Sikh attack: Why is India only outraged about its overseas citizens?

By Smita Sharma

Like so many other Indians, I'm outraged at the video of the elderly Sikh gentleman who was attacked by a British teenager on Coventry's Trinity Street. It's disgraceful that someone would attack an 80 year old pensioner, and that no-one helped him-all this in broad daylight on a crowded street. It's gut-wrenching to watch the elderly gentleman struggle to defend himself, and then hit the street, his nose gushing blood.

I'm just as outraged, though, that Harsimrat Kaur, Lok Sabha Member of Parliament and wife of Punjab's Deputy Chief Minister, could say this: "If a government headed by a Sikh PM will not take up this issue then I don't know what to say".

A screenshot of the video uploaded on YouTube.

A screenshot of the video uploaded on YouTube.

Here's why: Manmohan Singh isn't a Sikh Prime Minister. He's a Prime Minister who happens to be Sikh. His job is to defend the rights of Indians-not Sikhs, or Muslims, or Hindus, or anyone else.

It's one thing to be angry about anyone's rights being violated: we can, and should, be concerned when any group of human beings treat other human beings like animals. The Indian government should indeed voice its concerns loudly and clearly if Sikhs are vulnerable to racist attacks on the streets of British cities-though, I should add, we don't know for a fact yet if the violence on Trinity Street was racially motivated.

We should, however, be just as angry when protesters are mowed down in their hundreds on the streets of Cairo, or gay people are persecuted in Russia, when Shi'a minorities are butchered in Pakistan or Muslims are slaughtered in Myanmar.

More important, perhaps, we should be just as angry when these things happen at home: when our husbands and brothers and fathers treat women as sex objects; when Nepalis and African people are subjected to racist jokes; when Pakistani artists are silenced by fanatics in Ahmedabad.

Put simply, outrage about human rights can't be selective. We can't just get angry when our side, whoever "our" is, is the target.

Let's also put our nationalist sentiments aside long enough to remember that in western countries, victims often get justice-something missing in our own country. In Coventry, the accused girl has been promptly arrested. Not so the attackers of African students in India. Last month, a Darwin court sentenced a drunk couple to nine months in prison for ripping off a Sikh taxi driver's turban. Not so many men who have raped visiting white tourists.

It's worth noting, as Harsimrat Kaur hasn't, that the man who was attacked in the United Kingdom isn't an Indian national-and hasn't asked for India's help.

We should also accept that other countries have standards of their own we must respect if we make the choice to live there. France has a cherished tradition called Laicite, which mandates a firm separation of religion and state. They have banned the visible display of all religious symbols in public institutions. Perhaps we don't think it's right for them to disallow Sikhs from wearing turbans to schools, or force Muslim women not to wear headscarves. In that case, though, we should consider not living there, instead of pushing Manmohan Singh to tell the French how they should run their country.

Perhaps we think it's okay to beat our children-but we should know what the consequences are if we behave like that in Norway, and not expect Manmohan Singh to bail us out.

And yes, when we get angry about the way Sikhs are treated in the United Kingdom, or women are treated in Ireland, we should accept criticism in good grace about India's treatment of Muslims from Pakistan.

Smita Sharma is Associate Editor, Foreign Affairs, IBN7. She tweets @smita_sharma

Updated Date: Aug 21, 2013 09:12 AM

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