Declaring Empathy

2010, reconstructed slave cabin, Mount Vernon Plantation

2010, reconstructed slave cabin, Mount Vernon Plantation

“The Quander Family, like other African American families, still feels the pain and sting that institutional discrimination visited upon us. With this Declaration of Empathy, we stand in solidarity with the oppressed Dalit people of India. Until they are free, none of us is, indeed, free.” These are the words of Judge Rohulamin Quander, founder of the Quander Historical Society, pictured above with his wife Carmen Torruella-Quander, a world-renown fine artist.

c. 1860, Lewis Quander, grandson of Nancy Quander, who was freed in 1799 by George Washington

c. 1860, Lewis Quander, grandson of Nancy Quander, who was freed in 1799 by George Washington

Quander’s relative Gregory McCray, a Hare Krishna priest, Dalit sympathizer, and President of Gye Nyame, Inc., initially convened with Judge Quander and Dr. Ana Steele, President of Dalit Freedom Network-USA (DFN), to begin organizing what would become the “Declaration of Empathy” signing event. In a recent interview with Ravikumar, Indian journalist, Quander stated, “The process of drafting the Declaration of Empathy was not difficult. Our three organizations reached rapid agreement on the text. Much of the actual wording that appears in the Declaration came from resources that have been challenging enslavement for many years. We did not see the need to start from scratch, where there was excellent language already available, language that those who already oppose enslavement are already familiar with, and the same language that those who oppose our efforts have seen before. Sometimes it is best to say the same thing over and over so that everyone will know who you are and where you stand on a particular subject.” He went on to say, “The challenge, though, is to get the word out to the U.S. population, to educate them as to the need for the wide adopting of the Declaration, and to get them to understand that enslavement continues in India and elsewhere.”

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Rohulamin Quander places flower branch on monument dedicated to the slaves of Mount Vernon

When asked if he saw any similarities between the history and culture of African Americans and Indian Dalits, Judge Quander emphatically replied, “Absolutely! Both groups have sustained a history of oppression and denial of basic human rights. We both endured situations which cried out for justice, and still do. African Americans were in involuntary servitude for about 250 years (1619-1863), and their restricted status continued well into recent decades, as the few civil rights laws that did exist were not universally enforced until recently. The Dalit people are our brothers and sisters in suffering. Their situation parallels ours here in the United States, and their equal rights to citizenship has been denied.

Capstone inscription paying homage to the many men and women who were enslaved at Mount Vernon

Capstone inscription paying homage to the many men and women who were enslaved at Mount Vernon

“It took a long time to force the day of reckoning, but with continued hope and help from our fellow concerned citizens, things did change. And they can in India too, as more Indian citizens face the reality of the wrong that continues to be done. Outside influences are not interferences in Indian culture and society, as some would claim, but rather a common sense and human rights approach to addressing a wrong that has perpetuated for far too long.”


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