In one of the early episodes of The West Wing, President Jed Bartlet, essayed by Martin Sheen, elaborates on ‘Civis Romanus’ before his Chief of Staff.
Bartlet, angered by the attack on the US Air Force convoy that killed a few soldiers, elaborates on how, two thousand years ago, a Roman citizen could walk anywhere in the world without the fear of being molested and was guarded by two words alone; ‘Civis Romanus’, which translated into ‘I am a Roman citizen’.
Such was the fear of the empire, and its retribution, across the world that no citizen was ever harmed.
After the Leicester episode, radical groups announced a protest in Birmingham on 20 September, calling all Muslims from all backgrounds (as the text read on the poster) to stand up against Hindus attacking innocent Muslims.
The Durga Temple had been announced as Durga BJP/RSS Hindu Centre. The poster had the flags of Turkey, Bangladesh, Somalia, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and even Palestine. The South Asian identity, when it came to attacking a Hindu temple, had been conveniently tossed into a political dustbin.
The South Asian identity is a convenient political and cultural umbrella for many, especially those from Pakistan, Bangladesh, or Afghanistan. It is not uncommon for citizens from these three countries to downplay their national identities as they move to the West, given the political baggage that comes along.
For many, this identity is a gateway to ample economic opportunities. Indians, for several reasons, have drawn comfort from this political unison, but the Leicester episode must serve as a wake-up call.
For many in the West, the Leicester arsoning and violence is merely another instance of two South Asian communities quarrelling against each other.
The western fraternity is either driven by ignorance where they choose not to acknowledge the elaborate history of persecution of the Hindus by Muslims in several parts of the subcontinent for centuries, or is driven by woke guilt that forces them to side with the radicals while labelling the likes of RSS and BJP as fascist political arms of the Indian state.
Consequently, the Indian community is relegated to a distant second priority for the governments there. The Hindus are not even on the list. Thus, irrespective of who runs the grooming gangs in the United Kingdom, it becomes a problem of South Asian men.
Also, regardless of who advocates extremism in the United States, the labelling is reserved for the entire South Asian population. For Indians, this is a double whammy. Suffer the consequences of the crimes of citizens of other countries, and recede their cultural and economic space.
The Indians must discard this South Asian tag for three reasons.
One, as a five-trillion economy in the making, the assertion of the national identity must supersede that of the subcontinent. Indians, in no manner, are obligated to give citizens from Pakistan or Bangladesh a free pass.
Two, in the west, Indians feature in the top lists of wealth creators and enjoy tremendous political and economic clout, and they must now put it to use. These two factors must give Indian citizens abroad their version of Civis Romanus.
Finally, it is all about putting the Indian, and the Hindu cause ahead, along with that of the Jains, Sikhs, Parsis, and Buddhists.
Beyond having a Citizenship Amendment Act that must allow for the right of returns to citizens of these five communities to India from anywhere in the world, the government must partner with the diaspora by backing them to ensure that the Indian doesn’t get lost in the local politics.
This is not about discriminating against a community, for the diaspora will also have Indian Muslims, but getting the larger message across.
India’s version of Civis Romanus must be about exercising economic muscle as a country on a global level and as a community on a local level. The retribution may not be as violent as those in ancient times, but it must be as visible as possible on the economic front, and this is where exercising our market strength can also help.
Being Indians, citizens abroad must call out the atrocities committed by the radical groups in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Bangladesh, to begin with and distance themselves in every way possible.
To push for India’s Civis Romanus is essential for one more reason.
While many in the West, and even in India, would want to reduce the episode in Leicester as a brawl that can be attributed to a cricket match, the Indian state and the communities there must not shy away from calling out the prevailing Hinduphobia, advocated by many citizens hailing from the three countries, who otherwise cloak themselves in the South Asian identity.
Hinduphobia is rampant in the West, and it must be called out by all stakeholders.
Unfortunately, what happened in Leicester is not the first or last episode, and there is no assured smooth sailing going forward, even if the culprits are convicted.
For the future, the first step in solving the problem lies in decoupling Indian and South Asian identities. Political and economic assertion, by Indians and for Indians must begin now.
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