Forgiveness: Between Memory and History is a work that has risen out of a felt need of our times where violence and forgiveness. The Western discourse going beyond the religious has located forgiveness in legal and historical issues, but the Eastern tradition have commented both on its underlying presence and its surface realization. Working with religious and cultural pasts, the present work asks the questions: what happens when forgiveness enters political discourse, compelling it to recognize the presence of inequality, power, guilt, justice and memory, and can it or can it not intervene in the narrative of history. Recognising the fluidity of both time and memory, it further looks at some contemporary happenings and creative works which have risen above the violent events and found a way of forgiving. Forgiveness does not invariably link itself with forgetting – one can remember and yet forgive. It is an ethical attitude where the individual consciousness and relationship rise above political differences and contribute to the recognition of the Other. Difficult but not impossible, forgiveness merits attention and is the need of our times.
Jasbir Jain is an independent scholar, formerly of the University of Rajasthan, where she was also an Emeritus fellow and Sahitya Akademi Writer-in-Residence. She has written extensively on theoretical issues of narratology and gender. Amongst her recent publications are Indigenous Roots of Feminism: Culture, Subjectivity, Agency; Theorizing Resistance: Narratives of History and Politics and The Diaspora Writes Home. She is currently working on the Postcolonial and the Subaltern and their limitations.
This work has risen out of a felt, genuine need of our times. In the last half century violence and forgiveness have travelled together, each questioning the role of the other in the future history of humanity. Violence is part of all change, the act of birth as well as the act of survival. It characterizes creation myths but it acquires a problematic dimension when it loses its creative potential and acquires a wholly destructive role altering our social sphere and our inner beings, our thought processes and our relationships with others, especially in these times of rising ethnonationalisms.
The idea of forgiveness is embedded primarily in the religious and spiritual sphere in man’s relationship to god. When it enters a political discourse it necessarily has to address questions of inequality, power, guilt, justice and memory. The discourse in the West, it the aftermath of the Second World War and the liberation of the erstwhile colonies, has focused on it as a political gesture of reconciliation. Several philosopher such as Jacques Derrida and Paul Ricoeur have located it in historical and legal issues placing it, almost exclusively in Abrahamic religions, ignoring the rest of the world outside the religions of the book. Here an attempt is being to relate both violence and forgiveness to other cultural pasts and religious discourses and explore the possibility of a dialogue between them.
Forgiveness, in itself, can play an important role in allowing us to come to terms with our past, intervene in the course of history and its cycle of revenge, hatred and animosities which are carried from one generation to another, embitter our memories and result in continued violence. A shift in attitudes is quite capable of bringing about positive changes at both personal and political levels. Closely allied to all activities of peace, the search for forgiveness is in reality a search for a change in our way of thinking and behaving. How long can the ordinary man submit to a passive role in the game of power and live in a continued sense of insecurity and fear? Ideological wars have pushed the world towards divisions such as the partitions of India, Vietnam, Korea and-war Germany testify. The long period of the Cold War, the subsequent single power centre and once again the resurfacing of ideological skirmishes in other countries – they all call for a deeper attention to human attitudes and the human being we are creating.
Perhaps, the basic struggle has to be one of individual will against the political ideology of violence. In a recent issue of Frontline, A.G. Noorani has emphasised the necessity of strengthening cultural bonds between India and Pakistan because of the two different strands that run side by side: ‘the terrible estrangement between them at the government level, and the enormous yearning among their peoples for exchanges between them, (‘India and Pakistan: Bonds of Culture’, Frontline, April 4, 2014 62-64; 62). Alongside shared histories and cultures, are also memories of a violent past. And in India’s multi-religious and multi-lingual society, divided by caste and economic herarchies, inter-community conflicts, atrocities and incidents of violence abound. These oppositional and conflicting discourses increasingly point towards the necessity of developing the abikity to forgive and the humility of being forgiven.
Aime Cesaire opened his work Discourse on Colonialism with comments on the state of civilization, ‘A civilization that proves incapable of solving the problems it creates is a decadent civilization’ (1950, New Delhi: Aakar Books, 2010). He goes on further to define its blindness in terms of being stricken and it deceit as death (31). Today, terror is located right in the midst of what Huntington has labeled the ‘clash of civilization’, a clash between two ways of believing and thinking, when postures harden and difference seems to acquire a priority over accommodation. Huntington perceives a national unity in western thought processes but perceives the non-western world as divided. The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order lends itself to several different interpretations at the political and psychological levels. Does it express a subterranean wish for western supremacy ranging as it does against difference? Does it claim a universal, homogenous model of existence? Huntington traces the decline of western civilization to the resurgence of indigenous civilizations which, with their rising religious fundamentalism, revolt against the domination of the west. The timing and the strategy of Huntington’s thesis is in itself suspect.
Placed against the background of divisive power structures and their use the human being, forgiveness becomes an indispensable part of personal and cultural behavior, pushing one to realise the importance of relationships and the recognition of the ‘other as an equal. Is it a realizable goal or an idealistic one? Is it or is it not possible to forgive? How does it work in personal and political spheres and across nation state in the international scenario? Is it a weakness or strength? These and international scenario? Is it a weakness or strength? These and a host of other questions crowd in on the issue. Ordinarily, the idea of forgiveness meets with scepticim and disbelief, reflecting our fixed notions of our positions. And exactly of this it is all the more necessary to question our own set ideas and beliefs and to think about forgiveness, to break the exclusivity of the western discourse on the subject and iontervene and provide a perspective from our locations, to acquire a voice and make our position felt. Closer home, the continuity of communal riots. The migration of affected populations to new ghettos, outside their erstwhile habitation, and the compulsion to live perpetually in emotional and economic instabilities, compel us to think seriously about bringing about some constructive change in our relationships.
Besides the civil wars and resistance movements in the subcontinent, the wider world tells a similar story. The USUSSR fighting a proxy war in Afghanistan and the wars in Bosnia, Rwanda, Somalia, and the 9/11 and the Us-Iraq war and worldwide struggles for self-expression, freedom and equality have marked the history of the last few decades markedly affecting the quality of life. The effort to understand the complexity of forgiving and of transferring it from a solely religious to a socio-political discourse, translating it into cultural perspectives, is worth it.
I have been working on this subject for several years and have come to look upon forgiveness as an essential part of our moral being. Over the years, I have found support for my work through a senior fellowship from the centre for Contemporary Theory in 2009 and a second from the Balvant Parekh Centre for General Semantics in 2013. Sister organizations, both are located in Baroda. But what has brought it to this stage was a Visiting Professorship at the Indian Institute of Advances Study, Shimla in 2012 when I lectured on this subject. It was during these periods that I had access to their libraries and the opportunity of interacting with fellow scholars. I express my gratitude to Professor Prafulla Kar of the Centre for Contemporary Theory and to Professor Peter Ronald desouza, who invited me in 2012 to the Institute. Had he not have arrived at this point. The central three chapters were delivered as a series of three at the Institute where a two-week course had also been or gained during this period on the Mahabharata, to which I was invited as a resource person. Some of the thought s expressed there also come to form part of this work enabling me to view the epic in a wider perspective . The stay at the Institute also made it possible for me to consult the multi-volume translation of the Mahabharata and understand the finer nuances, which one is likely to miss in abridged versions.
My debt is even greater to all those who were skeptical or on the periphery because their attitude pushed me further into research, rethinking and to closer philosophical analysis. The question still remains: is the act of forgiving an emotional or a rational one? Perhaps both – the trational is in the need itself, the emotional in its self-reflection.
A word of acknowledgement for the cooperation and support extended to me by Debashree Sen, the then Academic Research Officer, and Ashok sharma, the then Public Relations Officer, and their successors who are now holding these positions and in correspondence with me. I thank Mr Prem Chand and Mr Kamal Sharma. My sincere thanks are also due to the staff of the various libraries I have consulted. Finally, I need to place on record my sincere gratitude to the Institute, specifically to the director whose own academic interests were wide enough to embrace other No matter to what extent a work individual effort, there are always unseen forces guiding it which influence its course: events, literatures of loss, family and friends, the whole world around
d us – all have a little share in the thought processes reflected in any intellectual pursuit.
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