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A salute to the Black Panthers – at home and abroad!

Friday, September 30, 2016 14:25
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(Before It's News)

by Runoko Rashidi

As we salute and celebrate the noble legacy of the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense, it is worth noting the influence of the Black Panthers on Black peoples and organizations around the world in places many of us might not be aware of. For example, in my early days of research and exploration, I found out about the Dalit Panthers of India and the Aboriginal Australian Black Panther Party.

On Runoko Rashidi’s second visit to India, in April 1998, he was welcomed royally in Trivandrum, the capital of Kerala, India, by the Kerala Dalit Panthers, whose leader, a great man named K. Ambu Jakshan, is seated at the left. The poem is a tribute to him. Rashidi is in the center, and on the right is Raju Thomas. The Dalits are also known as the Black Untouchables of India.

On Runoko Rashidi’s second visit to India, in April 1998, he was welcomed royally in Trivandrum, the capital of Kerala, India, by the Kerala Dalit Panthers, whose leader, a great man named K. Ambu Jakshan, is seated at the left. The poem is a tribute to him. Rashidi is in the center, and on the right is Raju Thomas. The Dalits are also known as the Black Untouchables of India.

How many of us even know that Black people exist in India, yet alone an organization of Panthers? And how many of us are aware that many of the brutalities that daily confront African-Americans equally confront Indigenous Australians and that an organization of Panthers was founded to confront those very problems?

As an activist and historian, I find the existence of conscious Black people in these regions fascinating and the Panthers at the vanguard of their struggles.

I first heard about the Dalit Panthers of India more than 35 years ago. My knowledge of them further expanded with correspondence and subsequent travels. The Dalits are better known to us as the Black Untouchables of India. In the Hindu caste system, they are the lowest of the low. To quote from a letter I received in 1983 from Bapurao Pakhiddey, a leader of the Dalit Panthers:

Runoko Rashidi inaugurates the first All-India Dalit Writers’ Conference in Hyderabad, India, in October 1987.

Runoko Rashidi inaugurates the first All-India Dalit Writers’ Conference in Hyderabad, India, in October 1987.

“When American Blacks showed militancy and started talking about Black Power, we were highly impressed and we named a most militant organization of Dalits at present as Dalit Panther. Undoubtedly, the word Panther is taken from Black Panther. I do not know whether you are aware or not that Dalit literature is also influenced very much by the protest literature being written by the Blacks.”

In 1987, early on my first trip to India I actually met members of the Dalit Panthers and their chief, Arun Kamble, at the First All-India Dalit Writers’ Conference in Hyderabad, India. And on my second trip to India, I was hosted by the Kerala Dalit Panthers. Kerala is one of the Dravidian states of India and I found the Kerala Dalit Panthers, led by K. Ambu Jakshan, to be the most progressive activist organization in India.

Runoko Rashidi is welcomed into a Dalit village, his visit organized by the Kerala Dalit Panthers in April 1998. K. Ambu Jakshan is barely visible in the background.

Runoko Rashidi is welcomed into a Dalit village, his visit organized by the Kerala Dalit Panthers in April 1998. K. Ambu Jakshan is barely visible in the background.

Among Aboriginal Australians, there is a similar Panther legacy. The Aboriginal Australian Black Panthers were founded in 1971. Two of the principal participants were Denis Walker and Gary Foley. I corresponded with Denis Walker in the early 1980s and met his widow during my first visit to Australia in 1998. On my next visit to Australia, just a few years later, I was able to meet with Gary Foley. I saluted him as a champion for Black liberation.

The Dalit Panthers of India and the Aboriginal Australian Black Panther Party are two of the best known of the Panther organizations in these distant parts of the world. I know that there have been others. Although I have not met with them, my research informs me that a Black Panther Party was formed among the Palestinians. It is truly a fascinating area for research.

In the meantime, I say to the Panthers all over the world, Black salutes! Your impact has been international in scope and your legacy can only be described as immortal!

These young men are members of an Aboriginal Australian Black Panther organization founded in Brisbane, Australia, in 1975, to deal with many of the same problems the founders of the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense faced in Oakland and throughout the U.S.

These young men are members of an Aboriginal Australian Black Panther organization founded in Brisbane, Australia, in 1975, to deal with many of the same problems the founders of the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense faced in Oakland and throughout the U.S.

Kerala Dalit Panthers

for K. Ambu Jakshan

The panther brothers are coming,
Step aside,
Let their reign begin.

The panther brothers
Marching shoulder to shoulder
Like alphabets of the same vernacular
Bound together with no vices.

The panther brothers are coming
Like a sun sliding off the eclipse
New rays on the dark recesses of history –
Sprouting of a mustache in barren lands.

Runoko Rashidi and two Indigenous Australian activists in Townsville, Australia, in October 2008

Runoko Rashidi and two Indigenous Australian activists in Townsville, Australia, in October 2008

The panther brothers are coming
They are one people: one language; one history; one culture.

The raised fist
Like the arms of a clock at noon
Turn the wheel of time –
The flag-hoist of the blue flag.

The panther brothers are coming
Stomping their feet
Like an earthquake from beneath
The voice of the silenced roots.

The panther brothers are coming
The veins under their black skin
Long like the river Nile
Ancient like the river Indus
The same veins of the Broken Padmasana.

Runoko Rashidi is an historian and author based in Los Angeles and Paris. His website is http://drrunoko.com/. The author of the poem is a rising young Dalit poet in India.

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