Nazi Holocaust Lessons for Gujarat

"Never Forget...Hope lives when we remember...The only monument the victims will ever have is our Memory...We have to Remember."

These words are inscribed on the walls of the Simon Wiesenthal Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles, USA, which holds memories of one of the darkest moments of human history - the anguish and trauma of generations of Jewish victims of the Holocaust. The Wiesenthal Centre and similar museums across the world do not seek to deliver justice for Nazi atrocities; what they do is to publicly acknowledge and validate the suffering of the victims. Such memorializing has even paved the way for dialogues on reconciliation between second-generation Germans and the Jewish community.

In Gujarat, four years after the genocide, civil society groups are attempting to begin a discourse on reconciliation between Hindus and Muslims. As they chart the path from a divided past to a future based on coexistence, it will be instructive to remember two key lessons from the Holocaust: the importance of addressing the past, and the role of collective memory in healing and reconciliation.

Collective memory can take many forms - museums, memorials, and dates and places of remembrance. The idea of an independent truth commission has also been mooted - not as a substitute for the legal justice process, but to give survivors the assurance of a public documentation and acknowledgement of both the organized violence of 2002 as well as their suffering over the past four years.

A denial of the past and an absence of expressions of remorse - as is the case in Gujarat today - can turn collective memory into a reservoir of hatred and an incubator for renewed conflict. Many members of the majority community - even those who want to discuss reconciliation with the Muslim community - are unwilling to revisit what happened to more than 100,000 Muslims in 2002. The argument goes that revisiting the past will only "open wounds" and might even lead to the outbreak of more violence.

Such forced amnesia will pull us into a vortex of even greater hate, retribution and violence. The impact can already be seen in Gujarat today. It has not only denied victims a public acknowledgement of their pain, but has also closed the space for any remorse or apology by the offenders.

'Reconciliation After Violent Conflict', a handbook published by the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance, Sweden, identifies four processes as prerequisites for reconciliation:

  • The Sequence of Truth, Remorse and Apology - public acknowledgement.

  • Reparation - financial and symbolic.

  • Justice - a combination of approaches drawn from the paradigms of retributive (through law) and restorative (through mediation, dialogue and non-adversarial methods) justice.

  • Healing - psychosocial programs, trauma counseling, self-help support groups, etc.

Four years on, none of these prerequisites for reconciliation have been addressed in any holistic manner in Gujarat.

The ground reality also points to seemingly insurmountable challenges that lie in implementing reconciliation. For one, reconciliation can only be among equals. In the context of the civil war in Sri Lanka, a Tamil woman had this to say to her Sinhala counterpart: "Reconciliation is not possible when you are sitting in comfortable chairs and we on the floor." It cannot take place in a situation of deep power imbalances where members of one community are unable to build sustainable livelihoods or return to their homes out of fear of threat to their lives.
What is perhaps most alarming is the possibility that the next generation of Gujarati Hindus and Muslims will inherit the painful legacy of the 2002 genocide.

The actions of decision-makers and community leaders today are going to deprive future generations of Gujaratis the opportunity to build a just society. Worse still, given that a whole generation of Gujarati Hindu and Muslim children is being raised in segregated schools and neighborhoods, the seeds for renewed conflict over the next few decades have already been sown.

The immediate, short-term efforts for justice - legal justice, trauma healing workshops, documentation of violence - are crucial steps for building peace, but the sustainability of such a peace will depend on long-term measures that target the next generation.

This is where collective memory and education come in. Responding to a much-felt need to use education for coexistence, in 1996, the UNESCO Commission on Education developed an interesting approach titled, 'Learning to Live Together'. This approach involves developing an understanding of others and their history, traditions and spiritual values and, "on this basis, create a new spirit which, guided by recognition of our interdependence, would induce people to manage inevitable conflict in a peaceful way".

Peace education can play an important role in preventing the transfer of hate, fear and prejudice from one generation to the next by:

  • addressing the horrors of past violence;

  • promoting the values of human dignity, non-violence and pluralism;

  • developing the skills necessary to rebuild fractured relationships; and,

  • developing a respect for the differences in faith and political perspectives.

It is a "forward-looking" exercise - of envisioning a future where coexistence and cooperation replace the current phenomenon of segregation in housing and education. An important strategy in this respect is the mainstreaming of peace education in formal and informal educational settings in Gujarat.

Today, through segregation and curriculum content, education is being used in Gujarat to deepen prejudice and fuel animosity. For example, a Class IX Social Studies textbook, in a section titled 'Problems of the Country and their Solutions', categorizes Muslims, Christians and Parsees as "foreigners". Elsewhere, Islam is associated with "aggression and invasion".

In such a context, the need for peace education programs cannot be emphasized enough. They are particularly relevant for those schools that are now segregated. Peace education should be a goal not only for the Muslim children who have been forced to leave their homes and now live in resettlement colonies, but also for the Hindu children who continue to live in the villages and towns from which Muslims have fled.

In addition, a safe physical space needs to be created for Hindu and Muslim children to come together. Opportunities need to be identified to facilitate informal, social interaction between youth from the two communities. For instance, kite-flying festivals - known to have caused communal skirmishes in Gujarat in the past - could be reclaimed as an informal space for children from the two communities.


More by :  Gurumukh Singh

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