Bharat Jodo Yatra1 1

The key messages of Bharat Jodo Yatra  are – “peace and nonviolence”, “against division and hatred” and the issue of “jobs and price rise”.

These messages, strangely reminded me of Martin Luther King Jr and the March on Washington on 28 August 1963. The key slogans of that March were -“jobs and freedom”, “civil and economic rights” and  an “end to racism” in the USA!

Commenting on the March, Martin Luther King later said, “as television beamed the image of this extraordinary gathering across the border oceans, everyone who believed in man’s capacity to better himself had a moment of inspiration and confidence in the future of the human race.”

Perhaps, at this moment, we too are seeking a moment of inspiration and confidence. At the end of the march, King delivered from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington DC his “I have a Dream” speech, which is widely believed to be a defining moment of the civil rights movement in the USA.

The March was related to the social and political state of the Negroes in the USA, but how does that relate to our country – a different land, a different people, a different culture? It might be important for us to go over the text of King’s speech. While it is not essential to repeat his entire speech here, if we could pick out some defining statements related to the current conditions in our country. And yes, we can read Dalits (and now, in particular, Muslims) for Negroes.

King spoke –

… the life of the Negro is still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination. One hundred years later the Negro is still languished in the corners of American society and finds himself in exile in his own land….. the magnificent words of the Constitution ….. was a promise that all men.…. would be guaranteed the unalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness…..Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy ….. Now is the time to lift our nation from the quick sands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood.

It would be fatal for the nation to overlook the urgency of the moment….. There will be neither rest nor tranquillity….. The whirlwinds of revolt will continue to shake the foundations of our nation until the bright day of justice emerges.

We can never be satisfied as long as our children are stripped of their selfhood and robbed of their dignity…..In the process of gaining our rightful place, we must not be guilty of wrongful deeds. Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred….. We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence. Again and again, we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force.

So even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream….. I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal….. I have a dream that one day ….. the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood…..I have a dream that one day even the state of ….. a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the colour of their skin but by the content of their character.

I have a dream that one day down in Alabama with its vicious racists….. one day right down in Alabama little Black boys and Black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.

And if America is to be a great nation, this must become true.

And when this happens, and when we allow freedom ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, Black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual: Free at last. Free at last. Thank God almighty, we are free at last.

What Martin Luther King said was about 60 years ago. Does it read that he could as well have been speaking of India today? What do his words means for us here today?

Speeches like King’s  – and issues that he raises – cut across time and space, and even become prophetic.

Biju Negi, Hind Swaraj Manch & Beej Bachao Andolan


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