This week, India chose to tweet about #BlackLivesMatter. In fact, the hashtag was a trending topic on our Twitter Thursday. That same day the decomposed body of Mohan Lal Sharma, a jobless labourer, was found in Lucknow’s railway station. Just a day earlier, a video of another labourer, Arvina Khatun, went viral — it was of her child nudging her dead body at a railway station in Muzaffarpur. Last Saturday, India saw two policemen brutally beat a man unconscious in Madhya Pradesh’s Chhindwara.
And yet, some Indians seem to have answered the clarion call of ‘Black Lives Matter’ much faster. The hashtag was used in India by virulently Right-wing social media accounts, clueless teenagers looking to gain some woke credits, and Bollywood celebrities, such as Kareena Kapoor and Priyanka Chopra, who have previously remained silent on atrocities in their own country. An important US movement was thus reduced to a desi farce.
‘Black Lives Matter’ is a movement that tackles institutional racism in the US, especially the systemic violence against Black men by the largely White police force. When 46-year-old George Floyd died Monday after being pinned down by White policeman Derek Chauvin, the entire state of Minneapolis rose in violent opposition. That fire is still burning.
But for many Indians, this became another opportunity for low-stake solidarity on Twitter and Instagram. Let’s be clear, George Floyd deserves our support. But to do justice to him, we must fix our own house first.
From ‘goli maaro’ to Black Lives Matter
So, who are these people who have woken up to the racism in the US?
Let’s start with the people whose support is almost a tragicomedy — Indian Right-wingers on Twitter. Twitter user Vishwajeet Singh Chauhan was so incensed by Floyd’s death that he went as far as to say “the world’s richest democracy is a cruel joke”. He also noted, “Police lynching is not just in India”. But if one scrolls down his account, there are various retweets calling the Tablighi Jamaat event a ‘jihad’, and even BJP leader Kapil Mishra’s tweet attacking “biryani waale” and “azaadi waale”. To refresh everyone’s memory, Mishra was the one who proudly declared“goli maaro saalon ko” in December.
Another Twitter account by the name of ‘Sherlock Holmes’ (no kidding), who is a self-proclaimed Right-winger, appealed to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar to call out the violence in America. There are no posts asking the Prime Minister to help send the labourers home. But there are several anti-Christian tweets and news retweeted from Republic TV. ‘Holmes’ also supports Kapil Mishra and includes him in his list of “brilliant set of orators, hard workers and achievers”.
With rarely any knowledge of the history and experiences behind the Black Lives Matter movement, for most Indians, it is just about jumping on an online bandwagon, pointing a finger at the US, or appearing up-to-date. It is also far less risky on social media to call out racism in America than casteism or Islamophobia in India. And some, don’t even see the similarities.
Only the Indian Right-wing, masculine, upper-caste individuals, who often promote violent narratives themselves, will not find it hypocritical to condemn a killing like George Floyd’s, which had it happened in India, would have never been defended by the likes of them.
Performative wokeness of Kareena and Priyanka
Then comes the ivory tower lot.
Actor Kareena Kapoor’s latest Instagram post was the latest cover of Time magazine, which highlighted how racism is a continuing problem in the US. Khan very eloquently put a heartbreak emoji next to #BlackLivesMatter. A cursory glance at her Instagram account, which is quite sparse by the site’s standards, shows that she has never posted about the workers’ crisis after the sudden lockdown, anti-CAA protests or rampant anti-Muslim atrocities.
Although to be fair, you cannot expect much from someone who refers to herself as KKK.
Hollywood/Bollywood actor Priyanka Chopra also dropped a solidarity message for George Floyd, but that begs the question, where was (or rather is) her solidarity for millions of Indians walking home on foot after the Narendra Modi government abandoned them? Granted, she lives in the US, but she keeps harping on her Indian identity. But she did clap from her US balcony though.
Ranvir Shorey joined the solidarity train, and tweeted: “How and why do human beings in uniform turn so vicious to their fellow human beings? Power corrupts. Power kills.” A commenter soon pointed out to the actor that he hadn’t said anything when the Delhi Police beat Muslim men and forced them to sing the national anthem while lying injured on the ground.
All of this boils down to performative wokeness and pretence. It seems like Bollywood is only concerned with what is fashionable.
Everyone is used to the film industry’s silence, and at this point, no one expects much out of them. But with such selective activism only to get some brownie points or to just appear intellectual, it is infuriating. Especially when the likes of Sonu Sood, and now Amitabh Bachchan, belatedly, prove that their privilege and resources can actually help in tangible ways.
Police brutality in India
Now that policeman Derek Chauvin has been charged with manslaughter and third-degree murder, who kneed and kneeled on Floyd’s neck as he struggled to breathe, will Indians trending Black Lives Matter protest against encounter killings and police brutality in India too?
We live in a country where extrajudicial killings by the police have been nothing short of norm, especially in places like Kashmir, and where the police have actively engaged in violence against students and minorities — as seen by incidents in Jamia Milia Islamia, Aligarh Muslim University, Jawaharlal Nehru University just last year.
During protests against the controversial Citizenship (Amendment) Act all over the country last year, over 31 people lost their lives. But to us, the pictures from Minneapolis pasted across worthy newspapers look more striking, more heartbreaking.
It is important to note that silence equals complicity. And performance is not equal to solidarity.
Racism in India
The biggest irony in all of this is that Indians are racists themselves. Anything short of milky, White skin needs to be scrubbed to oblivion.
People from the northeast are treated like foreigners, and not in a white memsahab way. And Africans are called all sorts of names like ‘kaalu’, ‘kalote’ — all some variation of ‘black’.
Unlike White foreigners who are nothing short of worshipped here, Black students and tourists are often viewed suspiciously, are dealt with rudely and vilified.
This has taken violent turns more than once. A Nigerian national was killed in 2013 in Goa, reportedly due to a drug war. The following year, the infamous ‘raids’ on African women was conducted by AAP leader Somnath Bharti for allegedly running a prostitution racket. In February 2016, a Tanzanian female student was beaten and stripped by a violent mob in Bengaluru. In March 2017, Africans in Greater Noida lived in fear for their lives after rumours spread that they were drug dealers.
The narrative is the same. You are the other and you will never be one of us. Newsflash: that is exactly what Black Lives Matter stands against.
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