Apologies and Atonement
Humankind is in the 21st century. The last century saw the rise of many independent nation-states which struggled their way to achieve independence or through disintegrations. We have witnessed Human rights movements across the world during this time. It is not wrong to say that this century changed the face of the lives of the generations to come.
All of these stories which are a part of history yet a very important part of our lives and which affect our lives in many ways unknowingly are due to causes and consequences of the acts of other states, groups or people. It has given a new conscience to question things with confidence and address one’s mistakes.
Our history therefore submits to us to judge those actions, the wrongs that have been done and leave it to us to make amendments out of it. It brings us to acknowledge the sufferings and the pain of those people of history.
There are tremendous examples from history, first one being- Colonisation of India and many other countries by Europeans. The injustice suffered by Aboriginal peoples of Australia which was again by the hands of Europeans. The Holocaust which killed millions of innocent Jews or the Jim Crow laws which enforced racial segregation in Southern United States. There are endless incidences like these.
Until and unless there is no acknowledgement of one’s sufferings a bitter feeling will always persist. It is necessary in order to work together in current times by remembering the history of relationships and honor the generations who witnessed that historical part and suffered and still continue to suffer due to the consequences of that history. Only then a sense of equality and fairness will surface.
An apology requires naming of the atrocity or the crime, condemning it, recognizing the extent of suffering it has caused and continues to do so and promising non-repetition and request for forgiveness. It is also important that apology is voluntary.
Apologies must come from the key leader to the whole victim country or the specific groups targeted.
The question of the current leader apologizing for the acts of past leaders is justified because the people of the country make a country. Similarly, such injustices have far reaching impacts on the generations to come. The changes brought in are so embedded that we do not even recognize them in our daily lifestyles. Moreover, it is not the individual person that commits such crimes but it is the position of that person or leader. Therefore it is completely justified to apologize for past mistakes in present times.
And there are numerous examples of new leaders apologising for the actions of their predecessors. For example, in 2007 Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd offered apologies to the ‘Stolen Generations’ i.e. the Aboriginal peoples of Australia. German chancellor Konrad Adenauers paid 3.5 million Deutsche mark to Israel followed by Willy Brandt who went to Warsaw ghetto in Poland in 1970 and knelt offering a non-verbal apology. Japan has also paid reparations and offered apologies to WWII victims as well as South Korean women slaves. Much recently, New Zealand PM Jacida Ardern apologized for the shootings that took place on March 15 in Christchurch even though it was a terrorist attack.
It is true that no amount of reparations can undo the severe atrocities that targeted Jews and no apology can bring the Aboriginals their lands back but such gestures provide upliftment of morality and heals some wounds just because they have been acknowledged.
Therefore the raison d’etre of atonement is apology itself. India, which was known as the ‘Golden Bird’ of the world was shattered after the British Rule. There was a time in 1700 when our world share of the economy used to be 25-27% which was reduced to a mere 1% when the British left. Our textile industries were deliberately obliterated. Britain’s industrialisation boomed on the foundations of de-industrialisation of India. Our urban centres like Surat and Masulipatnam declined. Not only economic consequences, the British created conflicts between castes, religions which still persist.
The horror of the Jallianwala BAgh incident is still alive in our memories. Such damages are simply unquantifiable. It is unfortunate for the British that they have not yet apologised let alone reparations and atonement. Although some may argue that apologies without reparations are empty, it is not completely true. Apologies can act as starting points which may lead to further prospects for material redressal too. In contemporary times, the current situation of coronavirus pandemic points finger on China. It is therefore reasonable to first find out whether such an apology from China is appropriate or required? Is China responsible for the failure to contain the disease in China itself. Such questions need thoughtful analysis and investigations.
At last, these lines of James Baldwin can be rightly quoted – “ Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced. “
AUTHOR- SURAMYA SHARMA
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