One Night, Two Causes: Why The Protests In Mumbai And Chicago Are A World Apart

17/12/2015 4:05 PM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:25 AM IST

On 24 November, people took to the streets in two cities in two countries to protest against two different issues. Yet there is a world of difference between the protest in Mumbai and the one that took place in Chicago.

Hundreds of protestors took to the streets of Chicago on Tuesday night after police released a graphic dash-camera video showing a white officer shooting a black teenager 16 times in 13 seconds. It was disturbing and difficult to watch.

Seventeen-year-old Laquan McDonald was killed last October. It has taken this long for an investigation and a subsequent first degree murder charge for the officer Jason Van Dyke, 37, who is being held without bond. Van Dyke is a father of two children, aged 14, and 9. His attorney says his actions were justified and that he followed protocol.

"The protestors in America are asking hard questions: It's all about rights. Serious, important rights. The right to live, the right to be free and the right to challenge the government..."

Even before the judge ordered the release of the seven-minute video, which captured the last moments of the teen's life, Chicago had been preparing for the protests.

And it happened. Protestors formed human chains and chanted "we got to fight back" and "16 times" (referring to the number of times the teen was shot.

Chicago's Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Police Superintendent Gary McCarthy both appealed for peace but acknowledged that the residents' anger was not without cause. "People have a right to be angry, people have a right to protest, people have a right to free speech," McCarthy said to the media. "But they do not have a right to commit criminal acts."

McCarthy is referring to criminals acts of destruction of public property that had occurred earlier in the year in Ferguson, when another black teenager was shot by another white officer. Protestors hurled bricks through police cars and buildings. They were arrested and charged in those crimes, as is appropriate.

There are many unanswered questions in the MacDonald's case. He was armed with a three-inch knife and an autopsy revealed that he had PCP in his system. (PCP is a dangerous drug that can trigger violent behaviour. Its medical name is Phencyclidine and on the streets it is called angel dust).

Regardless, the residents of Chicago feel betrayed, enraged and angry at the tragic ending of a young man's life at the hands of a law enforcement officer, who was supposed to have upheld the highest moral and ethical standards in guarding and protecting the community.

The protestors in America are asking hard questions: It's all about rights. Serious, important rights. The right to live, the right to be free and the right to challenge the government when a wrong has been done. (While I write this, I checked the news to see if the protests were still peaceful, they were).

Now let's cut to Mumbai, where there were also protests on the night of 24 November.

The protestors were venting their ire outside the home of a movie star because he voiced his concerns that India is becoming increasingly intolerant.

While the protestors in Chicago are saddened and outraged at the death of a young man and are standing in the cold asking their government for accountability, the protestors in Mumbai are entertaining themselves by smearing black ink on Aamir Khan's posters and burning them.

While Chicago police promise arrests and charges in the case of the protestors who break the laws, India's government turns a blind eye to the unruly mob, almost as if they are granting their approval.

Which is the better country? Who is fighting for the issues that really matter? Who has the people's interests at heart? Who is pushing their government's agenda?

There is inequality, injustice, discrimination, unfairness and flaws in all countries. What distinguishes them, what unites them and ultimately makes them succeed are the people.

The people choose what is important and their actions make their countries what they finally become.

America has accepted that Black males are treated more harshly than Whites. They are working towards fixing this injustice.

"What is the message of the Mumbai protests? You can be rich, you can be successful but you just can't question the government."

India insists it is a "tolerant" country but proves every time that it is the opposite. Let's clear this once and for all -- if you attack someone who expresses an opinion that is different from yours, you are not tolerant. Period.

And as I am an Indian reporter who lives and writes from America, I would like to clear up some really screwed up notions you have about us.

When Non-Resident Indians agree with the Bharatiya Janata Party, we are deemed as very patriotic. When we don't, we are anti-national. Prime Minister Narendra Modi is given a rock star welcome by Indians worldwide and he tells us that he understands why we are "ashamed" of being Indians and he promises to fix all that.

But when a high-profile Indian says that he and his wife are worried for their child's future, he is attacked, mocked, endlessly abused on social media and by protestors, some of whom are BJP supporters.

What is the message of the Mumbai protests? You can be rich, you can be successful but you just can't question the government.

In America, the people don't agree with that. Perhaps that's why this is a progressive, liberal country. And India is stuck in a backward, regressive mode.

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