Friday, 9 October 2015

Mr. President, Look The Other Way, When in Israel

Dear Mr. President,
You are leaving on a state visit to Israel on Monday the 12th October. While I wish you Bon Voyage, I just can’t resist temptation of giving you some tips which for a l’homme du Mond like you may sound trivial but for a novice in me and many others like me who feel anguished at the turn the events Indian state is taking, it is an expression of repulsion and it is better I get it out of my system.

Mr. President, we are aware that you had expressed desire to visit Ramallah and meet the Head of the Palestine state as well during the same visit. We are not surprised that the Government in power turned it down. The message is loud and clear, Look the other way, so that your conscience does not ask you awkward questions. You have another term to get elected!

You will find the Ben Gurion Airport most welcoming and hassle free. Yes it is. But not for those Arabs coming to visit their long left home, or ancestral village. Most of them despite valid documents and at times holding American passport, are held for hours and questioned repeatedly, some are stripped naked and in some cases denied entry altogether.  If any of the Arab visitors forgets to mention some small detour in his itinerary, he is treated as terrorist because he was lying to the state of Israel.

We are sure your sojourn in Israel will be highly sanitised but just in case you see a group of angry Jews running after an unarmed adolescent Arab youth shouting, “Kill him”, “he is a terrorist” and police gleefully comply and shoot him down, don’t ask what about Justice ? This is the Israeli version of it. Sounds strange? Shrug off the thought and look the other way.

If you spot five and six year kids taken away in high security prison vans for a crime of throwing stones at armoured personal carriers ploughing through their crowded slum settlements, you will wonder what about juvenile justice. Well this is war zone and these six year old are enemy combatants. Sounds strange? Look the other way.

Unlikely to happen but if you have to ever pass an Israeli check point and spot lot of activity of womenfolk behind a hurriedly curtained small area open to blazing sun, it is a makeshift  delivery room. Must be some unfortunate pregnant Arab women in labor pains after being held up at check points for several hours delivering baby in most unhygienic conditions. Don’t wonder if it is a boy or a girl. That is too naive question. Ask if the woman and the newly born are alive or dead. Before any question crosses your mind, look the other way, there will be a towering concrete wall running miles long enough to numb your senses and get lost into nothingness.

There will be a lavish state dinner in richly decorated hall and full of elites in Tel Aviv. Toast will be raised for the two ancient civilizations and great living democracies. Mind you, the person to whose health you are cheering a toast is considered architect of genocide in Gaza by over a million signatories in Europe. Does it contain any grain of truth ? Oh No. Why ask an irrelevant question.

In a way, Israel and today’s India are really identical in several ways. Majority community in both countries suffer from a false sense of persecution. Both have a common agenda of hatred and intolerance. And in both societies, having infiltrated the main stream discourse the extreme fringe elements have now become more vocal and assertive. Israel does not have a constitution. India had one which is more abused than used. Liberal Middle class in both countries is clueless and marginalized.

Then, why only in Israel? “Looking the other way”, has in a way become second nature to us here in India.  We do it every day. A couple jumps off the building only because their six-year-old dengue affected child dies on road as no hospital is willing to accept him. Mob breaks into someone’s house and kills the person because he is supposedly savoring meat of a holy cow. A Dalit is burnt alive because he enters temple. Even infants are raped and an alleged bicycle thief spends 27 years in Jail before his case comes for hearing in the court.

Mr. President, your trip to Israel is one of a political Night Watchman. The prior commitment of visit by Indian PM cannot be followed upon because Iran Nuclear deal has changed the Geo Strategic situation in the Gulf region. But here in India, you have a possibility of expressing your displeasure over the bizarre things happening around. Please do not look the other way. That way, history will remember you, be it one term or two.

Thursday, 21 May 2015

Ferguson & Baltimore, Segregation to Separation: 
Prophecy Coming To Pass

Source FT April 28th, 2015

It is unfortunate that, the violent racial riots in Ferguson and Baltimore,after the death of clearly innocent Black youth, is turned into a public debate on ‘need for better policing’. The casualty has been more fundamental issues like; century-old public policy of systematic social segregation, increasing economic inequality, and wholesale abdication by the state of social welfare obligations

Century-Old Systematic Segregation

According to The University of Chicago’s sociologist, Douglas S. Massey, “Housing segregation is both a consequence and a cause of Black poverty. Housing markets distribute not only a place to live, but they also distribute wealth in the form of home equity, education, the peer environment and exposure to crime,"

In 1910, a Black Yale Law School graduate purchased a home, in a previously all-White neighbourhood in Baltimore. The alarmed city fathers promptly issued an ordinance adopting residential segregation, thereby restricting African-Americans to designated blocks.

This was overturned in 1917, when the U.S. Supreme Court found the Baltimore ordinances unconstitutional by restricting the property rights of White homeowners to sell to whomever they wished. Baltimore immediately formed an official Committee on Segregation, which through building and health departments, persuaded real estate industry and White community organisations, to apply pressure to any Whites tempted to sell or rent to Blacks. Members of the city’s real estate board, for example, accompanied building and health inspectors to warn property owners not to violate the city’s color line. Neighbourhood residential associations made it impossible for isolated White property owners to sell or rent their property to Non-White customers. Developers could access subsidised housing loans, only if they gave an undertaking that they would not sell their properties to Blacks.

Moving on to 1945 and the end of the Second World War, that brought home war veterans, who needed housing. One such returning unit had, 20% African-Americans who were housed alongside their White fellow men, with whom they had lived and fought, looking after each other’s backs day and night. The very next day, all hell broke loose. Four hundred policemen were trying to keep at bay a White mob of 1500 men, some of them being their own fellowmen in uniforms. After Fifteen days of the struggle African-American families to made their way elsewhere.

In 1995, a housing lawyer from Johannesburg, South Africa, visited Baltimore to study; how to 'undo' racial segregation?, merits of integrated neighbourhoods, the constitutional right to choose where to live, and the role of the government in ensuring, equal opportunities and fair housing practices. Soon, he realised to his great disappointment, that Baltimore was no different than his native land, Johannesburg, when it came to a deliberate and intentional residential segregation. Real-estate agencies ''steering'' and the banks were ''red-lining'' the Blacks with almost identical indifference.

The Kerner Prophecy

During the years 1965 to 1968, America witnessed a huge eruption of over 300, race related disturbances, in across 200 cities and towns. Distressed by this unprecedented upsurge of mass fury, which needed federal troops at some places to establish peace, the then President, Lyndon Johnson, set up an enquiry commission formally known as the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders, which later on became more popular as the Kerner Commission, after its chairman, Otto J. Kerner Jr.

While ruling out any conspiracy, the commission identified racial discrimination, poverty, high unemployment, poor & inadequate schools, poor health care and sanitation as major contributing factors to the United States’ racial apartheid.

The early & selective leakage of this report incited ferocious criticism from the White community. Critics argued, that the report has blamed everyone except the rioters. The opposition was so strong and intense that, Johnson not only declined the request by commission members, but also took additional six months to disseminate its findings to the public at large and put the issue in right perspective, but he himself failed to act upon it.

The most often quoted statement from the report, the prophetic value of which is only being realized in recent times is:

“The United States is moving toward two societies, one Black, and one White—separate and unequal”

A forty year follow up study, conducted by Milton S. Eisenhower Foundation in 2008, reported that, while the Black middle class has grown and the Black businesses have multiplied, inequalities with racial dimensions have deepened further more.

 Sharing some comparisons, with benchmark conditions of 1968, the year in which Kerner report was published, are most telling:

§  African-American unemployment has continued to be twice as high as White unemployment during each of the 4 decades since 1968.

§  The child poverty rate increased from 1968 to 2007.

§  Since the Kerner Commission, productivity has increased significantly in America, but corporations have increased wages little, in real terms.

§  At the time of the Kerner Commission, CEOs of large American companies earned about 40 times as much as average workers. Today, CEOs of large American companies earn about 275 times as much.

§  There is continuing evidence from distinguished scholars that;

o   Some employers steer minority applicants into the worst jobs regardless of their qualifications.

o   Many real estate agents steer minorities to less desirable locations, compared to Whites.

o   Lenders treat minorities differently from Whites in terms of percentage of mortgage applications accepted.
 (Source: “What Together We Can Do: A Forty year Update on National Commission on Civil Disorders –Preliminary Findings” by The Eisenhower Foundation 2008)

What next?

In terms of social segregation and poverty, Ferguson and Baltimore belong to the top quartile of America’s racially volatile cities. There are more such places waiting to explode. The flicker of hope created by the election of Barack Obama as the first American, Black President (in 2008) has been snuffed out long back. Perhaps the only contribution this historic event has done, is that, race issues have ceased to make any place in the current Presidential debates

Racism, whose major manifestation and the perpetual continuation machine is housing segregation, has a reason for it. As sociologist Douglas S. Massey has said,  “segregation is a key cause of poverty because where one lives determines much about the life chances one faces."  And this in the United States is "Created by White prejudice, actualised by discriminatory behaviour and Condoned, if not supported, by government."

Today both, in the US and in Europe, overt racism is replaced by “politically correct behaviour” and the reality of social relations has been rarified. This has made the evil of racism omnipresent, omnipotent but still invisible. It is to the credit of White societies, that, this art is not only universalised and its social reproduction is also ensured.

All the same, it is true that today, world over, the public is way ahead of its political establishment. Hence, it is not Obama, who will bring the social change, but the more purposive and peaceful Fergusons and Baltimores that will.   

Because some day, as someone  has said, “Americans have to realize that they all may not have arrived in the same boat, but now everyone is in the same boat”.