KOZHIKODE: Renowned Afro-American historian and scholar Runoko Rashidi (67) who passed away on August 2 in Egypt had a bitter experience of detention in Thiruvananthapuram way back in 1998. He was detained and sent back without allowing to participate in a scheduled function on April 11, 1998.
Rashidi led a 14-member foreign delegation comprising historians, scholars and artists to attend 'Afro-Asian cultural programme' at University senate hall. The programme was organised by Kerala Dalit Panthers (KDP) with then home secretary L Natarajan as the key speaker, according to KDP founder leader K Ambujakshan.
"There was no opposition to his programme when it was charted and notice was issued. Besides Natarajan, senior journalist BRP Bhaskar was also participating. But when Rashidi and team arrived in Thiruvananthapuram airport, they were received by the police. We, the organisers, were not allowed to contact them. Later, the foreign delegation was put up in a hotel for a day and sent back the next day. The much awaited function didn't happen. A deeply humiliated Rashidi cried and said that he would never come to Kerala again. Neither the police nor the then E K Nayanar government had given any explanation for the detention," reminisced Ambujakshan.
The delegation was coming to Kerala after conducting similar cultural programmes in Kolkata and Mumbai. Runoko Rashidi had individually come to Kerala the previous year and attended programmes in Thiruvananthapuram and Ernakulam. "We found a political conspiracy after his detention. After the detention incident, L Natarajan was demoted from the home secretary post. An officer from Dalit community, he was not given a post for some time," Ambujakshan said.
Rashidi was keenly interested in exploring African presence in Asia and was called in Dalit circles as the international ambassador of Ambedkarism. "He was a renowned champion of black people and their voices. He found the atrocities faced by Dalits in India similar to the plight of blacks w0rld-wide and campaigned against it. I was invited to be part of an online discussion on exploring the similarities between Afro-Asians and Indian Dalits scheduled to be held next month," Ambujakshan said.
Kottayam woman's photo in Rashidi's FB cover
Rashidi had recently put a Kerala woman's picture as the cover of his Facebook page with the tagline, 'A Dalit sister from South India'. The woman, Rajani Palaambarambil, from Kaduthuruthi, Kottayam, caught his attention after the publication of her autobiography last month. "I was shocked to know about his
demise. I was deeply honoured by his gesture of referring to me and hoped to meet him once," Rajani told TNIE