Had Urdu been the spoken language of Europe or America, it is quite evident that the revolutionary verse of the famous Urdu poet Faiz Ahmad Faiz would have become the rallying point of the recent protests that have been taking place in most of the big cities after the gruesome killing of George Floyd. The unarmed Black man was killed on 25th May in Minneapolis by a White policeman. This led to recollection of the bitter memories of the past centuries when millions of Blacks were uprooted from their homeland in Africa and sold as slaves in many developed countries.
During the protest demonstrations, many such statues were damaged which are reminiscent of the slave trade in Britain and the US. Slave traders would buy slaves, mostly blacks from African countries and make them work in factories and plantation fields owned by White landlords or merchants. Monuments of many slave traders are still standing at many such places or ports like one in Bristol in UK that was pulled down and thrown in the ocean near Bristol port. It was considered one of the important ports of the slave trade in eighteenth and nineteenth century after Liverpool where the monumental memories are still witness of robbing the dignity of living among the black slaves.
The statue of Edward Colston, famous slave trader, had already become a reason of confrontation between different groups in the Bristol. Many activists working for Black population of the area had earlier demanded for its removal that was never heeded. It became the first target of protesters to tear it down.
At the time of toppling it, protesters created the same sight of 25th May when George Floyd had appealed to the white police official to let him breathe because he knelt on his neck for almost nine minutes when he was handcuffed and lying face down. He said repeatedly, “I can’t breathe” which became the slogan of many big protests across the globe. At some protest marches, thousands even lied face down on the road and shouted “I can’t breathe” to create the feel of the real tragedy.
After this, Oxford University had voted to take down a statue of the imperialist Cecil Rhodes. Many are following suit.
Another statue of Winston Churchill, former prime minister of Britain standing near Westminster too got damaged during violent protests. This sort of violent behaviour was widely condemned by political parties which appealed for all to observe calm and restraint.
British Prime Minister, Boris Johnson while condemning the acts of violence and tearing down of the statues, said, “There is no scope for racism in this country. History cannot be changed. What has happened in the past cannot be redone. Protests and raising your voice is a part of our democracy but violence cannot be tolerated and will be dealt with seriously”.
Martha Graham, sixty five year old women and descendant of a slave grandfather, was one of the protesters in a recent rally who wanted to express her solidarity with anti-racist demonstrations in Minnesota. She related her ordeal of facing racism at every stage of her life in Britain. “My colour has been the biggest hurdle in my dreams to achieve. Whether it is schooling or trying for job, I had to face the worst nightmares of my life. I had to give up my dream of higher education and never afford to aspire for higher job due to my colour. The way Floyd was killed by white policeman; this sight unfolded the memories of my own past. The miseries my father and grandfather had suffered in the past. It might awaken the conscience of the humans of the world”.
Despite the lockdown due to Corona virus that had consumed thousands of lives in the US and the UK, thousands of people defied social distancing restrictions. The severity and angst of these protests made Washington to deploy security forces around White House. Curfew was imposed in New York and according to some reports President Trump had to take refuge in one of the underground bunkers in White House. However, this was denied later on.
The slave tales of black immigrants in UK and US are really painful; it is sometimes hard to believe the sufferings they had been put through. Still, the centuries old hard struggle and the black movement have helped them somehow to preserve their identity and unique culture and get back linked to their roots. Many took to writing as their part of struggle to raise the consciousness of the world. Black fiction is one of the most read literatures at the moment and the best seller as well. However, they believe they have yet to go a long way to achieve the dream of “fairness and justice” which Martin Luther King had prophesied decades ago. The demands of restructuring in education, the workplace, investment and finance and health are becoming stronger everywhere in the Continental Europe and America.
A famous UK hip hop singer, Akkala, wrote the story of abuse and exploitation faced by Blacks in the British society in his book “Natives, race and class in the ruins of empire”, which became one of the best sellers across the globe. He revealed, “It was a very painful struggle to get through the schools, deal with the police, save identity and then stay alive by confronting all oddities of racist attitude and curses from white community. Britain was actively involved in the slave trade for almost three centuries which came to an end in 1833 after the abolition act of slavery but the relation between master and slave continues to date”.
Akkala’s revelations led to huge debate in media forcing governments to introduce changes and recommendations in education and employment sectors for the up-lift of black and ethnic minorities. However, many ethnic minorities believe the racism and discrimination cannot cease until institutional set ups are not structured judicially.
Britain has three percent black ethnic population whereas US has thirteen percent, most of them are the descendants of slaves and workers bought earlier for plantation and construction of roads. They have lived tough life. And their children have too faced unfair treatment and fewer opportunities. Trump’s tough policy regarding ethnic minorities has created a scare amongst them which they think is making them susceptible to more dangers resulting into more discrimination. Many believe toughening of immigration laws might even result in second time uprooting from US.
After #Metoo, “#black lives matter” has become the strong movement. In one of the recent rallies in Manchester, some Indians were singing “Hum dekhengey” verse, thus attracting attention of the bystanders towards growing violence against minorities in India.
In reality, the poor, the helpless and the subjugated population across the globe are suffering from “nothingness” that makes them restless and concerned about their uncertain future. Growing protests and rallies are the manifestations of their utter frustration. Masses take refuge in each other’s sufferings and share it by uniting against the oppressors and subjugators. They organise and unite for the struggle of their rights and come on road either in the form of me-too or Arab spring or black lives matters or Muslim lives matters. Only motive is to end the subjugation, fascism and racism and discrimination from east to west.
May be the day is not too far when voiceless, poor and subjugated people will succeed in their struggle or when everyone will be singing with one voice. We shall witness the change and we will live to see it one day…….Hum Dekhengey….
Writer is an ex editor of BBC, penguin author and currently Independent Urdu columnist.