In this three part series, the author draws a comparative analysis of the Indian criminal justice system in light of the Black Lives Matters movements of USA. Earlier, the author depicted lessons in democratic values of peoples movements. She drew parallels between a racialised policing system of USA and the caste-communal prejudice ridden policing system of India. Continuing on the understanding of prejudices, the author, in this concluding part of the series, expounds on the importance of representation to movement and reforms.
What we currently have in India is more of a gross abuse of policing power of the state, rather than a mass incarceration situation like the U.S. It is true that minorities in India are over-represented in the prison population just like the U.S. It is also true that there are more caste and religious minorities on death row in India, than the rest of the population. Police are biased and abuse their power against vulnerable communities. This data is enough to recognize how casteist and sectarian policing is in India. However, the crucial difference is that the vast majority of Indian prison population are under-trials and not convicts, which means that this population so far has not been stagnant. Broken, corrupt prosecutorial system, and low conviction rates are the major reasons behind this difference.
Racist systemic mass convictions faced by the Black and Latinx community are different than that of the vast under-trial minority population we have in India. However, as discussed before, there are enough dangerous signs from the current Hindutva state to detain more minorities indefinitely and to convict them, by demonizing the entire community as terrorists and illegal immigrants. Going by the current rate of detention of dissenting voices and the deep complicity of police in these vile actions, India will soon have a mass incarceration situation just like the U.S. Demonizing the minorities lends BJP the legitimacy it seeks from the majority to punish the former.
The historical similarities between Black and Dalit communities is one way to understand the fight against centuries of slavery, dehumanization, and the fight for equal representation in the U.S. and India respectively, which has now resulted in some significant social mobility and visibility of Black and Dalit people. This does not in any way mean that the violence and discrimination has stopped. It just means these communities have fought the hard battle for decades, and are still keeping up the fight towards radical liberation from oppressive structures. Further, despite the similarities in the pattern of violence, one has to be careful enough to not club all the marginalized communities into one big cluster as these communities, be it Indigenous, Adivasi or Muslims in India, have vastly different histories, and face different kinds of oppression. Social mobility too should not be measured using a common frame of reference.
“The credit of this revolution, fueled and led by Black women and men, is also a result of increasing representation and visibility of Black people in leadership positions….”
Political and cultural representation is one key factor to bring about any social change. The credit of this revolution, fueled and led by Black women and men, is also a result of increasing representation and visibility of Black people in leadership positions such as Police Chiefs, Prosecutors, Judges, Doctors, Politicians, Lawyers, Entrepreneurs, Professors, and even Hollywood actors. But most importantly, it is the community led working-class peoples’ groups that have been successful in sustaining the movement for so long. Black liberation groups in the U.S. have always stressed on the importance of building solidarities between other oppressed groups such as Latinx and Indigenous communities. As discussed before, the current historical uprising is a result of the continued struggle against white Supremacy.
Also Read: India’s Lessons from Black Abolitionists
The other important factor, as Prof. Cornell West puts it, is the rebellion of precious poor and working-class Black people. Commenting on why empty representation is not enough, Prof. West said,
“We tried Black faces in high places. Too often our Black politicians, professional class, middle class, become too accommodated to the capitalist economy, too accommodated to the militarized nation-state, too accommodated to the market-driven culture tight with celebrity status, power, fame – all of that superficial stuff that means so much to so many fellow citizens. And what happens? What happens is we got a neo-fascist in the white house who really doesn’t care for the most part. You got a neo-liberal wing in the democratic party that it’s now on the driver seat with the collapse of brother Bernie. And they don’t really know what to do, cause all they want is to show more Black faces. But oftentimes these Black faces are losing legitimacy too because the Black Lives Matter movement emerged under a Black president, Black Attorney General, and Black homeland security, and they couldn’t deliver. You see?.
So that when you are talking about the masses of Black people, the precious poor and working-class Black people, poor working-class Brown, Red, Yellow, whatever color. They are the ones who are left out, and they feel so thoroughly powerless, helpless, hopeless, then you get rebellion. And we reach the point, now it’s a choice between non-violent revolution and by revolution what I mean is the democratic sharing of power, resources, wealth, and respect. If we don’t get that kind of sharing, you going to get a more violent explosion.”
“Whereas in India, there is neither representation nor sharing of resources. Caste pervades every aspect of our lives.”
Whereas in India, there is neither representation nor sharing of resources. Caste pervades every aspect of our lives. There is no real reflection on caste privilege by even people engaged in civil society work. The NGO-ization of people’s movements, which are now dominated by upper-caste people, is no different than the corporates that work hand-in-hand with upper-caste politicians. Lack of representation of individuals from marginalized communities in decision making processes and knowledge production has led to further marginalization of these communities. Capitalism in India is caste capitalism. Civil society organizations too are products of this capitalist caste structure. Nonetheless, it is important to be hopeful. There cannot be a better time to adopt the praxis of Black prison abolitionists into our own struggles, and let the marginalized people lead their fight.
(The author is a Fulbright India Fellow currently based in Philadelphia, U.S.A. Views expressed are personal.)