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Time for Truth, Justice and Reconcilaition
January 1, 2015 by Gurdhyan Singh Source: www.independentoped.com
India: Victims of Violence Deserve Truth and Closure: Time for a Truth, Justice, and Reconciliation Commission

December 24, 2014

By Gurdhyan Singh

St. Paul, Minnesota, USA


What happened to you?
What you had gone through
Is not part of any religion’s criteria,
But sure can be part of barbarism.
That’s why your body was raped;
When I saw nail marks on your face,
Barbaric stamp on your chest,
A sharp needle pierced my veins,
My heart filled with tumultuous pangs,
I started to suffocate
From the terror in your eyes.
It appears that
Your only brother was burnt alive
And your father’s greying beard and hair was dishonored
In the Chandani Chowk Delhi;
Your mother’s heart stopped beating.
Perhaps that time the humanity was under curfew
And all religions went into hiding into their respective homes,
Scared of barbarism,
I heard that the city is always mute,
But this time
The city wailed
And cried its heart out
But was helpless;
In your own home
You’re becoming homeless, an orphan, a refugee
Is a fundamental question mark?
That will we ever learn to live sans advertisements?
We all will be guilty of our history and progenies.

I wrote this poem 30 years back in Punjabi language, as an expression of my pain and agony and a tribute to a victim of the anti-Sikh violence that occurred in Delhi and other parts of India, in the wake of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s killing on October 31, 1984.

The anti-Sikh violence resulted in the death about 3,000 Sikhs, many were put on fire, and their property destroyed. In addition, many women were subjected to various kinds of sexual assaults.

Since then, I have read the poem numerous times. I came across, that all victims of violence share one common feeling; the deep emptiness that pervades their whole being, evidenced by their silent calls for help, for compassion. I saw this emptiness, the silent cries for help, in that victim that day.

After 30 years, India has not been able to bring healing and closure to the pain and sufferings of the Sikh victims of violence. Other than random and incomplete attempts for compensation and some material benefits, there have not been any comprehensive effective attempts to address the scars and trauma of victims.

The Indian government appointed ten successive commissions to investigate various aspect of anti-Sikh violence; all documented testimonies, collected evidence, and made recommendations, mostly legal in nature. The courts so far have convicted about 30 lower level individuals involved in the violence. The prosecution against those at top level is lingering, and always back and forth, without any end in sight.

India has encountered similar tragedies in one form or another hence such pain and agony is not recent; the 1947 partition of India, with one million dead, and ten million displaced, reminiscent of former Yugoslavia and Rwanda. Due to a lack of closure emotional pain of the partition still continues to manifest itself intermittently through poetry, drama, and even in Bollywood movies.

In contemporary India, the cycle of violence in India has three variations: one is inter-group violence, often described as communal violence or mob-violence. Second, resorted by various armed opposition groups, and thirdly State violence. All these variations of violence effected people’s lives in a variety of ways as innocents, combatants, police and army personnel, politicians, bureaucrats, poor, and rich alike. In a broader sense, India has been unable to deal with emotional scars and hurt psyche of all those effected by all kinds of violence.

There is a subtle denial of large-scale emotional suffering of masses; no therapeutic and cathartic processes have been devised. There has not been a serious national initiative or dialogue to develop any comprehensive mechanism for reconciliation and healing. The only idea recycled by Indian politicians of all hues is limited to the rhetoric of communal harmony, peace and national integrity.

There has been few occasional and spontaneous talks of truth commission. For example, in 2011, the J&K Chief Minister Omar Abdullah remarked “setting up a Truth and Reconciliation Commission to probe killings and cases of disappearances in the past 20 years would be the strongest Confidence Building Measure.” However, there was no follow-up on the idea even though proposal has a very limited scope. The civil society groups do occasionally make reference to the need for a truth commission.

Recently in an article, Mr. Justice Rajinder Sachar (Retd) hoped that the Nanavati Commission’s “terms of reference would be on the pattern of “Truth and Conciliation Commission” appointed in South Africa by Nelson Mandela.” He added that “I still feel that this aspect should be followed by the Central Government because I am of the firm opinion that apart from punishing the guilty, it is important to know the real truth which is hidden in government files — human rights principles and justice to the families of victims demand this course.”

The lack of truth and closure results in each group crafting its own narratives, eventually totally holding others responsible for their plight. The feelings of vengeance and the process of dehumanization of others continue to be passed on to next generations. The groups imprison themselves with bitterness and anger from within, and without any emotional outlet, victims continue to suffer.

There is a need for a compassion-based process that engages in truth telling, admitting and assigning true culpability, forgiving the culprits, and moving forward towards reconciliation.

That will only happen when India creates a national Truth, Justice, and Reconciliation Commission; not only to deal with the past, but also as a preventive measure for future sustainable peace. While the Commission is bound to provoke painful emotions, it will acknowledge and address all painful emotions.

The Commission should be tasked to set the historical record straight by preserving historical memories of tragedies in which human rights violations have occurred, and should ensure that these tragedies are never repeated by taking a variety of measures, including truth telling, investigating, prosecuting, applying reparations, and reconciliation.

At global level, so far about 40 countries have benefitted from the Truth, Justice and Reconciliation commissions in a variety of ways, starting with Nelson Mandela’s South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Mandela’s experiment was able to steer the country away from more ethnic violence to co-existence.

Commenting on the role of the Commissions, Mr. Pablo de Greiff, the first UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion of truth, justice, reparation and guarantees of non-recurrence, concluded that “Ultimately, commissions have provided recognition to victims as rights holders, fostered civic trust, and contributed to strengthening the rule of law.”

Recently, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mr. Zeid Ra-ad Al Hussein noted that “You come to realize that there’s a deeper issue at hand, that there are conflicting narratives. And there is the truth. After all there is the truth as well. And it’s not that you can make up or contrive a narrative. There is a truth that has to be identified, and how do we do that, it is intensely difficult.” Mr. Zeid also added that,“Truth commissions…, can lead the way.”

The Commission should draw from experience and global best practices and utilize the services of the UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion of truth, justice, reparation and guarantees of non-recurrence, and contextualize that with local approaches to reconcile and heal.

Every victim of violence, whether of State, terrorist, rebel or inter-group violence, whether Hindu, Sikh, Christian, Buddhist, lower caste, upper caste, whether a man, woman, or child, should be given the opportunity to tell their stories of suffering. Then, the perpetrators will get a chance to own up to their crimes, and by doing so; they may become eligible for amnesty. Those who don’t tell the truth about their culpability or do not fall within the scope of the Commission should be subjected to the justice system under the Supreme Court of India’s oversight.

The Commission will not decide who was wrong or right from a political perspective, advocate for any cause or agenda, or for any -isms, schisms, or ideologies, but rather will act as a platform and process for allowing victims to know the truth, and facilitate collective and individual healing.

To execute this, India needs to find leadership with unimpeachable integrity, a demonstrated commitment to justice and compassion; someone who can inspire trust and mobilize the broadest communities, and lead the Commission.

Is setting of the Commission going to be easy? No. It is a formidable task but not impossible. However, first of all that there is need to initiate a national dialogue on this issue. Obviously, there are going to be skeptics, partisans and opponents of the process. There are also those who genuinely want to admit culpability and seek forgiveness but are fearful of the consequences.

The key to the success of the Commission lies in an authentic dialogue to set realistic expectations, and not be viewed either as magic pill or redundant enterprise.

We need to be mindful of the fact that the Commission will not solve all conflicts and all the issues of India, but it will for sure will bring some if not all victims out of their prolonged silent mourning and sadness into a new era of healing and closure.

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