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Hands Up: Indian-American artist generates empathy for US police gunbattles victims

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"Hands Up," an interactive digital video project by Roopa Vasudevan and Atif Ateeq in New York sparks discussion of encountr killings of minorities in the United Sttes. Credit: Humai Mustafa
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"Hands Up," an interactive digital video project by Roopa Vasudevan and Atif Ateeq in New York sparks discussion of encountr killings of minorities in the United Sttes. Credit: Humai Mustafa
“Hands Up,” an interactive digital video project by Roopa Vasudevan and Atif Ateeq in New York sparks discussion of encounter killings of minorities in the United States.
Credit: Humai Mustafa

New York: An Indian-American digital artist and educator has produced an interactive multimedia installation to explore the problem of killings in police gunbattles in the US. according to a media estimate these gunbattles result in at least two deaths every day.

The “Hands Up” digital exhibit is about “generating empathy”, said Roopa Vasudevan, who created it with fellow Pakistani American artist Atif Ateeq.

“Obviously, there is no way to fully understand what a confrontation like this is, unless it happens to you,” Vasudevan said. “We hoped to allow our visitors to get a degree of understanding of how charged and emotional the situation actually is.”

“Hands Up” simulates the high-adrenaline gunbattle situation in a cacophony of shouts, commands and sirens in a dark scenario ripped by sudden flashes of blue, white and red police car beacons, invoking a sense of dread and foreboding.

As the intimidating voice of the law orders “Hands up,” and a visitor responds, bursts of light simulate gunfire and sounds of explosion ricochet. The viewers are plunged into the virtual reality of split second decisions that become the arbiters of death and life.

It was on display recently at Flux Factory, a community of artists in the city’s Queens borough, an area that is home to a large number of Indians and South Asians.

Asked if she saw police brutality as an issue for Asians and Indians in the US, Vasudevan said: “Absolutely.”

“This is an issue of an imbalance of power,” she explained. “Obviously, most of the focus in the media recently has been on interactions with African American men, but it’s worth noting that this speaks to a larger story of how minorities are looked at and treated in this country.”

In February a visitor from India, Sureshbhai Patel, was left partially paralysed after being roughed up by police in Alabama, although he was not shot.

Last February, an Indian American who had served in the US Army in Iraq returned home to California only to be shot dead by police. Police claimed that Parminder Singh Shergill had charged at them with a knife, but eyewitnesses asserted that he was unarmed.

The Washington Post reported recently that its analysis found that 385 people have been killed in police shootings so far this year.

A disproportionate number of those killed were minorities. Among the unarmed victims, two-thirds were African Americans or Latinos, the newspaper said. When adjusted for proportions in the population in the areas of shootings, African Americans were three times as likely to be killed as other ethnic or racial groups, its analysis found.

Vasudevan said that after grand juries refused last year to indict the white police officers involved in two separate incidents – the choking death of an unarmed man, Eric Garner in New York, and shooting death of a teenager, Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri – she and Ateeq wanted to see “how we could productively contribute to the conversation and movement for change.”

“As artists, both of us strongly felt that generating empathy for someone placed in the situation of being confronted by the police was key to the path to understanding, and that the best way to do that was by creating a large, immersive art piece,” she said.

Facing mounting criticism over police conduct, Pat Lynch, the head of the New York City police union, denounced the exhibit, saying “it perpetuates a falsehood about police officers and their use of force”.

The atmosphere of chaos and tension created in the exhibit, however, also illustrate the conditions that police operate under.

Vasudevan, denying it was anti-police, said: “It’s not such a cut and dry thing, so-and-so was right and so-and-so was wrong. There’s a lot happening in the moment. It’s our hope that our work can add to the discussion of what can be done to change things.”

Vasudevan has been a director for MTV’s Emmy award-winning series, “True Life,” and her digital work has been featured by the American Museum of Natural History, National 9/11 Museum, and The New York Times. She also teaches at Fordham and New York universities.

Asked about artists of Indian and Pakistani descent working together, she said: “The piece was more about being a minority in the United States than anything else. We didn’t necessarily keep the specifics of our backgrounds in mind when collaborating.” (IANS)

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Belling The Cat: The Difficult Relationship of India with Turkey

The land of the Whirling Dervishes, where the compassionate views of Mevlana Jalaluddin Rumi have cast a lasting shadow, is India’s forbidden fruit

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Turkey and India's relationship is very rocky. Pixabay

By Tania Bhattacharya

  • India and Tukey share a bad relationship
  • There are numerous reasons for it
  • Some of the reasons are as trivial as they can get
Ms. Tania Bhattacharya

When the founder of the Turkish Republic, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, passed away on the morning of the 10th of November 1938, months before the world broke out into war, a Turkish lady in the streets of Istanbul commented to a reporter covering the tragedy, lamenting “Turkey has lost her lover. Now, she must marry and settle down”. The incident is mentioned in Irfan’s Orga’s ‘Phoenix Ascendant’, a comprehensive biography of Mustafa Kemal Pasha.

National heroes are lionized almost everywhere among native communities; but Ataturk and his younger contemporary Subhash Chandra Bose, enjoy a kind of veneration among their people, that even hardened jingoists elsewhere, would not be caught doing. Subhash was an admirer of Ataturk and was determined to meet him, until the British overlords of India, put a spanner in the works. That was not all. In his ‘Glimpses Of World History’, India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, made glowing references to Mustafa Kemal, calling him a progressive head of state with the singular objective of emancipating the women of his country. Indeed in Turkey, Kemalism is the byword for progressiveness and the radical intellectual approach.

India and Turkey have troubles due to Kashmir as well. VOA

The trajectory of Sultanate ridden Turkey, and post-colonial India have been analogous, but with a few exceptions. Both countries started out with a prominent Socialist outlook, and statesmen who could navigate the complex waters of international one-upmanship to establish their nascent independent territories into positions of respect. Ataturk did this by having the humiliating Treaty of Sevres, scrapped and Nehru hoisted India to the enviable position of the leader of the NAM (Non-Aligned Movement).

Both men encouraged the scientific temper and set their respective countries on the path of western style democracy. India and Turkey are both Constitutionally Laic, Socialist Republics, with elected governments at the helm of affairs. Both states have successfully produced indomitable women heads of state; Indira Gandhi in India, and Tancu Ciller in Turkey.

However, barring the temper of the Constitutions of the two countries, there have been dichotomies which cannot be missed. The Indian state has an army that has never displayed an interest in the legislative functioning of its polity, maintaining a respectful distance from political upheavals. On the other hand, the Turkish military has tried to usurp power multiple times, in that country. The first three times it attempted to do so, it successfully affected a regime change. The years were 1960, 1971, and 1980. A fourth rumbling from the uniformed men was heard in 2016, but was immediately suppressed and extinguished by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Some insiders and whistle blowers have claimed, that the coup was an eyewash, that was perpetrated by Erdogan’s moles present within the military. After all, the only person who benefitted from the crackdowns, was Erdogan himself.

India’s north-western neighbour, has been a major roadblock on the path to India-Turkey relations. Right from its inception, Pakistan has been a firm ally of Turkey. The roots of this friendship go deep down and can be found embedded in the Khilafat movement of the sub-continent during British times, when Indian Muslims had banded together to oppose the abdication of the last Turkish Sultan, and with him, the position of the Caliph of Islam. Turkey supports Pakistan’s stance on Kashmir, something that has always troubled the Indian upper echelons, which wants to steer the relationship between their nation and Turkey, ahead.

Where Kemalism had impressed itself upon the elite masses of Turkey, with its accent on westernization, President Erdogan has managed to ride the votebank of the working class, with his emphasis on political Islam. He, unlike his other civilian predecessors, has not only managed to hold on to his position, but has also been successful in reinforcing it and becoming the master of all he surveys.

Terrorism is yet another problem between the two countries. VOA

Turkey remained unaffected by the Arab Spring revolts that have shaken the Middle East since the April of 2011, with the latest victims being Yemen and Iran, which is a testament to its stability. But, as India has watched from the sidelines, this crucial NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) member, has shown its back to democracy by embracing a new shade of totalitarianism in the form of the Turkish President’s office, stifled the opposition, dissolved protests from dissidents, and has sought to deal with the Kurdish problem in a much harsher way than previous governments.

Turkey being Asia’s gateway to Europe, a member of the OIC (Organization of Islamic Cooperation), and a developed nation by many estimates, is crucial to India as not only an economic partner, but also a comrade among the fraternity of the Islamic states, with whom maintaining good relations is vital to India’s interests. During the Cold War, Indo-Turkish bonding had been left in suspended animation due to a conflict of interests; as India was a founding member of the NAM (Non-Aligned Movement), while Turkey was firmly in the Allied Camp, in the Western created and controlled NATO setup.

In the 21st century, India and Turkey have produced two unexpectedly hawkish point men, who seem to share a warm personal rapport with each-other. While India’s Prime Minister Modi, started out in life as a tea seller, Turkey’s Erdogan used to sell lemonade at a train station. Born and raised in humble circumstances, the two men have shown some resolve in bettering their bilateral ties. The year that Modi was indicted for his indifference to the carnage of Gujarat’s Muslims – 2002 – was also the same year that Recep Tayyip Erdogan made himself visible on the radar of Turkish politics.

Also Read: How a young Astronomer from Turkey turned into an Islamic State Fighter

Despite the co-incidental sweet spot though, India and Turkey are unable to capitalize on the opportunities afforded to each-other. Among the thorny issues that need to be tackled, are:

  1. Trade
  2. Kashmir
  3.  FethullahGulen
  4. Terrorism

1.Trade between India and Turkey, is to the tune of 6.4 billion, but India accounts for a much smaller percentage of Turkish imports than other countries, especially those from within the European Union, from whom Turkey buys goods. There is an enormous potential in investing in infrastructure via construction, as Turkey can provide its assistance to India over the matter.

2. On the Kashmir front, Turkey currently favours Pakistan’s stand, though not openly discouraging India. As an ombudsman in the OIC (Organization of Islamic Cooperation), it is imperative for India, to get Turkey on board over Kashmir and make that country sympathetic to our stand on the issue.

3. FethullahGulen is a spiritual Sufi Turkish leader, who presently lives in exile in the United States. He used to be a formidable political figure in the power corridors of Ankara, and was a close aide of President Erdogan. A one-time imam in Turkey, Mr. Gulen was an associate of Erdogan and his AKP (Justice and Development Party) and continues to preside over an empire of charitable institutions that provide education and low-cost housing to the needy, globally. Many Gulenist institutions function in India and have never caused a friction with the Indian state. However, during President Erdogan’s last Indian visit, which took place on the 1st of May 2017, he had insisted that India close down all Gulenist outlets, as they were instruments of sedition against his government. India refused to do so and looked upon the directive as amounting to interfering with our sovereignty, since any such decision could only be taken by our own authorities. Fethullah Gulen was accused of masterminding the military coup that took place in Turkey in the July of 2016, albeit without sufficient evidence. The coup itself, and the crackdown on it, was the bloodiest in the history of Turkey, but for the very first time, it was successfully contained by the elected government of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Spiritually and philosophically, Mr. Gulen’s views are more feminist and reconciliatory than the pro-hardline views held by Erdogan.

President Erdogan of Turkey.Wikimedia Commons

4. During the day long meeting between President Erdogan and Prime Minister Modi, the former pledged full support to India in its fight against terrorism, but cherry picked on the issue. Erdogan’s primary concern was to help India in our war against the Naxalites, which is a Left-Wing secessionist movement in this country. As an Islamist Right Winger, the Turkish President’s anti-Naxalite stand was predictable. However, he evinced no particular interest in the incidents of cross-border terrorism that India has had to suffer. Pakistan and Turkey are close international allies, especially since Pakistan is the world’s only nation that supports the Turkish created entity of the TRNC (Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus). Turkey has suffered numerous terrorist attacks ever since the inception of the Turkish Republic in 1923, that were carried out by the PKK, an outlawed, armed Kurdish, political resistance group.

The reason why Turkey is important to India, is due to the reality, that Turkey is West Asia’s most important state, geographically, politically, and militarily. Situated at the crossroads of Asia and Europe, this much-misunderstood country, has been knocking on the doors of the EU (European Union) and if it resolves its Human Rights record pertaining to the Kurds, and the Ottoman Genocide, it might very well become the only Asian nation to be an EU member state. As a leading member of the OIC (Organization of Islamic Cooperation), Turkey’s support to India is vital for the latter to gain traction within the community of the Muslim world, since currently only some Gulf nations are friendly with us. Turkey is a NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) member, and its military prowess within that body is substantial. It is the only progressive, and secular (though these are increasingly being eroded), developed nation in West Asia, with a stable political climate. India, being the country with the second largest Muslim population, it is imperative, that the two nations develop closer ties and lasting bonds, if they can lessen the distance between themselves.

The land of the Whirling Dervishes, where the compassionate views of Mevlana Jalaluddin Rumi have cast a lasting shadow, is India’s forbidden fruit. It can only be hoped, that political wisdom, farsightedness, and reciprocity, will allow the Indians to lay the foundations of a unique friendship, with the West Asian colossus of Turkey.

Tania is a freelance writer with a Masters in Defence and Strategic Studies who has a wide range of interests.