Rebuilding Not Just Lives But Hope And Trust

November 25, 2013 at 9:15 AMNov (Activism, Musings, Slice Of Life, Soliloquy)

Kniefall by Willy Brandt. 1970.

Though only 41%, in the Der Spiegel survey, said that the gesture was “appropriate” in opposition to 48% considering it “excessive” (the remaining 11% had no opinion) the kniefall marks as a gesture of great humbleness and apology.

Kniefall by Willy Brandt. 1970.

Kniefall by Willy Brandt. 1970.

Willy Brandt had escaped to Norway from Germany in early 1933. He escaped to escape the Nazi harassment. It is during those days that he took the name Willy Brandt while his real name was Herbert Frahm. In 1946 he got back to Berlin and also joined the Social Democratic Party of Germany. He became the Chanellor of West Germany in 1969. In 1970 during his visit to Poland his visit coincided with the commemoration to the Jewish victims of the Warsaw Ghetto. Brandt participated in the commemoration and there he fell on his knees. In his autobiography later he wrote, “Carrying the burden of the millions who were murdered, I did what people do when words fail them.”

A similar act of apology which drew the attention of the world was Kevin Rudd, the Australian Prime Minister apologized to the Aborigines, while speaking at the Parliament. He had apologized for having, “inflicted profound grief, suffering and loss,” on “our fellow Australians.” The case in reference for Kevin Rudd was the policy that was in effect till the 1970 that made way for the adoption of aboriginal children by white families with the hope of breeding out the colour.

In both case of reference the Government (officials) have apologized for a mistake done by the institute of which they are part though as individuals have not been direct party to the mistake.

In the year 2007 J.S. Bandukwala wrote a moving article in The Indian Express where he said, “Clearly, reconciliation will only occur if the aggressor displays genuine remorse and the victims of the carnage forgive them. It is for this reason that we have, over the last six years, repeatedly urged Gujarati Hindu religious leaders, intellectuals and business tycoons to come forward and apologize for the events of February/March 2002 so that the process of uniting both communities can begin. By and large the response has been just stark silence.” In the same article later he went on to say, “Given this, it is time for Muslims to consider unilateral forgiveness; such forgiveness by victims conforms to the highest traditions of Islam.” This invited criticism from many, most of them being the progressive and human right activists. Harsh Mander responded saying, “To close the past without looking back must not be imposed on the people who live not only with the memories of the trauma of unspeakable loss and violence, but the daily realities of continued persecution fear and hate. The survivors of Gujarat should not feel coerced in a spurious amnesia, imposed on them by those who did not suffer and by their absence of remorse and compassion.” He wrote so because, in his own words, “True healing cannot come from (such a) gesture of great dignity but hopelessness. There is no short-cut to a genuine meeting of hearts, except to persist with finding ways of truth, remorse, reparation and justice to emerge and pave the way for rebuilding not just lives but also hope and trust.” He proposes that “any authentic process of reconciliation requires at least four mandatory components: acknowledgement, remorse, reparation and justice.”

In the case of Willy Brandt and Kevin Rudd there was acknowledgement, remorse and an attempt to reparation and justice. They belonged to the Government institution and held the power to ensure reparation and justice. But in the case of Gujarat the request made by Mr. Bandukwala requests not the Government but common men, the aggressors to apologize so that there can be a proper reconciliation and a proper process to unite the Hindu and Muslim communities can begin. This act of public apology becomes important, more than for justice, to rebuild hope and trust for those are the pillars on which social relationships are built. It is to give an assurance to the victim that history can be undone only by creating new history and that those who wrote this history of violence are willing to redirect the course of history hereafter. . After all the victims are to live, on a daily basis, not with the Government officials but with fellow humans. That is why the acts of remorse and to rebuild hope and trust gains great significance.

I quoted the above examples, international and national, to draw the attention of readers to something very local which has moved me deeply.

Every year in Kundapur, a twon located in coastal Karnataka, an organization named Sahamata, organizes ‘Sauharda Deepaawali’ around the agrarian festival of Diwali. This year the event was held 2013, on 1 Nov where along with Peer Basha, Hayavadana Moodasagri, Gerald Isaac Lobo the President of Gangolli gram panchayat Saakamma and her husband Rajesh were one of the chief guests. The President of Gangolli gram panchayat and her husband were guests not for their position held in the local gram panchayat but for other reason.


5 June 2013: At the Annappaiah Sabha Bhavana, Trasi (Kundapur Taluq) the wedding of Saakamma is scheduled with Rajesh. The owner of the hall, Sridhar Ganiga, had agreed to make arrangements for the wedding which included making arrangements for the priest, food and other requirements. As the priest is all set for the wedding the wedding procession arrives. The loud music of the traditional drum is heard in distance and it alerts the priest Srinivas Bhat. He realizes the caste of the bride and the groom. On realizing that the bride and groom are from the Koraga community, an untouchable caste, he refuses to conduct the wedding and walks off. On realizing that the wedding is of Koraga community, like the priest, even the cleaning staff refuses to cooperate and walk off.With police intervention the wedding takes place, with some delay, on the very same day.

Eshwar, brother of Saakamma, filed a complaint in the local police station under atrocities act. The priest and the owner of the hall were booked and then granted a conditional bail.

End of flashback.

Saakamma and Rajesh at Souhaarda Deepawali-2013

Saakamma and Rajesh at Souhaarda Deepawali-2013

On November 1st when Sahamata invited Saakamma and Rajesh for the Souharda Deepaawali programme it was to apologize. On behalf of Sahamata and all like-minded people, Shashidhar Hemmady, while gifting Saakamma and Rajesh new clothes, like new bride and groom, said, “We, as a part of the that very society which discriminated you and harassed you, apologize for what has been done to you.”

To have the heart to apologize for a mistake not done by us but by the society of which we too are a part, is not just extraordinary but also a necessity for establishing an egalitarian society.

In the end, a complete recovery can occur only when the victim has an option to not forgive. Without that level playing ground apologies and forgiveness will provide us with a result which, because of unequal power system, favors the aggressor and not the victim.

Still remorse is a revolutionary emotion and when expressed in the form of public apology following public acknowledgement, makes the aggressors more humane and to that extent it breaks, though slightly, the chain of violence and oppression. And at the same time gives hope by reestablishing trust!

After apologizing to the Jewish community on 29 Sep 2005, the President of Nederlandse Spoorwegen (NS, Dutch Railways), for the railways transported the Ducth Jews to the transit camp on German orders, explained the reason for apologies as this:

“By defining our role at that time, we can close a painful chapter in our history. We can now face each other in a better way and with renewed confidence. Furthermore we want, together with the Dutch Jewish community, to focus on the future of our community. For instance, to warn Dutch youngsters about the hatred and fascism that continually reappear in new forms. In this way our experiences from the past find a meaningful place in the present. Clarity and transparency provide one with equilibrium. It typifies a mature organization, with an important public role at the center of society.”

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