Do you see the tall, splendid person in the picture? Is he Human?
We see the Rohingyas in the news. Who are they? Most of us don’t exactly know.
Are they human?
At least on this point, most of us would agree. It is obvious.
But we don’t realize that it is obvious only at this point in History. This applies to any “other’ group.
The other day I was watching, on TV, a protest by some Americans against Donald Trump. One of the journalists was interviewing a blue eyed, golden haired young woman, one of the protesters.
“Aren’t you from Boston? You said that your ancestors came in the Mayflower. Why are you protesting?”
She was, as the Americans say, a Boston Brahmin. She was at the pinnacle of American traditional glory. The height of traditional, white, Christian privilege in America.
“I want to be on the right side of history” She said.
Have you heard of the famous American court case- Standing Bear Vs Crook?
Standing Bear was a Native American Indian Chief. He was legitimately living with his tribe of 750 people on a fertile land in Nebraska. The white American government forced them off their land, and asked them to move to a barren settlement in Oklahoma, 600 miles away. No supplies, no support.
Standing Bear led his people on foot, in the icy winter. Many died on the way, including the Chief’s beloved daughter.
They reached, tried to grow food, tried to survive. The land was unforgiving. A third of the tribe starved to death. It included Standing Bear’s son.
As his son lay dying, he made a promise to him:
“I will get your bones and bury them in the tribe’s ancestral burying grounds, back in Nebraska. Dont worry, Son.”
According to their faith, his son could get an afterlife, and walk with his ancestors, only if he did that.
Clutching his Son’s bones in a bag, he began his walk home. Halfway, General George Crook, on orders from the government, stopped him. His mission was to force Standing Bear back.
Crook was a good man. He leaked the details to the press, and certain ‘human rights’ lawyers and they intervened. That is how the issue reached the court- Standing Bear Vs Crook. Crook represented the Government. He could not escape that.
In the court, the Government tried to argue that Standing Bear was not human, and hence had no human rights. The Natives were thoughtless animals. The case dragged on for days, and finally the hearing came to an end. Standing Bear wanted to address the jury, and against tradition, the judge allowed him to do so.
It was the second of May, 1879.
The Chief said many things. He was illiterate and uneducated. He described his trials and the journey. Finally, he held out his hand, and said:
“This hand is not the color of yours. But if I pierce it, I shall feel pain. If you do it to your hand, you will also feel pain. The blood that will flow from mine will be the same color as yours.
I am a Man.”
He was a Chief. He led his people over 600 miles of terrain, and he had the heart and resolve to carry out a promise to a dying son, and he had to try and prove that he was human.
Hundred and odd years back, in 1776, America became independent, and the American declaration of independence said:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
How many of us know that in the phrase- ‘all men are created equal’- Men meant White men? Not even women. Women’s right to vote was controversial, and it took a century to sort that out. Blacks got full civil rights only by 1960s.
The thing is, now we are uncertain about the creator, and whether he endowed us with anything. But we know, at least in the abstract, that all humans are equal, and that is a miracle.
Who taught us that? Science? Rational enquiry? The processes of History?
I don’t know. Do you?
But History does have a nasty habit of judging us. Unfortunate, but there it is. (Jimmy Mathew)