“I Can’t Breathe!”

Decades ago, when I was a schoolboy, something had happened that I was reminded of this week. I was at my study table, poring over my textbooks, engrossed, when I was mildly distracted by a tiny black ant.

The ant was crawling erratically across the flat, off-white, sun mica surface of my table. Maybe it had lost its way, or perhaps it was attracted to minuscule food crumbs lying on the table, I don’t know. But within a split second, almost subconsciously, I pressed the little finger of my left hand and crushed it. And immediately, I was flooded with intense remorse.

I felt extreme guilt about the fact that I had thoughtlessly killed a creature that had meant absolutely no harm to me.

Thoughts flurried through my heavy head. I had killed bugs before, mosquitoes and the like. I had even gotten rid of garden snails. But what shocked me in this instance was the casual, aimless, thoughtless way in which I did it. It served absolutely no purpose! In that instant, I was faced with the gargantuan, monstrous power we humans wield over other species.

I killed the ant because it could not fight back, it was smaller and weaker than me, it was no match for my physical and systemic strengths.

I killed the ant because it had been programmed into me, somewhere deep within, that ants can be a “nuisance”, and, therefore, can/should be exterminated.

Because of their nuisance value to humans, their slaughter isn’t something I needed to feel guilty about.

I killed the ant because I could. Easily.

I am a non-vegetarian. I eat meat, which comes from animals and birds that are killed. But even there, there’s a “food argument” that I hold in regard. There was no food argument in the ant’s death. It died because, well, there’s no good reason, really.

What does it say about me when I can devalue a life to the extent that I can extinguish it—casually, free of guilt, purposelessly—and carry on with my business?

Coming back to the events of the past week, no one’s saying “all lives don’t matter” or “all lives don’t matter equally”. But Black Lives Matter because they are the ants in the story of America, not the various shades of brown, and certainly not any shade of white. Only they are picked on like black ants on the flat, white terrain of American society. And only they get crushed effortlessly, casually, guilt-free, without consequence, and with the full sanction of the law. What does that say about America?

As for the Indian society, let’s not deny that we’ve always had our own black ants: Dalits and Adivasis. They can’t even grow a moustache without getting lynched.

Photo by Markus Spiske from Pexels

Published by Anupam Choudhury

I'm a writer, editor, and blogger from New Delhi, India.

4 thoughts on ““I Can’t Breathe!”

  1. You have brought perspective and lucidity to a complex issue. As you always do!By the way, evem I have been guilty of mass murder of ants amd may be many other \”bugs\” – because they were ugly or unpleasant or a nuisance. All in my mind ofcourse. May be we project our prejudices on to this world. Let us think positive, pleasant rhinfs without being judgemental.

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  2. The same sense of superiority also manifests itself through treating the helpless and mute animals for their tusks, their horns and their hyde. In the name of traditional medicine or some magic potion that will cure illnesses. Your post sure brings up memories for everyone of us as mass murderers of the smaller life forms such as ants, bugs and cockroaches in our homes. Keep writing Anupam. Keep hitting hard on the human conscience.

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