The world has been turned upside down by persons who have dared to rebel.
M S Prabhakara writes in the Hindu.
The choices that people make on subjects that matter most to them are by and large determined by their personal and social backgrounds, very broadly, their class. This is especially true of persons from privileged backgrounds. Departures from these norms are dismissed by those claiming to know better, as youthful follies that the heretic will surely outgrow.
Implied in this is the view that there has to be something seriously wrong with a person still to reach thirty who did not hold radical opinions; and even more seriously wrong if the person continued to cherish such opinions after crossing thirty.
If this silly notion was really true, we would all be probably still in the Stone Age. The world has been and continues to be turned upside down by persons who have challenged such certitudes, dared to rebel, and made choices that have defied these smug convictions. In doing so they have taken great risks, suffered grievously, and often even paid with their lives. They were not all spies, like Kim Philby, who too was ideologically motivated, but rebels who made their choices openly.
Consider, for instance, the Decembrists, a group of young officers in the Tsarist army who tried to organise a revolt against the tyranny of the Tsar, Nicolas I, in December 1825. It was a hopeless cause, doomed to fail. The revolt was easily crushed; five of its leaders were executed. And yet, the Decembrist uprising had a profound impact on the revolutionary movement in 19th century Russia, a causal factor in the Russian and Soviet revolutions of 1905 and 1917.
Consider, again, the case of Bram Fischer, the South African revolutionary. Born in an illustrious Afrikaner family that was part of the ruling Afrikanerdom committed to ensuring permanent enslavement of the black majority, Bram who was a successful barrister, broke ranks with his family early in his life by joining the Communist Party of South Africa, viewed by the Afrikaner establishment as a deadly enemy. Chief defence counsel during the Rivonia Trial in which Nelson Mandela and his comrades faced capital charges, he conducted the defence with great skill and devotion, and ensured that they would not be sent to the gallows. Everyone, including the prosecution, knew well that Bram himself could well have been in the dock as another defendant in the trial, for he was as deeply involved in the conspiracy of which Mandela and his comrades stood accused. Later, he was arrested and sentenced to life imprisonment and died while in prison (though technically released to his brother’s custody a few days before he died). His ashes were seized by a vengeful state that placed them in a so-called Garden of Remembrance in Bloemfontein, a mockery for a man such as him. I cannot think of Bram without emotion — a man who truly crossed over and never looked back.
Frederick Vanderbilt Field, heir to a great American fortune, went to prison in July 1951 rather than reveal the names of those who had contributed to a fund to defend some communists by a civil rights organisation of which he, along with three equally steadfast comrades (Abner Green, Dashiell Hammett and Alpheus Hunton) was a trustee. Ironically, none of them even knew the names of the contributors, but rather than say so they simply refused to answer the court, for which “contumacious conduct” they were sent to prison.
Finally, closer home is the case of Michael Carritt, a young ICS officer in the British colonial service who crossed over to become an occasional courier to the Communist Party of India. He finally resigned from service at age 32. Towards the end of his life Carritt was to confess that he had been somewhat naïve; but he nevertheless was clear that his crossing over was worthwhile. “Given the same circumstance of time and history I think I would choose the same sort of road,” he said.
Every people, every country and every culture has had its own Decembrists. Indeed, one can find persons who broke ranks in ancient myths and legends. Despite the unrelenting calumny, such rebels are part of an honoured and noble tradition.
(To know more about these persons, see: 1. Conspiracy against the Tsar by N. Eidelman, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1985. 2. Bram Fischer: Afrikaner Revolutionary by Stephen Clingman, David Philip Publishers, Cape Town, 1998; 3. The Life of Dashiell Hammett by Diane Johnson, Picador, London, 1985; and 4. A Mole in the Crown by Michael Carritt, Rupa, Calcutta, 1986.)
Courtesy: The Hindu