Indians have taken so many of their modern political ideas and values from the Western Christian tradition that they naively assume that the West lives up to all its stated political idealism and professed civilisational values. That this is far from the living reality was brought home to many people late last month, when US President George Bush signed a bill granting Black Americans the right to vote for the next 25 years.
Whereas independent India opted for universal adult suffrage (then 21 years, now 18) without discrimination of gender, caste or religion, from the very first general election of 1952. This lack of bias in citizenship did not prevail in many supposedly more advanced Western democracies. Swiss women got the voting right only in 1974.
In the United States, supposedly the leader of the free world, the descendants of the former slave population first received voting rights only in 1965, under the Voting Rights Act signed by President Lyndon Johnson. However, this so-called historic legislation did not amend the American Constitution to give all Black adults voting rights in perpetuity from 1965 onwards, thereby necessitating an enabling legislation from subsequent Presidents to extend this privilege. America'sBlack citizens are denied the ?birth right? to vote; denied equality with the White settlers, who had shipped them to America. Their vote is a favour from the White people, and can theoretically be denied in the future. Even if this does not seem a plausible course of action, it certainly institutionalises the deep racism of White America, which insidiously perpetuates inequality and discrimination at every step.
All men are obviously not equal in America. What is even stranger that as the President signed the bill in the presence of Members of Congress and so-called civil rights leaders, not one of the high-profile guests thought it incongruous that the legal right to vote for American Blacks is still not being built into the Constitution. News reports suggest that the Republicans pushed the legislation early (the present right to vote expires only next year) because of the forthcoming elections in November; yet even they were content with a mere tokenism.
Imagine if a similar situation had prevailed in India, vis-?-vis the former untouchables of Hindu society? Can you imagine how America'sphoney human rights industry and Dalit Christian lobbies would have hounded India in the international media? Of course, not one of the richly-funded anti-Hindu NGOs of America, such as Angana Chatterji, Martin Macwan and the like, will raise so much as a whisper in protest at the entrenched discrimination of (White) American law. It would be too much to expect Harvard Master Amartya Sen to show compassion for the wretched of the so-called free world. Best to leave Uncle Tom in his log cabin, and suck up to Uncle Sam.
I am, however, at a loss to understand the attitude of prominent leaders of the Black community. Do civil rights veterans like the Reverends Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson believe that Blacks are inferior and should enjoy the vote, not as a right, but as a concession from White America? Do they believe that their common Christian god created men to indulge in and institutionalise inequality, or even worse, inhumanity? Is this what the late Martin Luther King Jr. and Rose Parks struggled to achieve?a concession?
Of course, this explains why America can never envisage a Black President, or even Vice President or Chief Justice. If it takes more than two hundred years for a Jew to stand as running mate for a presidential candidate, it is safe to assume that the leadership of the free world will continue to vest with the descendants of the White settlers till kingdom comes. And for all the talk about racial equality and ?melting pot? culture, America'sprivileged families do not go in for religious or ethnically-mixed marriages; they prefer pure White Anglo Saxon Protestant (sometimes Catholic) bloodlines. Mixed marriages are for lesser folk and the ?melting pot? is for other cultures and groups to melt into, so as not to disturb the tenor of the American way. Bobby Jindal could get elected to the Senate as a Christian convert; as a Hindu he would stand no chance at all.
If this is the situation with Blacks, who have no other country or identity, the Liberia experiment having failed and slavery having denied them memory of race, tribe and country, there is no legitimate reason to believe that America'sother non-White immigrants have better civil rights. I would truly be interested to know if Hispanics and other South American immigrants, Arab/Muslim, Indian, Chinese or Japanese immigrants enjoy constitutional rights which cannot be done away by Presidential fiat, and specifically, if their right to vote is by the political grace of White America or at par with it.
American Indians, who campaigned for the denial of visa to Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi; America-sponsored NGOs, which propagate the dismal plight of India'sHindu Dalits but tolerate the demeaned status of Christian Dalits within the Indian church, should be called upon to throw some light on these matters.