Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Stephen Lawrence, Anuj Bidve and Britain's racial hues

Stephen Lawrence trial was a monumental case of justice denied to a young Black British boy who was brutally attacked and murdered by racist thugs in April 1993. But yesterday it turned to a case of justice delayed with the convictions of two of the five accused. It came eighteen years late. But it finally did. 

This case has tremendous significance on primarily three factors: race relations, policing and campaigning journalism.

Brian Cartcart, author of the ‘Case of Stephen Lawrence’ says: 
 ‘The case is a landmark in British life because of what it taught us about race. In small ways and in big ways, it exposed reflexes of denial and defensiveness in our society that most white people didn't even know we had.’
British society is notorious for turning a blind eye towards race discrimination and hesitant to label incidents like these as racists. Yet Stephen Lawrence case became one of the most important cases to expose that violent racism exists in the public sphere in Britain. And victims are often subject to insults and assaults because of the colour of their skin. 

At an earlier inquest, Stephen’s mother Doreen made a statement: ‘Our crime was living in a country where the justice system supports racist murderers against innocent people.’

Stephen’s case was also instrumental in changing the face of British policing.  Macpherson report pointed out the lapses in policing and brought to focus the institutional racism in the police force. It showed that the police were racially biased and did not collect evidence on the case with sincerity and integrity. 

On institutional racism, Jack Straw the then Home Secretary who initiated the Macpherson inquiry said, "Any long-established, white-dominated organisation is liable to have procedures, practices and a culture which disadvantage non-white people." He also added: 
"The very process of the inquiry has opened all our eyes to what it is to be black or Asian in Britain today... and the inquiry process has revealed some fundamental truths about the nature of our society, about our relationships, one with the other. Some truths are uncomfortable, but we have to confront them." 
One may argue that this incident took place almost two decades ago and the British society has evolved since then. Yet, last week a young Asian student was shot to death in Salford. Anuj Bidve, a university student from India, was walking with his friends when they encountered some boys- one of them shot him dead. A white 20 years old man who calls himself ‘Psycho' Stapleton, has been arrested for murder. The police are still hesitant to call it a racially motivated crime but use a milder terminology of ‘hate crime’.  
Gary Dobson and David Norris convicted of Stephen Lawrence's murder
Kieran "Psycho" Stapleton accused of Anuj Bidve's murder
Both the cases have eerie similarities. Both victims were coloured and the accused white men. The violence does not seem to be premeditated but rather sporadic. Both victims lost their lives with their families struggling to get answers.

There is fear prevalent among young coloured men of being targetted by stray racist elements on the street. A PhD student at a central London University described the fear of finding a " white skinhead" walk towards him on the street after dark. 
"The man was walking right towards me and I knew he wanted to say something. I was terrified but I could not cross over to the other side of the road. So I lowered my head and walked right past him. I heard him mutter something but it did not register in my mind then. I was too afraid and did not want to react to anything in case it provoked him. When I was far away from him, I tried to comprehend what he said. And it registered to me that he said: 'Do you have a match, mate?'"
So is fear of racist attacks is still existent. So has the British society actually evolved in matters of race? After the cold attitude of the British public to Stephen murder, over the years many white British men and women too stood in solidarity with the Lawrences.  

The police first found the Lawrence family to be a 'nagging problem', yet after the Macpherson report the cops began to dig deeper to collect scientific evidence to absolve themselves of their initial neglect and to prove they were not “institutionally racist”.  In Anuj's case, his family found out about his murder through facebook and not the police. To make amends the police went to India to meet the family.

But it was the Lawrence family’s persistence that changed the fate of the case and made it a landmark one for race relations in British history.

One very important factor that lead to the victory in Stephen Lawrence case was the unlikely ally found in the Daily Mail. At a time when the media found little interest in the murder of a black kid, the Daily Mail supported the cause rather courageously. 

On 14 February 1997, the front page of Daily Mail carried the pictures of the five accused with the headline ‘Murderers’, challenging them to sue the paper if they were wrong. This bold and daring editorial decision by the Daily Mail then, created a huge uproar and attracted the public interest in the case. 

Straw says that this helped him to convince the police to initiate an enquiry into the investigations in the case. In a 21 page story today, the Daily Mail rightly basks in the glory of the success of its campaign

But it took eighteen years and two failed prosecutions for Stephen to get justice; will it be quicker for Anuj? Or will Anuj’s case turn into one of those that are lost in the pile?

Anuj was a foreign student here at Lancaster University with his family based in India. Unlike the Lawrences, Anuj’s family does not have the means to make frequent visits to UK and mobilise resources to push for justice here. Unless the police does its job right the first time and secures conviction, Anuj's case is unlikely to get more chances for justice. Police inquiry into Stephen’s case cost over £4 million pounds. In times of austerity will the state devote any additional resources on the murder of a foreigner without any diplomatic pressure? Will any British newspapers campaign for Anuj’s cause? Will the Indian media pursue his cause till the end? Out of sight is out of mind and in all probability the case will soon lose media attention and disappear from collective memory. 

But one hopes that there are no more Anujs and Stephens waiting to bear the brunt of racist fervour and the verdict in Stephen Lawrence case serves as a warning to racist thugs that they will find no sympathisers in the police, media or public and that they will be found, convicted and harshly punished for their crime.

If this verdict works as a deterrent to racist attacks, it will be the biggest victory for race relations in Britain.  

1 comment:

Rahul said...

I am South African, I understand racism, it is sad, by just reading everyones comments, It is all over the world. India goes through it as well. Indians among themselves differ themselves from colour and casts systems too, I find it worse among the Indians in India then in the world itself. I have been in India for six months their human relation skills are pretty poor.