People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


No. 04

January 27, 2013





The Dream Awaits Realisation

G Mamatha


MARTIN Luther King Day is observed on the third Monday of January every year in the United States. As we all know, Martin Luther King Jr was the famous civil rights activist who had fought throughout his life against racial discrimination and ultimately gave up his life for the cause.


It might be surprising to some, especially the recent generations who are intoxicated with the 'American dream', to note that not earlier than five decades ago, the society in US was segregated on racial lines. It is because of the struggles waged by activists like Martin Luther that today such a deeply segregated society has an Afro-American as its president. No wonder Obama, howsoever bad his policies might be, states “The movements they represent are the only reason that it's possible for me to be inaugurated”. In fact, he took oath as the president of the United States of America for his second term, placing his hand on the bible used by Martin Luther King.


It will be indeed helpful for all those fighting discrimination of all hues – racist, casteist, religious or gender – to have an understanding of such movements that had taken place earlier. This historical perspective, though in a different spatial realm, will certainly inspire and help in the development of movements against discrimination.


Martin Luther King Jr began his career as a Baptist preacher, but went on to lead a sweeping movement to end racial discrimination known as the Civil Rights Movement. Along the way, Martin Luther made history and emerged as one of the most influential leaders of the 20th Century.


Before the Civil Rights Movement began, segregation policies known as Jim Crow laws kept African Americans in a separate and an inferior world from the Whites. African Americans went to separate public schools, ate in separate restaurants and even had to use separate public restrooms.


They had to sit in the back of the buses and give up their seats to any White person standing. In 1955 in Montgomery, Alabama, a tailor’s assistant named Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat for a White passenger. Parks was arrested. But Martin Luther King organised a full fledged boycott of the Montgomery city bus system. The boycott posed a serious economic threat to the company and a social threat to white rule in the city. 13 months later, the buses integrated. The Montgomery boycott inspired more efforts to end segregation. In 1963, Martin Luther king and other leaders of the Civil Rights Movement organised the March on Washington. More than 2,00,000 people came to the nation’s capital to demand equality for Blacks and urge Congress to pass pending Civil Rights laws.


Standing at the Lincoln Memorial, Martin Luther delivered his most famous and stirring speech, ‘I have a Dream’ describing his hope for a future in which all men would be brothers.


The Civil Rights Movement was changing the nation. In 1964, Congress passed the Civil Rights Act which made racial discrimination in public places illegal. The same year King was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.


On the evening of April 4, 1968, in Tennessee, where he was to lead a protest march in sympathy with striking garbage workers of that city, he was assassinated.


In a 'Letter from a Birmingham Jail' in April 1963 to fellow Clergymen, he writes, “We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed. Frankly, I have yet to engage in a direct action campaign that was "well timed" in the view of those who have not suffered unduly from the disease of segregation. For years now I have heard the word "Wait!" It rings in the ear of every Negro with piercing familiarity. This "Wait" has almost always meant "Never." We must come to see, with one of our distinguished jurists, that "justice too long delayed is justice denied. Obama had indeed used this phrase of King, “the fierce urgency of now”, in his second inaugural address.


To quote extensively from King: “We have waited for more than 340 years for our constitutional and God given rights. The nations of Asia and Africa are moving with jetlike speed toward gaining political independence, but we still creep at horse and buggy pace toward gaining a cup of coffee at a lunch counter. Perhaps it is easy for those who have never felt the stinging darts of segregation to say, "Wait." But when you have seen vicious mobs lynch your mothers and fathers at will and drown your sisters and brothers at whim; when you have seen hate filled policemen curse, kick and even kill your black brothers and sisters; when you see the vast majority of your twenty million Negro brothers smothering in an airtight cage of poverty in the midst of an affluent society; when you suddenly find your tongue twisted and your speech stammering as you seek to explain to your six year old daughter why she can't go to the public amusement park that has just been advertised on television, and see tears welling up in her eyes when she is told that Funtown is closed to coloured children, and see ominous clouds of inferiority beginning to form in her little mental sky, and see her beginning to distort her personality by developing an unconscious bitterness toward white people; when you have to concoct an answer for a five year old son who is asking: "Daddy, why do white people treat coloured people so mean?"; when you take a cross county drive and find it necessary to sleep night after night in the uncomfortable corners of your automobile because no motel will accept you; when you are humiliated day in and day out by nagging signs reading "white" and "coloured"; when your first name becomes "nigger," your middle name becomes "boy" (however old you are) and your last name becomes "John," and your wife and mother are never given the respected title "Mrs."; when you are harried by day and haunted by night by the fact that you are a Negro, living constantly at tiptoe stance, never quite knowing what to expect next, and are plagued with inner fears and outer resentments; when you are forever fighting a degenerating sense of "nobodiness"--then you will understand why we find it difficult to wait. There comes a time when the cup of endurance runs over, and men are no longer willing to be plunged into the abyss of despair. I hope, sirs, you can understand our legitimate and unavoidable impatience”.


Today we find this 'impatience' in our country too, which was reflected in the protests against the brutal gangrape in Delhi. This 'impatience' is found in the protests against corruption. Similarly amongst a large number of dalits and other discriminated castes, we feel a widespread 'impatience'. This 'impatience' is found in the protests demanding a statutory status for sub-plan funds for dalits.


The impatience against caste discrimination is getting expressed in many parts of the country. Dalits are not ready to bow in spite of the various attacks launched on them. They are standing firm in spite of the Dharmapuris, Mirchpurs, Lakhshimpetas, Khairlanjis,  etc. For these fighting brave-hearts, movements like those led by King are indeed inspirational. It is better for the governments to realise the 'fierce urgency now'.