culture.
Playing the game by the rules set by the Left, rules based on moral relativist principles (everything being a zero-sum game and that there is nothing right or wrong, only identity groups fighting for dominance), and Woke Culture is something that must be consciously avoided while also not falling for the temptation of becoming completely rigid in our ideas like the Abrahamic fundamentalists.
I sincerely hope we get our acts together (yes, “acts”, as individuals, not “act”, as a collective) and prepare our arguments for when the Left starts its iconoclastic assault on our shared values and principles, as their Western colleagues have already partially succeeded in doing in many areas, e.g. the definition of gender, national borders, free speech, the institution of marriage or even the concept of private and public property in some cases (the “occupy” movements) .
India must be able to stop their ideological advances and stand as an example in front of the world. And we really can do that.
As I often say on Twitter, I am a stupid optimist, that way.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own.
Amogh Manthalkar is an electronics engineer and a research scholar in photonics. He is an amateur musician and reads and sometimes writes. He is mostly interested in physics, philosophy and politics.