Kunta Kinte,a native black of Gambia while searching for wood to make a drum on a sunny day in 1767, was chased by four men and taken as captive. He was abducted by slave traders and put on a slave ship named Lord Ligonier which landed in Maryland in US. Kunta was auctioned and the new owner gave him the name Toby....the endless misery of the American slave and his generations to follow for centuries is well conceived and written by the American author Alex Hailey of the best seller Roots in 1977 based on his own family history.Later it was serialized in TV as well . One can read or see many parts of Roots only with moist eyes or heart in the mouth or both!
Probably my mind was influenced by this book among all of its kind during my young age that when Barak Obama was elected as the President of United Sates of America in 2008 it was an amazing feeling for me. It was a pleasant shock. A black in white house! More than giving credit to Obama I salute the American people which they made clear beyond doubt to the rest of the world for a second time recently.
This article has nothing to do with American politics or with performance of Obama but taking stock of the 'slavery' which has been introduced to US in 1619 ,abolished two and half centuries later officially , but continued to milder forms during last few decades and how the same Americans made a bold turn around of events in the history of their country and the world ,which will go recorded in the centuries to come......
Chattel slaves to Peons
Evidence of slavery predates written or available documents.It was there all along in the history of mankind,in all circumstances,in all continents,in all countries in one form or the other-chattel slavery where people are treated as personal property and bought and sold as commodities or bonded slavery or bonded labour. The degree might have come down now but still it is there in many places.Discrimination against race, religion ( including against own divisions and sub divisions),colour,class,creed,gender,poor, rich..what not! No society can be an exception here in the true sense of it .Even the black Africans who were taken as slaves have discriminated some sects of the same race in the history. Why , the designation 'Peon' which you find in offices in many countries in the modern world including India for an attendant actually means involuntary servitude ..a glorified slave ..an designation started by the Spanish during their colonial days but continues to be used by many to this day, perhaps not knowing the real meaning of it!!
A slave had no right.A slave could be sold or bought just like a cow,ox or any other domestic animal.Slaves had no say in where they lived, how they lived or who they worked for.This was exactly the plight of a slave in US from 1619 when the first batch landed there till it was abolished in 1865 by Emancipation proclamation followed by amendment of the laws captained by Abraham Lincoln.Some of the freed American slaves left back to Africa and formed the country of Liberia in 1822 could be an information for many.
Typical advt by slave runners
White,black and brown
Abraham Lincoln could be the most familiar non Indian name I might have heard during my initial years in the school . During sermons of the priest of my parish during which most of the children half dozily listen without understanding much, I might have heard many times this name...as the person of the modern world to have freed the slaves giving them fundamental human rights. My high school texts , class teachers as well as the monthly newsletter of US Information Service,which was subscribed by me and my chatten( elder brother) those days only because it was free, also gave a lot of importance to Abraham Lincoln .Later as I picked up reading habit in my life (to be honest I started enjoy reading including my texts well after my graduation !) I did read in depth articles on the slavery that was in US over the centuries, how Abraham Lincoln masterminded to have a stop of it,at least legally.Then only I knew the greatness in him . But I also knew that regardless of the law,discrimination against the blacks continued in one way or the other unabated in US like elsewhere in the world .
I used to get thrilled from the live speech of Martin Luther King Jr which he delivered in Washington DC in 1963 - I have dream....a audio tape spool we got from US Information Service again in the sixties and played it in the tape player , a rare gadget in India then, which was presented to my father by one of his favorite nieces Leela who was living abroad. Than the contents of the speech what made me admire those days was the style he delivered it to the people. (Still I do) .Later seeing the video I was curious over the fact that some of his disciples were wearing 'Gandhi' caps!!
First hand knowledge of apartheid practiced in South Africa was conveyed by my classmate and close friend Itty who joined Shipping Corporation Of India and started sailing as marine engineer . Being myself an engineer in PWD,I had not ventured out of India then. Those days India did not have diplomatic relations with S Africa on the issue of apartheid. I still remember the stamp in my first passport which I got later-'valid for all countries except South Africa'.I remember reading a letter of Itty received in 1974 from Johannesburg , a port where his ship had to be towed and berthed due to technical problems unexpectedly while in the sea "Jaison , this is a strange country I have never experienced .Separate doors for the black and white in public offices , separate queues in post offices where I was forced to be in one for buying this aerogramme and separate eating places in restaurants and even separate public comfort stations .And we Indians have to be with the black " .
Now in hindsight I have to thank that rude white Ticket Examiner of the train of S Africa who decided to enforce the apartheid rules of the land fiercely when he threw out Gandhi from the first class compartment in 1893.Mahatma Gandhi ,a barrister by profession was on a personal visit to the country to impart some legal consultations to an Indian businessman. The shock he got from the experience of being summarily pushed out of the train made Gandhi fight back , challenge the might of British Empire , finally culminating in freedom of India and Indians. And a host of countries in Asia and Africa followed suit! It could be an irony that the very South Africa where my friend Itty was forced to use a separate line meant for blacks for everything while being there for a month, after 40 years has joined the BRICS(Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa) and are partners, although not fully, in international politics and business, latest being to form a BRICS bank to counter the influence of World Bank and IMF!!! But for Itty had to leave this world 3 years back following an ailment , this would have amused him , I am sure.
When one lives in own country and home town one is a king or queen but life could be like 'frog in the well' .When one moves out to other places only we start realizing how others look at you .Living in a foreign country and mixing among multi nationalities will give excellent lessons to take stock of ones culture with others'. Pleasant and not that pleasant experiences over the years will enrich one's out look towards life for sure whether it is an Indian living in Qatar or an Arab in India or a British in Argentina!
A Black in the White house?
How a black man be living in white house? A place where not less than six previous US Presidents kept black slaves in bondage. Blacks have done the manual labour to build the white house ,blacks have been doing menial jobs of mopping and cleaning the white house all along. It was in nineteen fifties that a black senior official for PR was appointed for the first time. But is it possible for a black to be the boss there, to lead America and influence the course of current history of the world? Just impossible everyone thought .Over the years the black slaves have risen and some have excelled in the American society to be domestic servants, artists, musicians, press reporters, advisers, elected officials, military personnel, doctors and other professionals , clergy but is it possible by any chance for a black to be the President. Never, most thought till 2008.At least me!
Americans rewrites their own history
I never knew of Obama till 2007.When he announced his candidacy for the position of President of US among the Democrats, it did not interest me either but when he chose the site of announcement , he being black, I was curious .He chose the venue to be in front of old State Capitol, Illinois not by chance. Abraham Lincoln as a senator made his most historic speech pivoting on the subject of slavery in US - "House Divided" in 1858 from there. "A house divided against itself cannot stand. I believe this Govt cannot endure , permanently half slave half free" He said citing on north south divide over the issue of slave and free states. In fact Abraham Lincoln borrowed the famous words from the Bible.Mark3:25 says" And if a house be divided against itself ,that cannot stand". Obama and his poll campaign managers are clever but I never thought that he can make it seeing the number of candidates who entered the primaries.
When the primaries narrowed down to a dual between Obama and Senator Hillary Clinton like most of non Americans I started following the race closely. It was a surprise for me when Hillary ended her campaign and endorsed Obama. Is there any chance for Obama to win over John McCain of Republican candidate? Not at all, most believed so, at least those outside US. "Do Obama stand a chance?" I asked a person with whom I have close access who was a career diplomat representing his country as an ambassador in UK and many European countries ."Not at all. A black can never make it in US to that position" he told me without any doubt. He was proved wrong absolutely!
On November 4 2008,Obama won the presidency by clear electoral votes.Barak Obama was elected by the people of United States Of America to be the nation's President and Commander in Chief! On November 6,2012 he was reelected to a second term!!
Obama was the epicentre of the jubilation which followed which is understandable . But the very fact that it was a win and shift of mind of American people that made him to be in that position was over looked, I believe .The same American people who made slaves out of human beings finally chose to express their desire for the inevitable corrections in their own making of history was not given enough recognition or they deserve much more applauds. Not once but twice , they showed explicitly clear to rest of the world. Sure this is not the end of discrimination but a new fresh chapter in the history of the mankind for years to come for a brighter world. Abraham Lincoln ,a Republican must be smiling, wherever he is now, over the win of a Democrat President for the first time!
Images: Courtesy Google.