A safe distance from peace activism

by Chandrabhan Prasad

Late in the evening of September 1, the Kingsmead stadium at Durban witnessed a keen contest of ideas and agendas. That evening, the World NGO Forum finalised the Declaration, which was to be submitted to Mary Robinson, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.

The Dalit leadership was caught in a piquant situation, as the Palestinian group insisted on the inclusion of the "genocide" clause, a charge against Israel. Since the Palestinians had supported the Dalit cause all through the deliberations, it was very difficult for the Dalit leadership to oppose them. Ultimately, it was this particular clause which was used as a pretext by the Americans and the Israelis to walk out of the Inter-Governmental Convention. It also invited the wrath of Mary Robinson and this in turn, led to the impression that "the UN High Commissioner had rejected the NGO Declaration". Late in the night, some of us were upset, as blind support to the Palestinians could also mean antagonising Europe and America? After all, the victims gathered at Durban were people who had no friends in their respective societies and unless the EU and US backed their agendas, nothing worthwhile would happen and no government could be pressurised to set things right back home. But there was a moral question, too, as anybody seeking justice could no longer carry any legitimacy without backing the Palestinian cause. But all the time and everywhere the breast-beating, slogan-shouting etc by the Palestinians, trying to tell the world that theirs' was the only agenda the world community must prioritise upon, was indeed distressing.

Equally distressing was listening to the Jews' story, their history, their sufferings and the genocide they had experienced. It was indeed sad to see two victims fighting against each other. In such a unique context, the Dalits had a very difficult choice to make between justice, morality and, above all, strategy. To me, the Dalit leadership should have politely explained to the Palestinians the Dalits' plight back home where without touching upon the caste question, a person can claim to be a great reformer and that without the support of the US and EU, Indian society would not mend its oppressive attitude. That didn't happen but the EU nations displayed an amazing sense of maturity, understood the complexities and were all prepared to back us.

Here back home, a similar situation is arising. In the aftermath of the terrorists' attack on the WTC and the Pentagon, the US and its allies are all set to strike at Afghanistan. Many have already called it a "civilisational conflict," and if the war goes on too long, polarisation is bound to occur.

In the emerging new scenario, "peace activists" are only waiting to strike the moment the US attack begins and it will be a worldwide phenomenon. While peace activists elsewhere in the world may be genuinely interested in "peace," the situation is not the same in India. I have just got a mail from friends in the US, a set of people comprising University teachers, students, White and Black, Indian migrants, who had come over to Durban to support the Dalits' cause. They have been fighting racism in the US, defending affirmative actions but are now organising peace activists in Georgia against any possible strike over Afghanistan.

But in India, "peace activists" will be made up of environmentalists, some women's groups, secularists, animal rights activists, all led by the tired but domesticated Left, which has almost a pathological hatred of the US. This set of people cannot make the distinction between the US as a society and the US as an imperialistic power. While the US as a superpower may be indulging in dirty games outside of the US, within US, the US as a democratic-liberal state system, may be doing wonderful things to eradicate racial/ethnic discrimination and promoting the disadvantaged social categories?

While Indian "peace activists" often tell us how the Whites practised slavery and eliminated a large chunk of the natives, they never tell of how the mistakes of the past are being corrected in the US today? Dalits have always sought inspiration from the Black movement in America. In fact, the very birth of the Dalit Panthers was inspired by the US Black Panthers. Now, we are trying to seek inspiration from how White society has, reluctantly though, decided to share American wealth, institutions etc with the Blacks and ethnic minorities. Any attempt to malign all of US society would only de-legitimise our claim to importing the US' ideas and opening the doors of the private sector and public institutions to Indian Dalits! Dalits have to be very careful and maintain a safe distance from peace activism in India. The US has lifted sanctions against India and Pakistan for its "national interests". Pakistan and many Arab States are supporting the US in their best national interests. Then, what is in the Dalits' interest? Keep "peace activists" at bay, in the name of "peace activism." They want a "social outing," let them have it.

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