Jai Bhim Network

Dr. Gail Omvedt: Maya to Obama, signs of the new millennium

2008.11.09. Categorized: Uncategorized   

Dr. Gail Omvedt and audience at the Center for the Study of World Religions (CSWR). Harvard Divinity School (HDS) Photo/Rebecca EstersonObama has won!

I was in the US in May 2007, when Mayawati (मायावती) became chief minister of UP, and Obama was coming forward in the US primary. With my daughter’s friends, mostly young and radical South Asian Americans, and all Obama supporters we celebrated Mayavati’s achievement. After years of depressing Republican presidencies, war and neoliberalism, something new was happening in the world.

An African American was aiming for the presidency, while a Dalit (and a woman!) was heading India’s largest state and promising to become Prime Minister in 10 years. Old barriers of caste and race were being not only challenged, but surmounted. Obama has made history: will Mayavati?

It seems that we were truly entering a new millennium! Obama’s victory itself reflects not only his own impressive leadership, but also a long history. I remember the 1960s: Thirty to forty years ago there were huge “race riots” in the US. In fact, they were urban ghetto uprisings, protests against the continued racism of American society.

A bloody civil war — the bloodiest in American history — had been gone through a century earlier; but in the reaction afterwards segregation was reimposed in the south and the former slaves were deprived of the voting rights. It took decades to make really solid changes. W.E.B. Dubois, as a militant, Left-leaning leader of African Americans, and Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar can well be compared; theoretically and practically there were great similarities.

Yet while Ambedkar could become the head of the Constitution drafting committee and a minister, first in British Indian, then in independent India, Dubois could not get a job as postmaster in Washington D.C. which he had applied for. Bitter at the end, Dubois ended as a Communist in Africa.

The 1960s saw the civil rights movement; Martin Luther King (moved by a brave woman named Rosa Parks) emerging to leadership of a Montgomery bus strike as Blacks revolted against being forced to sit at the back of the bus; then came sit-ins by militant Black students resolving not to move away from restaurants refusing to serve them coffee.

In Freedom Summer, an event organised by the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee to bring whites and Blacks together to fight segregation in Mississippi, four men — three whites and an African American — were killed. One of the slogans of SNCC was the sarcastic, “there’s a town in Mississippi called Liberty; there’s a Department in Washington called Justice” — a comment on the lack of support they were getting from the Federal government. Little children moving to integrate schools were forced to go through mobs of cursing and shouting white segregationists. And then came the uprisings in northern ghettos, cities outside the Deep South which had their own harsh forms of racism.

They were historic years, a time of spreading militancy. A youth group I was working with in Berkeley, calling themselves “Youth Council for Community Action” (they had wanted “Youth Party for Youth Protection” but it was felt too militant), had the saying: “There are Negroes, niggers and Black people. We have a lot of niggers in this organisation, but we at least we don’t have any Negroes!”

Negroes, once the preferred term, had gotten the connotation of a middle class sellout; “nigger” was a derogatory term when used by whites (known insultingly as “honkies”) but when used among themselves had a rather desirable connotation of someone who was (ironically) “bad” — tough, riotous, uncontrollable, one who never gave in or gave up. And “Black” by then was the preferred term, someone who was “together”, a real “brother”.

America has come a long way since then. Sparked by the protests and uprisings, which had the support of growing groups of whites, the government responded with a number of “affirmative action” programmes. Some sections preferred to build “Black Capitalism”, which radicals such as myself at the time saw as rather a sellout. Yet all of these had their effect, Blacks — now calling themselves “African Americans” — began to move ahead in many fields. Emerging writers, men and women alike began to make their impact. Films such as Roots brought home the reality of slavery to millions of viewers; the Color Purple (from the novel by Alice Walker) saw Black women coming in masses and crying through its showing — and sterling first performers by Whoopee Goldberg and Oprah Winfrey. Oprah went on to become the highest paid TV personage in the country, said to be worth a million dollars an hour, her endorsement for Obama worth a million votes.

Among the youth of the country, the change in attitude was often profound; people began to choose their friends and mates without looking at colour. According to Census bureau figures, for example, black-white marriages increased from 65,000 in 1970 to 422,000 in 2005. Racism is hardly dead; but it is under challenge as never before.

Then came a young Senator of mixed parentage, white and African, with a history of community organising, with a Kenyan father and a childhood in Indonesia and Hawaii. When he announced his candidacy as a Democrat for the presidency in 2007, he was a “dark horse”, a relative unknown; Hillary Clinton was the overwhelming favourite. Yet Obama began to waken tremendous enthusiasm, drawing huge crowds and provoking emotion. His slogan was simple: “change”.

By the time of the vote, Obama’s victory was no surprise. Charged with being young and inexperienced, he won over his primary and main election opponents not only with the most impressive funding seen in history, but also with powerful organisation, going to the grassroots with a practical machine and using the Internet, YouTube and SMS cellphone messages. He remained cool and unflappable in the face of every challenge. And he awakened something like a new dream among Americans, mostly young, but of every class, Black and white and Hispanic.

Throughout the campaign, he drew crowds like a rock star or a famous preacher, emotional, swaying. The night of the election itself tens of thousands gathered in Chicago and New York, singing and weeping, hugging each other as the results became clear. When he stated in his acceptance speech “change has come — we have proved today it is a new and real ‘United’ States of America”, the emotional achievement of breaking through three hundred years of American slavery and oppression was visible in many faces.

As one columnist, Frank Rich in the New York Times, wrote: “Obama doesn’t transcend race. He isn’t post-race. He is the latest chapter in the ever-unfurling American racial saga. It is an astonishing chapter.”

For African Americans, it was symbolised in a message sent from phone to phone: “Rosa sat so Martin could walk. Martin walked so Barack could run. Barack ran so your children can fly.” Hopefully, this will symbolise the new millennium, not only for people of every colour in the US but for people of all castes in India.

Dr. Gail Omvedt is an America-born sociologist whose essential work has centred on Dalit empowerment movements in India. Among her many books is a political biography of B.R. Ambedkar. Omvedt became an Indian citizen in 1983 and lives in Maharashtra.

Source: The Telegraph - Calcutta (Kolkata)

1 Comment:

1 | Derdák Tibor

November 20th, 2008, 8:05 am

Another sign of the new millenium:
Hungarian High Court has made a historical sentence this week: segregation of Roma children is prohibited in Hajdúhadház.
This has been the first segregation case at Supreme Court of Republic of Hungary.
Thanks to Dr. Lilla Farkas advocate, Sztojka Katalin and Bernáth Bálint human right fighters, Mohácsi Erzsébet and Ujlaky András presidents of Chance for Children Foundation, Tuza Tibor pedagogical expert, and the students of Dr. Ambedkar High School and Little Tiger High School who followed the whole struggle.
The importance of this historical decision may be compared to Brown v. Board of Education Case in the USA in 1954.
Dr. Jack Greenberg, the litigator advocate of the Brown case has come to Hungary to visit Roma human rights fighters this summer: he met met the students of Dr. Ambedkar High School in Sajókaza and in Hegymeg.
He noticed: Dr. Ambedkar High School is a demonstration: Roma people are able to study at secondary  and higher level like anybody else.

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Our Inspiration 1st Part

Our Inspiration (1st Part)
Jai Bhim is a cheerful greeting. Ten million Indians greet each other in this manner. They're the Dalits who are a proud community. They inherited an extremely difficult life. Their parents and grandparents and untold generations before them were outcasts in society. Even today they still encounter prejudice and experience helplessness.
For more than a millenium their ancestors lived as outcasts. People had a horror of touching them. Others even avoided being in their proximity as their shadow was considered polluting. If they went to school they were seated separately, If they were able to obtain work they did the dirtiest and lowest paid jobs.

Our Inspiration 2nd Part

Our Inspiration (2nd Part)
With their greeting of Jai Bhim they remind each other of their own successful revolution in 1956 for their human rights. Their cause is sacred. It inspires us here in Hungary, as we also face segregation and prejudice today. We would like to know discrimination is a thing of the past.
The dalit's story is like a fairy tale.

Our Inspiration 3rd Part

Our Inspiration (3rd Part)
Once upon a time, a hundred years ago, there lived a seventeen year old untouchable boy in a big family, His name was Bhim. He was the youngest child among 14 siblings. He surpassed all of them because of his brilliant mind. A wealthy maharaj acknowledged his poverty and bestowed a scholarship on him. Bhim was aware that Indian schools were being discriminatory and practiced segregation. Therefore, he tried his fortune in London and New York where he achieved university degrees. He received the title Dr. Ambedkar when he returned home to serve his people as a barrister.

Our Inspiration 4th Part

Our Inspiration (4th Part)
Nevertheless, he was considered as an untouchable in accordance with the holy books of the Hindu religion. Therefore, he convened with his friends and publicly burned Manu's Laws, the Hindu holy script which bids the Hindu to hold the Untouchable in disdain. He became a human right fighter and his authority was constantly growing throughout the whole country. When India gained independence in 1947 he was nominated as law minister. He was entrusted with drafting the Constitution for the country. He wrote in it that discrimination is forbidden.

Our Inspiration 5th Part

Our Inspiration (5th Part)
In his old age the Dalit people addressed him with veneration as Dr. Babasaheb. He and his laws, however respected they were, he still stared frustratedly at the discrimination existing all over the country. He decided then to show the people a spiritual alternative. As our judgment is determined by our faith, he took an oath: "I was born a Hindu Untouchable. It was beyond my power to prevent that but I declare that it is within my power to refuse to live under ignoble and humiliating conditions. I solemnly assure you that I will not die a Hindu". He abjured hindu religion that had brought so much suffering and humiliation to the Untouchable people (today's Dalits).

Our Inspiration 6th Part

Our Inspiration (6th Part)
He studied thoroughly all the faiths of the world. He was seeking a religion which fitted together with reason, with modern science, and which declared liberty, fraternity and equality amongst people. He decided to follow the path of the Indian prince who lived 2500 years ago: he would be a follower of the Buddha. This was a decision of profound importance for the Dalits because the Buddha is venerated thoughout the world, and India is entitled to take pride in her great son. Dr. Ambedkar showed his astuteness: all of us can choose the way to be respected, we can change our fate for the better. Hundreds of thousands followed Ambedkar to the magnificent ceremony in Nagpur in October 1956. This was the rebirth of Buddhism in India. Babasaheb died six weeks later.

Our Inspiration 7th Part

Our Inspiration (7th Part)
Those who at that time embraced a new world view with him, they are today grandfathers and grandmothers. Their grandchildren are as numerous as the whole population of Hungary. They follow Ambedkar's example: they face even the biggest difficulties in all things - to study and to exercise their human rights.

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  • Chandrakirti: I like ur views on Bhim Jayanti... And i jst can say "Jai Bhim".....
  • Sunil Sagar: Jai Bhim Janos it's great seeing Dr. Ambedkar's follower in Hungary. The Emancipator, The god of Small. What Millions of god and goddess of Hindu's c
  • Ashwin Jangam: Struggle for liberation of Mulnivasis When freedom struggle of our country was going on, we were dual slaves. The Arya Brahmin
  • Ashwin Jangam: Jaibhim Abhinav Thank you Abhinav for putting up a superb photos of our ancestors to know our peop
  • mulji parmar: JAIBHIM NAMOBUDDHAI RESPECTED PRESIDENT WE ALL KNOIW THAT IN WHICH CONDITION DR. BABASAHEB AMBEDKAR HAS DONE DALIT ACTIVITIES WITH G

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