Memory and Guilt


Home ] Up ]


Not Naming Names
Memory and Guilt in Times of Ignominy

Interviews - The Times of India

Wednesday 10 February 1999

OVER this winter we travelled the full range of feelings -- from
the ones aroused in a moment of glory, to those associated with
ignominy. I remember the week when the Nobel prize was
announced for an Indian economist. I heard many voices showing
the surprise of a first-time recognition that ideas alone could bring
so much glory to a person. Earlier Indian recipients of the prize
were chosen for poetry, science, and humanitarian work, areas
long established in the middle-class mind as worthy of concern.
Economics is a subject popularly believed to provide `solutions',
but Professor Sen cheerfully denied his ability to offer any
solutions. Indian hunger for global glory was faced with a new
diet -- food for thought; and the consumers were warned that it
was neither fast food, nor food for everyone's stomach.

Draupadi's Trauma

And now, just a few weeks after the Nobel celebrations, we have
covered ourselves in ignominy. We have witnesses the killing of a
humanitarian and his minor children. The murder is supposed to
express religious hatred; an earlier version of the expression had
occurred in Gujarat. Following those events, Mr Fali S Nariman
resigned from his position as Gujarat government's counsel in the
Narmada case. He appealed to Hindus to make a similar protest.
What form an ordinary Hindu's protest can take is difficult to
imagine, for Hinduism is rather weak when it comes to inducing a
sense of collective guilt. But for this weakness, men would have
felt permanently sorry for Draupadi's trauma; upper castes would
practise self-denial for what they did to the untouchables; and
teachers might agree to be especially gentle towards tribal
children to atone for the injury done to Ekalavya. Such intentions
are alien to us, so we must explore other options.

One is to perpetuate the precise memory of violence. I seriously
wonder why we didn't set up a museum to preserve the memory
of partition. A wealth of guilt might have been generated by
careful preservation of partition killings and other crimes. I
suppose we chose to live with communal hatred, rather than to
objectify it. We didn't even bother to find a suitable word for it,
staying content with the strange name our colonial masters had
given. Young teachers tell me how difficult children find it to
memorise what `communalism' means. Its Hindi variant,
`sampradayikta', is worse. I have personally experienced the
surprise and relief of clarity that college students feel on being told
that communalism really means religious separatism.

Naming a problem accurately is a small but decisive step towards
coming to grips with it. Education is normally expected to
develop rigour in naming, but our case is different. Our schools
don't seems to mind nurturing polite mindlessness and indifference
to matters calling for immediate attention. Prejudice and bigotry
are passed on to children in the same breath as the scientific
temper in our dusty, dilapidated schools. Mr Tahir Mahmood, the
Chairman of the Minorities Commission, has alleged that the
NCERT's textbooks were replete with instances of communal
prejudice. matter.

Dramatic Convenience

Let us look at one of the instances he probably had in mind. The
Hindi textbooks for grade seven has a one-act play depicting a
village attacked by the Central Asian invader Timur in 1398. The
play explicitly recognises the villagers who are trying to escape as
`Hindu graamin' and Muslim graamin'. It is highly likely that the
NCERT might defend the use of these collective identities and
argue that showing both Hindu and Muslim villagers frightened by
Timur's attack nurtures secularism. Such an argument would be
quite consistent with the politics of communalism which gleefully
applies group-labels in order to provide group-patronage.
Throughout the play Timur and his soldiers speak Urdu in
contrast to the Hindu characters, including the brave child-hero
and his mother, who do not use a word of Urdu. To regard this
as a matter of dramatic convenience would be naive indeed,
especially considering that Hindi teachers are trained to label
Urdu words as `foreign' and therefore avoidable in children's own
usage. How the Turkish raider is supposed to have learnt Urdu in
1398 is a different question.

The custodians of curriculum prefer to respond to such examples
by withdrawing that single example, leaving the edifice of
knowledge and ideology intact. The same textbook has a lesson
on the life of Chandra Shekhar Azad. It points out how his father
sent him away to Kashi to force him out of the company of Bhils
who had taught him archery. There is no saying when a
community might be subjected to stereotyping and insult. The
more politically weak a community, the greater the chance that it
will either be absent from the world of school knowledge or get
stereotyped. The idea to be learnt is that only the strong matter;
they alone build and comprise the nation.

Vicious Circle

Political socialisation from early age along this line permits the
reproduction of a culture whose members don't squirm at the
sight of barbaric violence done to people different from `us'. They
also like having a short memory. Killing of Sikhs in 1984 and that
of Muslims on several occasions get linked with specific events
which are recalled while the killing is forgotten. The tribal have no
room in the memory of the literate; even their summary eviction
does not matter as is about to happen in the Narmada valley.
Little do the educated realise that the trap of memory loss and
gesture politics chokes and brutalises their progeny far more
effectively than it hurts the illiterate poor. They live in a different
world of meanings; the brutality they face is of a more basic

The killings in Orissa are terrible. No one is likely to remember
them long enough to want to atone for them. Legal processes will
assist us too, by establishing who was physically involved and
who was not. Isn't that what they did in the case of Gandhi's
assassination? Two were sent to the gallows, some others to jail,
but the idea of India which had inspired them all remained
legitimate and free of guilt. When Professor Amartya Sen got the
Nobel prize, and Indians sat up to realise that ideas matter,
perhaps there was an opening in the vicious circle. Perhaps we
have already lost that opening this winter.

Memory and Guilt
Muslim Rule
Historical Wrongs
Somanatha temple and Gazni
False Concept
The Indus and the Saraswati
Fascist Shor Ghul
In Defence of History
Are tribals hindu

HINDU ,Dalit, Muslims, INDIA , 

Fascism, Nazism, GenocidesHuman rights

Indian fascism :Intro,Myths, Organizations, Cultural Fascism,Babri Masjid, Bombay Riots , Role of Govt. 

Images  Posters  Cartoon  Audio & Video   News & Events  What'sNew E-Zine About US

Discuss The Topic Further On Our Public Bulletin Board 

To subscribe our newsletter and to get future update notifications, Join our mailing list! Enter your email address below, then click the button

1 Add this page to Favorites * Share it with a Friend : Make it your Homepage!

Your suggestions  will keep us abreast of what do u like to see in these pages.

FAIR USE NOTICE: Opinions expressed in the articles are those of the contributors and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the publishers. This Web contains copyrighted material whose use has not been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. We are making these available in our efforts to advance understanding of human rights, democracy and social justice issues. We believe that this constitutes a `fair use' of the copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. If you wish to use these copyrighted material for purposes of your own that go beyond `fair use', you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.
Last updated: February 23, 2000 .