As I see people around the world, from Jameela Jamil to Project Nightfall speak out about this issue, I have hope for the world’s ability to be a global community. I can only hope we continue to have this same energy for all the future injustices that are yet to come. Don’t let this die out till justice is served.
Justice for what?
Trigger Warning: Violence, Sexual Assault
On June 19, the police of Thoothukudi, TN, questioned P. Jayaraj (59) and his son Fenix (31) for keeping their mobile shop open during lockdown. The men were brutally beaten at the knees. Then their faces were smashed against the wall while they were violently beaten from behind. Then men were completely stripped naked and thrown into jail. They were taken to a spot with no CCTV cameras. Steel-tipped sticks were shoved into their rears. These men experienced inhumane sexual torture that I can barely find the strength to type out. Their genitalia were ripped apart and so was their chest hair. The police sent home their blood-soaked clothes in exchange for new ones. These men bled profusely. The police arranged a phony trial with the magistrate. Within 2 days, these men were declared to be dead due to “heart failure” and “fever”.
Make no mistake:
- This is not just a custodial death – it’s murder, and it’s sexual assault as well.
- This is not a South-Indian issue- it’s a humanitarian issue.
- Do not try to link this with BLM, or say that this is worse than George Floyd’s death. George Floyd’s death caused waves because it was the latest of many similar cases in the US, and because of the racism behind it. Black Lives Matter is about racism, and how racism is a factor in police brutality in the US. That is not the case in India. This India’s own movement about extreme police brutality in India and the lack of accountability. They are both cases of police brutality- not a competition between countries to see who can speak louder about their police brutality victims.
- Do not use #AllLivesMatter while speaking out about this incident. We are creating awareness about Jeyaraj and Fenix because they deserve justice, not because George Floyd got justice. ALM and BLM are both movements in the context of America. BLM does not apply to India and has a long history of its own in the United States. ALM is a movement that is designed to undermine the BLM movement, and does not require your support.
Singer/RJ Suchitra’s viral explanation of the outrageous incident, which currently has over 16 million views
Government gives “spot-on” response:
It’s incredibly frustrating to know that the Tamilnadu government decided to respond to this brutality by transferring these police officers and suspending 2. They threw 10 lakh rupees at the devastated mother for “compensation”. My heart goes out to the people of Thoothukudi whose protection force consists of these monsters. Currently, Americans are calling on authorities to defund the police- not just because police officers often attack people of color. The position itself is a dangerous role, because it just gives too much power to an ordinary human. Ever heard of the Stanford Prison Experiment? Ordinary people given positions of power and the freedom to abuse others embraced the role. Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? Who will guard the guards?
Should celebrities be held accountable for selective outrage?
My initial article was entirely about calling out celebrities for their selective outrage and hypocrisy. But I decided that highlighting the issue itself would be more useful than to blame celebrities. I watched how it played out over the next couple of days, and a lot of celebrities did not disappoint, surprisingly. I had no hope that this issue would get picked up by North Indian media or celebrities either.
Much to my surprise, many influential people slowly started talking about this incident, both north and south, and in and out of India. Hansika, Kamal Haasan, Bhumi Pednekar, Tiger Shroff, Surya, and Alia Bhatt, were few of the many actors from all over India who spoke out. Popular journalist Faye D’Souza directly spoke to lawyers, police officers, and journalists in an interview to highlight the incident. But that’s not enough. The police denied using any actual violence on the duo- they claim the worst behavior on their part was that they verbally abused them. Tell that to their family crying about their blood-soaked clothes on live television. We need more action to ensure this doesn’t happen again. Thoothukudi has a bad track record when it comes to police brutality. All of India does.
I realize it’s not always selective outrage.
As I looked through the comments of various celebrities’ posts, I saw people asking them to talk about everything from the Yemen humanitarian crisis to the EIA Draft Notification 2020, which I’d never even heard of. I realize that it’s not possible for anyone to cover every injustice on earth, and so my call out turns into a plea instead. It’s your platform, your choice.
However, choosing to avoid talking about issues you could initiate huge change in for fear of political backlash, in a hypocritical manner, or because of internal biases, is disappointing (whether you’re a celebrity or not). As a celebrity you have a huge platform- it’s a gift. We ask that you use it wisely. Your boba tea picture is cute, but your #JusticeforJeyarajandFenix tweet might indirectly help in shedding light on and reforming police brutality. I’ve seen celebrities say that they have to maintain a “balance” (translates to: selective outrage) when it comes to social issues. We live in a free country (I’d like to think so) and so the choice is absolutely yours. I hope the balance is worth it.
Here’s something celebrities certainly can be held accountable for:
Let’s maybe not glorify police brutality in the media? ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
Sure, you look pretty cool in that khaki uniform. But maybe think about its implications? Films like Rowdy Rathore, Jilla, Dabangg, every Indian movie named after a lion ever – to name a few – glorify police brutality. And although whistling in theaters at Surya or Salman Khan flipping a table over as a police officer might be a “personality trait” for many, you can’t normalize such violence and then be appalled when it takes place in real life. The police don’t have to be wiped off as potential character roles- shows like Delhi Crime provide excellent and accurate representation. Maybe you can’t and don’t need to speak out about every single death ever. But what you could do is choose your roles wisely.
Though if you ask me, I’m kind of tired of them.
Regardless of what the ever-changing Indian constitution says about who can and can’t rape and be raped, I cannot stress enough on the fact that this was sexual assault:
The Men’s Rights Activists seem to be awfully quiet lately. I’ve seen plenty of feminists talk about this issue, but no self-proclaimed meninists talk about it. Especially considering that this is an opportunity to start conversations about sexual assault faced by men as a stand alone issue. Maybe we should talk about sexual assault experienced by men when it needs attention (like right now) instead of as just counter arguments to women opening up about getting raped.
Lastly: What can I do to help?
Because education is imperative, but action must follow at some point.
You might not be physically present to protest in Thoothukudi. But here’s a link you can visit to do your part in ensuring the cops guilty face punishment for their brutality. This carrd contains detailed information about the incident, people you can contact to enact change, and resources to create awareness These small actions help more than you know. It costs you nothing to care.