Canada’s apology and lessons to India

Something remarkable is happening in Canada. The government is making a sincere effort to make up for past wrongs. There were three prominent instances recently.

The Chinese Story: Between the 1880s and 1920s, Chinese immigrants to Canada had to pay a special tax of up to $500 just to enter the country. $ 500.00 was a steep amount at that time and it was definitely prohibitive and restrictive. It was designed to keep Chinese immigrants from entering Canada. It was discriminatory as Canada has a white’s only immigration policy at that time. It was called the head tax. It was something similar to the Jizya tax imposed by the Muslim king Aurangzeb on Hindus. When the head tax was repealed in 1923, Chinese immigration to Canada was banned altogether for the next 25 years. But of late Canada has seen the mistake. In a true demonstration of a just society, it offered an apology to the Chinese in 2006 and also paid surviving immigrants and their immediate families $18,000 (£8,850) in compensation.

The Sikh Story:In the year 1914, 376 Sikhs took a ship called Komagata Maru and reached the port of Vancouver city. As Canada had a white’s only immigration policy at that time, they were denied entry. The ship was anchored at the Vancouver port for two months and then turned away. The ship was sent back to Calcutta, where all them were arrested by the Calcutta police owned by the British. Most of them suffered jail terms just for simple reason of having the courage to cross the seas. It was humiliating and we need to acknowledge the forward spirit of the Sikhs who took the first step for their children to lead dignified lives. On June 3rd, 2008 Canada’s British Columbia provincial assembly in Victoria city formally apologized for the Komagata Maru tragedy The apology was received amid shouts of the sacred Sikh chat, “”Bole So Nihal”, The WSO (world Sikh organization of Canada ) welcomed the apology. We don’t know if any kind of compensation was paid. (Incidentally as this is the current flavor, our shrewd movie maker Ms Deepa Mehta has anticipated this and has jumped onto the opportunity and a movie on the Komagata Maru tragedy is on the floors. we presume she is receiving funding from the Canadian government)

The Native Indians Story: Between the late 19th century and 1970’s the governments of Canada has a policy of assimilation of native aboriginals (also called as Indians) into mainstream Canadian life. It came into place on the recommendations of the bagot commission in 1844. The primary concern was that the way of life, including culture, practices and living was unique and was not “Christian in nature” It was aimed at integrating native Indians into the mainstream Christian way of life. It was an official policy sponsored by the state. It resulted in forcing about 150,000 aboriginal children to attend state-funded Christian boarding schools. Children were stolen from aboriginal homes and forced to attend boarding schools run by the church. They were made to give up their dress and culture and were prohibited from speaking their native language. Cases of sexual harassment have surfaced though the actual details and numbers are not available. In the 1980’s the church has apologized and most of the schools are shut now after running for over one whole 100 years.

Following an apology issued by the Australian government in Feb 2008, for similar assimilation policy in Australia, the Prime Minister of Canada Mr. Stephen Harper made an apology to Native Indians for the sufferings which they were inflicted upon between the years 1872 – 1960. The surviving children of that policy attended the Canadian parliament when the historic apology was made. They were also given a compensation package of 4 billion dollars. It is however acknowledged as an historic apology. But the “damage” has been done. Because the objective has been accomplished, as the assimilation is almost complete today. Let’s see the reasons behind it and the lessons it has for India.

The story in India today:Today in India similar kind of “assimilation” is underway. Christian missionaries target the young boys and girls in India. The details are on you tube for all to see. There was also this case at Catholic healing Centre at Muringoor, Kerala, India, where the state police had alleged recently there were around 976 mysterious deaths during 1996-2006 and most of the bodies were allegedly disposed off without informing the police. Allegations include sexual molestations, forcible conversion to Christianity, and the documents were allegedly forged to make them look like natural deaths. The details are under investigation, and we don’t know how horrifying it was for the victims, but something bizarre, is happening. It appears that there is a valid mandate to threaten, intimidate, and to do just about anything to facilitate the process of “assimilation”. And scores of such activities in smaller villages in India goes unnoticed and the victims endure suffering silently. The intelligence Bureau of India recently stated that Muslim extremists target the soft and underprivileged sections of the Hindu society for conversion to Islam and recruitment as potential hit men for terrorist activities. One never comes to know what all “types of assimilation” are happening in India in the thousands of its villages and towns, while the soft Indian state with its political compulsions is helpless, though it is doing its best it can.

Being unbiased one can draw parallels to a similar kind of injustice in the Indian caste system which though unfortunately doesn’t do assimilation but definitely treats people inhumanly. Being “Hindu” they could not match the ruthlessness of the whites who ill treated blacks, but nevertheless they were not far behind. The fundamental difference is that the caste system in India is not sponsored by the state and hence one may not hear an apology from the government of India. But conciliatory moves have been made by rightwing Hindu parties in India. Now many states in India have leaders who have come from the so called lower castes which has helped them with a leader of their own. It’s a different subject how these leaders have managed welfare for their own people.

Coming back to our main story, these apologies are fascinating aspect of Christianity. One part of the western society which is controlled by the right wing Christians sounds and acts inhuman and very insensitive while the Christian society as a whole acts rationally and in an extremely nice and polite and human way. Take the classic case of abolishing slave trade. While England was one of the main countries which resorted to trading in slaves, it was an Englishman who initiated the steps for abolishing slavery in England. This makes it hard for anyone to label the west in a totally negative way. Because the policies of the west are an intelligent mix of bad and good. The process the west goes through also offers fascinating lessons to India.

India society should not hesitate to take the help of the good in the western Christian society while making all efforts to thwart the influence of the bad elements of the western society on India. Else we would be left with an apology a century later with only memories of our culture. Indian society should realize that tomorrow is today and defence is not offence.The western society respects freedom and those who stand for it.