Honouring the Dead

26 Mar, 2014    ·   4360

D Suba Chandran argues why it is in the region's interest to honour those who lost their lives during the various wars and mass violences that have taken place in South Asia.

Since independence in 1947, South Asia has witnessed a massive movement of population, exodus, communal riots, targeted killings and brutal attacks on women and children. Not only are the tectonic plates of the region still under movement, even the social plates are yet to settle. Geologically and socio-politically, we are still a young region.

Starting from Jallianwala Bagh, almost a hundred years ago, neither has contemporary history been kind to us; nor have we been kind to history. Not content with the British and the famines killing us in hordes, after independence, we have also killed equally, maimed, brutalised our women and children, and forced people into exile. That is our past. Or, is it really? How long would we like to continue in this path? How long do we want our past to haunt us? Has the time not come to end our brutality, bring the multiple conflicts to a closure, honour our dead, and cherish the living?

Since that brutal massacre in Jallainwala Bagh in 1919, during the last hundred years, we have witnessed killings, massacres and brutal assaults led by the State under different regimes and by multiple non-State actors of different varieties. Democrats to dictators, secularists and religious zealots – everyone had contributed to this madness in South Asia. We have justified the killings and brutalization on one pretext or the other; caste, class, ethnicity, religion, state building – we have numerous excuses in supporting our barbaric acts.

There is no sub-region that has remained unaffected in our self afflicted madness. From the Hazaras in Afghanistan to the Rohingyas in Myanmar, from the Kashmiris in J&K to the Tamils in Sri Lanka, the recent history of our region is being written in blood. Killing of Ahmediyas, War against the Tamils in Sri Lanka, the massacre in former East Bangladesh, anti-Sikh riots, refugees between India and Pakistan and the list would be endless. Before it dries in one region, it spills in to another place.

How long should we continue this? Is it not time to allow our wounds – individual and collective – to heal? Is it not time to say enough is enough? How long do we want our wounds to fester? How many more generations in our region should see their history being written in red as well?
Perhaps we have to consider a Social Contract, in our own way, as Hobbes, Locke and Rousseau pursued in mediaeval Europe for different reasons. It will have to involve the State and Society; perhaps two contracts – the first one between the two and the second within the latter. And we will have to focus on three important issues: bringing the conflict to a closure; honouring the dead and allowing the wounds to heal; and protecting the next generation.

First and foremost, let there be individual and collective efforts, cutting across ethnic and national boundaries to honour our dead. Enough lives have been lost in all these conflicts on every side. Enough blood has been spilled everywhere. If one has to map the region from a satellite above tracing the blood spilled, our region would certainly look red.

True, there has been violence and conflicts in other regions as well. Perhaps Europe during the dark and medieval ages to the Second World War was even more brutal. But the Land of Buddha and Mahatma Gandhi do not have to learn the wrong lessons from other regions.

There is so much of warmth still left in us. Despite the occasional evil, there is so much of love and care deeply embedded in us, as our recent spontaneous responses to natural calamities would reveal. Did not the recent earthquakes, Tsunami and floods, bring to the fore the good and human in us? Unlike what Thomas Hobbes said on a different occasion, we are not inherently nasty, brutal and evil. But unfortunately, at times, we get carried away and let the animal in us take charge. Perhaps we forget, or worse, we ignore who we are and what we are made of.

It is time to step back and honour the lives we have lost so far. The State has a primary role to play in this process. It has to bring to a closure many of the conflicts. We have seen in our contemporary times, the State accepting responsibility, commissioning a process of truth and reconciliation and bringing a long standing conflict to a closure elsewhere. This act by the State of ensuring truth and reconciliation performs two important functions. It expects the State to accept the responsibility for the past and not repeat the same in the present.

On its part, the society will have to honour the dead. And allow the wounds of the past to heal. Both at the individual and collective levels, there are multiple wounds within us. Some of them are thrust upon us; some of them are self inflicted and some of them are imagined. Whatever may be the nature of our wounds – self inflicted, or set upon us by the State and non-State actors, we have to allow the same to heal.

Let us avoid discussing whose wounds are bigger or deeper. This is not a contest. True, someone who has lost his hand or her leg may be loud and vociferous, but someone who had lost his head may remain totally silent. Maybe the dead are blessed, for they do not have to bear the pain any more. On the other hand, maybe the living are also lucky, for they have crossed the horrible. Maybe. Maybe not.

Let us not try to compute and quantify our wounds and pain. Let us feel the same collectively, as one whole. Let us not measure the sadness of our eyes by the number of tears. Let us not measure the deepness of our wounds by the blood spilt. Let us not count the dead by numbers, but by the pain it has left behind.

True, time should be allowed to heal the wounds. But the wounds should not be allowed the time to create new ones. We should let our wounds to heal. That is the only way to not let us alienate from ourselves.

It is unfortunate, that a section within us, has been politicizing our past and not allowing the wounds to heal, for narrow reasons of acquiring more power, or worse to continue to remain in power. For them, history outside, and our wounds inside are an opportunity; the more it festers, the better they prosper. Our own social and political leaders, a section of the State, a portion of social and political institutions, some of external actors and diaspora – whatever may be the size of this number – they exist. And for whatever social and political reasons, they do want us to remember the past.

Undoubtedly, we should not forget our past. But for positive reasons, and certainly not for promoting negative sentiments. Why did our elders sacrifice their lives? Did they give their lives in the past, so that we torture our present, and rob the next generation of its future? Would they want us to continue like this?

Let the State bring the conflicts to a closure. Let the society honour it’s dead. Let us forgive. Let us move forward. We have our young and we have to protect their future. Let us not impose the failures of our past on the future of our youths. As mentioned above, we are not inherently nasty, brutal and evil. There still is so much of warmth left in us.

By arrangement with Rising Kashmir