Guest post by RUPANDE MEHTA
Chances are you have heard about Sureshbhai Patel, a 57 year old man, beaten and left temporarily paralyzed by Alabama police. His only crime: while he was out for a walk, a neighbor reported a ‘suspicious’ and ‘skinny black guy’ in the neighborhood causing him extreme distress and nervousness to leave his wife alone at home.
Several elements of this case bring back the ghosts of Trayvon Martin and Eric Garner, two black lives taken away by police brutality – despite being unarmed, Sureshbhai was subjected to “extreme force” and suspected not because he was Indian but because he resembled a black guy – but also bring to the forefront the enormous emotional and financial support generated not only from Indians but also Americans who rallied behind Sureshbhai and the injustice meted out to him. In a matter of six days, donations worth $190,000 were garnered to help the Patel family with medical bills. The incident also provoked Alabama’s governor to apologize for police’s use of “excessive force” and to initiate an investigation by the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency, along with the one being conducted by the FBI.
The issue of Sureshbhai has also generated enormous support and several hashtags in India. The External Affairs Ministry condemned the attack and asked the consulate to raise the issue with the State Department, with news anchors asking Obama to stop preaching tolerance and calling the entire city of Madison, Alabama and all its cops racist.
Such instances rightfully deserve the attention they have received but what makes me wonder is if we are even aware of how many such cases go unnoticed in our own country on a regular basis. Don’t get me wrong; I am appalled at the apathy shown to Sureshbhai and the brutality he had to endure but I cannot ignore the hypocrisy Indians have shown by their actions and unwitting support.
How many of us have heard of the 50 year old Chandrabose who was maimed with a Hummer and pinned against a wall, by Muhammad Nizam the Kerala beedi tycoon, because it took him “too long” to open the gates of the apartment complex? And as if that was not enough, Nizam dragged Chandrabose into his vehicle, drove towards the parking area, pulled him out and beat him mercilessly with a rod. Nizam only stopped his senseless outrage when the other guards arrived and called the cops.
Or did you ever wonder why it took the Rohtak police so long to discover the mutilated remains of a Nepali woman, savagely gang raped by nine men? According to her sister, a domestic help, the victim went missing on February 1 and her body was discovered on February 7, a full week later, after it was scavenged upon by animals.
Why is Twitter so silent on the injustice meted out to these souls? What is it about the crimes committed against them that they do not deserve a hashtag?
Unless you lived under a rock you are well aware that on January 24, 2015 the city of Delhi and the entire nation was waiting for President Obama’s arrival with bated breath. As a nation prepared to showcase her achievements and put her best foot forward, all other uncomfortable events were ignored for fear of ignominy. On that very day, a three year old was kidnapped, raped and later dumped in a slum not too far away from a neighborhood housing the plushest farmhouses and one of Delhi’s most iconic monuments.
This three year old, whose father works as a laborer and lives with her family in a night shelter, was found with bite marks on her face and chest, bleeding from her genitals and unable to stand up straight. In the days that followed, she was unable to eat and in a lot of pain whenever she tried to pee. Where is her hashtag? Does she not deserve attention?
The one common theme across all those crimes I listed above is they occurred to the marginalized section of society. We Indians have no qualms about calling other countries names – although the officer who attacked Sureshbhai has been fired and arrested – but when it comes to us, those ideals all but dissipate. If any of these crimes would have taken place to the middle or upper class the uproar would have been deafening but simply because the marginalized are affected and poor lives, that really don’t mean much, have been disrupted we have shown that they are not worthy of our consideration. Our concern is selective and our social media skills are only on display for those who most closely remind us of the threats we face in this world and the injustice that could be imposed on us. The rest simply don’t matter.
So while America is aware of the racism and discrimination she faces and is engaging in a dialogue, we Indians need to realize that we are totally ignorant with the problems of the marginalized and are perhaps oblivious to how deeply elitism is rooted in our minds.
Sureshbhai was a hapless victim who was, undoubtedly, unfairly tortured but so are those countless victims in India we do not hear about every day. Sureshbhai’s only crime was he did not speak English but the crimes of the poor in India are they are living in a culture obsessed with elitism, that refuses to even acknowledge their existence.
Rupande Mehta is a writer passionate about women’s rights and equality. You can follow her on Twitter @rupandemehta or Tumblr at http://rupande-mehta.tumblr.com/