“I can’t breathe…”. These were the last words of forty-six-year-old black African American George Floyd. He uttered them when he was being strangled to death by the white American police. His “crime” was his accidental birth in a community that is not a white race.

Similarly, Dalits, Adivasis, lower castes and minority Muslims get strangled in India. Their “crime” is their accidental birth outside twice-born castes. American society does not only strangle George Floyd. Indian society have been, for centuries, strangling George Floyds. The non-Brahmins in India are socially, culturally and economically discriminated.

That is why when Floyd uttered “I can’t breathe”, these words did not sound strange to us. Millions of lower castes and Muslim minority are similarly gasping in pain. They too are uttering the same words in different languages. The mainstream (pliant) Indian media ignores them. It misleads the public by painting India as a “great” civilization. It creates a false binary between the “spiritual” East versus “materialist” West. It tries to build a castle on the decadent social base.

Similarly, most of Indian sociologists, embedded in the establishment, have never accepted the bitter truth. They might again come to refute any comparison between caste and race. They would strongly oppose any argument about Muslims facing institutional discrimination in India.

But people’s movements have never taken them seriously as these sociologists remain preoccupied with presenting India as a harmonious society. As a result, they have already written “obituary” to caste, while caste wars are still happening. They have also opposed reservation for the backward castes, despite the fact that a small population of upper castes monopolize most of jobs. They have put all their energy to prove that Adivasis are part of the Hindu social order. They are never tired of talking of field work and capturing social reality, yet they are hesitant to break the framework of Brahminical ideology.

Just as the black Americans are socially and economically discriminated, so are the lower castes, Adivasis and Muslims in Indian society. Just as the white Americans continue to dominate every institution in the USA, so do the upper castes control the religious and political institutions in India.

Just as a large number of the black Americans live in slums and face poverty, so do Dalits, Adivasis, lower castes, and Muslims. Visit any slum in India, and check the facts if you have any doubt.

Just as the white Americans dominate economy, industry, politics, media, culture and cinema, so do upper castes. For example, how many times have you heard the name of Dalit journalist placed at the helm of affair in the newsroom? How many times have you spotted Muslims in the police, the army and intelligence agency? How many Other Backward Classes (OBCs) professors and lecturers are found at universities?

Racism is durable because the black Americans have little access to resources. Their material deprivation feeds cultural stereotyping. The cultural stereotyping, in turn, puts hurdles in the path of their economic advancement. In sum, one feeds other. It is a vicious cycle. Similarly, caste system and material deprivation of the lower castes are interconnected.

Many people are demanding severe punishment for the killers of George Floyd. The murder deserves severe punishment indeed. But the fight for justice is incomplete without addressing the structural problem. The fight is also not complete if justice is not given to all those George Floyds living in different parts of the world.

That is why, all the victims of mob lynching in India are in fact George Floyds. Landless Dalit laborers killed by feudal caste army are George Floyds. Adivasis who fall victims to the bullets of state repression in central India are comrades of George Floyd. All political prisoners and victims of police encounters and custodial killings are friends of George Floyd.

Just as the community of George Floyd is discriminated by the police and army, so is the Muslim community and other deprived sections in India. It was not just an accident that Muslims were deliberately kept out of the military and police in a “secular” India, soon after the Independence. Similarly, it is not an accident that the home minister of Madras province told the legislative house, after the Independence, that Muslims were not being recruited in the police. In fact, it was not a result of a whim of a particular person but it was a well-designed plan. It was within this plan that a secret circular was drafted and sent to the concerned departments post-1947, stating that Muslims should not be included in the police.

Today Muslims in India  comprise just 6 to 7 per cent of the police force in India. But they are over-represented in jail. They are also the main targets of riots and police brutalities. Commission after commission has put the facts on record that the police are communal in their acts. But the police department has not been reformed, the reports of these commissions, instead, are gathering dust.

Similarly, if you are a black American, you are three times more likely to be killed by the police. If you are a Muslim in India, you are several times more likely to be arrested, framed in terror cases and killed in police encounters.

Just as erring police officers can easily go unpunished for attacking the lives and properties of the black Americans, similarly in India one can engineer a riot, demolish a place of worship of a minority community and go unpunished. Sometimes, they are rewarded and voted to power.

That is why I think the cry of “I can’t breathe” is a new slogan for all the oppressed peoples of the world.

In this context, I argue that George Floyd is not only strangled in the USA but he gets strangled elsewhere as well.

George Floyd is strangled in India too.

Abhay Kumar is a PhD from Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. He is broadly interested in Minority and Social Justice. His other writings available online at abhaykumar.org. You may write to him at debatingissues@gmail.com


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One Comment

  1. Avatar A. K. Biswas says:

    We can perhaps believe America will punish George Floyd’s killers. Crime committed against will be brought to justice. In India such expectation is not hypothetically feasible, when the victims of police violence, caste atrocities belong to lower castes, e. g. dalit, tribal, minorities. Every accused belonging to the upper caste by virtue of their social status is armed with licence to commit offence against them, with impunity. The contention taken by the writer is correct.
    If the criminal or offender is a Brahman and eventually punished, by some pretext or other, he is granted clemency. Even such convict is released before the sentence has been served. Recentlt a case occured in Delhi.
    In colonial Bengal, one Nabin Chandra Banerjee, a government employee, who murdered his young wife with a fishcutter which was slashed on her neck, causing instant death. The husband used to occasitionally visit his villege. His wife lived with her parents. Her stepmpther induced her to visit Tarakeshwar Temple for obtaining medicine of childbirth. There she was seduced by the Mahant [head priest] a veteran sex maniac. Nabin Banerjee on his visit to home came to know about the scandal which enraged him.
    In Sessions trial assisted by Jury declared murderer not guilty. But the Sessions Judge did nor agree with their verdict and forwarded the case to Calcutta High Court. The High Court convicted Nabin Chandra Banerjee for life for murder of his wife and the Mahant for three years’ RI.
    Nabin was a kulin Brahman, or blue blooded Brahman of Bengal, So a campaign was launched for his clemency. Three petitions from Bengal signed by elite of Calcutta, the acknowledged leaders of native society and the middle classes werer submitted to Government leading ultimately to his release after two years.
    Now the Wikipedia on Tarakeswar Affair, or Tarakesrae scandal, in a stange move, we find, has deleted “Banerjee” from Nabinn Chandra’s name for whta I don’t know. Only the Wikipedia can say.
    Tilak was released when he was convicted for 18 months after a young Walter Charles Rand, Plague Commissioner, ICS was murdered by Damodar Chaupekar, Balkrishna and Vesudev, his brothers were executed. A mercy petition signed by Max Mueller, W W Hunter, Dadabhai Naorozi, R. C. Dutt, was addressed to the Queen of England. It is said that Max Mueller had initiated the move for release of Tilak was charged with sedition for inflamatory writing to provoke disaffection towards the government.
    Only a particular class gets benefit of clemency per se.

    Only the other day, a video clip showed few constables of Guna district police of Madhya Pradesh Government beat up a man, who stood listless without any reaction either to protest, prevent the violence or made any attempt to run away or making plea of forgiveness. After 3/4 hard hits, the man collapsed but the police continued unmercifully beating the poor victim. One constable kicked him. The man was motionless. He was them held by his hands and feet by two of the beasts in the jeep standing by and sped away.
    It was a rarest brutality.
    Who bothers? Media did not perhaps report the murder.