Roar Writer Sayali Marathe and Guest Contributor Rhea Kher on the selective activism of Indians, and why it must be addressed.
The recent murder of George Floyd in the United States has started a global wave of social media activism. It has sparked outrage, giving rise to posts against racism and people showing their absolute shock and horror at the systemic nature of police brutality. Indians around the world have made their opinions on the matter heard. Additionally, alongside their proclamations of dissent, some have drawn parallels between the situation in the US and the protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act and National Registry of Citizens in India.
Others have been quick to point out the selective outrage voiced by certain communities that acknowledge police brutality in the United States but refused to do so when Indian police were attacking students and protesters during the protests of January-February 2020. Many Indians who have no affiliation with the United States were utterly repulsed by the actions of the police. However, these same Indians were not shocked when the exact same situation occurred in the state of Rajasthan in India just a few days later. A police officer was caught with his knee on a man’s neck, torturing him. One in the United States, one in India.
One incident could start a revolution in India, a country tens of thousands of miles away from the epicentre of the situation; the other didn’t even make the front page, let alone a headline.
This difference in reactions is abhorrent. The glamourisation of American news happens because Indians have been under the influence of American culture for the past 29 years, especially following the collapse of the Soviet Union. Ever since the liberalisation of the Indian economy, the fetishisation and glorification of Western countries began, and Indians took to following Western culture without a second thought – a consequence of Indian colonial history.
When the protests first began in the United States, everyone, including Indian celebrities, took to their social media handles to express solidarity with the protestors. However, the same Indian celebrities, including (but not limited to) Kareena Kapoor, Priyanka Chopra, and Tiger Shroff have never spoken a word about supporting protests against the inherently discriminatory and xenophobic Citizenship Amendment Act.
At the time, celebrities sat mum in their bubbles, claiming that they needed to “read more about the issues” and that they were “neutral”. This brings us to another issue that plagues the upper-caste Hindu society in India and abroad: that of fake neutrality and hypocrisy.
The celebrities speaking out against racism in the US have been marketing fairness creams in India for decades. In fact, India has one of the biggest fairness cream markets in the world. Fairer-skinned people are viewed through a different lens compared to those who are darker-skinned. This in itself brings about the question of why Indians refuse to speak out against skin colour divisions in India.
For many generations, Indian people have grown up around influences that promote having fairer skin. Whether it be Bollywood songs with lines such as “White white face dekhe, dilwa beating fast” (My heart beats faster after seeing your white face) and “Chittiyaan kalaaiyan” (Porcelain wrists), or passed-down home remedies on how to have fairer skin, the general population has been conditioned to believe that having fairer skin is better. It is so prevalent that many black people have spoken out against the racism they have faced in India as residents and tourists.
The notions of colourism have bled into the caste system of India, with many believing that people of a lower caste are darker than those of an upper-caste. Casteism in India is an age-old issue, and is so deeply ingrained in the psyche of the average Indian that it is not even perceived as a problem. As a result, issues faced by the lower caste are less spoken about and mostly ignored. This normalises and justifies the discrimination and issues that plague lower castes.
The inherent fear amongst the Indian population of speaking out against such issues stems from the fact that Indian children grow up learning not to question what they are told. As a result, they grow into adults that blindly accept information without seeking justification. Another reason why people do not speak out is because of the consequences they might face for doing so. If a person with unpopular or non-mainstream views speaks out, they are likely to be arrested under the sedition law. This is why news regarding the injustice faced by the lower caste often goes unnoticed.
As the world faces off against ancient ideas, Indians need to break away from the same. Although India is such a large country, with over a billion diverse people, many of them are still marginalised on the basis of their sex, caste, creed, religion, and socio-economic background. With so many denominations, the only people safe from discrimination are upper-caste Hindu men. The remainder will be reduced to a number and ridiculed beyond measure unless we dismantle old structures of patriarchy.