You have to be living under a rock to not know about the protests surrounding the death of George Floyd in the United States of America. The gruesome incident was a jolt to the world at large and sparked huge protests in several countries separated by oceans and seas. This was a protest where a certain community was targeted by the authorities, a community generally discriminated against. Another controversy erupted recently in India as well, where the Muslim community was targeted specifically by the CAA, a highly controversial bill passed by the Government of India. Here too, protests and demonstrations commenced. But on comparing these two incidents and the ensuing protests, certain glaring distinctions surfaced immediately.
The George Floyd Incident
On May 25th, four Minneapolis police officers arrested George Floyd, a 46-year old black man, after a convenience store employee called 911 and told the police that Floyd had bought cigarettes with a counterfeit $20 bill. Seventeen minutes after the first squad car arrived, Floyd was unconscious and pinned beneath three police officers and showing no signs of life.
After the videos of the gruesome incident went viral and started being reported on various news channels, some action had to be taken. The day after George Floyd’s death, all four officers involved in the episode were fired by the Minneapolis Police Department. A few days later, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter charges were levied against Derek Chauvin, the officer who had pinned Floyd down by his neck. This resulted in protests around the country, opposing the rather mild punishment. On June 3rd Hennepin County prosecutors added a more serious second-degree murder charge against Mr Chauvin and also charged each of the three other former officers, namely, Thomas Lane, J. Alexander Kueng and Tou Thao, with aiding and abetting second-degree murder. 
However, this could not be the end of the issue. The heartbreaking cries of Floyd reverberated in the hearts of people across all 50 states of America. In cities across the United States, tens of thousands of people swarmed the streets to express their outrage and sorrow, with the peaceful protests sometimes descending into unrest with certain incidents of looting and vandalism. This resulted in officers using tear gas and firing rubber bullets into crowds, many a time without due cause. However, this hardly deterred the demonstrators, whose primary objective was to make the American Government realize the gravity of the situation and compel them to develop appropriate laws and regulations to lessen if not remove the racial discrimination so deeply prevalent in their society.
However President Trump portrayed a rather aloof image when he tweeted that if the protesters breached the White House’s fence, they would “have been greeted with the most vicious dogs, and most ominous weapons, I have ever seen.” He also called on Democratic officials to “get MUCH tougher” or the federal government “will step in and do what has to be done, and that includes using the unlimited power of our Military and many arrests.”
Witnessing this behavior by the President, the indignation and resentment of the people across the world heightened to a peak. Solidarity marches and gatherings took place from cities ranging from Sydney, Beirut and Istanbul to London and Berlin. Even in a country like Syria, already devastated due to years of war, people stood upon the ruins of their country and protested the death of George Floyd and racial discrimination. The global movement spread like a wildfire, so much so that the George Floyd protests have become one of the largest civil rights movements in history, with officials and the general public in sundry countries condemning the ghastly scene.
Just as race has a rather unfortunate deep-rooted place in the minds of the people in America, religion plays an extremely delicate yet significant role in India. Let us focus on the beginning of the year when protests had broken out over an issue which targeted a single religious community of the country, the Muslims.
Protests Over the Citizenship Amendment Act
The Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) was passed by both Houses of the Parliament in December of 2019 and was seen as a quite contentious move on the part of the Modi government and alleged to be a broader push to transform India into a place where being Indian is synonymous with being Hindu. The CAA applies a religious test to whether illegal immigrants from neighbouring countries can be fast-tracked for Indian citizenship. It would apply to Hindus, Christians, Sikhs, Buddhists, Parsis and Jains – but not Muslims.
While Government officials had said that the law was intended to protect persecuted religious minorities in some neighboring countries, the law would not provide protection to persecuted Muslims, even to the Rohingyas in neighboring Myanmar. The law paired with the citizenship test that has left nearly two million people in danger of being declared stateless, had Indian Muslims fearing they were being targeted at a time when there had been a surge of anti-Muslim sentiment.
This led to violent protests by the Muslim community in Assam, especially in Guwahati. Reactionary protests were held as well in several metropolitan cities across India, including Delhi, Bangalore, Ahmedabad, Hyderabad and Kolkata. Students in universities like Jamia Milia Islamia, University of Delhi, Aligarh Muslim University and Gauhati University also joined the demonstrations to show their opposition to the controversial law. Soon the police retaliated with brutal force and a statement of solidarity was issued “condemning the recent police action and brutalization of students at Jamia Milia Islamia and Aligarh Muslim University”.
This event was followed by the banning of protests in several parts of India with the imposition of Section 144, prohibiting the gathering of more than 4 individuals in a public space as being unlawful and anyone found defying the ban would be detained. But in spite of this dread of detainment, tens of thousands of people protested in cities like Hyderabad and Patna, amongst other cities. But even in such a grave situation, communal violence could not lie dormant.
Mobs of Hindu men started brutally beating up Muslim men as religious riots engulfed the country’s capital, where Hindus were pitted against Muslims. The violence raged across the north-east of Delhi as mosques were set alight, Muslims were burned alive in their homes or dragged out into the streets and lynched. Muslim businesses and property were also set alight. In streets where Hindus and Muslims had lived peacefully together, bodies lay bloodied alongside discarded and burned-out cars, bikes, shattered glass and smoldering shopfronts.
The situation was further worsened by the encouragement provided by Indian politicians. Several BJP leaders had given incendiary speeches against the anti-CAA protesters, calling them ‘traitors’ and ‘terrorists’. Union Minister of State for Finance, Anurag Thakur raised the slogan “Desh ke gaddaro ko, goli maaro s***o ko. BJP MP Parvesh Verma also said, “There’s time today … Modi-Ji and Amit Shah won’t come to save you tomorrow”. In terms of repercussions, the politicians merely lost the privilege of having their names dropped from the “star campaigners” list at the order of the Election Commission.
Thus, we have on our hands two protests. Both are targeting a single community. Both involved an issue rather sensitive and delicate in the respective countries. But there are certain conspicuous details which stand out in both these protests, which make one distinct from the other.
Discernable Differences and Conclusion
The protests in America over the appalling death of George Floyd essentially affected only the black community. Thus, it was only to be expected when everyone from their community stormed the streets, demanding justice for one of their own. However, there was a pleasant surprise to be found at the sight of the protests. For joining the black community was their white brethren, protesting the racial discrimination prevalent in America.
The race is a factor which had been embedded in the minds of the people in the USA since many centuries ago. But on that day, it seemed as if this metaphorical division had vanished into thin air. No longer was the color of the skin visible, for every person protesting the grim incident saw only the gross injustice that had taken place, not the color of the person who was killed. It did not matter that George Floyd was black. What mattered was that he did not deserve to die.
In India, it is not a race but rather religion and caste which deeply influence the psyche of the general public. It is a deeply rooted prejudice that we harbor in our minds. Throughout the history of the country, there have been various instances of communal violence, mainly between the Hindus and Muslims. Tensions run high between these two religious communities and the anti-CAA protests proved to be no different. What made this particular protest truly heartbreaking though, was the utter humiliation that the Muslims had to face at the hands of their Hindu counterpart in addition to the lack of safety due to the CAA.
This is where the difference lies. Where the American society is making efforts to overcome the age-long stereotypes and prejudices, we in India have accepted them as a part of who we are. The fact that the killing of George Floyd was so gruesome was what made the people record that incident and make it go viral, with each and every channel reporting it and heavily criticizing the police officers responsible for it. This incident was the last straw which brought to light the systemic racism and bigotry being faced by the black people in every facet of their lifestyle. Had that step not been taken, George Floyd may have become one of the many black people who have become victims of racial discrimination in episodes which go largely unreported.
The situation in our country is vastly different. For even on witnessing an incident as cruel and frightful as that, it is highly likely to go unreported due to the mindset of the general public. Caste and religious distinctions are so widely prevalent in India that we have become extremely accepting of injustice resulting from it. Even when an event like this is reported, it is buried down soon enough, for fear of causing violent disturbance of a communal nature.
Hindus and Muslims have always had strained relations and this hatred has only sprouted and swelled into a metaphorical thorn-bearing bush, almost impossible to go through. And it is showing no signs of ameliorating in any way. If the situation stays the same, it will not be long before the entire country goes to the dogs.
We need to let go of the primitive prejudices we have been clinging to, for they do us a world of harm. Our country was made with the objective of being a safe haven for all cultures and it is crucial we keep that in our minds. Caste and religion have always been an important factor for the people of India, but divisions based on them only hold the country back from making progress.
It is imperative that we take steps to lessen this divide and make efforts to transform India into the country our founders had dreamed of. It would inevitably be a strenuous journey to achieve the pinnacle but the fruits borne from the process would nurture the grounds of the country and allow for a progressive society to emerge and grow.
 Section 144, Criminal Procedure Code, 1879