People's Democracy

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


No. 36

September 08, 2013



Marching, Marching, March On


G Mamatha

Coloured Man

Beloved White Brother,

When I was born, I was black,
When I grew up, I was black,
When I am in the sun, I am black,
When I fall ill, I am black,
When I die, I will be black.

And meanwhile you:
When you were born, you were pink,
When you grew up, you were white,
When you are in the sun, you turn red,
When you feel cold, you turn blue,
When you feel fear, you turn green,
When you fall ill, you turn yellow,
When you die, you will be grey.

So, which of us is the coloured man?

- Leopold Senghor


ON August 28, fifty years back, American society passed through a historic milestone. On that day, more than 200,000 people, predominantly comprising Afro-Americans marched on Washington. This march was indeed a culmination of many similar marches that had taken place through out the country, especially in 1963. The marchers were brutally dealt by the police, jailed and tortured. Martin Luther King was also one amongst them. Their demands were not revolutionary. Some considered them to be radical; in fact what they were really demanding was just a fulfilment of the promise given to them, way back in 1794 – Equality.


The March on Washington demanded an end to racial discrimination. They demanded passage of meaningful civil rights legislation; the elimination of racial segregation in public schools; protection for demonstrators against police brutality; a major public-works programme to provide jobs; the passage of a law prohibiting racial discrimination in public and private hiring and a minimum wage. These, in the words of King were, “We've come to cash this check, the check that will give us, upon demand, the riches of freedom and the security of justice”.


It is in this march that Martin Luther King gave one of his most stirring speeches, 'I have a dream'. Commemorating the 50th anniversary of this event, a march was held in Washington. On this occasion, President Barack Obama, one of the beneficiaries of the civil rights movement, addressed the country. The orator he is, Obama invoking Martin Luther said, “And because they kept marching, America changed. Because they marched, a Civil Rights law was passed. Because they marched, a Voting Rights law was signed. Because they marched, doors of opportunity and education swung open so their daughters and sons could finally imagine a life for themselves beyond washing somebody else's laundry or shining somebody else's shoes. Because they marched, city councils changed and state legislatures changed, and Congress changed, and, yes, eventually, the White House changed”.


Among all the other things narrated by Obama, the change in the occupancy of White House and some seats in the Senate and the Congress is true. But still, racial profiling continues. And this is not even denied by Obama. Obama, a shrewd demagogue, states: “For the men and women who gathered 50 years ago were not there in search of some abstract ideal. They were there seeking jobs as well as justice – not just the absence of oppression but the presence of economic opportunity”. He then rhetorically asks, “For what does it profit a man, Dr. King would ask, to sit at an integrated lunch counter if he can’t afford the meal”?


In fact, Obama's speech is an interesting read by itself. Sample another gem: “But as has already been noted, black unemployment has remained almost twice as high as white unemployment, Latino unemployment close behind. The gap in wealth between races has not lessened, it's grown. And as President Clinton indicated, the position of all working Americans, regardless of colour, has eroded, making the dream Dr. King described even more elusive. For over a decade, working Americans of all races have seen their wages and incomes stagnate, even as corporate profits soar, even as the pay of a fortunate few explodes. Inequality has steadily risen over the decades. Upward mobility has become harder. In too many communities across this country, in cities and suburbs and rural hamlets, the shadow of poverty casts a pall over our youth, their lives a fortress of substandard schools and diminished prospects, inadequate health care and perennial violence...we must remind ourselves that the measure of progress for those who marched 50 years ago was not merely how many blacks could join the ranks of millionaires. It was whether this country would admit all people who are willing to work hard regardless of race into the ranks of a middle-class life. The test was not, and never has been, whether the doors of opportunity are cracked a bit wider for a few. It was whether our economic system provides a fair shot for the many – for the black custodian and the white steelworker, the immigrant dishwasher and the Native American veteran. To win that battle, to answer that call – this remains our great unfinished business”. Though quoted extensively, it is enough to learn about the conditions of the Afro-Americans in the US, coming straight out of 'the horse's mouth'. Moreover, it saves us the trouble from quoting the Economic Policy Institute and other such agencies, which have surveyed and brought out statistics to prove the same point.


Though Obama recalls the “fiery urgency of now”, as Martin Luther King had pointed out 50 years ago, he does not have anything to say about how the dream could be realised. So Martin Luther, if he were alive, would repeat once again, after 50 years, “No, no, we are not satisfied, and we will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream”.


Now let us look at another form of discrimination that is specific to our country – caste discrimination. We have just celebrated the 67th anniversary of our independence. In 1951, our Constitution was promulgated. It was written in the Constitution (Article 17):                                  “ 'Untouchability' is abolished and its practice in any form is forbidden. The enforcement of any disability arising out of 'Untouchability' shall be an offence punishable in accordance with law”. Still, as the reports from various parts of our country indicate, widespread discrimination on the basis of caste is prevalent. Children are not allowed to eat food cooked by dalits; dalits are not allowed to sit by the side of upper caste children and are not allowed to study. All this is done to those children whose textbooks teach them about the ideals of our Constitution and freedom fighters. Moreover, all these books carry, 'untouchability is a punishable offence' on their back pages. What are we, as a society, thus teaching our children? Hypocrisy? Dishonesty? Or about the wide schism that exists between 'theory' and 'practice'? Whatever it is, we are corrupting the future, moulding them as irresponsible citizens with a grave threat to the social and moral fabric of our country.


When the architects of our Republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note...This note was a promise that all men...would be guaranteed the unalienable rights of life, liberty and pursuit of happiness. It is obvious today that...has defaulted on this promissory note insofar as her citizens...are concerned. Instead of honouring this sacred obligation...has given the...people a bad check, a check which has come back marked 'insufficient funds'. But we refuse to believe that the Bank of Justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation”. All the blanks in the above quote from Martin Luther's speech, 50 years ago are left to fill the words India, dalits, caste discrimination, in place of those he had used to describe the attitude of the American government and the conditions of the black people.


Indian government too, all these years had defaulted on the promises it had made to the people of our great country, especially those belonging to the dalits, adivasis and other backward sections of the society. It had failed them both socially and economically. The experience in the US shows that electing an Afro-American itself will not solve the problems. This is another lesson that holds extremely good for the people of our country. Instead of getting swayed by those parties who appeal on the basis of identities, we should think, consider and act. Seeing beneath of the deceptive slogans and identifying those who are really working for the emancipation of the dalits and other backward sections in the society is extremely important.


Demagogue he might be and imperialist torch bearer he is, but Obama is right when he states: “The March on Washington teaches us that we are not trapped by the mistakes of history; that we are masters of our fate.  But it also teaches us that the promise of this nation will only be kept when we work together”. And as Martin Luther said: “The marvellous new militancy which has engulfed the Negro community must not lead us to distrust all white people, for many of our white brothers, as evidenced by their presence here today, have come to realise that their destiny is tied up with our destiny”. We should rally all the forces against untouchability and caste discrimination and launch campaigns and struggles for their eradication. The government should be demanded to organise extensive campaigns akin to the polio eradication campaign – polio cripples an individual, caste discrimination cripples the entire society.


This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquillising drug of gradualism. Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy. Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate path of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice. Now is the time to lift our nation from the quicksands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood...It would be fatal for the nation to overlook the urgency of the moment”. Again Martin Luther in his 'I have a dream' speech.


To plagiarise Obama: “India, I know the road will be long, but I know we can get there. Yes, we will stumble, but I know we’ll get back up. That’s how a movement happens. That’s how history bends. That's how when somebody is faint of heart, somebody else brings them along and says, come on, we’re marching”.