Common Struggles: The Benefits for African-Americans and Dalits from Comparing Their Struggles  

(Talk by Prof Kevin Brown, Indiana University)

     – Arun Kumar, General Secretary FABO UK

To further the impact of Dr Ambedkar’s contribution to the academic circles and to improve better links and understanding with other human rights movements around the world, a lecture ‘Common Struggles: The Benefits for African-Americans and Dalits from Comparing Their Struggles’ was organised by the Federation of Ambedkarite and Buddhist Organisations UK at the Ambedkar House and Memorial where Dr Ambedkar stayed during his studies at the London School of Economics. The lecture was delivered by Professor Kevin Brown.

Prof Kevin Brown

Professor Brown is the Richard S Melvin Professor of Law at Indiana University Maurer School of Law and the Emeritus Director of the Hudson & Holland Scholars Program at Indiana University-Bloomington.  He has been on the faculty of the Law School since 1987. He teaches Torts, Law and Education, Race & Law, and International Comparative Inequality (comparing issues of discrimination of blacks in the US, with blacks in the UK, blacks in South Africa, Dalits in India, and Arab Israelis/Palestinians in Israel and Palestine).

The lecture began with the welcome address by Ms Santosh Dass MBE, President of the FABO UK. Prof Brown expressed his pleasure to see and address a gathering at the historical place connected with Dr. Ambedkar, one of the greatest minds in the 20th century. As he has been affiliated with universities on four different continents including the National Law School of India University in Bangalore, the Indian Law Institute in New Delhi, he visited India fourteen times and had interaction with a number of Dalit activists, intellectuals, politicians and Dalit businessmen. He also gave talks at several seminars and scholarly conferences. Though his research interest is primarily in the areas of comparative inequality and US race and law, he has written and spoken extensively on issues such as comparisons of struggles of blacks in the US with those of Dalits in India and blacks in South Africa. His current book project is tentatively entitled, Common Struggles: The Benefits for African-Americans and Dalits from Comparing Their Struggles.

Speaking about the long history of Afro-American civil rights movement, Professor Brown said that in 1830s, the slavery abolitionists in North America began to compare the treatment of blacks with India’s caste system.  He said that this comparison continued during the during ninetieth and early twentieth century as blacks were also segregated and discriminated like Dalits in India. Afro-Americans were fighting white supremacy in America. He said that the defeat of White Russia on the hands of a small country of coloured people of Japan gave tremendous inspiration to blacks in America. Afro-Americans were seeking alliances with the people fighting against the white supremacy. Similarly, blacks were also inspired by the freedom movement in India as Indians were also fighting against white colonialism in India.  The blacks in America made contacts with freedom fighters in America and India and supported the Indian freedom struggle.  But most of those were from the so-called upper castes and the comparison with caste shifted to alliances fighting against white supremacy.  After the Independence of India, the relationship between India and Afro-Americans changed. When J.L. Nehru visited America as the first Prime Minister of India, the blacks asked him to condemn segregation and racism in America. Nehru refused to do so. The American consciousness began to focus on white colonialism in South Africa. While at Columbia, Dr Ambedkar studied and made some contacts with blacks. He wanted to take the issue of the treatment to the United Nations. But he was so much involved in the Constituent Assembly and other State affairs, he didn’t find any time to do so.

Professor Brown further said that though Afro-Americans knew about the segregation and discrimination against Dalits in India, they couldn’t make any alliance with them. After the seventies the blacks have had more contacts with Dalits in India and are beginning to understand their issues. Afro-Americans and Dalits need to have more interaction with each other to understand each other’s issues and make fresh alliance to fight against inequality and discrimination.