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Home Variety Culture and History Comparing African Americans to Indian Muslims in India is like reading history upside down

Comparing African Americans to Indian Muslims in India is like reading history upside down

Indian liberal elites are drawing parallels between African Americans and Indian Muslims. This is shocking, insensitive, ill-informed and an insult to the oppressed people throughout history. In the US, African Americans have faced slavery and segregation. In India, Muslims have been the traditional ruling class.

In America, the outpouring of public anger and outrage continues. The killing of an unarmed black man by a white police officer has brought back America’s worst memories, as well as the worst of its lived realities. On the one hand, the history of slavery and segregation. On the other, the everyday prejudice and discrimination faced by African Americans in the United States.

We have to ask ourselves: was the case of George Floyd really so different from that of Ankit Sharma?

You may have already forgotten who Ankit Sharma was and how many wounds there were on his body when it was dumped into a drain in Delhi. Never mind. It happens. I guess you cannot name a single person who perished inside S-6 compartment of Sabarmati Express at Signal Falia near Godhra Railway station on Feb 27, 2002.

Never mind.

Today, everything is global. So we Indians cannot stop talking about what is happening in the United States. Questions about race, inequality and social justice in America have lit up both mainstream and social media in India.

Amid all this, a curious phenomenon has emerged. Indian liberal elites are drawing parallels between African Americans and Indian Muslims. This is shocking, insensitive, ill-informed and an insult to the oppressed people throughout history.

Slavery Vs the ruling class

In the US, African Americans have faced slavery and segregation.

In India, Muslims have been the traditional ruling class.

In India, it is Hindus who have faced subjugation. The ruling class imposed Jaziya tax on Hindu subjects. Numerous temples were destroyed. Ultimately, Partition happened. Pakistan was set up as an apartheid state. Millions of Hindus fled and sought refuge in India.

The last major flight of Hindus happened between 1989 and 1991. That’s when lakhs of Hindus had to flee their homes in the only Muslim majority state in independent India. That was barely thirty years ago. How much more is needed before Indian society comes to accept the reality of the oppression faced by Hindus?

And yet, why is the Indian elite reading history upside down? How did they manage to cast Indian Muslims as victims of Hindu oppression?

Denying history

Indeed, there is a lot that we in India can learn from the discourse that is currently happening in America. For one, America does not deny the dark chapters of its history. The horror of slavery and segregation is taught in great detail. The focus is on making sure that everyone knows what happened. So that it never happens again.

In India, we see quite the opposite. Everything from our history books to newspapers make a huge effort to deny and cover up the atrocities faced by Hindus. A myth of “Ganga Jamuni Tehzeeb” has been imposed upon our minds. The oppressive rulers are cast as heroes. Even Aurangazeb. A certain historian, for example, has recently built a career out of glorifying him. In fact, she argues, in all seriousness, that Aurangazeb understood freedom of religion long before the modern world did.

Only recently, the ground in Ayodhya was dug up and idols emerged. Eminent historians and intellectuals had been stonewalling it for decades.

On the contrary, American historians have taken great pains to document the injustices of slavery. They have not tried to sugarcoat it, nor make excuses for it.

Multiple systems of privilege

American history texts do not speak of an imaginary utopia where black and white folks lived together in harmony. But we have the myth of Ganga-Jamuni Tehzeeb.

Now this does not mean individual Muslims and Hindus were never nice to each other. I am sure there were several white plantation owners who treated their slaves humanely. But this is not an excuse to change the broad contours of history. One was the slave owner; the other was the slave. One class paid Jaziya tax; the other collected it.

Whenever the painful history of Hindus is brought up, the Indian intellectual elite has another diversionary arrow in its quiver: talking about the caste oppression in Hindu society.

As if caste oppression within Hindu society somehow negates the oppression that they have faced from outside.

Indeed, multiple systems of privilege exist independently in society at the same time. And they don’t cancel each other out.

This is really easy to understand. For instance, factory workers in England had miserable working conditions during the industrial revolution. At the same time, Britain put its colonial grip over India. A single person can be on the privileged side of one divide and on the oppressed side of another. One does not cancel out the other.

The modern term for this phenomenon is “intersectionality.” The Indian elite should really stay up to date on the latest in the world of wokeness.

Here is a simpler example. There’s male privilege in every community. Does pointing out male privilege cancel out the history of caste oppression? That’s absurd. The Indian elite does not really want to argue. They just want to change the subject. Because they know they have a lot to hide.

Watch out! The Indian elite is not just hiding how Hindus faced oppression as a community. They are just as invested in supporting the injustices that Indian “secularism” imposes on all disadvantaged sections, including backward castes.

For example, minority institutions such as Aligarh Muslim University do not have SC/ST quotas. Even though these are fully government-run institutions.

Indian liberals supported Article 370 that discriminated against Dalits

Do not forget how Indian liberals supported Article 370. Members of the Valmiki community were invited to Kashmir in 1957 to take up jobs as sanitation workers. However they and their descendants were not allowed to have permanent residency certificates. They could not buy land or take up any government job other than being sanitation workers. Even the historic 2018 Supreme Court verdict legalizing homosexuality did not apply to Jammu and Kashmir. Because of Article 370.

Don’t forget how liberals supported Triple Talaq. Don’t forget that kids from poor families cannot avail their rights under RTE in minority-run schools. Yes, Indian “secularism” will even shut the door on a five-year-old kid from a poor family, who is seeking an education.

In other words, Indian ‘secularism’ has been a yoke on nearly everyone’s shoulders. On the shoulders of Hindus, backward castes, women, LGBTQ, the poor. Indian ‘secularism’ has only ever helped Islamist patriarchy.

In America, people are now speaking loudly against white privilege. When will India learn?

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Abhishek Banerjee
Abhishek Banerjee is a math lover who may or may not be an Associate Professor at IISc Bangalore. He is the author of Operation Johar - A Love Story, a novel on the pain of left wing terror in Jharkhand, available on Amazon here.  

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