Can Historical Wrongs Justify Today’s Actions?

Is there any truth to the saying that ‘history is written by the victor’? I never thought I will face conflicting emotions looking at the history from an alternate perspective when I planned a vacation to Scotland.

The cab dropped us to the top of the cobbled road running through the heart of Old Town in Edinburgh and I was sure that I was going to love the city and the country. On a cloudy day with intermittent sunshine, the weather was perfect to explore the small souvenir shops, whiskey bars and welcoming restaurants in medieval-era buildings. Narrow closes and lanes going down the hill from the main streets offered some spectacular views of the modern city. That is when I stumbled upon war memorial for 93rd Sutherland Highlanders in St. Giles Cathedral.  The inscription on the memorial readers ‘In memory of the comrades who fell in action of died of the wounds or of sickness caused by fatigue and exposure during the suppression of The Mutiny in India In 1857-8.

I turned by face away from the memorial and found myself struggling with emotions of anger and hate. Growing up as a kid I learnt that the war of 1857 was the first attempt at gaining freedom from the British rule in India but from what I was reading, it was just a mutiny. I wasn’t sure whether I should hate that the soldiers commemorated by the memorial for slaying the Indian soldiers who raised arms against the oppressive rule or treat this as history I should close my eyes towards.

Historical Wrongs

Lot of us have in fact left the history behind. We have moved on and made amends with what happened in past. Then the question is can we measure the history by modern standards of freedom and tolerance. The answer is an overwhelming NO. If we apply today’s yardsticks , then every ruler in the history will fall short. But then can we justify today’s bigotry because of what happened in the past? In my discussions with close friends I have often found that ‘historical wrongs’ being used to justify the present day actions.

As an avid student of history, I strongly believe that the historical lessons should teach us what not to do and not give ammunition to carry out acts that violate today’s standards. We should look at the incidents that take place today through the lenses that are not clouded by prejudice and condemn what is wrong and applaud what is right irrespective of divisions like religion, skin color, caste etc.

Back in Scotland, I was equally happy to enjoy fish and chips along with the new national dish of Tikka Masala.

2 thoughts on “Can Historical Wrongs Justify Today’s Actions?

  1. Nice article Ashish. I largely agree with your point of view. But I would like to make a distinction between historical wrongs which are not affecting a collective conscious of a country or community and those historical wrongs which are affecting the counscious even today. Some historical wrongs are clearly the marks of oppression, tyranny and invasion. A country or community is well within its rights to correct those in a peaceful way which can fascilitate its renaissance. Afterall, history is not just a collection of facts but it actually plays a huge role in shaping the pyche of people
    and it has its own continuam.

    1. Thank you for the comment. I agree that in some cases the historical wrongs that affect the psyche today need to be addressed collectively. That is why it is significant when the Japanese or Turkish government heads apologize about the atrocities committed by their nations and ask for forgiveness. However, the struggle begins when there is no collective consensus and actions are taken for political benefit.

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