What if help never arrived?

A few weeks ago, while walking home in Delhi, I came across a young man lying down on the road, not moving. Upon coming closer, he had a bleeding, nearly severed ear and blood coming out of his nose. He was responsive, but barely. Without a phone or wallet on me, I tried in vain to convince someone to call the police or ambulance, but people curiously stared and continued on their way, writing off the man as “being a drunk.” The people at the stalls near the scene of the incident said he “fell down” and that this isn’t the “era for people to help each other.” Another clarified that it was a hit and run accident, which seemed inconsistent with his injuries. One person then proceeded to waste more time with a story about how he once tried to help someone who ended up stealing his wallet.

20-30 minutes later, after heading home and coming back with my phone and wallet, the man was still lying there, with more onlookers staring and walking on. After finally managing to get a crowd to gather around and help while we called the emergency ambulance and police helplines, I ran to a police booth nearby to get help. Out of the two police officers present at the booth, one was getting ready to leave, while the other turned to me and said: “It happened on that side of the street? That’s another jurisdiction I’m sorry. Sir, he’s probably drunk. You seem to be educated and not from India. This happens all the time here. Leave it be.”

By the time I got back, a police van had arrived on the scene, but there was still no sign of an ambulance. The police officer tried to inquire about what had happened, again with no real answers, and then told us to call an ambulance. A heated exchange followed where one concerned man berated the police officer for arriving late and not caring about the wounded, semi-conscious man. Finally, the officer agreed to have a few of us help him load the injured man into the police van to be escorted to a hospital. The same concerned gentleman accompanied the police officer in the van.

It has been a while, but I am still left wondering what happened to the injured man. Was he provided appropriate care at a hospital? Was he taken to a police lock-up and refused care as many are?

I am still in disbelief about the unabashed refusals of dozens of passerbys to tend to this man’s injuries. I am ashamed at myself for refusing to accompany the man in the police van to ensure he got the care he needed, out of fear of being harassed by the police at a later date. It is difficult to blame ordinary citizens in a country where bystanders who dare to bring injured patients to the hospital or police station face repeated calls to court or harassing calls by the police. A tacit message is relayed that we should simply mind our own business.

The good news, however, is that Good Samaritans are now explicitly protected by a 2016 Supreme Court judgment, in which the Court stipulates that “people who help victims of road accidents or other calamities are not harassed in any way.” Unfortunately, my own reluctance to get involved is a testament to the limited amount of awareness around this recent development. As a privileged, upwardly mobile male, I have relatively little to fear compared to the stall owners who opted to keep their mouths shut on that fateful evening. Yet, I still managed to succumb to fear.

Bystander non-intervention is a problem no matter which country you hail from. The 1964 Kitty Genovese murder in the United States is a landmark case that laid the foundation for emergency helplines and bystander trainings, but bystander apathy is no relic of the past even in the US. In India, the situation is further complicated by a justice system that continuously fails to bring perpetrators to justice, a law enforcement system that harasses innocent bystanders looking to right a wrong, a traffic nightmare that leaves injured victims at the mercy of bystanders rather than trained emergency response crews, and a largely overburdened populace that faces enough socio-economic difficulties in day-to-day life without having to worry about complete strangers on top. None of these factors excuse bystander apathy, but they do help create a toxic atmosphere of callousness and indifference to the suffering of those around us.

We can all do so much better. I am still shocked at the explicit instructions of the police officer to “leave it be” and mind my own business, all conveyed with a gentle smile. I am outraged that “being drunk” was enough of a justification to allow the man to lie dying on the road with incoming traffic. I am appalled at my own selfish desire to get on with my evening without seeing the situation through to a fruitful end. And I’m left confused about what I would do in a similar situation if it involved violence taking place in front of my eyes. I’m left with more questions than answers, but I urge my fellow citizens to never let apathy or callousness set in. As a bare minimum, call for help and ensure help arrives while being mindful of avoiding harm to yourself. Last week was a personal reminder that bystander non-intervention is a real phenomenon that can cost lives. Apathy and callousness may not be as evil as inflicting grievous bodily harm on another human being, but they create the conditions in which evil thrives and perpetuates.

We can all do so much better.

“The standard you walk past is the standard you accept.” –Lieutenant General David Lindsay Morrison

Reinventing media with the Good Men Project: the conversation no one else is having

Ever wondered what a truly participatory media company might look like? There is no shortage of men’s magazines, news sources, or online blogging platforms, but what does a truly engaging media experience look like? In a day and age where people feel increasingly disconnected with the media and feel polarized and isolated, the Good Men Project (GMP) offers an opportunity like no other. With Social Interest Groups that foster conversations around everything from conscious intersectionality to men’s mental health, GMP offers a way for people to connect with anybody else on the planet in an organized fashion.

As a blogger, the Good Men Project has offered me the unique opportunity to connect with other like-minded bloggers, established authors, as well as an entire community of global citizens committed to having important conversations and creating mindful social change. It has pushed me to challenge my own preconceived notions of what being a man in the 21st century entails. It has connected me to an editor who shares my values and pushes me to become a better writer.

When you join The Good Men Project, you become a part of the media. If you want to become a part of the GMP community, be sure to check out the website. The Good Men Project is interested in growing and scaling these initiatives and expanding the community through the IndieGoGo campaign. Help the campaign succeed with either a small donation or spreading the word in social media!

Engaging with Empathy

A few weeks ago, a close friend recounted an unsettling encounter she had with a random, middle-aged gentleman on the streets of London. After exchanging pleasantries, the seemingly benign conversation took a rather strange turn:

“I’m from London, but my parents are originally from India. So you said you’re from Switzerland? Do you remember the Swiss referendum against the construction of minarets?”

“Yeah I campaigned against it.”

“Yeah that’s great because minarets are no good for us.”

“No no no, I was against the initiative, so basically in favor of building the minarets.”

She had barely clarified her stance on the controversial referendum when the man launched into a bitter diatribe against Muslims:

“Young people like you are so naïve and completely brainwashed in thinking that Muslims aren’t coming here to kill us all. This is an army- they are coming as an army. My parents suffered under the Muslims and were refugees in their own country. You don’t know what they are coming here to do. Why do you think all the refugees are men between the ages of 18 and 35?”

As she tried to interject and point out that this was likely due to young men having a greater likelihood of surviving the perilous crossing, he became more agitated. “It was good they banned the minarets, because once they build one, they build ten.”

The conversation ended here as they parted ways, but my friend was left disconcerted. In narrating her own experience, she expressed her discomfort at addressing a person of color about his own bigotry- “if he had been from my culture, I would have felt more comfortable telling him off, but I didn’t know how to address him without fully understanding his family’s history and life experiences. I didn’t feel comfortable negating his pain, as uncomfortable as it made me. The roots of racism run so deep- it’s so much more complicated than we think.”

As I mulled over my friend’s dilemma, I couldn’t help but reflect back on all the anti-Muslim rhetoric I had heard over the years from distant relatives, colleagues, and even some people I consider to be friends. Just two weeks ago for example, an otherwise thoughtful colleague posted a status questioning the contributions of Islam and publicly accused all majority Muslim countries of not allowing any other religion to flourish. Such brash, inaccurate and insensitive statements caught me off guard as they were not typical for him.

While confronting him about the status, I was finding it difficult to control my own frustration at reading such words. However, when we finally broached the topic after a few days, I realized he had spent half a day reading about the forced exodus of Kashmiri Pandits from the Kashmir Valley in 1990, amid rising tensions, violence, and forced evictions. Over 60,000 families from the Valley are internally displaced in India to this day, but he feels frustrated that they are neither officially recognized as Internally Displaced People nor highlighted appropriately by the mainstream Indian media. What followed from this realization was a “rushed, emotional response” as he put it, which he immediately regretted.

As flawed and hurtful as his words were, they managed to shed a spotlight on the difficulty of having a productive discussion about racism and bigotry without first understanding where the other side is coming from. In this particular case, the wounds of historic abuses of power in areas of India where Hindus have been a minority still run deep. Even older generations of Indians who have migrated abroad to countries like the United States often carry these sentiments with them. Over the years, many of these wounds have lightly scabbed over with racist stereotypes to make sense of the suffering they have undergone. The hidden bigotry manifested itself in interesting ways in 2016 when the Republican Hindu Coalition vociferously rallied for Donald Trump and aided his electoral victory, despite his racist, misogynistic, and xenophobic sentiments. A particularly disturbing charity concert stoked anti-Muslim sentiments further by featuring a dance performance where dancers were attacked by terrorists shouting in Arabic, before being heroically rescued by Navy Seals.

HRC

Source: Google Images

To be clear, historical wrongs do not excuse modern-day racism: they merely provide an important lens to start a conversation. As my colleague and I sat down to openly discuss the events of 1990 and broader trends throughout Indian history, we came to a shared understanding around the religious tensions between communities in post-independence India as well as the role of power and politics in stoking these sentiments for political gains. One conversation probably did very little to shift the perceptions on either side, but we did manage to engage in civil discourse because it was easier to appreciate where the other side was coming from.

Many of us have struggled with the occasional, blatantly racist stranger or the casually bigoted uncle, but how do we begin a dialogue without having the complete context? The impatient, social justice oriented, millennial impulse within me urges a hardline stance: we can have fruitful debates over politics or economics, but we do not have any obligation to entertain or empathize with racist beliefs.

But this also leaves me unsettled.

In a world with increasingly polarizing views and divisive rhetoric, what other avenues exist for hearing and challenging the views of the other side? I come from a generation that has little patience for arguments lauding how far we have come as humanity, because we recognize that the historical evils we celebrate overcoming should never have existed to begin with. But change has rarely happened in punctuated bursts—it has happened over generations, through the persistent efforts of activists and the incremental shifts in policies. As the pendulum of politics swings back and forth from one administration to the next, we must engage with empathy even where none is possible, while continuing to fight for justice and equity at every turn in order to ensure that the arc of the moral universe bends in the right direction. The two are not mutually exclusive.

There will always be those for whom empathy will not work, individuals who are far too entrenched in age-old beliefs. However, we must recognize that racism operates on a spectrum from systemic to individual and blatant to subtle. If we take a hardline stance and refuse to engage in discourse where possible, we risk a more divided society where vulnerable groups are pit against one another without any space to discover common ground. While it isn’t our responsibility to engage racist attitudes, it is only through an empathetic understanding of the roots of racism that we can begin to push back against long-standing beliefs that have passed down from generation to generation.

 

Requiem for the model minority myth

“We built our dream home, which he painted, and installed the garage door…this was the home that he had built…for us and any kids we would have. (It was) our first step to starting our family. It’s so unfortunate that this dream of ours is now shattered.” These powerful words were spoken by Sunayana Dumala, the widow of Srinivas Kuchibhotla who recently succumbed to his injuries from the racially motivated attack in a Kansas bar. Beyond serving as a heart breaking reminder of the trying times we live in, Ms. Dumala’s words also hammer the final nail in the coffin of the model minority myth.

To be sure, Indians, along with other Asian Americans, are thriving economically, with higher average incomes than Americans of other racial groups. Most of us do not have to fear for our lives during routine interactions with law enforcement either. This is a privilege we do not deny. However, this simplistic comparison between historically marginalized minorities creates a favorable and false stereotype that prevents members of these groups from seeking help when it is needed. It forces them to underreport harassment or abuse when it occurs and it forges a false hierarchy of oppression, which has no basis in reality.

Source: Google Images

It is time to put this myth behind us once and for all. The only purpose it serves is to divide minorities and their allies further within the confines of a White supremacist paradigm. As an Indian, I have frequently had to come to terms with the racism within our own communities. I have seen my fellow brothers and sisters co-opt faulty stereotypes of the Black experience in America. I have heard implicit (and occasionally explicit) expressions of gratitude for our place in American society. “At least we’re more accepted than the Blacks.” Taking solace in such a hierarchy tacitly accepts the very presence of such a system in the first place. Our brutal history of colonial oppression should not be forgotten. A common tactic back then was to identify a third party that could distract from organizing and resistance. We faced it in India, and poor, disenfranchised Whites faced it here in America when they were pit against poor Black Americans organizing for their rights. Let us remember that we have far more in common with other oppressed groups than we like to believe. Let us recognize the ways in which we have internalized this model minority myth ourselves.

The brutal hate crimes against three Indians in the past three weeks alone have been a chilling reminder of the vulnerability “safe” and “model” minorities continue to face. If there is any silver lining to the hateful rhetoric and conniving policies plaguing our political climate today however, it is the fertile ground for new relationships between historically oppressed groups that have been structured to clash with one another for decades. Edmund Burke once said that the only thing necessary for evil to triumph is for good men (and women) to do nothing. Power can only be consolidated until the resistance to it is divided and distracted. No more.

 

Unraveling the mystery around interracial relationships

I recently watched Barry, a biographical film about Barack Obama’s early life at Columbia that depicts his struggle with coming to terms with his own identity as a Black man raised by a White mother. The film focuses rather heavily on Obama’s interracial relationship in college, taking the viewers on a journey from the initial attraction to meeting the parents to the ultimate unraveling of the relationship in the face of his growing uncertainty around his own identity. As a friend and I discussed the film, we wondered whether it essentially puts the nail in the coffin on the long term prognosis for interracial relationships.

Source: Google Images

There are certainly a LOT of opinions on interracial relationships. If you simply google the term, you can find countless articles with little pearls of wisdom highlighting 7 things everyone should understand about interracial relationships or the 12 best things about being in an interracial relationship. On one end of the spectrum, you have people who argue that interracial relationships can never work, while on the opposite extreme, you have those who passionately call for interracial relationships as the solution to systemic racism.

As an Indian man dating a Japanese American woman, I feel blessed to experience the joys and the troubles associated with interracial relationships firsthand. Unfortunately, I can quickly dispel at least one common myth: despite our adorable relationship goals, we have had zero impact on institutional racism, and little to no control over quizzical stares in our direction or comical questions over our identities. There are, however, a few areas where I do hope we can promote change. As my better half finishes her Peace Corps term on a remote island in the Western Pacific and arrives in India, we will inevitably force all previous generations of Nairs to come to terms with welcoming a non-Indian into their family. The family is going to have to adopt its very own “Look East” or “Asia Pivot” policy. My extended family is used to change and to modernizing influences, but this will still be a paradigm shift for them. You see, my father and mother are from South India and North India respectively, and their love story resembles a Bollywood love saga: boy and girl meet at work, fall in love, boy and girl marry against parents’ wishes, but parents eventually come around when the first child comes into the picture. This was the drama around what was then a scandalous, inter-caste, inter-regional marriage. I have no idea what to expect in our case, but thanks to changing times, at least the parents seem to be cautiously on board with the idea. This gives me some solace as we unravel the stitches on old wounds.

I have more than a little fear at what lies ahead with the potential experiment of living together in India, even assuming things go very smoothly in family matters. There is the subtle and occasionally blatant racism experienced by individuals who look like they are from Northeast India, the curious and occasionally hostile staring, and, of course, the safety concerns that apply to any and all women navigating an unknown territory. After having been long distance for over 2.5 years though, I can safely say the excitement overpowers the anxiety.

My partner once showed me an article that anecdotally mentioned how interracial couples have to put in twice as much effort to make the relationship work. Otherwise, the judgment, both internalized and external, begins to unravel the relationship. I think back to Barry and ask myself what went wrong and what lessons we can learn from this romanticized story (assuming the depiction is at least somewhat accurate). The one lesson that jumps out is that when two consenting individuals enter into a relationship based on different cultural backgrounds or identities, it becomes difficult to isolate yourself and start questioning your own identity without involving the partner in the process. The hostile stares, the uncomfortable family probes, and the quizzical questions from strangers start piercing deeper and deeper the minute you isolate your partner from the equation.

In the end, interracial, and, in my case, intercontinental, relationships have the power to bridge cultural gaps and combine the best of both communities into one harmonious union. And yet, attitudes and systems are both sticky and vulnerable to internalized racism. While I have neither the qualifications nor the foresight to offer advice for other couples navigating this tenuous yet rewarding space, I look forward to seeing where our own process takes us and hesitantly remind myself that circumstances vary and Barry isn’t an automatic death sentence for all interracial couples.

Disrupting our discomfort with Blackness

A few months ago, I wrote a post about the fairness cream industry in India and how it exploits pre-existing caste, class, and skin color norms. The causes prove elusive. Perhaps, as a country and people, we Indians suffer from some twisted form of post-colonial separation anxiety, having been taught to value White as being superior. Whatever the reasons, it is clear that we are far from transcending stereotypes and perceptions based on nothing more than the color of one’s skin.

I was recently having chai with an Indian American family friend of ours in Mumbai. As we talked and sipped, the conversation drifted to her experiences with her friends in the U.S. She was telling us how she is an anomaly in her family, because the vast majority of her friends in the U.S. happen to be Black. When her extended family and Indian friends heard about this, they warned her repeatedly to be “careful of the Blacks” and that “it’s best to avoid them altogether.” What feeds these perceptions? Among my admittedly limited sample size of Indian American friends, there seems to be a noticeable preference for immersing ourselves in the company and culture of White or Asian friends. Sometimes, this manifests in actively avoiding Black culture. Is it simply a cultural difference based on what we are familiar with? Or is it mixed in with our preconceived notions of what is considered worthy, safe and desirable company? 

protest

Source: Google Images

Back in the motherland, these pre-conceived notions can often play out in dark ways. In 2016 alone, there have been five arrests over assaults on African citizens in India. In response to the justified anger and caution by African ambassadors, some officials have responded by claiming that there is “no element of racism in these attacks” and that these are “isolated incidents.” When similar heinous crimes are committed abroad where Indians are the minority (such as in Australia in 2010 and against Sikhs in America in 2014), we are quick to identify racism as the culprit, demand justice, and ask for a national level conversation around racism. Why get defensive and turn a blind eye when Indians end up in the driver’s seat? When we write off such behavior as isolated or unavoidable, we create an atmosphere of tolerance toward intolerance. I commonly hear peers reflecting on how racism towards Black citizens is rampant in the United States, but the same level of insight and introspection is not applied to our own country. If we demand and advocate for the protection of our citizens abroad as we should, we have an equal responsibility to protect minorities on our home turf.

Beyond protection, the larger question remains of how we shift cultural perceptions of our discomfort with Blackness. The first step is recognition: recognition of our biases and our shortcomings, rather than defending our thought processes on auto-pilot. Shun those fairness creams and demand that people value you for who you are rather than the color of your skin on a picture on some matrimonial site. If you are Indian American, learn about Black history and Black culture in the United States and make an effort to get to know people you might consider alien to your own culture- as my friend said, you’d be surprised at how similar some of our cultural norms and practices are! It is only by actively recognizing and calling out our society’s discomfort with Blackness that we can begin to address the racism embedded within our own caste and class norms. 

Gandhi, despite all his greatness, used to hold strong convictions about Indians being superior to native Africans in this mythical hierarchy among the oppressed. Even the mahatma had his flaws, and there is no shame in admitting them along with his redeeming qualities. There is shame, however, in reverting back to these outmoded notions of racial superiority in the 21st century. We can and we must do better.

Disability: The Inconvenient Afterthought in Social Justice

When we speak about social justice, we frequently talk about racial justice, gender discrimination, or class-based discrimination as we should, but disability is almost always a footnote, if it is mentioned at all. Few people know about the active complicity of the United States government in the mass sterilization programs against the disabled in the early 1900s, and the apologies that came decades later in North Carolina and even California. Our history textbooks do not dwell on the fact that the Nazi eugenics program was, in large part, inspired by research taking place at Cold Spring Harbor on Long Island and that Nazi racial science was funded by the Rockefeller Foundation. While societal attitudes toward sterilization and disability may have shifted, true diversity and inclusion, especially on university campuses, remains an illusion.

By way of example, the Harvard Chan School of Public Health (HCSPH) recently conducted a Culturally Engaging Campus Environments (CECE) assessment, analyzing the degree of diversity, equity, and inclusion in its educational environment. This “multi-phase, mixed-method assessment” interviewed graduate students, academic appointees, and staff members, and found an overall “lack of clarity and consensus about commitment to diversity,” as well as “sexism, racism, and classism in the School climate and culture.” I was pleasantly surprised to note that the survey actually examined disability at all, but the results are buried in the last few pages of the report. Even when it was examined, the results were glossed over without detailed qualitative insight. Here is one example of such a finding:

“When disaggregated by ability status, the results show that those with a diagnosed disability were more likely than their non-diagnosed counterparts to often not express opinions in fear of backlash (42% and 29% respectively) and feel devalued on campus (35% and 20% respectively).” 

The above excerpt appears on page 99 and is not followed by any qualitative insights into why this is occurring or what the attitudes of students, faculty, and staff are toward the issue. Racism, sexism, and classism, by contrast, are explicitly named on countless occasions and detailed extensively under the ‘key qualitative findings’ section. Disability is presumably roped into the “Marginalizing Classroom Climates for Historically Underrepresented Populations” section, although never explicitly named. The last straw in this expensive yet poorly prepared study is that disability does not even crop up a single time in the executive summary or the final recommendations. It is as if the intention was to hear just enough people to check the disability box, but never once put adequate thought into addressing the concerns.

At the end of the day, the argument is not that racism, sexism and classism get undue attention, but rather that disability is always sidelined. Inclusion, as a whole, is treated as an issue in passing, only to be addressed when student protests pose a serious threat to the university image. Diversity offices are underfunded and support staff are inadequately trained and supported. It is high time that universities get serious about taking the voices of students with disabilities seriously and educate staff and faculty on making the educational environment more inclusive.