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Tag Archives | liberal democracy

Racism in India’s Silicon Valley

The series of mob violence against non-locals & foreigners in Bangalore reinforces the fact that racism is not just confined to the West

Bangalore is India’s answer to the Silicon Valley. Known as the IT and start-up capital of the country, it boasts of top quality education. It produces second highest number of engineers after Delhi and has the highest number of software companies in India. With such a cosmopolitan culture and a melting pot of migrant student and working population, one would expect the city to be high on social values and ethos. Some of the recent happenings have exposed the aberrations of a society that could be bordering on extreme form of racism.

On Sunday January 31, a Sudanese student named Mohammed Ismail killed a 35 year old woman by his speeding car. The crowd chased him and assaulted him while torching his car as he was allegedly drunk. He was later handed over to the police. Half an hour later, a Tanzanian woman with her two friends passed the same spot in her car and stopped to enquire about the happenings.  She was instead chased by a mob and stripped. Her car was also burnt by the angry mob. Mercifully, she was saved by a couple of samaritans who formed a human chain around her. The Tanzanian High Commission took up the matter diplomatically. Sushma Swaraj, India’s external affairs minister has assured of action against the culprits. The mob behaviour was certainly despicable not befitting a liberal society. This was not the only incident that has tarnished the city’s image.

Four months ago, an Australian national, Matthew Gordon was harassed by locals for sporting the tattoo of an Indian goddess. The Australian was given a dressing down by the police on Indian values and Hindu culture. What was surprising in this case was that the police forced the man to give a written apology. Reportedly, none of the intimidators were warned by the police for their vigilante behaviour. If these two incidents involved foreigners, another one in 2012 saw panic exodus of youngsters from northeastern India fearing violence. However, the exodus was triggered by social media messages and the local police claimed no reported violence against them.

There is no need to politicise the incidents. It clearly shows the society’s pathological non-acceptance of people who are ‘foreign’ with a darker shade of skin colour. In the case of Australian, it is a case of not tolerating a difference in attitude. Indians are well known for their liking of fair skin. To vent mob anger against people of darker skin in the most brutal form of violence takes this to another level. In mob fury, reasonable individuals are the first casualty for they tend to get swept aside by the tide of hatred. We only need to sensitise the society by constant engagement towards normative behaviour. Sensitising the police too is an essential step. Racism is not to be tolerated.

Guru Aiyar is a research scholar with Takshashila Institution and tweets @guruaiyar

 Featured image: Racism by Farhad, licensed by creativecommons.org

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Why should Section 377 go?

Repealing of Section 377 by the Supreme Court will mean victory for equality and dignity of the individual

A strange kind of football was being played between the Indian legislature and judiciary on Section 377 of Indian Penal Code(IPC). Section 377 outlaws relationship between same sex couples and carries a stiff penalty of imprisonment up to 10 years. Enacted by our colonial masters in 1862, it smacks of medieval prejudice which by any stretch or argument, is draconian in the present day context. The Supreme Court in December 2013 reversed a Delhi High Court verdict of 2009 decriminalising gay sex. The central government officially stated that it cannot intervene in this matter as it is sub-judice. An attempt by Congress MP Shashi Tharoor, to introduce the Bill in the parliament during the winter session in 2015 was scuttled without even being debated.

The Supreme Court on February 2, 2016 referred a batch of curative petitions against Section 377 to a five-judge Constitution Bench for in-depth hearing.  In legal terms, a curative petition is the last resort for redressal of grievances. While referring the matter to a five-judge bench, the Chief Justice noted that the case involves questions with constitutional dimensions. There is a strong lawful argument to strike down Section 377. That right to privacy is a fundamental right. And a person’s sexuality is the most precious and private of rights.

In June 2015, the US Supreme Court ruled that the gay community was entitled to due process and equal protection in the matter of marriage thus legalising gay marriages. In fact, this was a hard won battle by the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) activists. There are 21 countries in the world where same sex marriages are legal. England repealed this law in 2013. According to Lawyers Collective, Section 377 lacks precise definition. It has come to include all manner of “immoral” acts other than acts that are considered natural. This section violates articles 14, 15, 19, and 21 of the Indian constitution which guarantee equality, freedom of expression and personal liberty to all its citizens.

Although chances for success in a curative petition are very slim, this is the time for a serious introspection and honest evaluation by the apex court. Where does the honourable court stand on the issue of homosexuality?  This is not a matter of judicial overreach. All that the Supreme Court should do is to enforce the fundamental rights of the citizens of India.  For a liberal democracy, to criminalise sexual activity between consenting adults of the same sex is plain repressive which places it in the same league as some Middle Eastern countries.


Guru Aiyar is a research scholar at Takshashila Institution and tweets @guruaiyar

Featured Image: Law and Order by Paige, licensed from creativecommons.org

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