NRIs are a great source of pride and money for those back home, and are often role models around whom whole communities start dreaming. Sureshbhai Patel, a 57-year-old grandfather from rural Gujarat, had gone to visit his prematurely born grandson in the state of Alabama, USA. He was brutally assaulted by the local police as he was taking a stroll in the neighbourhood where his son lives. The man received severe spinal injuries and is now partially paralysed. While such gross injustice should attract condemnation -- as it has from various sectors of US civil society and elected representatives -- there is something about the reaction of the powerful brown people resident in the subcontinent that requires introspection.
After the Sureshbhai Patel assault news broke, Delhi's Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) sprang into action, simultaneously putting on its 'empathy' hat for brown man Sureshbhai and its 'outrage' hat at the excessive use of force by the police. The MEA spokesperson Syed Akbaruddin said, "I can assure you that we intend to pursue this matter suitably here in Delhi through the US mission, in Washington through our mission, as well as [through] several other local authorities in Alabama." He also added that it's important that the Indian community feels safe and secure in the USA. The MEA also updated the public on Sureshbhai's health condition. The Indian Embassy in Washington DC has planned to raise the issue with the US State Department (akin to India's Home Ministry). A US embassy official in Delhi was also summoned by the MEA and was told how India feels about this event.
"While such gross injustice [as against Sureshbhai Patel] should attract condemnation... there is something about the reaction of the powerful brown people resident in the subcontinent that requires introspection. "
People surely deserve a government that cares for them, even when they are abroad. Crimes by the US police on an Indian citizen are unacceptable. But what about the daily crimes by the Indian police and security forces against Indian citizens? But let's stay in the US a bit longer.
In February 2011, Krittika Biswas, the daughter of an Indian Embassy official in New York, was made to spend a night in jail on charges that were subsequently proved to be false. Krittika was outraged at how she had been dealt with by the New York police - she was taken out of school in handcuffs in full view of her fellow students and was tightly handcuffed during interrogation as well. At the jail, she was disallowed from using the restroom during detention, was kept in unhygienic conditions with people who had allegedly committed serious crimes. She was there for 28 hours. She publicly broke down while recounting her ordeal in front of the press. She gathered support from people who stood with her resolve to ensure that the price of every tear of she'd shed needed to be paid. Krittika's protest against police actions should act as a lesson in intolerance of any kind when it comes to the violation of human rights by law enforcement agencies. The right to not being hurt, the right to not be publicly made a spectacle of, the right to discharging bodily functions and the right to not be detained on false charges (that is 'for nothing'), are all non-negotiable and Krittika's laudable stance only strengthens that.
"If Krittika's Rs 1.4 crore is a fair amount, what would be the correct amount of compensation owed to the parents of Thangjam Manorama, a young Manipuri woman who in 2004 was widely believed to be have been abducted, tortured, raped and murdered by members of the security forces?"
The then foreign minister SM Krishna recalled, "I distinctly remember that I had intervened to get the girl released, intervened when I was in the United States and, subsequently we took it up very strongly with the State Department of the United States." India's top-most diplomats worked frantically all night to get the issue sorted out. Krittika's family subsequently decided to pursue legal action and sought US$1.5 million in damages from the city of New York. At that point, the MEA officially stated in a media briefing on June 10, 2011, "...[O]nce Ms. Biswas's family sought Ministry's permission to initiate legal proceedings against the concerned authorities in New York, it was granted promptly. Ministry's thoughts and support remain with the family at this difficult juncture and we will continue to provide them whatever assistance we can."
This means that the MEA also considered that a compensation of this grade was appropriate for the police's treatment of Krittika. That's good to know. The case was settled in September last year, with New York City agreeing to pay her US$225,000 (about Rs 1.4 crore at the present exchange rate).
Now let's go to India.
If the alert, honourable and super-patriotic citizens of India were to direct their sensitivity a little inwards, they would actually bankrupt the country. Here's how. If Krittika's Rs 1.4 crore is a fair amount, what would be the correct amount of compensation owed to the parents of Thangjam Manorama, a young Manipuri woman who in 2004 was widely believed to be have been abducted, tortured, raped and murdered by members of the security forces, namely the Assam Rifles? Who will be held accountable for not releasing the government inquiry commission report, after serious discrepancies between Assam Rifles version of events and other objective data? What would be a fair amount of financial compensation for the mass gang-rapes of Kashmiri women in Kunan Poshpora, allegedly by soldiers of 4 Rajputana Rifles of the Indian Army's 68 Brigade?
"Should brown people escape their homelands to foreign countries to be considered as human beings by their 'own' state powers?"
Add to this the innumerable alleged illegal detentions, random beatings, rapes and so much more by police and security forces in India. Simply by tom-toming a heightened sense of what is unacceptable, one can win some kind of a self-absolving PR battle. Facts are another matter. Gods are yet another matter. The total amount of compensation (calculated using standards that the Indian government endorses in the Krittika case) for these crimes would make the Indian State go bankrupt. By its attitude to Manorama and Kunan Poshpora, vis-à-vis its agile responses to Sureshbhai Patel and Krittika case, the Indian State has already proven itself bankrupt in other ways. And it did so again in Hashimpura.
Should brown people escape their homelands to foreign countries to be considered as human beings by their 'own' state powers? Maybe they should wait it out for the unlikeliest scenario that these reparations, owed to millions of our own victims for brutality by security forces, are paid. That will actually bring in a lot more money in the bank accounts of most people in the subcontinent than the mythical Rs 15 lakh that Prime Minister Narendra Modi promised to each one of us.