NEWS OPINION

“I can’t speak”: Looking at the George Floyd Murder alongside the CAA-NRC-CAB Protests

Photo by munshots on Unsplash
Written by Apurva Prasad

Diary entry:

11th January 2020

…The besides the imposing Georgian architecture of C.P (Connaught Place) and the elegant symmetry of Jantar Mantar;

 The water cannon to my right looks disappointingly banal. 

***

Image taken by author near Connaught Place, Delhi

On 25th May 2020 Minneapolis USA, George Floyd 46-year-old African American breathed his last as the unforgiving knee of a police officer crushed his windpipe. The post-mortem of the event resulted in acute asphyxia. These events were carried out in the clear light of day, with onlookers dissuading the officers and taking video evidence of the event.

 The howl of protest that erupts from the belly of the nation is in recognition of an old sickness. The sickness of racism. Floyd is its latest victim. Rallies both peaceful and disruptive generate across the country, from New York, Huston, Orlando, the list goes on. The National Guard has been deployed in at least 23 states to handle the protests. In response to this, President Donald Trump has inexplicably instructed governors to do the following, “If you don’t dominate, you’re wasting your time.” In response, Houston police chief Art Acevedo advised Trump to “keep mouth shut” if he does not have anything relevant to say. This is just one of the many responses made by persons in authority to the government. If you chose to dominate, we would choose to reason.

 In this callous murder and the subsequent protests, I daresay I am hardly the only person who would have sensed strong resonances between the George Floyd Movement and the momentous CAA protests in India. To me, the similarities seem striking. Both seem to encompass a vast mobilization of the youth, there safeguarding of the rights of the minority is an overarching concern, the vast number that protestors have shown up is resounding and while one tackles the institutionalized issues of abuse of power and racism, the other seems to tackle the institutionalized issues of abuse of power and communalism.

 Of course, it would be wrong to overestimate how similar they are because both countries are composed of different socio-political and economic configurations. In fact, it is exactly these differences that tens of people were killed, hundreds arrested and thousands at risk during the CAA protests, and it scarcely delivered the desired institutional impact. The bill was passed with no perceptible sign of passing away. While the rally in American has been taken up by news agencies worldwide, host of popular Last Week Tonight was censored on Hotstar after criticizing the ruling BJP government. It seems incredible, but only the tip of the iceberg. There seem to be several other reasons as to why protest manifests so differently in these two countries.

1. Normalization of Violence and Paternalism

 This was one of the most salient motifs of the CAA protests but of violence that seems to recur across India. It is so normalized as to seem banal or every day. It has reached the point where violence and police brutality is to be expected as being a part of protests in here; the absence of violence would seem even strange. The water canon must be there; even the detention buses and the scene would certainly not be complete without armed personnel in uniform and lathis. Sprinkle those generously. 

 This results in a very unfortunate and dangerous desensitization. Often angry tears would obscure my vision when I read news on the protests. Here, my friends would tell me to chin-up because that just how things are.

Just how things are.

 This is really ironic because the entire protest is an attempt of change, caught in the intricate paradox in one’s psyche that things will never change. 

 This deep belief goes to reveal the extent to which this indoctrination has been drilled into us by a government that believes it knows what is best for us, doing everything in their power to make us- the citizen- believe that. This is a paternalist form of governance that wholly disregards the intellectual capability of an Indian citizen. Mindless automatons are preferred to beings with bodies and minds.

2. (Un) Subtle Muting

Hush…

 Several mechanisms of soft power are wielded to dampen the protest. The dominant one is by the manner is the spreading of fear. This is carried out by generating a thick cloud of suspicion held around this nationwide protest. 

What do these students want? Do they only want to skip classes? Do they understand politics?

 Private institutions in ever sector were suggested that they need not take part in the protest. Most celebrities chickened out, worried about their safety. It is hard for any newspaper report or review to directly talk about the problem even though everyone knows exactly what it is…

Hush.

 Certain Articles were imposed, people were put away for certain offenses and certain measures were carried out. Certainly very few wanted to make public statements. 

Hush!

3. (Un) Discrete Back Door exits

 This refers to the subtle ways in which people, especially public figures like film stars, sportspersons, and television hosts, are penalized for participating in moments like the CAA protests in India. Nowhere is this seen more vividly than is the case of actor Sushant Singh whose term as host of Savdhaan India ended with his involvement in the CAA rally. While he accepted the matter with grace and dignity saying, “I feel if it was indeed a repercussion to my action (attending the rally), then it is a very small price that I could pay.” 

 Nothing can prove the relationship between the termination of his contract and the protests. It could be perceived as a surprising correlation. (The same way it is so shocking that ice-cream sales seem to increase in the summer.)

4. Valorization of the politician and uniformed personnel in popular culture

 This is a trope seen repeatedly in especially in popular cinema, from films like Airlift, Yuri, Rustom and P.M Narendra Modi. It goes to highlight how an implicit respect of the generated and regenerated so many times. This is to convince the audience of their virtue and credibility. That they know what is right when the common man does not. 

 This may seem like a tenuous argument, but it goes to display the legal leeway afforded to these individuals in authority. The violence of the CAA and then be attributed to officers doing what right. 

***

 What all of the above points seem to signal to is an intolerance of criticism and a subsequent inability to stand up to authority decisively. People are being prevented from speaking because the price of free speech seems is awarded in full with torture, humiliating and suffering- in such a refined way that nobody will know and your collective cause will be left in the squalor. In the USA, while the protest is facing backlash, it is not being spoken about in hushed impermissible tones, several prominent members of the police, celebrities and senators have taken decisive stances against the violence. Such decisiveness is rare in India. 

 While the U.S. may ail from an incompetent authority, they are at least tangible entities. Entities that can be held accountable and authority in the US is now finding itself collared by the fist of public indignation. In India, at the wake of the CAA protests, people buckled under the force of an invisibilized power. No one to take responsibility. Hardly any credible statement was made by the upper echelons of the government, and there was scarcely any statement from the armed forces on the matter either. Too few individuals who wield authority said anything relevant. It seems as if speech is stifled before it is even spoken and, ‘mistakes’ remedied before they can be made. Such a state of affairs stifles all speech.

 But still we sing. 

Image taken by the author at the entrance of Shaheen Bagh

 

***

Sources

https://www.nytimes.com/2020/05/31/us/george-floyd-investigation.html

https://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-52886593

https://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-52869504

https://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/interactive/2020/06/mapping-cities-george-floyd-protests-erupted-200601081654119.html

https://www.nytimes.com/2020/06/01/us/george-floyd-unrest-toll.html

https://www.thequint.com/news/world/keep-your-mouth-shut-houston-police-chief-to-trump-over-george-floyd-protests

https://thewire.in/media/john-oliver-hotstar-censorship-narendra-modi-episode

https://theprint.in/india/over-1100-activists-condemn-delhi-police-action-against-anti-caa-protestors-amid-lockdown/413686/

https://thewire.in/rights/sushant-singh-savdhaan-india-jamia-violence-protest

 

 

About the author

Apurva Prasad

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