Ever since Sureshbhai Patel was assaulted by the police in USA’s Alabama state, there’s been some outrage in Indian Union’s government and media circles and correctly so. This 57-year-old man from the village Pij in Gujarat’s Kheda district was visting his prematurely born grandson. His son had gone to USA to study engineering and is now a USA citizen. Police confronted Sureshbhai as he was walking on the footpath in his son’s neighbourhood and briefly grilled him in English, a language that Sureshbhai didn’t know. Then he was brutally attacked, resulting in bloodying and paralysis due to severe spinal injuries. How ridiculous is it that simply not knowing a language can make one so vulnerable to this extent? It was a weird feeling learning about that because I had just flown from Bengal to Nagaland on a flight mostly filled with Bengalis and Nagas, on a flight that had no safety instruction, announcements, signage, reading material in Bengali or Nagamese. In USA, Sureshbhai didnt know Alabama’s language and was in danger. At Kolkata airport, most CISF personnel don’t know Bengali. At Bhubaneshwar railway station, most RPF personnel don’t know Odiya. In the Indian Union, the Central governmentairlines and railways don’t care about the mother-tongue of certain customers, thus endangering peoples’ lives daily. Why?
Many browns have been protesting American police brutality and racism with extra vigour this time – one way to get back at the communal harmony tips jabs USA president Obama has been giving to brownland. USA certainly has a pathetic record on this count. Mostly white police typically patrol mostly non-white areas to assault and arrest mostly non-white people who are then tried in courts full of mostly white judges. But change colour/race to caste/religion and the previous sentence hits uncomfortably closer to home. Something that is widely advocated in USA is to ensure that security is entrusted with locals, so that the force is racially representative and socially-culturally linguistically literate about the context in which it operates. However, in the subcontinent, the security apparatus carries forward the British colonial policy where ethnic insurgents from one area (say Nagaland) are typically dealt with by sarkari armed forces that hail mostly from another area (say Bihar and UP) to ensure “peace and prosperity”.
Why is it always the case that those deployed in Nagaland don’t know any Naga dialect, those deployed in Chhattisgarh don’t know Gondi, those in Manipur don’t know Meitei. Is this accidental? Is lack of mutual understanding between combatants, between armed forces and people necessary to ensure smooth and efficient security operations? What does ‘smooth and efficient’ or, for that matter, ‘security’ mean in such cases? What’s going on here, in our name? Why do they fear making local language literacy a pre-condition for deployment of forces? Sections of the audio excerpt from Sureshbhai’s attack communication log haunt me. One policeman asks, “Do you understand?”. Another policeman says, “I don’t know what his problem is, but he won’t listen”.
The audio communication between police personnel and a video of the attack on Sureshbhai is on public record. If brown people in USA are dealt with at this level of transparency, can we not expect at least that compassion from brown policemen in brownland? There is no security without compassion, without empathy, without legitimacy in the eyes of the people being purportedly ‘secured’. All acts that lack these qualities when done in the name of ‘security’ are sins in the eyes of gods, even if some ‘holy cow’ paper document says otherwise.