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“Soft spoken climate activists”, Khalistanis and why we need to talk about liberal privilege

Privilege. Everyone thinks they worked their way up and in most ways they really did. But there appears to be some invisible hand, working in the background, that ensures that only members of certain groups rise to the top.

In late 2014, a 12 year old boy called Tamir Rice was playing with a toy pistol at a park in Cleveland, Ohio. Someone saw that and called the 911 emergency line about a male who might be pointing a gun at random people. The police arrived and asked for a show of hands. Apparently, the 12 year old failed to comply. So the police shot him twice, including at least once in the face. The boy died.

This is the kind of the frustration that led to the “Black Lives Matter” movement erupting in cities across the United States last year. Yes, perhaps it was indeed difficult for the police to tell from a distance if it was a toy gun or not. Cleveland is a dangerous city and the police took no chances. But at the end of the day, an innocent 12 year old child died. The officers faced no criminal charges. Would Tamir Rice have been judged so harshly, whether by the person who called 911 or the paranoid officers who shot him dead, if he were white? Despite apparent equality before the law, there is systemic racism in American society. As a result, people are conditioned to see African Americans as more dangerous and inherently a threat. The BLM movement demanded that American society remove these scales from their eyes.

The term we are looking for is “privilege,” the most beloved of woke liberals.

Desi liberals, never the ones to miss out on hot new western trends, have tried to adapt this to the Indian context. There’s savarna privilege. And of course, there is male privilege. And I honestly agree they should. Indeed, be it in politics, media, intelligentsia or even the ranks of mid to higher level executives in government or private sector, how much representation do we have of people from backward castes? In fact, one single upper caste Hindi speaking family has controlled the Prime Minister’s chair for over five decades! Did you realize that India currently has just one female Chief Minister?

Everyone thinks they worked their way up and in most ways they really did. But there appears to be some invisible hand, working in the background, that ensures that only members of certain groups rise to the top. That invisible hand is called “privilege.”

But there is liberal privilege too. And like every other form of privilege, those who enjoy it cannot see it’s invisible hand. And in the backdrop of current events, liberal privilege has never been more obvious to the rest of us.

Consider the case of the climate “activist” who was recently been picked up from Bengaluru and sent to custody for questioning in connection to the Greta Thunberg toolkit case. The liberal media and even some sections more sympathetic to the government, raised an alarm. How could the powers that run this country do this? She is like 21 or 22 years old, soft spoken, a dog lover and a vegan. And thus, too innocent to be guilty.

Then, reports surfaced claiming that she might have known well that she could get charged under UAPA. I cannot independently confirm these reports, but I do see how the goalposts were shifted immediately. Now, the liberals asked. So what even if it is true? Haven’t we all been adorable rebels in those wonder years of late teens and early twenties?

Then, another round of reports surfaced. It appears that some others wanted in connection with the toolkit case were still absconding and their lawyers admitted in writing before the court that their clients had met Khalistani Mo Dhaliwal over the internet. Again, I cannot independently confirm what actually happened and who may or may not be guilty. I can only point out how the goalposts were shifted immediately afterwards. Again, so what even it is true, they asked. Perhaps some climate activists were a little naive and did not check the background of everyone they spoke to.

Remember that the first round of objections came when people even spoke of a coordinated campaign from abroad to malign India over the so called farmers protests. Liberals said that global celebs had just been tweeting out of conscience. Then, they admitted there was a toolkit and a coordinated campaign. But so what? What’s wrong with having a toolkit? There was no explicit plan of violence mentioned in the toolkit. And even if Khalistani groups were coordinating to prepare the toolkit, so what?

You can see, how at each stage, the liberals are assumed to have the best, most innocent of intentions. Now, a presumption of innocence is a very good thing, but the media rarely behaves like a court of law. We all know how the media loves to rush to judgement. This time, for some reason, they are holding back. What is this invisible hand?

It’s liberal privilege. If you are a liberal, you don’t see it. Because you are sitting in its lap. Believe me, the rest of us see you on this high pedestal, cradled, pampered and privileged.

Consider the tone here.

The Wire on ‘militant Hinduism’

Militant? Radiating mean energy? A liberal was taking a taxi through Noida, when she looked out of her window to see a Hanuman Jayanti procession. Or as she called, it a “sea of saffron.” By her accounts at least, it does not appear that the men threatened her explicitly or anyone else. But she was so triggered that she went into a rant over supposed militant Hinduism. And the Angry Hanuman artwork, which has gone viral on Indian roads.

How dare this Hanuman appear “angry” and not smile at her? It must be the militant Hinduism. Are other tattoos and artwork interpreted and over-interpreted like this? How about the Communist hammer and sickle? Does it remind anyone of the systemic massacre of 100 million people under Communism? It doesn’t matter. The piece on “Angry Hanuman” was duly published in the Wire and circulated by liberals everywhere.

That’s liberal privilege at work. As soon as someone puts their Hindu identity on display, they just begin to seem more sinister.

Okay, so some of the people in the procession were carrying swords. Display of weapons in religious processions is nothing new. One particularly peaceful community does it regularly on Muharram. Further, many of the people in the current farmers protest were brandishing swords too. And in fact, some of them did turn their swords upon policemen. It reminded liberals of nothing except the sanctity of their supposed cause. Even when they stormed the Red Fort and planted a different flag, liberals were not shaken. What’s wrong they asked? Some of them pointed out how some unit of the Indian Army also uses a similar looking flag.

That’s liberal privilege. You see what you want to see. Because you have privilege, even someone who storms the Red Fort and plants another flag on Republic Day is declared a peaceful person paying tribute to the glorious traditions of the Indian Army. Meanwhile, some guy strolls down the road in a saffron shirt. He becomes a suspected militant.

This is the kind of thing that happened to Tamir Rice in Cleveland, Ohio. Because he was black, he seemed like a deadly threat even as a 12 year old in a park with a toy gun. However, Trump supporters, most of them white, who literally stormed the US Capitol building on Jan 6 were treated more indulgently by police. That’s white privilege.

If a Hindu in India puts their religious identity on display in any way, the questions begin immediately. Why is Hanuman not smiling in your artwork? Why did you say “Jai Shri Ram” and not “Jai Siya Ram”? And why did this vegetable seller put a saffron flag on their cart? What’s the plan?

But if some climate activist meets with a Khalistani, it was probably just a soft spoken young person who may or may not have made a teeny tiny mistake at the very worst.

In contrast, the fear psychosis about the “angry Hanuman” image spread quickly and across borders. Even the Washington Post carried an opinion piece about this menacing new threat.

If a BJP worker in Bengal today says the name of Ram, they are met with outright xenophobia. Why say Ram and not Durga? Are you agents of some kind of demographic or cultural invasion of Bengal? Even Amartya Sen appears to endorse this kind of thinking. He told an audience at Jadavpur University that he asked his four year old grand daughter who her favourite god is. Apparently, the child took the name of Durga. Which apparently means that anyone who says Jai Shri Ram might be looking to beat people up. In other words, if you differ even slightly from the cultural identity of my family, you are an outsider and possibly a criminal. The definition of xenophobia. But “liberals” made posters of Amartya Sen’s remarks in full and posted them all across Bengal.

Privilege is a way that dehumanizes the “other” in an insidious manner. And that is why when 18 year old BJP worker Trilochan Mahato is found hanging from a pole in Purulia in Bengal, the nation doesn’t react the way it should. The murderers even wrote on his T-shirt that this was his punishment for working for BJP. But the reaction you would expect from the media never came. Because BJP workers and Hindu right wing in general have been far too dehumanized for the act to shake the conscience of the nation.

Consider what happened to Bajrang Dal activist Rinku Sharma in Delhi the other day. He was brutally murdered by members from “another community” (couldn’t crack that code, sorry). The police say it was something like a business argument that began at a birthday party. Some others say there was a communal motive behind the murder, because the victim had been actively collecting funds for the building of Ram Mandir in Ayodhya. The truth will come out in court, I’m sure.

The question is the media reaction. Would the media have rushed to accept the police version of events if the religious identities were reversed? Remember the death of Junaid Khan? Even the High Court ruled out any communal angle in the murder and said it was a crime committed over a seat dispute in a train. Nevertheless, many still insisted that the murder of Junaid Khan was an instance of militant Hinduism!

And let’s not forget the Godhra carnage. A number of the accused have been convicted by the High Court years ago, but it doesn’t matter. In popular liberal folklore, the carnage is still an accident or unsolved mystery at best and a conspiracy by BJP at worst. Because the people who perished in the fires that engulfed S-6 compartment of Sabarmati Express were Hindu activists. Liberals refuse to see them as human beings.

Once liberals have dehumanized the Hindu right or anyone suspected of being influenced by the Hindu right, it becomes easy to laugh away even their deaths. Remember Rajbala Devi?

The Hindu right often makes fun of emotional tags that the liberals like to stick on their own. Soft spoken, headmaster’s son, maths teacher, cricket lover, too young, too old, vegan, dog lover, etc. But there is more to this than meets the eye. What is happening is that liberals see one side as full human beings. Even if they were terrorists, they are somebody’s son or daughter. They probably fell in love, had crushes sometime or other. They were all human. Unless they were suspected of being sympathetic to the Hindu right. In which case they are dehumanized and so their lives don’t matter. Perhaps Rajbala Devi was soft spoken too. Did anyone check?

If you want to understand how this is all about privilege and class, see what they said recently about Sachin Tendulkar. After Sachin tweeted about our internal matter of farm protests being, well … India’s internal matter, an article in Caravan mocked his “moral timidity.” They related this to to his origins in the “salaried, lower middle-class.” In other words, so called activism is a privileged kid’s game. The privileged kids come up with the big liberal ideas that drive the nation forward. The rest of us apparently submit tamely to whoever is in power. If you are not a liberal, you have no mind. You are on the edges of humanity.

You didn’t think anyone could condescend to Sachin Tendulkar, did you? But that is what privilege is. Incidentally, the person who wrote this article left a two line bio at the end, as is common. The bio establishes that the author is an important person, whose work has appeared even in the New York Times. It made me wonder. What do you think Sachin has put in his bio? So I looked it up on Twitter. Sachin’s bio just says “proud Indian.” Two words, which make him just one of 1.3 billion commoners. See? Told you he’s a loser.


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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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