Today I want to explore my relationship with the past.
In today’s times this question is more important than ever before. “History” is being contested (and rightly so). We are realising that what we call history is the interpretation of just one privileged group who managed to steal the narrative. And how we respond to today’s world is shaped by how we read and interpret history.
There are different versions of history — so who do you believe? It is typically the winners who write history and frame it into their value system, justifying it. You could give them the benefit of doubt that there is a cognitive bias there which all of us as humans experience.
So the history of freedom struggle, the invasions into ‘India’ (since there wasn’t a nation state called India at that time) and of caste discrimination — all of these are contested.
The deeper question then is, what do we do? What do I do about my past?
Well the people living in this generation aren’t (mostly) the people who committed those crimes. It was their ancestors. So I wonder if I can point a finger at my British friend and say — you did this to us! Because they did not. And the same holds true for religion and caste — those who are alive did not do what historically has happened.
Then what about the privilege that accumulates as a result of what happened? What about the anger? What about the subtle and overt oppression that still continues?
One, that the oppression must end. And in this matter it is a mutual agreement that can determine if the oppression has finally ended.
(At a much deeper level, the oppressor — oppressed binary makes little sense. It is a binary and the oppressor also sacrifices his or her humanity in the act of oppression. But that’s for another post.)
There is accumulated privilege — and we do whatever we can to equalise it. There are people who are privileged and don’t want to let go of it. The west for example sits on economic privilege built on plunder but won’t even think about giving it up.
What do we do about that privilege? I guess we resist, we struggle, we make our voices heard. If we use reverse force, we’ll be repeating the endless cycle of violence and anger — but hey, some people prefer that so sure, go ahead and test it out for yourself if that works or not.
Personally then I look at privilege and say, my own privileges I try and use in service as much as I can. I try to equalise as much as I can. But there is only so much that I can do outside my comfort zone. The rest is hard — I’ve grown up with a lot of that privilege and acclimatised to it.
Another way to deal with this that people have figured out is to convert all privilege to economic — because for some reason that has been normalised. It is okay that you are super rich — that privilege in the capitalist world is welcome, it is even hard earned and I can reasonably hope to earn it (you can’t because of several structural barriers but that’s another post)
The second dimension I wanted to point out was situations in which I feel oppressed. I feel oppressed as a person with a mental health challenge. I feel that conversations about every issue happen and that makes me want to take up “my” issue as fiercely and make the conversation about that and only that. You have no clue what it feels like — we are in fact the downtrodden of this generation. No one employs us , no one prefers to be in relationships with us and there is no infrastructure to support our struggles.
And how we have dealt with people with mental conditions in the past is gruesome.
What about that then? What do we do about this?
Do each of us find issues where we are oppressed and privileged? Or do we find ways to heal?
That’s the question I have been posing. It is so charged because even when I ask the question “what do I do now” (in cases where I’m privileged), I get irritation, anger, sarcastic responses.
If we have to move on, those who have been wronged will need to articulate more and more what do we do and recruit allies from the privileged. That’s what it takes ultimately — good people across divides trying to make the world better.
And in all these there is space for healing and reconciliation. Except it can become an endless cycle.
Maybe UK can in a healing ceremony symbolically give us the Kohinoor with a national apology and we say ‘okay all accounts settled then — lets move on’, for example.
Because in all this we are stifiling so much of our creative energy, so much of our joy, our celebration, our oneness of being human….we’re dividing ourselves up in even narrower slices….
I hope we are able to heal the past as much as we can, doing whatever it takes for redemption….and from there, walk ahead hand in hand to a more equitable and just world….