Sunday, October 1, 2017

Martin Luther King Jr. and the Shadow of Gandhi. Rhetoric of MLK Jr. and EVR, Poles Apart.

P.A. Krishnan’s article on E.V. Ramasamy, the patron saint of Tamil Nadu and a merchant of hate, has invited eager defenders who, typically, range from being silly to downright intellectually dishonest. A so-called rebuttal sweepingly, without basis, seeks to justify the inflammatory and venomous rhetoric of E.V.R by asserting that his rhetoric about Brahmins was akin to the rhetoric of Martin Luther King Jr. That’s unadulterated nonsense.



The charlatans who wrote the rebuttal to Krishna’s article justified E.V.R’s habitual tarring of an entire community and conveniently using the words ‘Brahminism’ and ‘Brahmins’ interchangeably by arguing:

“This is not a racialist tainting of a persecuted community, but questions posed to power structures. It is a discursive strategy of oppressed groups to identify the nature of oppression with those who are beneficiaries of the system of oppression. In the civil rights movement in the US, not just radicals like Malcolm X, but even pacifists like James Baldwin and Martin Luther King Jr often used “white people” in lieu of “white racism”.”

Biographer David J. Garrow quotes a speech of King during the Montgomery bus boycott:

“There are those who would try to make of this a hate campaign. This is not a war between the white and the Negro but a conflict between justice and injustice.  This is bigger than the Negro race revolting against the white”

At this point King was only familiar with the name of Gandhi. Glenn Smiley, a white Texan and a ‘devout believer in Gandhian non-violence, wrote to his friends that “King can be a Negro Gandhi”. Smiley wrote to King a quote of Gandhi, “If one man could achieve the perfect love it is enough to neutralize the hatred of millions” and concluded “who knows? Maybe in Montgomery someone may achieve this perfect love”.

King’s adoption of non-violence was gradual and a journey. Bayard Rustin, King’s trusted confidante, said King “is developing a decidedly Gandhi-like view…He is eagerly learning all that he can about non-violence”. 

Addressing a 2500 strong congregation at Brooklyn’s Concord Baptist Church King spoke of ‘passive resistance’ and said Gandhi had used it “to break loose from the political and economic domination by the British and brought the British Empire to its knees…Let’s now use this method in the United States”. To a newspaper interviewer King traced his path to Gandhi, “I have been a keen student of Gandhi for many years. However, this business of passive resistance and non-violence is the gospel of Jesus. I went to Gandhi through Jesus”. 

After recovering from an assassination attempt MLK Jr., visited India in February-March 1959. Earlier Nehru during his visit to US had tried to meet King but could not and nevertheless reached out to King to arrange a visit to India.

Martin Luther King Jr., Jawaharlal Nehru, Coretta Scott King

Writing for the magazine Ebony King gave an enthusiastic account of his trip to India.

“Virtually every door was open to us…We were looked upon as brother with the color of our skins as something of an asset”. “Thanks to the Indian papers, the Montgomery bus boycott was already well known in that country. Indian publications perhaps gave a better continuity of our 381-day bus strike than did most of our newspapers in the United States.”

“I left India more convinced than ever before that non-violent resistance is the most potent weapon available to oppressed people…The way of acquiescence leads to moral and spiritual suicide. The way of violence leads to bitterness in the survivors and brutality in the destroyers. But the way of non-violence leads to redemption and the creation of the beloved community”.

King commends India for “greater progress in the fight against caste ‘untouchabliity’ than we have made here in our own country against race segregation”. He also notes how “the leaders of India have placed their moral power behind their law. From the Prime Minister down to the village councilmen, everybody declares publicly that untouchability is wrong”. He then contrasts with how public officials in US “decline to render a moral judgment on segregation and some from the South publicly boast of their determination to maintain segregation. This would be unthinkable in India”.

Recalling how Gandhi ‘took untouchables by the hand and led them into temples’ King observed ’to equal that President Eisenhower would take a Negro child by the hand and lead her into Central High school in Little Rock”.

Returning from India King, Garrow writes, addressed a congregation at Dexter identifying three qualities of Gandhi that he admired most. “First was his great capacity for self criticism. Second was his all but total avoidance of material possessions. Third was the ‘absolute self-discipline’ that Gandhi had exhibited in his private as well as in his public life, so that ‘there was no gulf between the private the public’”. Gandhi, inspired by John Ruskin’s ‘Unto the Last’, gave up his possessions. King, inspired by Gandhi, ‘speaking of unsolicited funds’, said “I’m not going to take this money for myself”.

A popular quote of E.V. Ramasamy, that his followers parrot, is one where he asks that no one should take his word merely because he said but test it against their own reason and only then accept. This, we are told, is evidence that E.V.R. accords each man’s intellect the unfettered freedom. Unlike Gandhi E.V.R. rarely believed in practicing what he preached. Yet another quote, little referred to, tells clearly “you can question or debate my principles with me prior to joining my party but once you join the party you need to blindly follow the directives and set aside and independent reasoning or conscience of your own”. 

The charlatans who wrote the rebuttal will demur that I’m misinterpreting or misquoting E.V.R. No. E.V.R spoke in unadorned prose because he was intellectually incapable of wooly formulations. His speeches were typically written in layman terms because he was incapable of being anything else and as such there is no room for misinterpretation. E.V.R was not only not an abstruse Kant but he was not Gandhi either who had a tendency to tie himself up in knots at times trying to thread an issue through the complex philosophies he held dear. 

Throughout E.V.R’s long life there is no recorded instance of him allowing dissent in his party or his publications unlike Gandhi who published contrarian opinions of himself in his newspaper and tried to answer them. Gandhi never lacked naysayers in his own disciples. Jawaharlal Nehru wrote to Gandhi that his economic ideas were atavist.

When four ministers of the Souther Christian Leadership Conference faced a libel lawsuit for an advertisement they had placed in New York Times to solicit funds to defend King against a perjury case King, advised by a New York attorney, decided to form a trust for fundraising. Launched on 17th May 1962 the trust was called ‘Gandhi Society for human rights’. 

King faced criticism that the name of the society was “un-Christian”. King defended Gandhi, “I believe that in some marvelous way, God worked through Gandhi, and the spirit of Jesus Christ saturated his life. It is ironic, yet inescapably true that the greatest Christian of the modern world was a man who never embraced Christianity”. 

Only charlatans who are unfamiliar with the preachings of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., would utter nonsense that he spoke of Whites as E.V.R. spoke of Brahmins. Let us for a moment consider how E.V.R. spoke of Brahmins.

E.V.R. in a very notorious quote said that if a Brahmin and a snake were to be seen together one should kill the Brahmin first. Asked if he can clarify whether he hates Brahminism or Brahmins the every blunt E.V.R says, “Who do you hate? The Brahmin or Brahminism? What is Brahminism?’ – for questions such as these, my reply is Brahminism came from Brahmins and hence it is the Brahmins who should be annihilated. It is like asking whether you hate thievery or the thief. It is because one is a thief, one indulges in thievery. When someone says he hates thievery, it means he hates the thief, too, doesn’t it? Thus, [my stand is] Brahminism grew out of the Brahmin and I am striving to annihilate the root.” The charlatan duo malign P.A. Krishnan as one who ‘misinterprets’ but what is there to misinterpret in such plain neo-nazi language? Nor do the charlatans demonstrate what was misinterpreted. Calumny is not rebuttal but alas it qualifies for one amongst the Periyar herd.

The charlatan duo sheepishly add, about King and others, “The point was not that they incriminated all white people as racists, but rather that they identified who benefitted most from white racism and who ought to own greater social and political responsibility.” King did not stop with merely identifying who benefited from Jim Crow laws but his rhetoric, not out of careful design but more because of his philosophical and theological credo, spoke of justice in broad strokes eschewing any stereotyping and grounding it, always, in the spirit of reconciliation and forgiveness. 

The authors fail to supply a single quote of Martin Luther King Jr., in the same vein as the blood curdling threat issued by E.V.Ramasamy. Love and forgiveness are topics that MLK Jr., returns to again and again and again as much as E.V.R. returns again and again to the topic of hatred and extermination. The differences cannot be more stark. One can scour the voluminous output of E.V.Ramasamy and yet one will return empty handed to come up with a quote comparable to the one by MLK on forgiveness, “Forgiveness does not mean ignoring what has been done or putting a false label on an evil act. It means, rather, that the evil act no longer remains as a barrier to the relationship. Forgiveness is a catalyst creating the atmosphere necessary for a fresh start and a new beginning. It is the lifting of a burden or the cancelling of a debt. Forgiveness means reconciliation, a coming together again. Without this, no man can love his enemies. The degree to which we are able to forgive determines the degree to which we are able to love our enemies”. 

In another sermon he’s at his eloquent best, “the oceans of history are made turbulent by the ever-rising tides of revenge. Look down through history and see the fire of retaliation burning through the centuries….But Jesus decided to live by a higher law. He decided that He would meet physical force with soul force”. 

The Christian preacher reaches further, “The men who cried ‘Crucify him!’ were not bad men; they were blind men. The men who nailed Him to the cross were misguided men. They knew not what they did”. It takes chutzpah and idiocy of an exponential nature to take this man and bracket him with the addled brain of E.V.Ramasamy that knew neither such eloquence or loftiness of spirit.


Martin Luther King Jr., was more than a civil rights activist. He was an inquisitor of whether America was a force for good. Living in the dawn of Cold War and as the Vietnam War raged King flung ‘luminous words’ from pulpits that shamed the conscience of a country. His sermon ‘The drum major instinct’ decried the craving of nations to be super powers. In another sermon “Knock at midnight hour” he is unsparing of the Church too:

“In the terrible midnight of war men have knocked on the door of the church to ask for the bread of peace, but the church has often disappointed them. What more pathetically reveals the irrelevancy of the church in present-day world affairs than its witness regarding war? In a world gone mad with arms buildups, chauvinistic passions, and imperialistic exploitation, the church has either endorsed these activities or remained appallingly silent. During the last two world wars, national churches even functioned as the ready lackeys of the state, sprinkling holy water upon the battleships and joining the mighty armies in singing, "Praise the Lord and pass the ammunition." A weary world, pleading desperately for peace, has often found the church morally sanctioning war.”

Then he identifies the duty of the Church, nay, of any faith in God.

“Midnight is a confusing hour when it is difficult to be faithful. The most inspiring word that the church must speak is that no midnight long remains. The weary traveller by midnight who asks for bread is really seeking the dawn. Our eternal message of hope is that dawn will come….


Faith in the dawn arises from the faith that God is good and just. When one believes this, he knows that the contradictions of life are neither final nor ultimate. He can walk through the dark night with the radiant conviction that all things work together for good for those that love God. Even the most starless midnight may herald the dawn of some great fulfillment.”

I think of Gandhi lying too weak to speak amidst a fast unto death seeking to bring the warring members of Islam and Hinduism in Calcutta. Was Gandhi a superman who singlehandedly stopped the murder of thousands? No. But he was close enough. Gandhi’s faith in his God and that midnight will yield to a dawn of brotherhood underpinned his unshakeable tenet that to a Satyagrahi there’s no such thing as defeat.

King, like Gandhi, did not think of emancipation in unidimensional manner. To King emancipation of blacks including fighting economic injustices and injustices that he felt were structural in America’s economic system. King went to Memphis, Tennessee on March 29th 1968 to lend support to sanitation workers who were on a strike for higher wages. On April 4th 1968 while King stood on a balcony outside his room at a hotel he was assassinated by a sniper.

The night before his assassination King addressed a congregation and spoke in prophetic words and with a clear allusion to Moses in Old Testament who as liberator of Jews does not get to enter the Promised Land. King said, 

“Well, I don't know what will happen now. We've got some difficult days ahead. But it doesn't matter with me now. Because I've been to the mountaintop. And I don't mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I'm not concerned about that now. I just want to do God's will. And He's allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I've looked over. And I've seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land. So I'm happy, tonight. I'm not worried about anything. I'm not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord” 

E.V. Ramasamy, unlike King, was completely unsympathetic to the plight of those seeking higher wages. He counseled laborers to live within their means and that Communists were instigating them to rebel against landowners. He added that even if laborers were given a wage raise they’d spend the meager gains on religious festivals.

Gandhi had told his great-grand-niece that if he were to die a natural death she should climb a rooftop and shout out to the world that he was a false Mahatma. Men like Gandhi and King are in a orbit that is light years away from the one inhabited by ever unrepentantly crude and unintellectual E.V. Ramasamy. 

The rhetoric of Malcolm X was certainly inflammatory and radioactive but his biographer Manning Marable in a critically acclaimed biography gives an adroit comparison of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr., to dispel some myths.

MLK Jr., Marable says, was “first and foremost as an American” whereas Malcolm X was “first and foremost as a black man”. Malcolm X lived a very tumultuous life on a different scale, thanks to his membership in the Nation of Islam and later expulsion from that organization. “At the end of his life he realized that blacks indeed could achieve representation and even power under America’s constitutional system”. “As Malcolm’s international experiences became more varied and extensive, his social vision expanded. He became less intolerant and more open to multiethnic and interfaith coalitions”. 

Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr., were both barely 40 when they were assassinated. In that short period of life when men barely mature these complex individuals signified an epochal social movement which was shaped by them and they were shaped by it in turn. E.V. Ramasamy lived to be 94 showing a singular incapability of any lofty reconciliation between sections of the society and what he showed was unrepentant and repugnant vulgarity. 

On December 19th 1973, 5 days before his death, E.V. Ramasamy said “It is written in Hinduism that barring the 3% Brahmins the remaining 97% are bastards and children of concubines for Brahmins. How was this possible? Why were they not condemned? When you see a Brahmin address him as a bastard and if he gets angry tell him that you’re calling him a bastard because according to his law you’re one and there’s nothing wrong with that”.

Martin Luther King Jr., concluded his sermon on ‘Love and forgiveness’ exhorting the congregation to “realize we have a moral responsibility to be good and conscientious but also to be intelligent. An grant that we will always reach out for that which is high, realizing that we are made for the stars, created for the everlasting, born for eternity”.

Let's recall the sublime prose and lofty spirit that King summoned to challenge America to live up to its promise and in a way challenged all humanity for all the years to come to live up a higher promise:

I have a dream today.
I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together.
This is our hope. This is the faith that I go back to the South with. With this faith we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.
This will be the day when all of God's children will be able to sing with a new meaning, "My country, 'tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing. Land where my fathers died, land of the pilgrim's pride, from every mountainside, let freedom ring."

PS: Amongst the many intellectual dishonesties committed by the duo S. Anandhi and Karthick Ram Manoharan is one where they claim that E.V.R sided with Dalits, notably during the Muthukulathur riots of 1957. Nothing like that happened. IN an earlier blog (in Tamil) I had debunked that. A nutshell recall here.

E.V. Ramasamy ridiculed the idea of either himself or his party men going as peacemakers to the riot torn region. (Unlike Gandhi who was eager to thrust himself into Naokhali, Calcutta and Delhi).

In the aftermath of the Keezvenmani massacre in 1968 E.V.R had happily blamed the Brahmins, as a community, despite the fact that it was Naidu landlords who had torched to death 48 Dalits, all women and children. During Muthukulathur E.V.R did not exactly welcome or advocate the arrest of the chief instigator Muthuramalinga Thevar. On the contrary he had only said “we’re not opposed”. While he did chide Muthuramalinga THevar for fomenting trouble he was careful to chide him as an individual and spared his community or members of his community. But if MUthuramalingam had been a Brahmin E.V.R would’ve most certainly acted differently. It is sheer fairy tale to claim that E.V.R was unsparing to non-brahmin dominant castes. This narrative is built on a small booket published by one Thinakaran. Contrary to what that author intended a careful perusal of the quotes only reveals that E.V.R was not only sheepish but that he was craftily navigating a minefield that required greater moral courage which he never possessed. 


References:

  1. Bearing the Cross: Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference — David J. Garrow.
  2. Malcolm X : A life of reinvention - Manning Marable
  3. MLK’s Trip to India -  http://kingencyclopedia.stanford.edu/encyclopedia/encyclopedia/enc_kings_trip_to_india/
  4. King’s article in Ebony about his trip to India http://kingencyclopedia.stanford.edu/primarydocuments/Vol5/July1959_MyTriptotheLandofGandhi.pdf
  5. Setting up of Gandhi Society (http://kingencyclopedia.stanford.edu/encyclopedia/encyclopedia/enc_gandhi_society_for_human_rights.1.html 
  6. King’s Sermon ‘Love and forgiveness’ http://www.thekingcenter.org/archive/document/love-and-forgiveness)
  7. King’s Sermon ‘Knock at Midnight’ http://kingencyclopedia.stanford.edu/encyclopedia/documentsentry/doc_a_knock_at_midnight.1.html 
  8. https://nearemmaus.wordpress.com/2013/01/15/forgiveness-and-reconciliation-a-challenge-from-martin-luther-king-jr/#_ftnref1
  9. E.V. Ramasamy on wages for laborers https://ta.wikisource.org/wiki/பக்கம்:தந்தை_பெரியார்.pdf/253 ; https://groups.google.com/forum/#!msg/vallamai/1YT4db31kNQ/QNNVS-NcBQAJ 
  10. Last speech of E.V.Ramasamy https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=STPe6EJ51Ec 
  11. Last speech of E.V.R (transcript) https://viduthalaidaily.blogspot.com/2012/02/blog-post_7822.html?m=0 
  12. P.A. Krishnan’s article https://thewire.in/179688/periyar-ev-ramasamy-dravida-nadu-brahmins-dmk/ 
  13. Rebuttal to P.A. Krishnan https://thewire.in/181972/periyar-right-liberal-critiques/ 
  14. My last blog (Tamil) refuting some earlier rebuttals http://contrarianworld.blogspot.com/2017/09/blog-post.html



3 comments:

Srini Radhakrishnan said...

//Martin Luther King Jr., concluded his sermon on ‘Love and forgiveness’ exhorting the congregation to “realize we have a moral responsibility to be good and conscientious but also to be intelligent. An grant that we will always reach out for that which is high, realizing that we are made for the stars, created for the everlasting, born for eternity”. //
Made my eyes swell. Lofty people and lofty ideals. The world we have is a much better place thanks to MLK Jr and Gandhi. And, the contrast between MLK Jr and EVR couldn't be more starker. EVR template has led to Tamil Desiyam now, expanding the scope of hate to inlcude Telugus and other non-Tamils while MLK Jr template continues to inspire young minds worldwide to strive for a peaceful way.

வன்பாக்கம் விஜயராகவன் said...

Excellent article Aravaindan. Charlatans is the word that best describes EVR apologists. What disgusting bunch of lies EVR apologists come up with.

Adnan Ali said...

NICE

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