African Americans and Dalits


Written on January 29, 2013

Gerald Horne’s End of Empires: African Americans and India published in 2008 and Nico Slate’s Colored Cosmopolitanism: the shared struggle for freedom in the United States and India published in 2012 is an important addition to the study of the relationship between the African Asians and South Asians. Vijay Prashad of Trinity has authored a good book-Everybody was Kung-Fu Fighting- showing contacts between Africans and Asians. Indian leaders of all walks were fascinated by the struggle of African American and their Third American Revolution- the revolution for equality in White America.

The story of African American’s War of Independence is an important chapter in the modern history of the world. It is important for America, and it was important for India for as the above books clearly showed connections between them. Gerald Horne made a detailed study of connections between African American leaders and India’s elite leaders: for freedom and equality. Nico Slate’s book is a further elaboration of the connections and replete with biographies of the men and women from both the sides.

From the point of view of India’s untouchables, these studies are important. Exclusively from the point of view of caste and Race, Daniel Immerwahr wrote his paper Caste or Colony?: Indianizing Race in the United States. It is a path-breaking study in many ways.

After reading these studies, one can draw many conclusions, and one of the conclusions is that the shrewd upper caste elite Indians used the African Americans and their struggle to further their agenda of transfer of power to the elitists Indian National Congress. It is almost like a conspiracy, and Gandhi’s famous way of conspiracy, the conspiracy of silence, is very evident in these studies.
Lower caste leaders were very interested in the movement of the African Americans. It started with the Grand Father of Social Revolution in India, the great Guru of Babasaheb Ambedkar, Phuley. Phuley was the greatest social revolutionary who challenged the orthodox Brahmin led Indian National Congress. He posed a major challenge to the Brahmin’s claim on India as a whole. Tilak whose aim was to get power transferred to the Brahmins was a staunch enemy of India’s lower castes and the untouchables.

The lower caste leaders were much aware of the attempt to bring Hindu Raj in India. Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar’s fight was not just for the transfer of power to a few elite Indians, but to all Indians. His fight was more serious and deeper than Gandhi’s and elitists Hindus. He was fighting for equality. The African Americans if they had understood the reality of India would have sided more with untouchables than with the so-called nationalists who were fighting for transfer of power to them. This couldn’t happen, as the African Americans were misled by the caste elite Hindus. They made it a point to delinking African Americans’ struggle for equality from their natural allies in India, the untouchables, and their struggle for equality.

It is very heartening to see that despite the efforts of India’s elite to tone down the evil of untouchability, the Black leaders realized the gravity of the situation of untouchables in India. One can say that Indian elite leaders piggybacked the movement of African Americans to further their cause of transfer of power. One would not necessarily doubt their intentions, but the facts speak otherwise. If the upper caste elite Hindu leaders really craved for equality, why wouldn’t they further the case of equality in their own country with the power they had over media, money, and masses? It is a well-known fact that Gandhi used the heinous method of fast-unto-death to keep untouchables away from the political power. This is the reason that he is the most hated enemy of India’s untouchables (they constitute over 16 percent of India’s population), he is now increasingly hated by India’s Other Backward Classes (OBCs) due to his machinations in keeping Congress leadership in the hands of upper castes only.

Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar was an intellectual stalwart. He has to fight his battle on many fronts. He fought his battle against the British, challenging their arrogance. He has to wage a battle against India’s upper castes. He has to fight with Indian National Congress. He was the leader of India’s illiterate and voiceless people. Before him, they were not organized. When Gandhi emerged on Indian scene, he had a party well organized and well oiled by the Indian capitalists. Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar had none of this. He organized his own party and his own masses. Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar had no support of any industrialist; Gandhi has Tatas and Birlas on his side.

And Gandhi was Mahatma (media made and to much extent self-styled as exposed by some of the recent biographies that appeared on the scene now) who was using religion in the service of politics. If he had approached the so-called fight for freedom secularly, the partition of India could have been avoided or negotiated with peace and non-violence. Gandhi was backed by Indian press and India itself was undergoing a democratic transformation since 1917 and it was clear that those who are politically well organized will get the fruits of transfer of power. The better political organization can bring a sea change in the power is proved beyond doubt by the rise of BSP after Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar. Political awakening and organization of India’s untouchables and backward classes will democratize Indian society; the signs of which are beginning to appear. One has to only see banners of political parties all over India; they all have one thing in common: Image of Babasaheb Ambedkar.

The point of describing these facts is to show that with given media, money and strong organization, the fight for equality should have become easy and urgent, and it was evident that Indian sub-continent was veering towards self-governance in any case. To mislead the world that Indian society is a cultured society with little or no voice is a great crime and conspiracy; Gandhi and Congress were undoubtedly part of that conspiracy to create a fog around India’s volcano of Caste-based discrimination and atrocities. It is a great genius of Babasaheb Ambedkar to work out peaceful emancipation of India’s lower castes with non-violent means despite all odds. His methods are far lasting and important for emancipation. He was not a showman to create dramas through Satyagraha and Civil disobedience, but he was a serious humanist and democrat who cared and believed in dialogues, debates, and democracy.

Coming back to African Americans, the Black Power movement was completely oblivious of India, while very articulate about the plights of colored people in Cuba and elsewhere. Indian untouchables, however, kept on learning from their African American brothers and sisters. In the recent time, some serious interactions and contacts are establishing between these two communities. Despite the great struggle, the situations of African Americans in America and Dalits in India remain precarious and there is so much to be done and so much to be learned from each other. Now that it began to happen, it is a great hope for the world. The President of United States, Mr. Barack Obama, is truly a great man and an ideal person. He invoked Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar’s name in his speech in the Indian parliament, but Indian Dalit Diaspora with their supporters in the USA advocated about him to the President’s office and that is how he came to include Babasaheb’s name. Obama needs to truly understand the reality of Indian society for peace and justice in India and not get carried away by Indian upper caste lobbyists who might try to entice him singing songs of India’s Golden Vedic age, which never existed!

Author – Mangesh Dahiwale

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  1. 1

    Dr Ambedkar ideas on egalitarian society have far more relevance than Gandhian and nehruvian ideas on Indian society, the future generations of Indians have much more to
    learn from Babasaheb jai Bhim

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