On the June 7, 2018 in the heart of New Delhi, a friend of mine was attacked by a group of cops for being an openly gay man hugging his friend, a trans woman. As I stood there fighting and standing up for him, I was referred to as a “Nigerian menace” who is in India to corrupt it with “prostitution”, all because of the colour of my skin and inability to converse in Hindi. I am a Tamil woman, and I carry my culture and skin color with utmost pride.
Following the incident, we went on a social media rampage against the Delhi Police and the issue went viral. We were summoned by the Additional DCP of Police two days later and our grievances were addressed. In addition, my friend and I have been invited to deliver a class to our harassers in order to “sensitize” them. But what we went through was an ordeal we won’t forget.
Since the incident, my mind had no dearth of reasons to go on an overthinking spree. As I was invited to deliver a sensitisation lecture to our harassers, my first instinctual reaction was that I felt humbled and honoured. Call it the ramifications of an overthinking mind, but over the course of the next few hours my mind transcended from an instinctual cloud and reached a visceral clearing.
During one of the past few days, I woke up with a jolt suddenly remembering something. It was a remark that my mother made about a domestic helper who was working at my uncle’s house in the United States. Before you start wondering why anyone would have such a redundant conversation, you need to understand that such conversations are the only common ground between my mother and I. My mum is fully aware of her “radical, non-monogamous, heretic of a daughter who is also a self-professed atheist and an anti-national” and therefore she avoids all liberal conversations “like the plague”. After relentless debates which would always end in resentment, I too decided to avoid than to salvage and rather let her revel in her own “cocoon of self-denial”. Anyway getting back on track, while retelling some bland gossip, she referred to the domestic helper as a “Negro”. I was appalled, not at the casual use of the slur, but because I knew that that was not the intent. Rather, it was the ignorance that outraged me.
As a matter of fact, my mum never anticipated that two days after she referred to a Black woman as a “Negro”, her daughter would be labeled a “Nigerian hooker”. And honest to my soul, that profiling and labeling did not offend me even minutely as I do not fathom why a “Nigerian hooker” would be denied basic human rights. But when I can give my educated, well-travelled mother the benefit of doubt for being a victim of blatant ignorance, why can’t I give the perpetually overworked, underpaid, and clearly ignorant cop a chance? But then I realized that one cannot stretch the fabric of the benefit-of-doubt paradigm to the point of ripping apart human dignity. The world is becoming an increasingly compact entity with every passing day, and it is of great impetus for all human beings to undergo a “liberal intervention”.
On the night of the incident, I recall a friend saying that constables in India are not privileged enough to be liberal. It was then that I started to ponder if the so-called privileged people are actually “privileged enough” to be liberal. But what is the context of the word “privilege” here? The privilege of knowledge? The privilege of accessing the internet? The privilege of being an alumnus of a reputed educational institution? No. To address fellow human beings with love and respect does not require any of these “privileges” . It only needs the “willingness” to be a better human being. I think the question of privilege holds no water, rather it is the ignorance that has manifested in its most vicious form in the human mind, that needs to be questioned. I believe that ignorance is the worst form of an excuse as it plummets not just you but the people around you into an abyss of apathy as a result of its implications.
Today, we are witnessing the fourth wave of feminism and its resurgence has shaken the world from all quarters—from fashion to economics to religion to politics. But, I feel (with all due respect) that we should all be liberalists before being feminists, as the need for the latter would cease to exist if the former is firmly anchored in the minds of people as a natural consequence. In a hypothetical (and stereotypical) situation, a majority population which labels (read: confines) itself to heteronormativity may still be a minority population elsewhere in the world susceptible to hate crimes. Take the case of an Indian techie who was shot dead in the USA. In this country he ideally would be the last person for a cop (or anyone for that matter) to unfairly target (unless he is inebriated) because he has conformed himself to the societal norms. He does not look “different” or express himself “differently”. However, this same man was the victim of a hate crime in the USA. This goes on to prove that no matter where you go, hatred persists and as civilized human beings, we need to root out the hatred rather than victim-bashing.
Finally, I’ll end with a quote by Chimamanda Adichie, the woman credited with coining the phrase “We should all be feminists”, that was also reprised a countless number of times from the Dior runways to US presidential elections. She says:
“Many stories matter. Stories have been used to dispossess and malign. But stories can also be used to empower and humanize. Stories can break the dignity of people. But stories can also repair that broken dignity.”
I believe that this would be one such story. A story of dignity—lost, found, fought for, and restored.