October 17, 2023
Good morning. In today’s either/view, we discuss whether a Truth Commission is feasible in India. We also look at the population decline in Punjab, among other news.
📰 FEATURE STORY
Is a Truth Commission feasible in India?
“‘What is truth?’, said jesting Pilate and would not wait for an answer.” This is the opening to Francis Bacon’s essay ‘Of Truth’. Pontius Pilate was the Roman official who presided over Jesus’ trial and sentenced him to death out of social obligation despite being aware of his innocence.
India has had recurrent episodes of massive human rights violations and large-scale violent conflicts, replete with killings, disappearances, sexual violence, and property destruction. Yet there have been several episodes where the perpetrators have not been held accountable and the victims’ struggles went unacknowledged in the ambiguous process of justice.
Can then, a ‘Truth and Reconciliation Commission’ (TRC) which has shown success in several instances globally, bring respite to the nation’s fractured soul?
Much happened on October 2 in India, from contentious birth anniversary celebrations to ‘divisive’ caste survey data releases. Amidst all this, the Indian Social Institute in Bengaluru, a group of Jesuits dedicated to research, established a Peace and Reconciliation Unit for India. Earlier this year in May, calling for peace in Manipur, women’s rights groups and organisations asked for the establishment of a Northeast India Truth and Reconciliation Commission, as a process of “truth-telling and learning each other’s histories, stories and struggle” as a way forward.
While India has had its own National Integration Council since 1961 to promote India’s nationhood in its people transcending faiths and regions, Truth Commissions are independent or government groups that investigate political crimes and human rights violations.
In the early 1970s, several countries adopted the Truth Commission to help them acknowledge their conflict-ridden past. These Commissions aim to ‘learn from the past’ so that the atrocities of the past and the systems that enabled those to take place do not repeat in the future.
TRCs which are rooted in Gandhian ideas have post-Apartheid South Africa as their best example. South African TRC which did not have an idea of punitive justice met with hostility from the West which still demanded Nuremberg-like trials. However, the persistence of pacifists like Desmond Tutu and Guierella-turned-pacifists like Mandela paved the way for national rebuilding through open communication rather than finger-pointing and bloodthirst.
Even though Gandhian thought inspired reconciliations the world over, from the Americas to Africa and even South-East Asia, in post-independence India they were museumised along with him. Contemporary India has taken a different path to deal with conflicts. While Commissions of Enquiry are set up, they result in punitive actions only for the lowest-level perpetrators and rarely for the leadership. If however, the idea of Justice can be taken as more broadly than just retribution, it holds the potential to serve as a means of fairness, closure, and wherever possible, moving on.
VIEW: Reconciliation’s the only way forward
Indian history is not without its arguable share of red ink. Considering only the post-independence era, it ranges from Partition, Emergency, Sikh Riots, Babri demolition, and Kashmir to 2002, AFSPA, and the systematic oppression and marginalisation of minorities.
In such context, establishing a TRC establishes an accurate record of the country’s past and its government’s much-disputed acts. Leaving an honest account of the violence prevents history from being lost and allows society to learn from its past. Establishments of such commissions in good faith and tasked with creating a timely report of the truth have been globally acknowledged as mechanisms that help a society to move forward.
Even though TRCs might lack the authority to recommend prosecution, the mere acknowledgement of the ‘truth’ can be seen as a deterrent enough in India. TRCs represent some form of accountability for human rights abuses when historically this has been rare. This is considered a virtue when the only other option is that there is no accountability whatsoever with victims left ignored.
India’s approach to conflicts so far has been to sweep differences under the carpet which leaves open wounds to fester. Instead, if people speak across a table, they may begin to talk rather than abuse and hate which invariably ends in violence. While it might be argued that it is too late for India to do justice to several of these issues, global examples indicate otherwise. Mauritius’ TRC covered 370 years of abuse offering redressal and showing that it’s never too late.
Forgiveness does not reverse history or the responsibility for the deed. But it is not meant to. Forgiveness, unlike remorse which is a wish to undo wrongs, is instead an acceptance of wrongs and yet a wish to go beyond it.
COUNTERVIEW: Not for Indian realities
The biggest question for reconciliation in India is where one starts with it. Should we restrict ourselves to post-independence India or do we go back to pre-independence times? What about the atrocities of ‘invaders’ since medieval times? By avoiding these questions, we protect ourselves from the unpleasantness these questions rake.
Even if we somehow fix a timeline, how does one ascertain generational blame and punish (or forgive?) the hundreds of thousands of guilty people and yet somehow go on? The conventional rituals of justice demanded trial, punishment and absolution to allow a community to return to normalcy. Reconciliation in the face of it comes off as a Disneyesque utopia.
From the citations of all the global examples, most TRCs are set up when a transition is underway or has just taken place in those countries. Sometimes it’s a tool for newly installed governments seeking to acknowledge the past when they face international pressure regarding their human rights record and hope to manipulate public opinion. India, however, has been beyond that stage for a long time with a stable democracy that has internalised all its grievances.
Another challenge to establishing a TRC in India is with regard to who will actually institute it. While civil society is essential to this process, these Commissions have worked best when they are established by a country’s executive. Commissions set up by civil society rarely have the same validity and endorsement, and their reports do not carry the same heft. But if a Commission is set up by the State, then its findings are usually watered down – especially where the human rights violations are in line with the ideology of the State. Thus, a state-backed commission will commit acts of omission to avoid acknowledging unpalatable truths or implicating those in power.
Setting up an effective TRC demands that people ask for their own accountability and the acknowledgement of their own failures or culpability. Instead, it’s easier to watch the fire burn.
- Why India Needs a Truth and Reconciliation Commission – The Wire
- Why India needs to set up a truth commission to help it really heal – Scroll
- A truth and reconciliation commission for India – The New Indian Express
- Why A ‘National Truth And Reconciliation Commission’ Must Replace The National Integration Council – Swarajya
What is your opinion on this?
(Only subscribers can participate in polls)
a) A Truth Commission is feasible in India.
b) A Truth Commission is not feasible in India.
🕵️ BEYOND ECHO CHAMBERS
For the Right:
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For the Left:
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🇮🇳 STATE OF THE STATES
Population growth (Punjab) – The state’s population growth has been in decline over the past decade. Data from the Civil Registration System (CRS) showed the annual addition to the population reduced by 50% from 2011 to 2020. While the national population growth was 2.9%, it was about 1.65% in Punjab. The state had over 5.1 lakh births in 2011, which reduced to just over 3.8 lakh in 2020.
Why it matters: Discussions on the state’s changing demographic have been attributed to two reasons – young Punjabis emigrating abroad and settling there and the growth of the migrant population from other states. The decrease in population addition could impact Sikhs the most since their population growth has already been declining.
Wooing private entrepreneurs (Kerala) – The Kerala Industries Department will build multi-storied buildings in industrial estates for private enterprises. Known as Gala, it’s a scheme to help entrepreneurs avoid incurring heavy costs on land and infrastructure. The space needed will be leased out in the buildings at a low cost. The initial provision will be for 30 years, with an extension available for another 30.
Why it matters: Under the Directorate of Industries and Commerce and the District Industrial Centres, there are 40 industrial estates. There are also industrial parks under the Kerala Industrial Development Corporation. However, since none of them have the land available for new ventures, a plan was proposed for multi-storied buildings for entrepreneurs.
Power Projects (Odisha) – State-run REC Ltd announced three MoUs for ₹40,358 crore to finance power projects in the state, including two green hydrogen and a conventional power scheme. REC and the Odisha Power Generation Corporation (OPGC) will finance a thermal power project in Jharsuguda. REC will partner with ACME Group for a Green Hydrogen and Ammonia facility in Gopalpur. There’ll be another similar project in the same location.
Why it matters: Earlier this year, the state government approved the proposal of ACME Clean Energy, which includes over ₹58,000 crore investment for green hydrogen and green ammonia plants in Kujanga, Jagatsinghpur. The state wants to become a hub for green hydrogen and green ammonia and a leader in the green fuel economy.
Freebie bills (Madhya Pradesh) – As the state goes to the polls in December, the winner will have a large freebie bill of thousands of crores on their hands. Both parties have promised a slew of freebies. The Congress announced a monthly dole for one crore school kids that would add ₹10,000 crore to the exchequer. The BJP, under Shivraj Singh Chouhan, has doled out the Ladli Behana Yojana with a ₹1,250 payout to 1.32 crore women.
Why it matters: The freebie model has resulted in some success, especially for the Congress in Karnataka and Himachal Pradesh. As far as the BJP is concerned, despite their “no freebie policy”, Chouhan has gone against the grain. In his rallies, Prime Minister Modi hasn’t spoken about the freebies given out by the state government.
Funds for Garo Hills (Meghalaya) – Bernard N Marak from the District Council from Tura has asked the Chief Minister to ensure adequate development funds for the Garo Hills Autonomous District Council (GHADC). He alleged that the BJP is biased against the GHADC and treats them like the opposition. This, according to Marak, has led to unequal distribution of funds. One example is the allocation of only ₹15 lakh to Tura, despite it being the GHADC’s largest constituency.
Why it matters: The GHADC is facing financial issues, including the payment of royalties and other outstanding dues. Marak said the state government needs to step in and help manage their debts. He cited the limited allocation of funds as a constitutional violation since it deprives the people of the constituency.
🔢 KEY NUMBER
1.4 billion – The 10th edition of Flipkart’s Big Billion Days sale saw 1.4 billion customer visits across the early access and seven-day period.