Fight for justice in India and USA: Similarities and faultlines

By Amina Mirza, 

While the world is fighting the invisible enemy COVID-19 – the two oldest and largest democracies, the United States and India, are fighting their minorities. The pandemic is deepening the already existing fault lines in societies of both countries.

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Historically people of colour have been discriminated and oppressed in the United States, whereas, India has a history of caste-based discrimination, which is deeply entrenched in its society and polity.

In India, besides caste, another divide that has deepened over several decades is the religious divide between Hindus and Muslims. The rise of Hindutva politics since 2014 has pushed the 200 million Muslims to the margins of Indian democracy, almost reducing them to the status of second class citizens. India witnessed a strong pushback to this marginalization in the form of anti-CAA-NRC protests in the months of December to February where millions of people took to the streets and protested against a blatantly communal citizenship law.

With #BlackLivesMatter protests in the United States, many political observers are drawing its parallels with India’s anti-CAA-NRC protests since the common sentiment between the two movements is the demand for justice and equality for the minority communities in both countries.

Similarities between anti-CAA-NRC protests of India and BlackLivesMatter protests in the US

Both anti-CAA-NRC protesters and George Floyd protesters were a mix of official equivocation, state repression, and politics of polarization, and the failure of economy and governance was also stoking dissent. Both, however, are opposed to the divisive politics of their respective regimes.

Thousands if not millions (million march in Hyderabad) have come out on the streets in several cities across India to express their opposition against the injustices against minorities.

The protests in the US and India were largely non-violent except in some instances which saw damages to properties and police brutality. The ill-treatment of Police towards the protestors remains the same, which include handed repression and stopping protestors with tear gas.

The two strongest leaders – in India and US, behaved cowardly and did not accept the criticism from the masses and responded irresponsibly.

Prime Minister Modi of India made the following statements, “CAA protests are anti-national, just like Indira Gandhi did before declaring Emergency,” “Political design behind anti-CAA protests at Jamia, Shaheen bagh”, “Protest against Pak’s atrocities on minorities,” “Violence, anarchy being justified in the name of anti-CAA protests,” “Look at Their Clothes.”

In the case of the United States, President Donald Trump tweeted against the protestors, calling them ‘thugs’, threatening to have them shot. A sample of his tweets includes, “When the looting starts, the shooting starts,” “I can’t stand back & watch this happen to a great American City, Minneapolis. A total lack of leadership. Either the very weak Radical Left Mayor, Jacob Frey, get his act together and bring the City under control, or I will send in the National Guard & get the job done right,” “These THUGS are dishonoring the memory of George Floyd, and I won’t let that happen. Just spoke to Governor Tim Walz and told him that the Military is with him all the way. Any difficulty and we will assume control but, when the looting starts, the shooting starts. Thank you!”

Difference between anti-CAA-NRC protests of India and George Floyd protests in the US

There have been hundreds of minority deaths in India, and let alone protests but no one bats an eyelid. However, in the US one death of a member of a minority community saw thousands of people protesting on the streets.

In India, we witnessed police brutality inside the university campus of Jamia Milia Islamia(JMI), Aligarh Muslim University(AMU), Jawaharlal Nehru University(JNU), etc and even in their hostel and library. In the US, we saw in Miami, St.Paul, Florida Police kneel down in solidarity with George Floyd’s protesters.

In India, during the anti-CAA protests, we have seen police beatings and custodial deaths and the indifference of politicians to blatant state violence. However, US police stepped out to show support for George Floyd demonstrators.

In India, though the protests were organized by people from all religions, it was always labelled as communal and portrayed as a Muslim protest only. No doubt that the country’s Muslims, who feel most threatened by CAA, are at the forefront of the widespread protests but members of the majority community also protested. In the case of the US, to protest the killing of George Floyd by the police in Minnesota, all Black, White, Asian, and others have marched in solidarity, to register their anger and fury against racism.

In India, many Indians agreed with the police brutality and even applauded their initiatives against protestors. In the US, all people were unitedly protesting against police brutality.

In India, mobile internet services were barred in protest areas. However, in the US, mobile internet services were not stopped.

In India, elite and celebrities from Bollywood to sports hardly spoke against CAA or injustices perpetrated against the anti-CAA protestors. However, in the US, many elites & celebrities right from Hollywood to sports spoke against the police brutality openly and questioned the authorities.

Few uncommon differences between the anti-CAA protests in India and George Floyd protests in the US were that BJP blamed anti-CAA protestors for Delhi riots, anti-CAA-NRC protestors were charged with sedition, UAPA, promoting enmity between classes, and police imposed false charges on them, and we saw witch-hunting of Muslim activists leading the protests, which is an ongoing process.

In India, we also saw BJP supporters holding a rally in support of CAA-NRC.

In the US, the common people aren’t labelling the protestors as anti-nationals and nobody is asking the protestors to leave the country.

But what is common with protests in both the countries is that protestors clearly gave a message that, “You don’t need to love your government if you have to love your country!” The Government will change after a few years, but the country will remain forever.

This reveals how the two powerful democracies are dealing with similar issues yet many differences.

In India, injustice for a particular group became a justice for the other and on the other hand in America, justice for one person has become justice for all. The picture that can be drawn from this is simple – that of ‘divided Indians’ and ‘united Americans’.

The COVID-19 pandemic is teaching us many life lessons – including to look at things with a different perspective, stop the materialistic pursuit and focus on the essentials. The current pandemic is a good reminder for humankind to be thankful for all the luxuries and privileges we possess. It is teaching us to learn to treat each other with equality, justice and dignity and set aside our personal biases and motivated agendas.