Rosa Parks and Mooka Nadar: Recent tales from the world’s “oldest” and largest democracies!

I am a native of Madurai, India and lived there for 20 years, largely during the 1960s and 70s till I finished my B.Sc. in Chemistry (1982) at The American College, Madurai. In 1986, I went to the U.S.A. for my Ph. D. and postdoctoral work and lived there for a little more than 8 years. I returned to India at the end of 1994 to join IIT, Kanpur. All through my stay at Madurai and in the USA, I had not heard of Rosa Parks or Mooka Nadar. What unites them is the courage of conviction they displayed against discrimination, risking their own lives. Rosa Parks, though imprisoned, survived and the USA eventually changed its ways. Mooka Nadar was killed and India changed its ways too.

I learned about Rosa Parks when my elder daughter was in middle school.  A social science text book for Class 7, CBSE (Central Board for School Education, India) had one small section on Rosa Parks. There is a page in Wikipedia on Rosa Parks  (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rosa_Parks) and one can learn more about her from Google. In short, it was a period when the buses in the USA had segregated the white and black passengers. However, if a white person enters the bus and could not find a seat in the White section, people of color have to get up and give the white person his/her seat.

On December 1st, 1955, Rosa Parks was returning from work and was very tired. She refused to get up and give her seat for a white man even when the other black persons in the bus at that time, stood up and gave their seats. The bus driver, a white man James Blake, called the police and had her arrested. She was found guilty of misconduct and fined. She was eventually acquitted and segregation based on color ended in the USA. She became known as ‘the first lady of civil rights’ and ‘the mother of freedom movement’. Rosa Parks day is observed on 4th February (her birth day) and December 1st (the day she was arrested) in the states California and Ohio. I was in Portland, Oregon during the summer of 2013 and found a road named ‘Rosa Parks Way’.  I found out more about it in the web later and you can too (http://www.oregonlive.com/portland/index.ssf/2009/07/if_rosa_parks_way_naming_is_an.html).

I had not known Mooka Nadar until the last year, nearly 7 years after I had learned about Rosa Parks. I had not lived in any of the places where Rosa Parks was born and lived (Alabama) or settled later (Detroit). I was born and lived in Madurai for 20 years and I had not known Mooka Nadar. Today (1 February 2015), I found about 4,79,00,000 results (in 0.40 seconds) on Google when I typed Rosa Parks. Mooka Nadar is relatively unknown, even to a person like me who was born and raised in Madurai.

There was a period in India when segregation was prevalent and casteism was accepted by every one. People of ‘Nadar’ caste were not allowed to enter the temple. Mooka Nadar decided to defy this ban and entered the famous Meenakshi Amman Temple in Madurai. He was identified immediately and lynched. Nadars filed a complaint and the Court in those days, with Judges of British origin dismissed the case as Mooka Nadar should not have entered the temple in the first place. It does appear like there is a street named after Mooka Nadar in the centre of Madurai city, though I do not know for sure if it is named after this same person. Google has 81,200 entries but I suspect most of them are not about this person. Today, no one based on caste can be denied entry to any Temples in India legally.

I learned about Mooka Nadar last year from a book authored by my namesake, Arunan.  His book on ‘Thamizhakathil Samooga Seerthirutham Iru Nootrandu Varalaru’ (Social revolution in Tamil Nadu: History from the last two centuries) published in 2013.  This book is well researched and written and I would recommend it to any serious reader who has an interest in this topic. Amazon lists several books by this Author Arunan, who does not use an initial (http://www.amazon.in/s/ref=sr_pg_1?rh=n%3A976389031%2Cp_27%3AArunan&ie=UTF8&qid=1422773832). The last book listed in this page in amazon.in (found today) is an edited volume following a symposium on Shock Waves we organized. The titles of his other books indicate to me that we not only share our names, but also views on many things. Perhaps, not about communism and I cannot comment on it until I read the books.

The USA has not shied away from discussing racism and has been taking steps to correct it. India has taken enough steps to prevent caste based discrimination but has not been as open as the USA in discussing it. It has repeatedly ensured that ‘caste’ is not included in the UN discussions.  How wrong our perceptions could be about who is the big bully, among these two democracies. While all over the world, such discrimination and exploitation of the weaker section has existed, one real mark of a civilized country can be seen in the way it treats the marginalized sections. I wish, India will become more honest and less hypocritical, in admitting our mistakes from the past, correcting them and marching towards a modern and civilized country. In closing, two quotes: 1) One Thirkkural that I like most (widely believed to be more than 2000 years old):

பிறப்பொக்கும் எல்லா உயிர்க்கும் சிறப்பொவ்வா
செய்தொழில் வேற்றுமை யான்

The essence of this Thirukkural, known as the Veda of Tamil, is that by birth every one is equal! 2) “The only tired I was, was tired of giving in.” Rosa Parks. http://www.americanswhotellthetruth.org/store/posters/rosa-parks-poster?gclid=CM73-cyCwMMCFVIV7AodZRsAUw Don’t give up or give in, when you see discrimination.


3 thoughts on “Rosa Parks and Mooka Nadar: Recent tales from the world’s “oldest” and largest democracies!

  1. N. Periasamy says:

    More interesting nuggets on the history of Madhurai, Meenakshi and Nadars (and their struggles to enter temples) can be found in two excellent ‘history based novels’ in Tamil, both winners of Sahitya Akademy award in 2011 and 2014: ‘Kaaval Kottam’ by Su, Venkatesan and ‘Agngnaadi’ by Poomani.

  2. Pingback: Silence of the Lambs! | earunan

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