Eerie links between Ferguson and India

Two weeks ago, an article titled “Justice denied for citizens of Bhopal,” India was published in The Miscellany News(11.12.14). It mentioned how every now and then, the average person is gently reminded how insignificant they are in front of the larger structures, the systems that govern their life. The article had made me sad, both as the writer and its reader: Why was it the case that incidents like the Bhopal Gas Tragedy happened? Why had we become so oblivious and unaware of the injustices that were going around us? How could we let them pass?

It had barely been a week since these questions had started riddling me, when the verdict in the shooting of the Michael Brown case came out of nowhere (so much for being aware). It was disturbingly poetic: As we approached the 25th anniversary of justice being denied to the citizens of Bhopal, another case of injustice surfaced halfway across the world. Not just any kind of injustice, but injustice that was sentenced, proposed, propounded and asserted by those very systems that we had given permission to govern us. The contradiction is absurd.

But there is one key difference between what happened in Bhopal and what is happening 25 years hence in Ferguson. There is still time to make amends. Public outrage, usually, has been ridiculed for being a means that never really focuses on reaching a substantive end. Just the other day, the day after the verdict, one of the students in my Sociology 101 class aggressively questioned the purpose of the #BlackLivesMatter post-its, deeming them as “pointless”—and I understand where he is coming from. Facebook posts hardly materialize into legal actions. But the end that these posts, the flyers, the protests and the marches achieve, is something much greater–making people aware of the fact that justice has not been served, and every day that passes by is another day without it being served.

“Don’t post stuff on Facebook you ain’t living,” reads a comment on the Miscellany News Twitter page, citing a quote from a speaker at the recent Dutchess County prison rally. I agree. A few weeks ago, in another article titled “Gender equality a larger societal issue,” written right after the HeForShe campaign, I talked about the ‘false sense of philanthropic satisfaction’ that one achieves by pressing a ‘Like’ or sharing a post (Miscellany News, 10.1.14). I do not endorse ignorant behavior on social media as a solution to resolve the Ferguson case; I endorse any behavior that will help fuel public involvement and social outrage in the case, be it at the cost of the ignorance of a few.

Since the day of the verdict, the Ferguson case has reminded me of a homicide verdict that saw a similar end in India. On April 30, 1999, Jessica Lal, a former model, was shot dead at 2 a.m. by the son of a politician, in front of 300 possible witnesses, for refusing to serve liquor after the scheduled time. The case went to trial, and the culprit Manu Sharma, was not convicted. Five years later, a headline in the daily newspaper The Times of India (“No One Killed Jessica”) changed everything. Sustained public outrage after the headline, visible in forms of public protests, text messages, candle-lit marches, polls—kept media coverage alive. A pressurized government ordered the case to be reopened and assessed—leading to the acquittal of Manu Sharma on Dec. 15, 2006.

The Ferguson case right now finds itself in a similar position as the Jessica Lal case back in 1999. Though not as “open and shut” as the latter, the Ferguson verdict, that rules out indictment, is downright unfair, to say the least—a sentiment which has been assumed by a large section of our society. In 2010, only 11 out of 162,000 registered federal cases were given the same judgment as the one delivered by Ferguson’s jury. The country is outraged. College campuses, major cities—are witnessing protests. Social media is abuzz. All it needs now, is a structured continuation of all of these—to not let the people forget what happened in Ferguson before legal progress is made.

Over the past few days, as I spent Thanksgiving in New York City, I was caught off-guard by a protest at Times Square. I was aware of what had happened in the Ferguson case, but had it crossed my mind recently? No. When I returned back from break, the first thing I saw in Davison were the #BlackLivesMatter posters stuck on the walls, undisturbed—just as I had last seen them. Once again, I was gently reminded about Ferguson: made to remember that justice had still not been served. It is due to incidents like these that people stop and notice the thorns. Maybe, no change is visible at the moment, and one might use that to project cynicism against such “trivial” activity, but tonight, when I go to sleep, I know that I find myself more drawn and more involved in the protest because of such trivialities; and if this sentiment resonates with a million others—the end is nearer.

I quote the end of the article on the Bhopal Gas Tragedy: “The sad part is that this is not the first time we find ourselves in such a position, and I know this won’t be the last time. Yes, I am angry, but at the same time, I am disappointed…by convicting the right people at the right time, [the judgment of Bhopal Gas Tragedy] could have stood for much more. It could have sent the message, loud and clear, that if one commits a crime, no matter how influential, powerful or big he or she might be, justice will be served. It could have, but it didn’t. And now there is nothing we can do about it” (Miscellany News, “Justice denied for citizens of Bhopal,” 11.12.14).

Yes, there is one big difference between both these cases. There is still time to make amends. Justice can still be served in the Ferguson case and there is something we can do about it. Let’s not make a mistake again. Not every article has to end that way.

—Udbhav Agarwal ’18 is currently undeclared.

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