Black Panther and the need to dream for a better world


Dr Bharat Patankar, social activist, was right yesterday when he said we need to dream again for a better world as in the days of the 1960s and 1970s when we had dreams and there were revolutionary struggles every where with such a slogan as Amar Naam Tomar Naam Vietnam Vietnam in solidarity against imperialism.

He was speaking at the release of a book in Marathi on the Black Panther party in the U.S. founded on the principles of socialism and internationalism and for protection of blacks from police atrocities. The book is written by Dr Shridhar Pawar, a senior in the health department in the municipal corporation, poet, translator and activist in numerous progressive causes.

As Dr Pawar pointed out this is the first book on the subject in Marathi and his inquiries showed there was no such book in other regional languages in India either

Patankar said women participation in Black Panther was very high, almost sixty per cent. Indeed that is true as I noticed in a photo history of the movement. Like the Black Panther men, the women members tended to look both stylish and dramatic, often sporting afros and at times wearing the black leather jackets and berets that were the Panther uniform. “Most young people are photogenic,” said author Shames, “but the Panthers were charismatic. It was something to do with the pride they instilled in their people. Rather than treating them as a problem, as the government did, they gave them a sense of faith and pride and I really think that shines through in the photographs.” Edgar Hoover, the notorious FBI chief, called the Black Panther the greatest internal security threat.

Woman participation was very low in Dalit Panther and is low in the rest of the dalit movement.

This year also marks 50 years of the foundation of Dalit Panther in Mumbai which took inspiration from Black Panther.

Arjun Dangle, a leading figure in the struggle of Dalits , a Panther founder, who has recently written a history of Dalit Panther, criticised sections in the dalit movement which wanted to limit Dr Ambedkar and the movement within a narrow sphere, they were also opposed to Marxism.

Dangle said Dr Ambedkar’s labour party included legislators of different communities and ideologies including Sham rao Parulekar who was a Marxist. Godavari Parulekar was his wife.

He said it was not fair on the part of J.V. Pawar, dalit writer who was in the chair, to take credit for the formation of Dalit Panther. It was formed by many people. The inspiration came in a big way from dalit literature. Some of the leading lights of dalit literature in its early days were close to Communists or were themselves Communists, like Annabhau Sathe and Baburao Bagul.

Dr Ambedar himself was an internationalist in his outlook. He had correspondence with W.E.B. Du Bois, the eminent founder of sociology and a giant of the black power movement who towards the end of his long life joined the Communist party of U.S.

A record appears in the papers of W.E.B. Du Bois, the prominent African American intellectual and activist, whose archive is housed at the University of Massachusetts. In the 1940s, Ambedkar contacted Du Bois to inquire about the National Negro Congress petition to the U.N., which attempted to secure minority rights through the U.N. council. Ambedkar explained that he had been a “student of the Negro problem,” and that “there is so much similarity between the position of the Untouchables in India and of the position of the Negroes in America that the study of the latter is not only natural but necessary.” In a letter dated July 31, 1946, Du Bois responded by telling Ambedkar he was familiar with his name, and that he had “every sympathy with the Untouchables of India.

“From late 1961 to 1963 Du Bois lived a full life in Accra, the Ghanaian capital, working on the encyclopedia, taking long drives in the afternoon, and entertaining its political elite and the small colony of African Americans during the evenings at the comfortable home the government had provided him. Du Bois died the day before his American compatriots assembled for the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. It was a conjunction more than rich with historical symbolism. It was the beginning of the end of the era of segregation that had shaped so much of Du Bois’s life, but it was also the beginning of a new era when “the Negro Problem” could not be confined to separable terrains of the political, economic, domestic, or international, or to simple solutions such as integration or separatism, rights or consciousness. The life and work of Du Bois had anticipated this necessary synthesis of diverse terrains and solutions.

In this intellectual history, Minkah Makalani reveals how early-twentieth-century black radicals organized an international movement centered on ending racial oppression, colonialism, class exploitation, and global white supremacy. Focused primarily on two organizations, the Harlem-based African Blood Brotherhood, whose members became the first black Communists in the United States, and the International African Service Bureau, the major black anticolonial group in 1930s London, In the Cause of Freedom examines the ideas, initiatives, and networks of interwar black radicals, as well as how they communicated across continents. Through a detailed analysis of black radical periodicals and extensive research in U.S., English, Dutch, and Soviet archives, Makalani explores how black radicals thought about race; understood the ties between African diasporic, Asian, and international workers’ struggles

Panther leader Hampton’s assassination in 1969 at the hands of the Chicago Police Department marked a turning point for not just the Black Panthers, but the still-developing Black Power Movement. His death, along with those of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr, both strangled the potential of the African-American freedom struggle in the late 1960s and crippled the black radical tradition, as the magazine Jacobin pointed out.

Similarly, six months later the murder of Krishna Desai, the militant Commnist party of India MLA on 5 June, 1970 by the Shiv Sena came as a setback to the till then dominant labour power.

A meeting is proposed to be held on June 5 in Mumbai to pay respects to Krishna Desai.

Dr Wandana Sonalkar, a former economics professor, recalled her days in Cambridge university in the early 1970s where she heard of the Black Panther movement . She came back to India in 1974, married dalit poet and Dalit Panther activist Tulsi Parab.

Sunil Dighe, the doyen of the democratic rights movement , lawyer and author of law books, who is credited with writing the manifesto of Dalit Panther, said the country was passing through a major crisis which we have to tackle.
Prakash Reddy of CPI, whose father G.L. Reddy was a major figure in the Communist movement and who was close to Panther, also spoke on the occasion. Also felicitated were activists including Uttam Ghosh, artist whose work has enlivened many books and campaigns, Sudharak Olwe, Vijay Bansode, Yogesh Kamble, Manju Shetty , Subodh More

Silence was observed for a minute in memory of Akash Bhalerao, who was killed in Nanded last week because some people were opposed to his celebrating Dr Ambedkar Jayanti, anniversary.

Vidyadhar Date is a senior journalist and author of the book Transport in the era of climate change

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