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  Life   More Features  10 Dec 2017  Apologising for history

Apologising for history

Published : Dec 10, 2017, 12:24 am IST
Updated : Dec 10, 2017, 12:24 am IST

We get celebrities to give their take on a current issue each week and lend their perspective to a much-discussed topic.

London mayor Sadiq Khan
 London mayor Sadiq Khan

On a trip to Amritsar this week, London mayor Sadiq Khan called upon the UK government to make a ‘full and formal’ apology for the Jallianwala Bagh massacre. He added that it was shameful that almost 100 years after the incident, there has not been a formal apology to the people of Amritsar and India. In the past, Justin Trudeau, Prime Minister of Canada has formally apologised for the Komagatamaru incident too.

We ask historians and political personalities if formal apologies, over a century after the atrocities make sense. Is it just a PR tool or does a formal apology heal the wounds of historically horrific incidents like these?

‘Don’t think it is a PR move’
Shanthala Damle, Bengaluru-based Politician

I think an apology will help people heal, because the people of India are quite emotional. The Jallianwalla Bagh incident was less than a hundred years ago. If the British government does apologise, I would gladly welcome and appreciate it. Even Japan formally apologised for the way they used women as sex slaves for soldiers during the war. Even this apology had come several decades later.

At the same time, I don’t think it is a PR move. If a government issues a formal apology, then surely it is a matter of importance for them and their people. Coming to the Jallianwalla Bagh massacre, it was not just about one person but an entire government, and a serious matter in the international scene. So, its definitely a welcome move.

‘Relations between countries are based on real politics’
Sumanth Raman, Political Analyst

I see this as an attempt to reach out to the aggrieved communities. Whether the apologies are essential or not is not the question. But it is a good gesture from the UK. Apology is the least that can be done, since it won’t amend what has happened in the past, or change the lives of the victims’ families. Still I see it as a welcome gesture. It is indeed a PR exercise, but if it’s benefiting the countries, why not? Relations between countries are based on real politics, and not gestures. But still such gestures are welcomed.

‘This apology will only be a tool for diplomacy and nothing else’
Sajjad Shahid, Historian

On a personal note, I don’t think an apology makes sense. A crime is a crime — you can’t apologise and get away with it. It will remain a crime against humanity. If at all an apology is a solution, then it should be to all Indians and not only to Punjabis. Personally, apologising doesn’t lessen the grief of the people or the whole psyche of the nation which was scarred by such a merciless act. We have mended our bridges with the British without an apology. What has happened in the past cannot be forgotten, especially the barbaric act by the people who claimed to be civilising Indians. After a lapse of centuries, this apology will only be a tool for diplomacy, and nothing else.

‘They convey a deep engagement with the subject of historical guilt’
Ranjit Hoskote, cultural theorist and poet

While such apologies on the part of the former colonial imperial powers may appear to be perfunctory or belated, they convey a deep engagement with the subject of historical guilt. Such acts of contrition are directed as much outward as inward. Outward to the former colonies, as well as — very importantly — inward to the contemporary populations of the ex-imperium. Let us remember that the contemporary populations of the UK, the US, Canada, and Australia consist of large numbers of citizens, whose ancestry connects them to the former colonies in Asia, Africa, the Caribbean, and Oceania. Such gestures of apology are as much part of domestic policy as they are part of diplomacy.

‘Except for fascists, no one makes public apologies for the crimes of the past’
Sohail Hashmi, documentary filmmaker and history buff

I see an apology as a recognition of a terrible mistake. It’s about clearly stating for the world that what we did was unjustified and uncalled for. America had apologised for killings of native Americans (or Indians as they call them). White Australians had made a similar statement regarding the Aboriginal Australians. In the colonial era, non-whites were treated as inferiors. But you see, except for fascists, no one makes public apologies for the crimes of the past. So, I see these apologies as significant and India must to take cue from them and political forces here should apologise for be it killing Mahatma Gandhi, for killing thousands in Gujarat during Godhra riots or in Delhi during anti-Sikh riots, where communities had to pay for individual crimes. And, it all should not merely stop at making a clean breast of things but also making sure that history doesn’t repeat itself.

‘Apologies may help in restoring friendship between the two countries’
Dr M.G.S. Narayanan, Historian

A formal apology may not wipe out what has happened. But, it may go a long way in healing the wound. So, if there is a formal apology, it is welcome. It may help in the healing the wounds of people of the nation and restoring friendship between the two countries. The move is not merely a public relations tool. It is a very important and valuable thing in public relations. It is a positive action. It would be helpful if the formal apology is done.

Tags: sadiq khan, jallianwala bagh massacre