Thursday, September 01, 2016

The unbearable burdens of centuries past

Schooling, where the classmates came from different religions and caste, combined with the highly critical teenagerish thinking, made me acutely aware of the ways in which the society in which I was growing up was highly segregated.

Going to my grandmothers' villages offered even more stark lessons: The streets in which they lived were only for Brahmins.  A classmate's grandfather, whom my father and great-uncle liked to visit with, lived in a different part of  the village along with people of his caste.  How terrible it all sounds even as I type those sentences!

The older I get, the more I am appalled that people lived and behaved so awfully.  Especially my people who belonged to the privileged upper caste.  A couple of years ago, when looking at the schematic layout of the village that my father had drawn, I casually asked him what he thought about such a spatial manifestation of the awful caste system.  "That is how it was in the old days" he replied and I didn't pursue the point after that.  

Deep down within me, I want the leaders of the Brahmin community to issue a formal and heartfelt apology.  In the lectures that the "learned" masters deliver, I want them to engage with their followers on the awful practices of the centuries, and lead an honest introspection.

As an outsider, I have no say anymore in those issues whenever I visit the old country.  Three decades of life in the US is not the real reason that I am an outsider, but because of how loudly and openly I have renounced the old  faith and the practices, unlike the plenty of Indian immigrants here in America who continue to practice the old ideas.

Here in America, we have a long way to go to correcting the grievous errors of the past, and one serious presidential contender is not helping in this but is making things worse.  But, as another white supremacist from the old colonizer said, we can count on Americans to do the right thing after trying everything else.

Today, more evidence that we are on the right track:
Georgetown University President John J. DeGioia today announced next steps in the university’s ongoing process to acknowledge and respond to its historical ties to the institution of slavery
Remember this post from a few months ago, in which I had referred to Georgetown and its slaveholding past?

I am impressed with how Georgetown has systematically gone about this troubling issue.
“The most appropriate ways for us to redress the participation of our predecessors in the institution of slavery is to address the manifestations of the legacy of slavery in our time,” says DeGioia, who met over the summer with descendants in New Orleans, Baton Rouge and Maringouin, Louisiana, as well as Spokane, Washington.
Yes, and this is exactly the kind of honest, factual discussions that I want to happen in the old country too.  But, I think that is way too much to ask for! :(

The fact that I am highly educated and live here in the US is not any accident.  I have benefited from the centuries--yes, centuries--through which my people were given preferential treatment at the expense of others.  As the Georgetown University professor, who chaired the working group on slavery, memory and reconciliation, puts it, "the failures need to be claimed as much as the successes."
Slavery is our history, and we are its heirs. America would not be America except for its deplorable history of slavery. There will be no “liberty and justice for all” until we understand that, not just Georgetown University and the Roman Catholic Church, but we as a nation.
We slowly progress towards a better society.  We shall overcome some day.

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