What Indians can learn from Martin Luther King

On his 50th death anniversary, the government and common citizens must introspect about the state of civil liberties in the country.

 |  4-minute read |   04-04-2018
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On April 4, 1968, at about 6pm, the quiet of the evening was shattered by the crack of a gunshot. The shocked supporters of Martin Luther King Jr attended to him and took him to a hospital where he breathed his last a few hours later. That fatal bullet took King and his teachings to immortality.

Today on the occasion of his 50th death anniversary, as the world mulls over and debates about the state of human rights, especially for the minorities and the socially disadvantaged groups, there is much India needs to introspect too. Just as King had learnt from India, five decades later India can learn a lot from his life.

king_040418023201.jpgMartin Luther King Jr (1929-1968). [Image: Associated Press photo]

Inspired by Mahatma Gandhi’s life of non-violence, King toured India between February and March 1959 and later implemented the tenets of civil disobedience in the civil rights movement he championed in the US. In 2009, the US House of Representatives passed a resolution recognising Gandhiji’s influence on Martin Luther King.

In hindsight, it may look tragically absurd that large sections of society were opposed to what King stood for. It is perplexing that someone would kill a man for demanding that all people be treated equally and there be mutual respect between communities. His “I have a dream” speech, which he delivered most eloquently, is inspiring even today and people watch it on social media sites like YouTube. The speech is essentially about a society sans discrimination of any hue. Yet, the times we live in have only marginally changed as prejudice is still pronounced in many societies, including India.

The bedrock of liberty and freedom is the assurance of civil liberties. It is what freedom is all about. Civil liberties are what were denied and hence fought for by populations oppressed by colonial powers. As people became enlightened and congregated to fight for civil liberties, they were often glued by nationalism. It is therefore ironic that in today’s society, those who strongly identify themselves as "nationalists" are the ones who speak most disparagingly about human rights and civil liberties.

With scant regard for (or knowledge about) India’s freedom struggle, the neo-nationalists, who equate criticism of the government with criticism of the state, deride those who advocate human rights. Masquerading their jingoism and xenophobia as "nationalism", they poison public discourse on social media. In the garb of freedom of speech, (which they mistake to mean the right to abuse those with opposing views), many even call for violence and openly celebrate the murders of champions of civil liberties, like Gauri Lankesh.

The spurious nationalism peddled by the rabid supporters of the right wing, spread malicious lies about the apostle of peace and India’s greatest icon, Mahatma Gandhi. They also celebrate his killer Nathuram Godse. Despite their bizarre worldviews, such people can hardly be called the fringe anymore as scores of them are followed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Twitter. Any self-respecting citizen would be embarrassed that the PM follows people who eulogise the killer of a man widely revered as the father of the nation.

Further, it is worrying when the PM follows people who deride human rights. How can his administration, which is entrusted with the sacred job of upholding the Constitution, be trusted to discharge its duties without fear or favour?

And can we claim that India is a truly free country when civil liberties are looked down upon in the name of "nationalism".

For a man who publicly claimed that Parliament is the temple of democracy, it should be a matter of shame for PM Modi that the sovereignty is being diminished every passing day. Important bills and even the Budget is passed without debate and there hasn’t been one press conference the PM has had the courage to face since taking charge in 2014. How can the government defend the rights of the people without listening to them?

The government and even common citizens must therefore introspect along with the rest of the world about the state of civil liberties in India on the occasion of King’s 50th death anniversary. India inspired King’s fight for justice and equality. Surely, we can take a leaf out of his life and practice what we inspired in him.

Also read: This is not fake news. Smriti Irani made fastest U-turn by a minister in India’s history




Rakesh Kotti Rakesh Kotti @rakeshkotti

Rakesh Kotti is an educator, aspiring writer and amateur drummer.

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