A viral video of George Floyd’s six-year-old daughter shows her saying, “Daddy changed the world”. While world-wide concern is being expressed over the killing of the Black American by US cops in broad daylight, brutally so, the streets of America are spilling out with rage, defining a new moment in the evolution of its democracy and society. Some of the protests have turned violent with cops at some places trying to quell it with violence, spiralling the public outrage. Though violence in any society should be acceptable, history is instructive that these protests, irrespective of their violent or non-violent nature, are public responses to conditions that become unbearable.
The protests are not just about George Floyd but about the systemic culture of harassment by state organs, legitimised with blanket impunity and political patronage. As the world rises up to express solidarity with the present American outrage, that has the makings of a rebellion, it is important to understand that this is not just about America but about the rampant abuse of power by the majority to crush minorities, racism and bigotry practiced in various forms almost in every part of the world. George Floyd’s case particularly highlights that when this power to exercise brutality and harassment is patronized by the state, it is an even bigger cause for concern.
This phenomenon is all too familiar in this part of the world. So, it brings out the sheer hypocrisy of many Indians including some high profiled celebrities, with their blind adulation of the West, who have joined the #BlackLivesMatter campaign, but have all along chosen to not just maintain silence over the far more brutal victimization of the Dalits, Muslims, Christians, other minorities and more recently the migrant workers. Much worse, the victimization of the latter is turned into a gala festival of celebrations by some of the deeply bigoted minds including some politicians and bureaucrats who shamelessly engage in hate speeches but are never brought to justice.
The police brutality and the culture of harassment that such Indians are aghast over have an uncanny resemblance with how police or security personnel have been dealing with Kashmir, the more recent anti-Citizens Amendment Act (CAA) campaigns in Delhi, Uttar Pradesh and other parts of the state and some of the cases of mob lynchings in which cops were found to be involved. It was in light of the backdrop of a continuing culture of harassment that the discriminatory CAA broke the barriers of patience and led to an outpouring of liberal and secular Indians on the streets. The protests first began in universities, where students were not only brutalized but also have been criminalized, many of them arrested. While one part of India rose up in defence of the constitutional values of equality, liberty, fraternity and secularism, there were discordant and shrill voices that sought to justify state brutality by vilifying the victims. Many of these people are now filled with empathy for George Floyd even though it is common knowledge how the Black African students in India bear the brunt of slurs and even physical attacks, falling in the same bracket as the socially oppressed and other minorities. Either this is a case of hypocrisy or sheer tokenism without an adequate understanding of the institutionalized and systemic persecution of a section of citizenry by the state. Neither is effective in helping bring a change.