When Will Indians Take The Knee?
A look at the 'Black Lives Matter' movement, and how a similar awakening in India is long overdue.
Hazel Gandhi, Managing Editor
Illustration by Suryansh Srivastava
It is no secret that the Black Lives Matter movement has revolutionized the way people have been looking at race issues, not just in the US, but worldwide. However, this protest sets itself apart from the others. What is so different about this particular protest is the fact that it not only indulged in effective demonstration of dissent but actually resulted in a constructive change in policy. Or, at least got the ball rolling in a perpetually broken system of inequality. The Justice in Policing Act of 2020 that bans chokeholds and mandates training in racial profiling to the disbanding of police forces in New Jersey, Kansas and other states alike are some key examples.
However, in a first of its kind display, several white people in Houston, Texas, were seen taking a knee in front of their black neighbours as a way of seeking redemption for years of slavery and systemic racism inflicted upon them. Even though effective discourse in terms of law and order is still a long way to go, this is definitely a step forward on the social and cultural front. It might not seem like a lot but the social shift in values is part of a larger sentiment that has been long overdue.
When we look at the situation back home, it is surprising how one can find so many similar parallels, if not identical, of systemic injustices in our own country. Right from the passing of anti-constitutional and discriminatory laws like the CAA and NRC at the political level, to the social prejudices inflicted upon the Dalit community and other minorities that one sees in everyday life, India has problems that are much worse and deeply rooted in our society. And yet, more Indians have spoken up about the BLM movement than they have about any of the issues like colourism, casteism, LGBTQ+ rights collectively.
While it is great to support a global cause that has grappled society for a long time now, it is about time we look at similar problems back home.
While it is great to support a global cause that has grappled society for a long time now, it is about time we look at similar problems back home. So, how does it happen? What makes the west’s movement so different from ours? There are essentially three parts or phases that go into changing the system, according to me. Some of these are already in progress in certain parts of the country, but we are still far from doing what needs to be done. These are the steps that have typically gone into shaping some of the greatest movements of the world, including the BLM movement, and we can certainly draw inspiration from these.
Instances of social prejudice are so prevalent in our society that we fail to even bat an eye in the face of these commonplace issues that have now become the norm. This problem cannot only be owed to the older generations but even to the younger generations that are relatively well-informed. We appear to strive for equality but in our everyday interactions, we too are responsible for establishing a divide. We are all guilty of calling people names like Kaalu and Cheeni at least at some point in our lives, or even treating the underprivileged as lesser than in some or the other way.
From politicians to bureaucrats alike, we are living in constant denial. People in positions of power never address the caste-based lynchings that are a norm in the northern parts of the country. They do not address the plight of the Dalits and Adivasis that is mostly the result of oppression by the upper caste. If our leaders keep deliberately dodging these issues, we cannot expect to have conversations about the same anytime soon.
The only reason why casual name-calling and cultural appropriation has stuck around is because we have coddled that behaviour for ages. To some extent, we are also guilty of encouraging and defending it in the name of playful teasing. It is only after accepting that this is what fuels the prejudice in the future, will we be able to look at this matter objectively and move further in this whole process.
Strong-footed change will stem only from discomfort and unease within the minds of the people. It is only after years of being uncomfortable around racist actions and comments has the West finally been pushed over the edge and been able to stage a globally revolutionizing movement.
Yes, our newspapers are filled with columns and columns of daily reports of this. It is natural to read these reports, maybe shrug a bit, and get back to our routines in the blink of an eye.
The way we look at caste-based injustices is an issue in itself. Yes, our newspapers are filled with columns and columns of daily reports of this. It is natural to read these reports, maybe shrug a bit, and get back to our routines in the blink of an eye. But a Dalit boy getting shot by the upper class for trying to worship is not something we should be desensitized to. A man getting killed by a mob of 100 over suspicion of carrying beef is not something we should get used to reading. If we do not squirm with discomfort when we come across incidents like these, something is definitely wrong . Only when we can no longer stand this discomfort, and living with this uneasiness becomes physically impossible, will we be able to speak up against them.
We might be able to brush these issues aside and carry on with life. But, this discomfort will slowly resurface when we are having conversations about such issues with our children, or perhaps anyone from the younger generation. It is a very delicate issue to talk about and admitting that we too might have been a small part of the wrongdoing is challenging, to say the least.
But this is the need of the hour. We’re not just fulfilling our inherent duties, but also saving our children from the burden of being a contributor to someone else’s despair. Teach them that they can never be an apolitical or passive observer, especially in today’s socio-political climate. You either speak up against it, or you enable it. There is no in-between.
Using Freedom Of Speech To Speak Up
Let us take an example from our own political situation. If somebody today tried to speak up against these issues, or possibly blame the current administration, they would surely face some backlash. Our country cannot even hold peaceful protests without getting section 144 imposed. Effective change cannot take place if voices of dissent are suppressed. If a political system does not encourage criticism, or at least let it exist in diverse forms , all of the above steps would be rendered futile.
The main reason any constructive change takes place is mainly because somebody takes the opus to talk about it t. Prime examples of this are the Pride movement, that started in the 1950s and today, it is one of the most powerful global movements. Another example is the #MeToo movement, which was started by Tarana Burke in 2007. It gained momentum years later, helping many women avail justice against sexual harassment.
This can happen only if there is accessibility to a sense of freedom of speech in the country. Since a revolution starts from a small place, it is easy for a government with totalitarian principles to suppress these voices. It is only when these people speak up does the media cover them, followed by doing stories on them, and then the movements gain the national traction that they deserve. Without freedom of speech, these movements can be uprooted in their early stages and oppression continues.
These three parts are extremely essential to social reforms and constructive improvements in policy. This is a very long process, and if any of these steps are not fulfilled, India is far from taking the knee and repenting for her mistakes. We owe a lot to the people we have wronged. Change begins only when we take the first step towards it. It is a difficult process, but it is exactly the awakening that our country needs.
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