Open Letter to Obama
EDITORIAL. John Dayal. X. XXVII. X
An Open Letter to US President Barack Hussein Obama
Dear President Obama,
Greetings, and welcome to India. We assure you a people’s reception unprecedented in its warmth, and perhaps never seen before by a visiting head of state.
This is because we see in your ascension to the Presidency of the United States of America the story of the struggles of our own people, who call themselves Dalits and are described as Scheduled Castes in the Indian Constitution, but have been known for three thousand years as “untouchables’. Once their shadow was thought to pollute “superior” human beings. The Colonial English regime, which initiated many reforms including a ban on sati, the burning alive of young widows, could do little to end this traumatic social practice. Sixty years after Independence, it bursts forth with repeated fury not just in our villages, where occasionally families are still burnt alive, but even in our finest universities where the caste divide pits student against fellow student. It can be, and often is, a life of indignity which, if challenged, can end up in violence and extreme discrimination despite the laws on the rule books.
Two men in our long history challenged this unholy tradition. The first was the Lord Buddha who rejected all that was anti-human in the Codes or the Shashtras, India’s ancient texts. That was 500 years before Christ. The second was Babasaheb B. R. Ambedkar, building on the work of two other savants, the Saint-Poet Kabir and the path-breaking thinker Mahatma Phule. Each one of them articulated Christ’s message, enshrined in your own statutes and your life experience, that all people are born equal, equipped by their Maker with all that is noble and pure.
Ambedkar, born an untouchable, defied the fate that was destined for him by his society. He studied in London, and your own Columbia University, and returned to fight India’s struggle for freedom. His finest hour was in writing free India’s Constitution, making it a modern document of freedom and liberation far removed from the documents of tradition and culture. The Constitution liberated the Untouchables. Much has to be done, but the yoke is broken.
But you, as scholar of world history and the struggles of the people, know all this.
I write to you to support the continuing struggle against caste in India, the yearning of the Dalits-Bahujans to fully realise the guarantees Ambedkar has assured them in the Constitution of India.
You will, as protocol dictates, pay homage at the Samadhi, the shrine, of Mahatma Gandhi. That is as is proper. He led a peaceful struggle for Independence.
We request you to also take some time to record your acknowledgement of the peaceful contribution to world civilization by Ambedkar. He follows the tradition of Abraham Lincoln in emancipating an entire race. He is worthy of the homage of Heads of State, and the adulation of all people of goodwill.
A flower from you at the statue of Babasaheb Ambedkar at Parliament House in New Delhi will further encourage the civilizational and emancipation movement.
And God Bless.
(The All India Christian Council (www.christiancouncil.in), birthed in 1998, exists to protect and serve the Christian community, minorities, and the oppressed castes. The AICC is a coalition of thousands of Indian denominations, organizations, and lay leaders.)