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The invisible Corona-virus (an equalizer), the visible bias- virus (a divider) and all lives matter

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agarwalvj
Born in village Kotah (Saharanpur), Vijendra Agarwal, left India in 1973 after Ph.D. (Physics) from IIT Roorkee but always remained connected with his roots. A researcher in Italy, Japan, and France, he came to the US in 1978. He served as faculty and academic administrator (Assistant Vice President, Associate Vice Chancellor, and Dean of the College of Science and Engineering) in several universities, and an Executive Fellow in the White House S&T Policy during Clinton administration. Following his voluntary retirement in 2014, he and his wife co-founded a US-based NGO, Vidya Gyan, to serve rural India toward education, health, and empowerment of girls and overall development. An Indian at heart, his passion for writing has no boundaries. This includes policy, politics and people, and social/cultural activities promoting community engagement. Currently, he is the Brand Ambassador for Times of India and frequently blogs on Linkedin on various topics.
 

We have commonly encountered viral infections such as flu globally for decades and have a vaccine to contain it. However, the COVID 19 pandemic, caused by an invisible virus, is the most devastating but the greatest “equalizer” of all times in our lifetime. It does not discriminate based on race, religion, gender, and geography except its association, not well understood, with the human genetics and immunity, or lack thereof, due to age and/or past medical history. On the contrary, let us admit that we all are the carriers of “bias-virus” in our hearts and/or minds. We perhaps manifest it to a different degree under varying circumstances even if the law prohibits it in each geographical boundary.

This article discusses the similarities and differences between the coronavirus and bias-virus. Is the latter a “divider” based on race and/or religion with a slogan such as “Black/White/Muslim/Hindu/xxx Lives Matter?” Why not openly embrace, “All Lives Matter,” which is global, inclusive, and free of bias-virus, at least visibly?

The invisible coronavirus has visibly changed our way of doing almost anything during the pandemic. Examples include the learning and working at home using “zoom,” online shopping, repeated handwashing on daily basis, virtually no travel, infrequent visits to grocery stores and pharmacy necessitating social distancing and masked face, the global economy at a standstill, and prisoners in our own homes and thus socially isolated. Unfortunately, the COVID 19 virus has taken away an unprecedented number(over 400,000) of precious lives globally in a short time of about 6 months. I define these deaths due to causes beyond our control unlike the deaths caused due to the bias-virus.

I contend that the bias-virus is largely manmade and implicit and the resulting discriminatory and/or differentiated behavior can be ascribed from the “privileged’ (due to the economic/social status, color, gender, race, religion, perceived superiority, etc.) toward the “underprivileged.” Undoubtedly, it is in abundance today and it has been equally evident in the past. The British colonizers against the colonists, Muslim aggressors against Hindus, Hitler against Jews, apartheid in South Africa, and Native Indians eliminated/banished into reserves in the USA and Canada are just a few defining examples of the so-called privileged treating the underprivileged with utmost disrespect and contempt.

The tragic death of George Floyd (GF, the underprivileged and Black) due to the alleged brutality by the police officers (the privileged and White) in Minneapolis (where I live) on May 25 is the most visible and stark example of the bias-virus in recent times. The world saw GF losing his life due to chokehold and heard his last words, “I can’t breathe.”. Another recent example of the police brutality under similar circumstances happened in Atlanta; once again an unarmed Black man killed by a White police officer. Such incidences of visible unequal treatment, social injustice, and heavy-handedness by police are not unique to America but everywhere.

Our society has been rocked for decades and even centuries with incidences related to bias-virus with a slight variation on who constitutes the privileged and the underprivileged? But the gruesome death of GF shook our conscience to the core because it was avoidable and unwarranted. It was a direct consequence of bias-virus, allegedly a premeditated and willful murder due to negligence. This reignited the age-old issues of social injustice, racial disharmony, racial inequality, prejudices, police brutality, minority versus majority, rich versus poor, social status, etc.

 

Following GF’s death, the protests have erupted globally with an emerging theme, “Black Lives Matter (BLM),” across America to draw attention to far too many deaths of Blacks due to the bias-virus. It is not the first time that the Black community is justifiably asking why one of them must die unnaturally or more bluntly why a Black must be killed/murdered? It is shocking, but not too surprising, that the BLM is already being politicized in India by the opportunistic, corrupt, and misguided people of the Islamic faith as MLM (Muslim Lives Matter). Not only the slogan hijacked but reportedly, many even started having wet dreams about the Muslims of India getting inspired by the happenings in America and kickstarting violence again. They are using it as a victim card and changed the narrative from BLM (race-based) to MLM (religion-based) to incite hatred and bigotry. I have already seen someone using Hindu Lives Matter (HLM) as the Twitter handle; the next could be Christian, Jews, Sikhs, etc., a never-ending series because every life, irrespective of race or religion, does and must matter.

In accordance with Indian philosophy, the whole world is one family (Vasudhaiva Kutubkam). Thus, all lives worldwide are precious and must be celebrated and so is every death which must be mourned. Therefore, our collective wisdom and voice must invoke, “All Lives Matter (ALM),” and not associate death with any form of bias. In fact, death is a great equalizer and must be respected as such irrespective of skin color, religion, gender, etc. All deaths caused by the bias-virus anywhere must be unequivocally condemned, investigated, and the perpetrator appropriately punished. Any association of tragic death with the color of skin and/or religion is a travesty. It must stop because the death is not the “divider,” rather the union of one’s soul to another life.

It behooves me that Indian Muslims with the support of opposition political parties and external influences used MLM banner to justify a totally baseless claim of Hindus committing atrocities against Muslims, a religion-based bias-virus. Why? Because, their past attempts to incite unrest on university campuses, paid protestors in Shaheen Bagh, and the violent protests, deaths, and destruction in Delhi during Trump’s visit have been linked to their own leaders. The Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) has been the subject of protests for unjustified reasons and to malign India. No longer, the perpetrators of lawlessness can hide from the law and order and thus seeking new ways like MLM victim card.

 

It is ironic that the COVID 19, an equalizer to most people worldwide, was used as a divider by the misinformed, suspicious, and controlling leaders of Indian Muslims. Many mosque-goers defied Friday congregations despite the administrative advisory not to assemble; refused to follow social distancing and attacked the frontline health and law and order professionals, who went to protect them against the spread of coronavirus. The most contemptible act included the hiding of thousands of Muslim missionaries from many countries, participants of Tablighi Jamaat event, which became India’s worst coronavirus vector. Did these Hinduphobics believe, or fear, that Modi, a globally recognized leader, also had the mystical divine powers to direct the coronavirus to sicken the Muslims more than Hindus?

The infamous Minneapolis is the city where GF took his last breath. But the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and Saint Paul became the global hotbed for most violent protests, looting, and arson necessitating National Guard and city-wide curfew. I cannot refrain but ask Saint Paul city councilors why they spent time and resources discussing India’s CAA if they are incapable and/or incompetent to even manage the racial issues and police brutality in the city? What business they had about CAA with little or no understanding of India’s political, religious, social, cultural, spiritual, and economic landscape. As reported earlier, it was the Muslim radical group CAIR influencing the city council to falsely accuse India of Islamophobia. What an irony that Saint Paul will offer a misguided judgment of discrimination against Muslims in India while the Blacks are visibly being killed by Whites due to bias in their backyard?

In the post GF death era, police reform and social justice are the most debated issues nationally and globally. Muslims in India have openly sabotaged the BLM narrative to play the victim card and created the religion-based bigotry. Do the radical groups like CAIR in the Twin Cities have a silent but sustained agenda of keeping BLM narrative alive until the Presidential election in November? There are enough indicators pointing to the comradery between a sizable population of Somalis in the Twin Cities, the practicing Muslims, and many Blacks with the Muslim faith. Historically, Minnesota is a Blue state with a Congressional member of Somali descent and a Muslim( Ilhan Omar). She was perhaps the most animated in her media remarks as the Twin Cities dealt with the protests and riots. She is also up for reelection in November and thus a high probability of an alliance with the Blacks and other minority communities and keeping BLM in the front and center.

If there is one silver lining underneath the invisible KOVID 19, it is the manifestation of equality without bias and prejudice. Most people feared being infected and therefore followed uniform guidelines in keeping the infection at bay. As we are in the race to find a vaccine to save and celebrate the lives of those affected by the KOVID 19 virus, why not create a world without the bias-virus by embracing ALM. It is inclusive and a greater equalizer than the divisive and bias-ridden BLM, MLM, or xxx Lives Matter with xxx representing race, religion, the color of skin, social status like rich/poor, etc.

The ALM is meant to celebrate and value all lives but it equally well is the recognition that one’s life also matters in her/his death. While, the is generally get associated with the family’s name and social status, the inevitable death due to coronavirus, bias-virus, or other reasons, when one can’t breathe, takes the person far beyond any manmade biases.

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agarwalvj
Born in village Kotah (Saharanpur), Vijendra Agarwal, left India in 1973 after Ph.D. (Physics) from IIT Roorkee but always remained connected with his roots. A researcher in Italy, Japan, and France, he came to the US in 1978. He served as faculty and academic administrator (Assistant Vice President, Associate Vice Chancellor, and Dean of the College of Science and Engineering) in several universities, and an Executive Fellow in the White House S&T Policy during Clinton administration. Following his voluntary retirement in 2014, he and his wife co-founded a US-based NGO, Vidya Gyan, to serve rural India toward education, health, and empowerment of girls and overall development. An Indian at heart, his passion for writing has no boundaries. This includes policy, politics and people, and social/cultural activities promoting community engagement. Currently, he is the Brand Ambassador for Times of India and frequently blogs on Linkedin on various topics.

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