Is our activism merely urban centric?

Tags: Op-ed
Is our activism merely urban centric?
THE ALBATROSS? The midnight raid at Khirkee Extension carried out by Delhi law minister Somnath Bharti, as the head of a mob, was nothing better than a khap panchayat pronouncing guilt and meting out instant punishment
Two incidents in the past week showed us how racists, casteist and gender biased we are, add to that bigotry and selective amnesia too. In Birbhum, West Bengal, a woman was ‘officially’ gangraped on the orders of a local kangaroo court or khap panchayat. It won’t be wrong to say that this was an atrocity sanctioned by the community against a young woman guilty of loving someone from a different community. Unfortunately, I don’t see the kind of revulsion displayed last year in December, when a young woman was brutalised and murdered in Delhi, and a photojournalist was violated in the ruins of Shakti Mills in Mumbai. Is our activism urban centric? Or do we react angrily only when the cameras whirl?

The other incident was the action against the African women in Khirkee Extension in New Delhi. The raid carried out by the law minister of Delhi, Somnath Bharti, as the head of a mob, was nothing better than a khap panchayat pronouncing guilt and meting out instant punishment. I will not bother about the grievances of the local community. I will even accept the allegation that drug peddling and prostitution happened. But does that justify the demonising of the entire community of Africans living in the locality? Are we going to allow mobs to take the law in their own hands and deal with situations, because inherently we believe that blacks are vermin, women chattel and the weak expendable? Strong language, but this is our attitude.

For centuries, culturally, we have institutionalised the condemnation of the untouchables. Even Bapu and Babasaheb Ambedkar failed in their endeavour to emancipate them for the prejudices remain, the crimes against harijans are common and do not raise our collective ire. Last year, there were photographs of harijans bathing in human excreta in Bangalore. The then CM had attended a religious function where Harijans rolled on the leftovers after a community feast, which he blithely dismissed as a traditional practice. Did we as a society rise up and say that such traditions are no longer acceptable? No, there was a deafening silence.

Coming back to the Khirkee Extension incident. I am willing to believe that a few individuals from the African community were a nuisance for locals and their complaints to the authorities were falling on deaf ears. But did the local community attempt to take the other Africans into confidence and, along with them, attempt to resolve the issue? It does not seem so.

To talk about Bharti’s actions, should he not have attempted to call a meeting of both the locals and the African community and tried to resolve the issue? After all, he is the people’s representative, and not just of his voters, but of everyone. As the law minister of the state, he is responsible for all the residents of his state even if they are not from his constituency or don’t vote for him. As a minister, he should have behaved with responsibility, not like a vigilante. His actions have only added fuel to the situation and made it more vicious because now the new saviours of Delhi have lent their muscle to a mob who wanted to punish the heathens. He should have attempted to douse the fire not add fuel to it.

If the police were not acting on the complaints of the locals, Bharti could have led a delegation to the police commissioner or even the central home minister, who controls the police in the national capital. Because his intention was not to resolve the problem but score political points against the police and the Union home minister, he preferred to ‘raid’ the savages, at the head of a mob, and casually violate their civil rights and all norms of civilised behaviour. He got his moment in the spotlight as OB vans beamed his antics into our living rooms live. He was sure the ‘liberal intellectuals’ in his party would defend his antics. After all, their party was engaged in a brawl with the Union home minister, the heathens were collateral damage and not voters in any case.

We, as a nation, were affronted by the way the US treated our diplomat Vaishali Khobragade. We should look at how we behave with our women and with those we do not consider to be humans.

I sincerely apologise to my brothers and sisters from Africa for using uncivilised, abusive and racist terms for them, but I am forced to use such language to portray how racist, casteist, prejudiced and bigoted, we as a people, have become. I know, I too, am generalising in my condemnation, but a wise man has said, “It does not take the actions of a few for evil to succeed. Evil succeeds because of the silence of the majority.”

The two incidents — one in Birbhaum and the other in Khirkee Extension — reflect poorly on our society in general. No amount of adulation for Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King Jr, no amount of worshipping the plethora of female goddesses and no amount of salutations to Babasaheb Ambedkar will absolve us of being racist, casteist, gender-oppressive and bigoted.

(The writer is founder president, Mahatma Gandhi Foundation)


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