In United States and India today dark, demonic spirits seem to be gaining power. The murder of George Floyd by a policeman on 25 May, 2020, in Minneapolis has ignited an explosion of pent up anger over wide-spread racism and hatred that has for too long led to lynching of black people with impunity, especially today in the hands of America’s police. Last year India’s “Citizenship Law” unleashed pent up anger in protest around the country against this law in particular and against the Bhartiya Janata Party government’s rule of the last 5 years. The covid pandemic which has shut down the world has also opened up new channels for festering truth to break free and out into the public. Common Americans and Indians realise that they have to confront more serious viruses of racism and communalism and casteism than the one responsible for recent pandemic.
The US is witness to unprecedented outpouring on streets of all people, not merely blacks or people of colour. It reflects the resentment with the system and the underlying disagreement with a pernicious ideology of racism and xenophobia which had begun to raise its head and was responsible for bringing the present President to power. US has a glorious history of Presidents who stood for values which are essential to running a democracy. The Americans are known to reject candidates with blemished pasts even at the nomination stage. However, it is very difficult to find a virtue in the current President. In troubled times leaders are meant to instill confidence in people by winning their trust. But Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo had to admonish Donald Trump when he was making provocative statements. The police chief exhibited a rare courage which can come only from a firm belief in humanism. In a magnanimous gesture at some places police also went against the President’s advice to dominate the protestors by laying down their shields and batons in solidarity with the demonstrators. It certainly requires more grit to face a mob non-violently than use force against them.
The most historic of outcomes of the anti-racism protests in the wake of murder of George Floyd is the decision by Minneapolis City Council to defund the police department. Nine of the thirteen members of this council were of the view that police department was infested with racism and it was impossible to reform it. The council will work with the community to evolve a new citizen friendly public safety system. It requires even greater commitment to human values to take a decision like this one. Ultimately, a humane society should not need any police nor should nations need armies or armaments.
India has been recently criticised by the International Religious Freedom Report issued by the US State Department for various incidents like ‘cow vigilantism’ and mob-lynching. There has been systematic targetting of Muslims, Dalits and people dissenting with the Hindu supremacist ideology of the parent organisation of BJP, Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh, no less insidious than racism. The communal or casteist incidents in India can easily compete with racist incidents in the US and Europe, in numbers as well as in their gruesomeness.
But what is more dangerous is the communalisation of the system, especially the police. Police is known to be brutal everywhere. In Sri Lanka in a recent incident related to global anti-racism protests, the son of Prime Minister and former Member of Parliament, Namal Rajapaksa has condemned the assault on protestors by police and called for investigation and action against the culprit. However, in India we see the virus of communalism affecting the police similar to the virus of racism in US. In the protests against Citizenship Amendment Act and National Register of Citizens which were halted due to coronavirus lockdown, a number of cases have been registered against Muslim citizens who were the potential victims of the new law.
The Special Cell of Delhi Police is presently investigating the larger conspiracy to create unrest during Donald Trump’s visit to India and mainly enquiring or arresting Muslims citizens. People who participated in anti-CAA/NRC protests have been singled out by the police for retributive action. Whereas the reality is that the violence was started by a provocative action of the BJP leader Kapil Mishra. Police has been known for communal behaviour even from before the ascendancy to power of right wing BJP. However, it has never been so blatant. The charasteristic style of functioning of police under the BJP rule is to make victims the accused.
According to a 2017 data Blacks in US who constituted 12% of population made up 33% of prison population and according to 2011 census Muslims who are 14.2% of Indian population represent 19.7% prison population. Dalits with a 16.6% share in population contributed to 16.6% of jail population.
George Floyd’s murder has shown that people can tolerate only so much of police brutality or bias. The increasing repression in India of Muslims, Dalits and dissenters is bound to recoil one day. It is only a matter of time when demand to dismantle police departments or reform them will become widesperad. Every country or place deserves to be like Minneapolis where the legislature decides to do away with the autocratic police regime.
Irish poet Seamus Heaney left us with these words
History says, Don’t hope
On this side of the grave.
But then, once in a lifetime
The longed-for tidal wave
Of justice can rise up,
And hope and history rhyme.
So hope for a great sea-change
On the far side of revenge.
Believe that a further shore
Is reachable from here.
Believe in miracles
And cures and healing wells.
Gary Frase is an organic farmer who has lived in a Christian Ashram for 40 years in New York state and Sandeep Pandey is Vice President, Socialist Party (India). Both writers are Gandhians.