by Nilratan Shende
Months of media coverage of the “racial attacks” on Indian students in Australia and it’s responses led to proactive rallying around widespread condemnation by constituents of the democratic institutions e.g. legislature, sections of bureaucracy, civil society organizations, joined by high profile celebrities.
The media and celebrities were lightening quick to highlight the issue, and were vocal against “racial” attacks. But nature of uniform vocal response over other forms of discrimination should establish their concern as genuine or hypocritical. The media and celebrities, who promptly protest racial discrimination, conveniently shy away from being proactive in preventing discrimination on the basis of caste, gender, language, religion and atrocities that stem out of inhuman practice of untouchability.
One would like to question, why are celebrities and media oversensitive to the racial discrimination? How do they manage to turn a blind eye to the conspicuous, heinous, brutal caste discrimination in India that seems to be increasing every year? Why does such a paradoxical stand on discrimination exist among celebrities and media fraternity?
One of such response was from legendary actor Mr Amitabh Bacchan who turned down doctoral decoration of Queensland University of Technology, Brisbane, Australia in order to protest the racial attacks on the Indian students.
Does he maintain a uniform stand on the prevailing discriminatory practices? Isn’t it a response of a hypocrite who maintains duality to discriminatory forms? He is protesting against racial attacks but has he turned down or returned any honour or award conferred to him by the government of India in protest against caste discrimination and practice of untouchability? He is asserting his voice against racial attacks on Indians studying abroad but why does not he express his views when people of African heritage walking on the streets of Mumbai are humiliated with the “N” word or when Indian nationals from north-eastern states are abused with racial slurs? Will he stand up and express similar sentiments for the marginalized Dalits and Tribes?
Why does not Mr. Amitabh return all civil honors conferred to him by Government of India in protest against increasing atrocities of upper castes over Dalits? Amitabh Bacchan would really set a precedence if he showed similar kind of sensitivities to the plights of Dalits and tribes in India. Whether his stand on racism was genuine or a publicity stunt would be revealed over the actions he adopts in order to provide visibility to the issues of discrimination back home. Activists, civil society organizations dedicating their lives for the social movement may brand him as hypocrite if he fails to initiate similar protests in providing visibility to the exploited, oppressed Dalits and tribes. But it’s up to Amitabh Bachchan to decide whether he wishes to be contended with and lead a life of the reel hypocritical hero or the real advocate of justice and peace in the wake of increasing discriminatory practices against Dalits and Tribes stemming from caste system and practice of untouchability.
On one hand his consciousness does not allow him to accept the decoration offered by an Australian University but on the other hand it allows him to accept the honours, awards and doctoral degrees offered by Indian government and universities in the midst of practice of untouchability leading to gross violation of human dignity. Amitabh Bachchan is like one of the millions of other Indians who pretend to stand up and fight for discrimination.
The paradox of preferring racial discrimination to caste discrimination in their protests roots from upper caste consciousness which identifies with larger humanitarian issues. Their quest for equality and justice is prominent in case of discrimination of racial abuse against Indian citizens of higher class who are mostly higher caste as well. Isn’t this a fair enough indication that their pursuit for equality and justice is limited to their own classes and castes while conveniently ignoring the plight of the millions of vulnerable Dalits and Tribes in India against whom systematic violence is perpetrated for demanding social and economic equality, justice. The case of Dalit massacre of Khairlanji, its deliberately delayed airing and support for quelling Dalit demonstrations in the name of “law and order” would be one of the many glaring instances of the hypocritical quest for justice and equality of the electronic media and celebrities alike.
The Indian media who have been acting as a “watchdog” and “custodian of justice” in recent racial attacks need to introspect deeply to their purposeful oblivion of the crime against Dalits and Tribes. It does more harm than good as it only strengthens the dominant social structure while leaving the prevailing discrimination and injustice untouched.
Fourth pillar of modern democracy, the media, which has deliberately maintained partisan image of issues of the vulnerables, could do the world a good towards the larger goal of attaining discrimination free egalitarian society. This can only be achieved by abandoning prejudiced opinion, presenting victims’ approach and perspective from below and backing it with genuine actions for the larger interest of discrimination free egalitarian accommodative civilization.
(Nilratan Shende is a graduate student in Humanities and Social Sciences. )