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Drawing parallels between Dalit and African-American rights in India and US

LiveMint logoLiveMint 27-07-2017 Yunus Y. Lasania

Hyderabad: Is racism faced by African-Americans in the US and caste-discrimination against Dalits the same? Can both groups draw parallels in the problems they face as communities and look at each other for solidarity? Yes they can—scholars from both sides said at a panel discussion in Hyderabad on Wednesday evening.

“Dalit solidarity has to be with Black solidarity and education (on the issue) is a form of protest itself. The reason Dalit and Black power can talk to each other is because there is energy (between them),” said Suraj Yengde, lawyer and social activist, who is presently a research scholar with the W.E.B. Du Bois Institute at Harvard University.

Yendge added that caste in India has managed to sustain itself for so long because it is a patriarchal construct. “We have to start by knocking it down,” he said at the discussion on ‘Dalit and Black Power: Dismantling Brahman(ical) and White Supremacy’, held at the University of Hyderabad.

His co-panelists were Karlene Griffiths Sekou, an organizer with the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement in Boston and Nathaniel Adam Tobias Coleman, scholar activist, black studies, Birmingham City University, England. Coleman, who studied Dr. B.R. Ambedkar’s writings as part of his earlier research work, said that as an anti-caste symbol, the Dalit-rights champion had challenged society with his work.

“What was Baba Sahib trying to tell us? That caste is a notion, a state of mind and wanted the destruction of that notional barrier. Ambedkar had also argued that the problems between Catholics and Protestants was an issue of caste,” said Coleman. He drew parallels between white men “placing barriers” on black women (how they are perceived socially and morally), and how “Brahmin see Dalit women”.

Sekou, who regularly participates and organizes programmes under the BLM umbrella in Boston, also spoke about the issues pertaining of homophobia and classism within marginalized communities (Dalits and Black people). She went on to say that historical events such as the civil rights movement led by Martin Luther King Jr. in the US, were “sanitized and that many of its heroes had been hidden,”.

“When slavery was finally abolished, the British called Indians to become indentured labourers. They told them, ‘come, work for us for five years’, and Indians were transported to plantations in South Africa,” said Coleman. He pointed out that Mahatma Gandhi, who fought for the rights of those Indian workers, “did not fight for me or my people”.

To that, Yengde went on to that add, “Any national unification needs a myth and Gandhi is Indian’s myth.”

Talking about the BLM movement, which started in 2013 in the US as a Twitter hashtag (after a policeman shot and killed a black boy called Trayvon Martin), Sekou said, “We are unapologetically black. We made our music and said that we are black and human.”

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