The Case for Truth and Reconciliation Commission of India
When the Lord your God brings you into the land you are entering to possess
and drives out before you many nations and you have defeated them,
then you must destroy them totally.
Make no treaty with them and show them no mercy.
Do not allow any of them to live. This is what you are to do to them:
break down their altars, smash their sacred stones, cut down their trees and burn them in the fire.
For you are a people chosen by the Lord over all others on the face of the earth.
From the Old Testament of the Bible
DEUTERONOMY 7:1-2, 5-6
Aboriginals, also known as Indigenous or First Nations, are communities which were living in Canada before European explorers and settlers arrived. They were the original tribes of the North American continent. While British were establishing themselves as colonial rulers, they wanted to assert their control over the land which originally belonged to the First Nations. The colonial rulers established Indian Residential Schools1 to separate Aboriginal children from their families. The idea was to weaken the family relations and cultural linkages. For over 100 years, these schools operated by the Church to assimilate the indigenous population into mainstream Canada.
In 2008, Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada was established to find out truths of residential schools. A Truth Commission or TRC2:
- is focused on the past, rather than ongoing, events;
- investigates a pattern of events that took place over a period;
- engages directly and broadly with the affected population, gathering information on their experiences;
- is a temporary body, with the aim of concluding with a final report; and
- is officially authorized or empowered by the state under review.
The TRC of Canada counted about 3,200 dead or missing children. The report concluded that the ‘whole part of the residential school was a part of a bigger scheme of colonization; the schools were there with the intent to change people, to make them like others and to make them not fit’. Church played a critical role in these crimes and the royal police was the accomplice. It would not be wrong to summarize these genocides as state and church sponsored. The former Prime Minister of Canada, Stephen Harper, apologized officially for the ills done to the indigenous populations and crimes that took place in the Indian Residential Schools. It takes a lot of courage for the ruling government to come out and apologize for the sad parts of the nation’s history. More importantly, it reflects the maturity of the democratic system which, in turn, reflects a matured society to recognize and be prepared to correct its wrongdoings.
As Marcus Garvey said – A people without the knowledge of their past history, origin and culture is like a tree without roots. India, as in Bharat, was ruled by foreign invaders for over 800 years. She has seen both physical (mass killing of a community) and cultural (destruction of the sacred structures and practices of a community) genocide. It is well known that Mughals tried to convert Hindus to Muslims. Aurangzeb, Tipu Sultan, Khilijis, Taimur, Babur and others destroyed thousands of Hindu temples and forcefully tried to establish Sharia law. K.S. Lal in his book “Growth of Muslim Population in Medieval India” (1973) estimated that about 60 to 80 million people died in India between 1000-1525 AD. At times, million sounds only a number to us, but start putting the zeroes on paper and your conscious would be shaken. Will Durant writes in “The Story of Civilization” that ‘The Mohammedan Conquest of India is probably the bloodiest in history. It is a discouraging tale, for its evident moral is that civilization is a precarious thing, whose delicate complex of order and liberty, culture and peace may at any time be overthrown by barbarians invading from without or multiplying within. The Hindus had allowed their strength to be wasted in internal division and war’.
Similarly, British missionaries have tried to convert poorer sections of the Hindus to Christianity. Although, it could be debated that Britishers’ main motive was to plunder India economically, but it would be important to note that most of the countries they ruled got converted to Christianity. So, why would Britishers take an exception for the Indian subcontinent? The present day casteism was the outcome of their well thought strategy to destroy the Varna system which functioned well for centuries for India. Once they studied the civilization well, they were successful in breaking the society. Unfortunately, we have forgotten the difference between the caste system and casteism.
So, if this all is true, then why were the colonial masters unable to convert all Hindus to Islam or Christianity? What kept the Indian civilization going on for so many centuries? How is the oldest form of martial arts still alive? Almost all the musical and dance forms are still existing. Despite all the major universities being burnt and the scriptures destroyed, the old value system is still relevant and existent in the society. Despite a long history of foreign invasions, it would be interesting to note that even today Indian subcontinent is not radicalized. At least, the initial two to three generations of Indian Muslims still followed their Hindu rituals and continued to go to temples, celebrated Hindu festivals and pretty much lead the Hindu way of life. Walter Lawrence, a civil servant in the British India and wrote in his book “The Valley of Kashmir” (1895) – “…the indifference shown in the matter of mosques and Mullahs may be accounted for by the fact that the Kashmiri Sunnis are only Musalmans in name. In their hearts they are hindus…”. It is important to understand the role of Bhakti movement and spiritual strength of the Indian society which was able to bear the brunt of wrath of invaders and yet stood strong. Isn’t it surprising that even after the invaders broke the ‘swaroops’ (idols) and yet they could not break the essence of the society? In those harsh times as well, the society was able to preserve and protect all its values.
It would be naive to think that there were no political or armed resistance to counter the invaders. An entire religion (Sikh) came to existence to fight the colonial masters and Sikh empire was established in the then Punjab province (mostly in Pakistan now), Jammu and Kashmir, Ladakh, Gilgit and Khyber Pass. It is known that Shivaji fought at least 130 battles with the Mughals. But, what about the rest of India? Who were the heroes who fought valiantly and sacrificed their lives for their present and future generations, for us? The history books are devoid of heroic stories of our warriors. Speaking on the economic exploitation of India by the British is out of scope for this paper. Nevertheless, while we are told that the total number of deaths in the 1943 famine of India conservatively ranged between 2-3 million, we are not told about the real reasons of these deaths3.
In the post-independence era as well, India has not spoken truth. The real reasons of partition of India and subsequent massacre of millions of people are most unknown to the present generation. Hundreds of thousands of riots and genocide took place in post-1947 era and yet the National Human Rights Commission of India mentions only “Gujarat Orders” and “Proceeding On Batla House Encounter” as their Landmark Judgements4. I find this extremely shocking that the crimes of “1984 Sikh Genocide” and “1990 Exodus and Genocide of Kashmiri Pandits” are yet to be recognised as Human Rights violation by NHRC. It is very bizarre that a society has been kept in dark from the truth for such a long time.
Should we call the present generation mere ‘survivors’? If I can write this today even after what has happened for centuries, should I count myself as invincible or a mere survivor? Unfortunately, the history we learn at school and university is only remembering the dates. The ‘whys’ of any event are mostly more significant than the ‘whats’ in history. And therefore, I would like to propose the idea of forming a “Truth and Reconciliation Commission of India” be set up by the Government of India with only one goal – to tell the truth as is. Once the truth is established and written, it would open the avenues for reconciliation. Till this happens, Indians would be raised as a confused society, completely unaware of their rich heritage, culture and history and the society would continue to see the conflict it sees today.
1 The reason these are called “Indian” comes from the fact that the Christopher Columbus was in search of ‘India as in Bharat’ but landed in the present day’s North American Continent (refer to – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Native_American_name_controversy)
Featured Image: Métis Nation of Alberta