Before the USCIRF gets trigger-happy in condemning India's treatment of minority communities, it would do well to peek into its own hate-filled backyard
The Union government has done well to dismiss the conclusions of the USCIRF, given the track record of the United States in treating its own minorities
The United States Committee on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) has ‘downgraded’ India’s status on the basis of metrics related to tolerance, from Tier 2, which includes countries on a ‘Special Watch List’, to the category of ‘Countries of Particular Concern’, alongside neighbours China and Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and 10 other countries.
The proximate provocation according to them, is the ‘culture of impunity for nationwide campaigns of hate and violence against religious minorities’ created by the new citizenship law, the National Register of Citizens and the Ayodhya judgment, among other things.
The Ministry of External Affairs has rejected these observations, saying, ‘We regard it (USCIRF) as an organisation of particular concern and will treat it accordingly.’ The Union government has done well to dismiss the conclusions of the committee, given the track record of the United States in treating its own minorities, especially with the current occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, Washington DC, often encouraging far-right, white-supremacist groups with his racist, spray-gun rhetoric, and the fact that since 11 September 2001, US foreign policy has been based implicitly on one form of Islamophobia or another.
Studies have shown and are continuing to show that African-Americans and Latin Americans have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic. Data from a recent study conducted in New York under the auspices of the Centers for Disease Control, showed that while the death rates were 92.3 and 74.3 of every 100,000 among the African-American and Hispanic communities, it was 45.2 among White people.
It has also been seen that neighbourhoods in which these disadvantaged communities live have been disproportionately affected. These are places, moreover, which typically have much more restricted access to health care. You don’t have to be a sociologist or economist to figure out that this differential outcome is the result of both greater poverty amongst these communities as well as skewed investment, whether private or public, in health (and other social) infrastructure.
This discrimination obviously didn’t just happen. It happened because the political and administrative systems in the US have built-in biases. It is against these systemic biases that we should see US President Donald Trump’s repeated incitements to racist violence. After assuming office, he said four US Congresswomen of colour should go back to their country of origin, regardless of the fact that three of them were born in the US and one grew up in the country.
During and before his campaign, he has repeatedly insulted African-Americans and Latin Americans. The most egregious of these being the instance in which he called immigrants from Mexico rapists. Trump has frequently insulted Islam and Muslims and has pursued immigration bans against people specifically from Muslim countries from the early days of his presidency.
It has been seen, too, in the United Kingdom that ethnic minorities have been disproportionately affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. Studies are showing that Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) groups have suffered more. A study from early this month shows that in a sample of 2,000 people affected by the coronavirus , 35 percent were from BAME backgrounds, though that group comprises only 13 per cent of UK’s population. The reasons for these are obviously not biological or genetic, but social, economic and political.
It is against this background that we must again see the persistent baiting of minorities and migrants, especially of colour, that the ruling Conservatives have both engaged in and encouraged. It is only now, with the National Health Service of the point of collapse, that the Conservative and other right-wing leaders are singing hosannas to the huge contingent of migrants that has kept the health services functional.
This is not meant to be a blanket criticism of the US and the UK, or other countries that have found that just as crises can build bridges, they can also drive wedges into existing fissures. Large swathes of continental Europe, Canada and Australia are also witnessing similar phenomena and are dealing with them.
India, too, has been dealing with irresponsible rumour-mongering, hate speech and hate crimes. Across the political spectrum, these have been noted. It is to be hoped that suitable actions erring, if at all, on the side of stringency will be taken to contain these, along with the virus. In some places, action has already been taken.
The cliché that we are as only strong as the weakest amongst us has been repeated ad nauseam ever since the pandemic started spreading, possibly because it is so obviously true. Alongside this, we need to remember that transmissibility is not determined by factors like religion, language, region and race, so, potentially we’re all at risk, differentially, only because our material circumstances vary.
But this is as much about the immediate and short terms, as it is about the long haul, because when we eventually see the end of the pandemic, we should not emerge as a dystopian or dysfunctional society. We must, thus, believe, with Martin Luther King, that the ‘arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice’.
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