People's Democracy

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


No. 50

December 15, 2013




Mandela, For You and For Me


G Mamatha


IT is 7.30 in the evening and we have to rush for our school at 8.00. Yes, school! These days, we are going to a school after work to learn how to read – both the alphabet and the world. Some young people have started it some days ago and wanted all of us to come. We were shy in the beginning, but after two days, became very fond of it as they are telling us many new things happening around us.


But today, December 6, all our enthusiasm evaporated when we reached the school. Our teacher (she feels shy when we call her teacher as she is a very young girl, but teacher is a teacher) was serious. We thought something bad had happened. Though we don't know words, we know the world. When we asked her what the matter was, she took a photograph of an old man, showing it to us said, he had died. He was a black man, very old and in no way resembles our teacher. So we were in turn surprised why she is so serious. Many people die around us everyday. Some are our near ones, some far off relatives, some neighbours and some their relatives, some we find on our way to work and some we learn through the bandhs. All of them do not make us sad. So we could not understand why our teacher was sad. Unable to keep it to ourself, we asked her, who it was and why his death made her so sad.


She then told us his story. No, it was not a story; but a life. Normal life like all of us, but different than most of us. His name was Mandela, it seems and he is not from our country. He is from a country far off from us. This surprised us even more and made us listen more attentively to our teacher. How does the death of a man who is not a relative and not even from our country make somebody so sad? And that too a king? Our teacher does not like kings and all those big people living life like kings.


Mandela, though coming from a family of kings always worked for the poor it seems. She told that it is not important where we are born, because it is not in our hands; what is important is how we live our life and conduct ourselves. How true! We have seen many people who are from families richer than us, like our teacher, but they work for us and do not feel shame to be among us. We saw some netas who visit our colonies for votes. They have a smile on their face, but we can see how they feel – smelling the smells, walking in mud, with flies flying around, dogs and pigs moving near their feet. And we also know of some of the young people in our colony, who feel shame to say that they come from this poor locality. They want to be like those children roaming on bikes and in cars. How many times did my friends say how their children refused to recognise them when they are with their friends. Our teacher is not like that. Mandela, though a king, was also not like that it seems. Mandela used his family background to study well but not show-off. It seems he ran away from his house and worked as a guard at a mine to complete his studies!


Mandela, is a fighter it seems. No, not like the ones we feel in our neighbourhoods. He, of course, learnt boxing. Tell me, if he was a famous boxer, will his death move many people around the world. My teacher said that people from all the countries are crying at this death. When asked why was it so, she told some more things.


Mandela, is a black man and it seems in his country many people are black. There were only very few powerful white people who ruled the country. Black people were not allowed to go to beaches, parks, schools, colleges, walk on some roads, travel in buses, eat in hotels, and many such things. It seems boards were hung that blacks and dogs are not allowed. It seems, all black people over 16 years of age had to carry a passbook showing who they were and where they worked and lived. If they were found without a passbook, they would be thrown into prison. When anything has to be carried or cleaned, the white man will look around for a black man to do it for him, even if the black man is not employed by him. It seems, whites looked at blacks as a separate breed, born to serve them. For them, black people are not human beings at all and so do not have emotions. We all felt very sad and angry on hearing this, because it reminded us of our own lives.


Of course, in our place there are no boards that dalits are not allowed in such and such places. Sorry, just remembered that my teacher showed us a photo from a recent paper, of a board, which said that dalits are not allowed to enter a temple in Himachal Pradesh. We see such boards only sometimes and of course are not given books, but we know of many walls without boards and unwritten rules. We drink tea in hotels in a separate glass, we remove our chappals walking on the streets that are not meant for us, we drink water from a separate well that is outside the village, we cremate our dead far away from the village, our children sit separately in schools, we are not given houses, during marriages, if by mistake invited, allowed to eat only at the end...the list continues. And add, temple entry is not allowed. Remember, all this is forced. For us it is caste, for them it was skin colour. Both of them are decided where and how we are born, which is not in our hands!


Mandela, taught people to take lives in their hands and not leave it to fate. Our teacher and their friends are also telling us the same – fight discrimination, do not take it lying down. Perhaps, Mandela was an inspiration for them. They know about him from earlier!


Another important lesson we understood on learning about Mandela's life. Mandela, fought against black-white discrimination not by bringing together only the black people. He brought even the white people who are against this discrimination into this fight. Many caste organisations working in our colony said only our caste people should unite and we did not understand when our teacher and her friends asked us to bring even those among the upper castes who are against caste discrimination into our fight. Now hearing how Mandela and their party won against the white discrimination, we too are learning the importance of having many friends and unity in our fight.


Recently, some of our friends who are fighting discrimination were arrested by the police and put in jail. They did not get bail for many days and were inside for at least a month. Some of them, seeing the conditions in the jails, shook. Their families became afraid. We too, to tell the truth, felt fear to participate in struggle afterwards. But Mandela! He was arrested and put in jail for 27 years it seems! His wife too was arrested and how were their children? Our friends were all put in the same barrack and at least they can speak to one another, see one another and get some courage. But Mandela was put in a small lock-up, all alone! He was allowed only two visitors per year and allowed only two letters per year. But he did not shake. He stood strong. It seems he was offered freedom six times but with many conditions. He preferred to stay in jail than accept the conditions put for his release. He was not even allowed to have a last look at this mother and son who had died when he was in jail! This is what is called courage and sacrifice. This put us all to shame and brought tears to our eyes. Why should we be afraid? After all, is life outside for us so good? No. We too can be like him. No, we will be like him.


Mandela, it seems some people say he is another Gandhi. Our teacher told us that he was arrested as a leader of the military wing fighting for the rights of his people. He was also a communist it seems. Unfortunately, many papers do not write about these aspects it seems. Our teacher told us all this. She never lies and we believe her. He must have been a communist for sure. Otherwise, how can someone be so strong in mind and in fight? Otherwise, how can someone be so human?


Such a man, Mandela died. How can such a man die? Such people do not die. They live. They live as courage in our hearts. They live as fear that shakes the rich and mighty. When such people continue to live, why should we cry? He made human beings out of people. We will follow him. This is why some people want him to die. They are afraid of the fire that people like Mandela awake in us. We will not let Mandela die.


Some people want to make Mandela a god. He is a God. We are humans. So we cannot be like him. And to change our lives, we should wait for a god to come. We will not allow Mandela to be made a God. It seems, he himself disliked it. He wanted to be just like us. We will see that he remains as a human. Just like us – you and me.


Mandela will live – as you and me. As our courage; our determination and our resolve. He will live in our unity; in our struggle. He will live in us. We will live like him.