Skip to main content

Inviting dissent: In sharp contrast to India today, this US college 'refused to cow down'

By Pramod Ranjan* 

For the Brockport College of the State University of New York, March 2022 was a period of frenetic activity. The College faced acerbic attacks from White politicians and a section of newspapers. Reason: The College had invited a convicted Black Panther intellectual for giving a lecture.
It may be pertinent to mention here that Black Panther was the inspiration behind the founding of Dalit Panther in India in the year 1972. The ideology of the Black Panther was the guiding light of the Dalit Panther. But what happened at Brockport holds significance for India in other contexts, too. Freedom of expression is being mercilessly crushed in the Indian institutions of higher learning.
The past few years have witnessed innumerable instances of colleges and universities being bamboozled into cancelling their programmes involving intellectuals opposed to the ideology and the policies of the ruling government.
The Indian institutions of higher learning are so weak-kneed that they don't even utter a word of protest in such cases. In contrast, the Brockport College stood its ground and defended its autonomy even in the face of tremendous pressure mounted by the dominant politicians and groups.
What had happened?
The Brockport College invited Jalil Abdul Muntaqim, a former member of Black Panther, as a speaker to one of its programmes. The event was to be held on April 6.
Jalil was arrested in 1971 on the charge of murdering two policemen and was sentenced to 25 years in prison for each murder, the sentences to run consecutively. After spending about 50 years in jail, he was released on 7 October 2020. Arguably, Jalil has served the longest jail term in any democracy of the world, including the USA.
Jalil's life was traumatic. He was born in Oakland, California and grew up in San Francisco. He spent a major part of his childhood with his mother - a student of African dance and a member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), an organisation known for protesting excesses against the Blacks. Jalil and other Blacks were addressed derisively as 'niggers'.
The driver of the school bus forced Jalil to sit on the seats in the last row. In fact, Jalil's childhood bore and uncanny resemblance to what an untouchable child faced in India at the time. Both had to face humiliation, discrimination and apathy at every step. That was their fate.
The year 1967 was a turning point in Jalil's life. On the 2nd of May of that year, about 30 young Black Panthers, armed with rifles and pistols and wearing black glasses, leather jackets and bracelets, captured the California Capitol.
The legislature was to take up an anti-gun bill, seeking to prohibit carrying of loaded arms in public. The real intent of the proposed measure was to disarm the Black Panthers, which was rapidly gaining ground in California and the region around in terms of both weapons and ideas.
Jalil, who was 16 at the time, saw this incident as a ray of hope – as something that could win the Blacks their rights – and he got associated with the Black Panther Party.
The next year, Martin Luther King Jr was murdered. A year later, law enforcement officers assassinated 21-year-old Black Panther Fred Hampton in Chicago. These incidents hurt Jalil, who was 18 then, very deeply. Around this time, he was chosen as a member of Black Liberation Army, the underground outfit of Black Panther Party. Black Liberation Army was charged with throwing bombs and committing heists, besides attacking policemen.
On May 21, 1971, the Liberation Army killed two officers of the New York Police in an ambush. Of them, Joseph Piagentini was a White and Waverly Jones was a Black.
Shortly before the incident, a package was delivered to the New York Times. It contained a bullet and a press note that said:
"We send them (bullet) in order to exhibit the potential power of oppressed peoples to acquire revolutionary justice. The armed goons of this racist government will again meet the guns of oppressed third world peoples as long as they occupy our community and murder our brothers and sisters in the name of American law and order … We are revolutionary justice. All Power to the People.”
Jalil Abdul Muntaqim, who was known as Anthony Jalil Bottom then, and his associates were charged with the murder of the two cops.
He was put on trial and despite many contradictions in the depositions of the witnesses for the prosecution, he was convicted and sentenced. The court said that he was may be paroled after 25 years. Accordingly, he become eligible for parole in 1993.
But due to stiff opposition by White racist politicians, the organisation of New York police personnel and the kin of the killed cops, his parole applications were rejected on 11 different occasions. Whenever his application came up for hearing before the Parole Board, a bitter campaign was launched demanding its rejection.
Thousands of letters were dispatched to the Board and White politicians issued a barrage of statements opposing parole to him, notwithstanding the fact that he was legally entitled to it. On the other hand, many civil rights organisations and progressive individuals favoured his release.
Ultimately, Jalil was released only after he had spent most his sentence in jail. In an exemplary and inspiring act, Junior Waverly Jones, the son of the slain policeman Waverly Jones, supported his release. Appearing before the Parole Board, he said that the murder should be seen from the 'historical perspective' of the horrifying racism prevalent then.
While in jail, Jail converted to Islam and took the name of Jalil Abdul Muntaqim. He established his identity as an educationist and a civil rights activist. He struggled for the rights of the prisoners and wrote articles demolishing the theoretical basis of racism. He also wrote a book during his prison days which was published under the title We Are Our Own Liberators.
He was tortured by jail officials for introducing his fellow prisoners to the history of the Blacks and was condemned to solitary confinements for months. Some journalists met him in jail and published his interviews. In these interactions, he sought to throw light on the various dimensions of his ideology.
Reading the story of Jalil Abdul Muntaqim, one is reminded of the Hindutva leader Vinayak Damodar Savarkar. The ideologies of Jalil and Savarkar were poles apart. Savarkar represented the dwij supremacists – the Indian equivalent of the White supremacists of the West.
The only similarity between the two is that in 1910, Savarkar was sentenced to 50 years in prison on the charge of murdering a police officer. But within a year, he began groveling before his British masters, seeking his release, invoking the "beneficence and mercy" of the British and promising that in return for freedom, he was "ready to serve the government in any capacity they like."
In sharp contrast, Jalil never bowed before the government nor sought an apology.
Be that as it may, the topic of Jalil Abdul Muntaqim's lecture at Brockport College, State University of New York, was “History of Black Resistance, U.S. Political Prisoners & Genocide: A Conversation with Jalil Muntaqim."
A post on the college website regarding the event introduced Jalil Abdul as a 'political prisoner'. As the news about the proposed event spread, White supremacists brought tremendous pressure to bear upon the college management for cancelling the event.
Thousands of e-mails were sent and scores of politicians and police officers wrote to the college, voicing their stern opposition. They objected to Jalil being called a 'political prisoner' and insisted that legally, he was a convicted murderer and that public funds should be wasted on his lecture. A section of the students of the college also voiced a demand for cancelling the event.
But the college refused to be cowed down. Taking note of the opposition, the college wrote on its website that Jalil has been invited to the college by a faculty member and that:
"Academic Freedom gives faculty a great deal of autonomy to invite guests of their choosing to address our students. They have a right to pursue research, discuss subject matters, and engage in dialogue. Brockport believes in freedom of speech and wants to continue to encourage the willingness of the community to engage in critical and respectful dialogue. We have routinely held speaking events involving speakers from various backgrounds and viewpoints, and will continue to do so."
The most interesting part of the information about the event on the college website is the advice to the 'Campus community' opposing the programme. The college wrote:
“We recognize that this event has, and will continue to, elicit strong emotional reactions, and for some, trigger a response to previous trauma. Members of our campus community are invited to utilize the support services available to assist in processing and dealing with the impact this event may be having.”
This 'information' is followed by the address, telephone number etc of the Mental Health Centre of the college. It was also informed that no appointment is necessary for accessing the facility. Whenever one has emotional issues, one can visit the place. Can there be a more apt and a more restrained response to the charge of 'hurt sentiments'.
Needless to say, no Indian institution of higher learning can even dream of responding in this manner. Is it because in the present-day India, the oppressive machinery is very swift and very severe? Or, is it because our educational institutions are much too dependent on the government in administrative and financial matters? Or is it because of the social composition of these institutions, which are dominated by the dwijs? Or is it because of a combination of all these factors?
---
*Journalist and educationist

Comments

TRENDING

'Flawed' argument: Gandhi had minimal role, naval mutinies alone led to Independence

Counterview Desk Reacting to a Counterview  story , "Rewiring history? Bose, not Gandhi, was real Father of Nation: British PM Attlee 'cited'" (January 26, 2016), an avid reader has forwarded  reaction  in the form of a  link , which carries the article "Did Atlee say Gandhi had minimal role in Independence? #FactCheck", published in the site satyagrahis.in. The satyagraha.in article seeks to debunk the view, reported in the Counterview story, taken by retired army officer GD Bakshi in his book, “Bose: An Indian Samurai”, which claims that Gandhiji had a minimal role to play in India's freedom struggle, and that it was Netaji who played the crucial role. We reproduce the satyagraha.in article here. Text: Nowadays it is said by many MK Gandhi critics that Clement Atlee made a statement in which he said Gandhi has ‘minimal’ role in India's independence and gave credit to naval mutinies and with this statement, they concluded the whole freedom struggle.

BSF should take full responsibility for death of 4 kids in West Bengal: Rights defender

By Kirity Roy*  One is deeply disturbed and appalled by the callous trench-digging by BSF in Chetnagachh village under Daspara Gram Panchayat, Chopra, North Dinajpur District, West Bengal that has claimed the lives of four children. Along the entire stretch of Indo-Bangladesh border of West Bengal instead of guarding the actual border delineated by the international border pillars, BSF builds fences and digs trenches well inside the Indian territory, passing through villages and encroaching on private lands, often without due clearance or consent. 

A Hindu alternative to Valentine's Day? 'Shiv-Parvati was first love marriage in Universe'

By Rajiv Shah*   The other day, I was searching on Google a quote on Maha Shivratri which I wanted to send to someone, a confirmed Shiv Bhakt, quite close to me -- with an underlying message to act positively instead of being negative. On top of the search, I chanced upon an article in, imagine!, a Nashik Corporation site which offered me something very unusual. 

Students, lawyers, professors detained in Delhi for demonstrating in support of farmers

By Our Representative  About 25 protestors, belonging to the civil rights network, Campaign Against State Repression (CASR), a coalition of over 40 organisations, were detained at Jantar Mantar for holding a demonstration in support of the farmers' stir on Friday. Those detained included students, lawyers and professors, including Prof Nandita Narain and Prof N Sachin. 

Social justice day amidst 'official neglect' of salt pan workers in Little Rann of Kutch

By Prerana Pamkar*  In India’s struggle for Independence, the Salt Satyagraha stands as a landmark movement and a powerful symbol of nonviolent resistance. Led by Mahatma Gandhi, countless determined citizens walked from Sabarmati Ashram to Dandi in Gujarat. However, the Gujarat which witnessed the power of the common Indian during the freedom struggle is now in the throes of another significant movement: this time it is seeking to free salt pan workers from untenable working conditions in the Little Rann of Kutch (LRK).

How GMOs would destroy non-GMO crops: Aruna Rodrigues' key submissions in SC

Counterview Desk The introduction of Bt and HT crops will harm the health of 1 billion Indians and their animals, believes Aruna Rodrigues, who has made some 60 submissions to the Supreme Court (SC) during the last 20 years. As lead petitioner who filed Public Interest Litigation in 2005, during a spate of intense hearings, which ended on 18 January 2024, she fought in the Apex Court to prevent the commercialization of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in Indian agriculture. 

Jallianwala massacre: Why Indian govt hasn't ever officially sought apology from UK

By Manjari Chatterjee Miller*  The king of the Netherlands, Willem-Alexander, apologized in July 2023 for his ancestors’ role in the colonial slave trade. He is not alone in expressing remorse for past wrongs. In 2021, France returned 26 works of art seized by French colonial soldiers in Africa – the largest restitution France has ever made to a former colony. In the same year, Germany officially apologized for its 1904-08 genocide of the Herero and Nama people of Namibia and agreed to fund reconstruction and development projects in Namibia. .

Interpreting UAPA bail provisions: Is Supreme Court setting the clock back?

By Kavita Srivastava*, Dr V Suresh** The Supreme Court in its ruling on 7th February, 2024 in   `Gurvinder Singh v State of Punjab’ held that its own well-developed jurisprudence that "Bail is the rule and jail the exception" will not apply to those charged under the UAPA.

Will Budget 2024 help empower city govts, make them India's growth engines?

By Soumyadip Chattopadhyay, Arjun Kumar* Cities in India are envisioned as engines of growth. Any meaningful long-term vision for India would be incomplete without planning for the cities and quite rightly, urbanization is considered as one of the country’s top developmental challenges. Realization of full potential of cities depends crucially on their ability to provide ‘enabling’ environment especially in terms of sustained provision of a wide range of urban infrastructure and services.

A 'distorted narrative' of Indian politics: Congress failing to look beyond LS polls

By Prem Singh*  About 15 days ago, I told a senior journalist friend that there are not even two   months left for the Lok Sabha elections, Rahul Gandhi is roaming around on a delectation (tafreeh). The friend probably found my comment exasperating and replied that he is not on a delectation trip. The conversation between us on this topic ended there.