Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Mandela, Moloise, Nicaragua and our days of innocence

Nelson Mandela was behind the bars in Robben Islands. There was a huge march in Kolkata demanding his release. Thousands were marching on the streets, hand on hand, carrying placards and banners, chanting anti-apartheid songs. At the front, leading the march was veteran and young communist party leaders and prominent intellectuals. The mood was upbeat. Nelson Mandela must be free at any cause. ‘Free Mandela’, ‘Down with Botha regime’, ‘Down with American Imperialism’, the marchers were roaring. Each of them were finding known and unknown faces everywhere and feeling a special bondage with them. The cause had nothing to do with the daily tribulations of the Kolkata folks but the spirit to reveal solidarity with a victim of discrimination, was enough for them to be a part in the protest. Soon, Mandela will be free on 11 February 1990. He will be elected the first Black President of South Africa on May 1994.

The black factory worker and poet Benjamin Moloise was hanged by the Botha regime of South Africa on 18 October 1985. He was convicted of murdering a policeman in 1982 but there were evidences that suggested that Moloise was not the real killer. The world opinion was against the execution but the arrogant and racist President P. W. Botha denied the request for a new trial. His mother was denied to visit her son in the jail and after the execution was permitted to see only the sealed coffin. Moloise, a firm supporter of the African National Congress (ANC) wrote before the execution:

A storm of oppression will be followed by the rain of my blood
I am proud to give my life, my solitary life.

When the news arrived in Kolkata the progressive artists' association called for a memorial meeting. Very few knew about Benjamin Moloise, very few knew about his poetry. The memorial meeting was arranged at the University Institute Hall in central Kolkata. In a packed house poet Amitava Dasgupta recited his own translation of Benjamin’s poem Kosi Sikelel Africa in his incomparable style. Balladeer Ranjan Prasad sang Ondhokar Afrikar krishnokai kabbokar, Benjamin Moloise bhai amar bhai amar (O black poet of dark Africa, Benjamin Moloise my brother). Moloise is no more but he has now become a symbol of struggle against racial discrimination.

The Sandinista guerrillas and civilians overthrew the notorious Somoza family dictatorship of Nicaragua which ruled the tiny Latin American country in a ruthless and corrupt way from 1937. President Anastasio Somoza Debayle who was formally trained in the United States, fled the country, first to the US and later settled in Paraguay leaving behind the ruins with a debt of about US$1.6 billion. He was later assassinated in 1980. The leftist Sandinista government was never acknowledged by the US from the beginning and from 1981 it initiated for an economic blockade on the country. The remnants of Somoza’s National Guard, who were settled in Honduras, Costa Rica, and Miami, soon started to receive enormous financial clandestine support from the United States (later exposed in the Iran-Contra affair). They organized their army known as “La Contra” and started counterrevolutionary activities inside Nicaragua. In 1985, the United States dictated a commercial embargo to Nicaragua, supported by the fact that Nicaragua adopted a pro-communist attitude.

Despite this situation, Nicaragua had won huge international sympathy and in Kolkata the ‘Nicaragua Solidarity Committee’ was formed. The committee started to organize awareness and support for the Nicaraguan cause, collected aids for Nicaragua who was badly affected by the imposed US embargo. The Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega sent out a message appreciating the Solidarity Committee and the initiative of the common people of Bengal. Ortega was presented as the symbol of the Sandinista which later many found was not a great assessment. There was a special show of Miguel Littin’s film Alsino and the Condor arranged at Nandan. Information about Nicaragua was not available easily and the main source was the pamphlets published and distributed by the committee. From the committee spokespersons the people were informed how badly Nicaraguan people needed aids; they have asked to send even simple daily essentials like needles and threads. Workers and students were holding rallies, painters, sculptures, theater workers, singers and performing artists were participating in fund raising programme all over the city. Manabendra Bandopadhyay translated Rev. Ernesto Cardinal’s poems. For quite a few days the spirit of solidarity was everywhere. And abruptly it was over.

There were many who asked then and still ask now: what is worth of all these activism? What do we achieve by marching on the streets for some foreign cause? Aren’t there numerous internal issues of our own to concentrate upon than waste energy and time for something distinct to us? What the nincompoops never understand is the true meaning of the word innocence. Those were the days of our innocence. We live the rest of our life rejoicing those days.