While I have nothing against anybody alive who happens to be from Spain or England, I have come to dislike both countries. As time goes by, I find myself becoming less accommodating and more vengeful. But it’s not without reason, at least when it comes to my opinions on countries.
Like many of us, I am curious about the causes of some of the most serious problems that South Asia faces. In my present job, I get to interact with people from across the region, and the following theme recurs: the British have laid the roots for many of the modern day problems confronting the region. I hear the same thing about India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Pakistan. I don’t want to expand too much on what the British exactly did, but their support of splitting the Indian sub-continent into Pakistan, India, and East Pakistan laid the roots for tensions that have crippled the relations between these three countries for decades to come, and consequently curtailed their economic integration and growth. I understand that there were ethnic tensions in 1947, but I do believe that united India could have overcome them had it not been for the active support, and even provocation by the British. These tensions, notably between Hindus and Muslims, have existed for centuries, and yet, both fought together for the freedom of the region. Hindus died fighting for Lahore and Muslims died fighting for Varanasi. If they found it in them to overcome ethnic tensions to revolt together against the British, they could have easily governed together. It is sad that a country united in its fight for freedom was divided after attaining that freedom.
Britain has a long track of such atrocities. They laid the roots for the longest border conflict in modern history, that of Palestine. To appease the Jewish populace, which was influential in Britain and vocal in calling for an independent Jewish state after World War II, the immoral, unethical, and cowardly Lord Balfour issued a declaration supporting the creation of Israel, displacing Arabs who have inhabited the region for two millennia.
Britain, however, appears almost civil when you compare it to Spain. Holding welcoming South American kings for ransom and torturing them until their resource rich countries filled up rooms or even houses with gold/silver/precious stones, and enslaving the entire population of countries until their thirst for resources was quenched, was a common practice of the conquistadors.
Nations are alive. They have rights and memories, just as the people that the nations house do. Think of a country as a person. The people that make up countries are just the skin of that nation – skin which is continuously replaced but always protects. If you were to kill someone, you, the person, are responsible, more than the skin on your fingers that pulled the trigger or thrust the knife. In that way, a nation is more alive than the sum of its people, and is responsible for the transgressions of its people.
And when you trespass, you must apologize, ask for forgiveness, and look to remedy. So, those presently alive, who serve as the spokespersons for the country, must apologize on behalf of the country and offer to do whatever it takes to rectify the problems that it created, regardless of whether the individuals who created the problems are presently alive or dead.
No matter how much we want to disassociate ourselves from our past, it is an inalienable part of us. It made us. To the extent that we can, we must honour the commitments made by those we replace, complete their journeys, and apologise for their mistakes. My individual life is not the most important thing in the world – my responsibility in carrying out my leg of the journey in the best possible manner, is.
Humanity, history, and my country are alive, and will be, far after I’m gone, and I am responsible to uphold them for the time that I am allotted.
Shirking responsibility for history is equal to disowning it, making us small people, not flag-bearers of any sort.
Germany must apologize for Hitler. Britain and Spain must apologize for the transgressions of their colonial past. India and Pakistan must exchange apologies for their past crimes against each other. More than just apologize, all nations must look to compensate for their past, and use the lessons learnt to guide their future actions. America must not support dictatorships anymore and must intervene more actively in Syria. The UN must force a two-state solution in Israel and Palestine, and must take a firm stance against China in its current transgressions in the South China Sea and in Tibet.
The world is not at peace. It will be at peace only if it is just. And it will be just only when we own up to our past and look to remedy our mistakes.
Praveen Chunduru is an MBA candidate at the Wharton School of Business and a former Investment Professional at the World Bank.