“I can’t breathe”
The body of a jobless labourer was found decomposed in Lucknow’s railway station on 27th May. On 26th, a video of labourer Arvina Khatun’s child trying to nudge her dead mother awake went viral. In Madhya Pradesh’s Chhindwara district, policemen brutally beat a man unconscious .
The same week #BlackLivesMatter trended on Twitter in India, there was no discourse about the conditions of migrants from either the people or the. celebrities Perhaps it was a mistake, maybe people forgot to tweet as they discussed the worldwide trend. However, India did not forget to speak out against an incident of animal cruelty where a pregnant elephant died by consumption of fire-cracker filled pineapples in the same period. This inicident seems more important than the fact that Safoora Zargar, a pregnant student at increased risk of miscarriage, has been denied bail. It seems that in India, the life of a pregnant elephant is more important than a human.
21st century is the ‘era of post-modernism’  where dissenting voices are essential to question the systems of oppression in place. At the same time, it is equally essential to question what the people are questioning. What do the above instances of discoursedents about Indian society? Why are we prioritising one life over another? Why do black lives in foreign countries mean more to Indians than the lives of the people next to us? Should we be speaking about international matters when we can’t address the issues in our home? No one is saying don’t support the BLM movement, but one has to question the integrity and motivation behind it when one does in a context like India’s.
Take Priyanka Chopra and Kareena Kapoor for examples- both actress spoke out against racism and police brutality in the USA. While Chopra dropped a message of solidarity for George Floyd, it seems the same solidarity was missing for the number of migrants who walked home on foot. On the other hand, Khan reposted a Time magazine cover which highlighted racism as a continuing problem in USA, but was silent on the issues like workers’ crisis, anti-CAA protests and communal atrocities against Muslims in India. It seems the contradiction in their regard for human lives boils down to ‘performative wokeness’- speaking out when it is fashionable to do so . Everyone is talking about racism in USA, but the voices who speak out about the atrocities in India are either called ‘anti-national’ or put in jail, thereby ensuring that these are not hot topics of discussion amongst the glamourous elite.
If one addresses this culture of ‘performative wokeness’ in celebrities, they also need to confront the brutal realities of prejudices prevalent in Indian societies themselves. #BLM trending on Twiter implies that Indians stand in solidarity with black people and are against racism. In contrast, take a look back at what was happening a short three years ago. In 2017, India was criticised by the international community for its brutal attacks against African students. The issue was severe enough to spark off a national debate in the Indian media, with media coverage declaring India as a “racially intolerant country”. The World Values Survey, a polling organisation with international reputability. In 2013 it reported that 43.5% Indians don’t want a different-race neighbour, thereby putting India second only to Jordan in the measure of racial intolerance .
At the same time, actors like Chopra, Khan et all have been accused of being illegitimate in their support of #BLM due to their endorsement of fairness creams back home. However, there is a question to be asked of this particular criticism. While being racist is irrevocably wrong, we need to reconcile this with society’s demand for ‘perfect political correctness’. What the author means by this term is that a person should not be politically incorrect under any circumstance at any time. However, this demand has its negative consequences as well, on top of being unreasonable.
Take Priyanka Chopra for example. Perhaps she did not understand the implicit connotations of racism in fairness cream as her status in India would have given her a privileged perspective due to her lighter skin. Thereby she was in a position where she could get away with being ignorant. On the other hand, she has experienced racial and colour discrimination in Hollywood. What this could mean is that since she has been in Hollywood, she might have grown through personal experience. If political correctness is arbitrarily applied to every action, it would stifle all space for growth and development of a person out of an assumption. If others are to label and assume other people as racists on the basis of very old actions, are they any better? For are they not being unreasonably prejudiced? A lot can change over this long a time period. On the other hand, Chopra’s recent silence on Indian matters is a clear indication of her complicity and hypocrisy as it demonstrates that her support for #BLM is borne out of publicity over genuine concern, thereby making it a fair assumption in comparison to the fairness cream advertisements.
The truth is, India’s racism extends internally as well. South Indians are often referred to as ‘rakshas’ due to their dark skins whereas people from the Northeast are called ‘chiknki’ and ‘corona’. Prejudice and racism in India is beyond colour, it also stems out of caste, race, religion and social status. Instances where COVID Brahmin patients destroyed food by Dalit workers in quarantine centers, unrest in the name of religion, mob lynching are just a few examples of the racial divides in the country. Indians may raise their voices against racism in far-off USA, but they face back lash in the form of FIRs, cases filed against, boycotts as well as violence if they raise their voice at home (not that people tend to)  and this is the hypocrisy of Indian societies.
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