Simi Mehta

Impact and Policy Research Institute and University of Idaho conducted a Web Policy Talk on Blacks in USA & Dalits in India: The New Fight Against Discrimination Amidst COVID-19” on June 8, 2020. Acknowledging the barbarous death of an African-American Mr. George Floyd by a police-personnel called for an important discussion on the implications of the #BlackLivesMatter movement on the people and what does the vicious remarks of the world leaders such as Mr. Donald Trump where he says “looting invites shooting” entails?

The event was moderated by Dr. Simi Mehta, CEO and Editorial Director, IMPRI. Dr. Sydney Freeman Jr., Associate Professor, Organizational Learning and Leadership, University of Idaho and Former National Holmes Scholar along with Mr. Martin Macwan, Dalit Human Rights Activist; Founder, Navsarjan Trust and Recipient of Robert F Kennedy Human Rights Award (2000) graced this discussion with their presence.

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Recalling the teachings of Babasaheb Bhim Rao Ambedkar and Mahatma Gandhi, the discussion started with the initial remarks from Dr. Sydney Freeman Jr. He remarked that inequality in the USA is dated back to 150 years, where African Americans were brought to the USA to serve as free slaves. Even after 100 years, they were not considered as equal citizens and were feared of amenities such as housing, jobs etc. Though there is no explicit caste system in the US, still this caste system in the form of racism has developed over the years. He also said in response to politics of hate, that white people get nervous when they see black persons standing up together.

Even the police protect the interests of the whites in the community. Having the same fate of those black people frightens them. He also commented on the poor intersection between race and class. He further stated that an average black person can be the same as the average white person, where they get the same facilities. And during COVID-19, it is seen that many white people are out of work, i.e., poor whites are the same as poor blacks. He also claimed that elite black people who have resources also manipulate the situations in the delusion of peace. Further, he believes that we need to work with one another to bring about the change.

Mr. Macwan remarked that India is fighting against the 3500-year-old caste system. About 3000 Dalit women are raped each year. People practice untouchability but when women are raped, the same practice is discarded. Even after 74 years of independence, the end of slavery is a myth. The survey conducted by the organization of Mr. Macwan where more than 98000 respondents across 1569 villages have found that 90.3% villages, Hindu Dalits can’t enter temples. Even the reservations in the political institutions in these villages make Dalits sit on the floor.

In 54% of the government schools, in mid-day meal program, a state responsibility, there is separate queues for Dalit children. The survey was conducted in the state of Gujarat which is considered as the model state for rest of India but it has failed in fighting the deep-rooted systems of inequality. The denial of untouchability ignores the ground realities. Even at international level, the discrimination incidences are tagged as “internal matter of India”.

He said that globalization of human rights is also as essential as globalization of markets. He remarked that India is one country and two nations. The nation of the poor is considered as anti-nationals. The people who speak for human rights pushed behind bars without any strong evidence. He further said that India invests in resources to hide poverty as evidenced by the “Trump Wall”. He addressed the gap between the academic world and ground realities.

Most of the ground realities are either manipulated or hidden in the academic world. The challenge is to get the true picture in the data. The money is not being spent on welfare as depicted by the data in official records. There is a need for neutrality for the press since the real stories from the minority journalists are being prosecuted. The other challenge is to implement labour laws. The people end up migrating because they are not paid minimum wages for subsistence according to the laws.

While addressing the question how academia, education can help in reducing this discrimination, Mr. Macwan said the caste, race, discriminatory practices are interwoven into the textbooks. There is a need to develop a curriculum which is free of prejudices. There is also a need to increase self-employment among the people. The Dalit Shakti Kendra is one such institution which provides weeks long training to young people to develop the life skills and social & political awareness. The institution has trained over 10500 students in the last 18 years. He further states that discrimination is a historic issue and we need a giant network of people to fight the same.

Dr. Freeman believes that people can bring change from their existing specializations either be it academia, theatre or journalists. People have to remain in the place they are but they have to speak up when something is wrong. Building up wealth is another concern for the black people. The challenge is dated back in history showing that black people are being attacked if they purchase goods from their own community instead of white people. This historical memory is a barrier in realising equality. He concluded that there is a need to support black people’s business, institutions, schools and so forth.

Both panellists agreed on the fact that not only national but also international leaders should be accountable for the global peace. There is need to share the best practices around the world to combat the discrimination against Blacks in USA and Dalits in India.

Dr. Arjun Kumar, Director, IMPRI reminded the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, “Justice should shower from each mountain, each river and each natural resource by each human being” and of Babasaheb Ambedkar, “Liberty, equality and fraternity are non-negotiable”.

Dr. Nitin Tagade, sums off the comments by Dr. Freeman and Mr. Macwan by shredding some light on the unemployment and data figures.

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