Sunday, July 26, 2020

The story of reconciliation and development in the genocide hit Rwanda

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Paul Kagame, President of Rwanda | Source: ITU Pictures via Flickr

The genocide and civil war had rendered hundreds of thousand of people homeless and in utter misery. If the Tutsi’s were the primary victims of genocide, the Hutu’s too suffer in the ensuing civil war when Paul Kagame led Rwandan Patriotic Front defeated the government forces and took over Rwanda.

When the genocide stopped by August 1994, the the suspected perpetrators of crime were hounded by the new government forces. Thousands of Hutus left the country and sought refuge in the neighbouring countries. The legal system of Rwanda was in shambles and the vengeance was taking precedence over the quest of justice. Over a hundred thousand suspected genocidaires were put in prison but could not be properly tried due to a strained judicial system.  

Things however started to change from the year 2000, when Paul Kagame became Rwanda’s President. The biggest challenge for him was to rebuild a society that is economically and socially stable. The socio-economic transformation of Rwanda under Kagame is an inspiring story of reconciliation based on acceptance, repentance and forgiveness, the very foundation on which the edifice of Rwanda's reconciliation is standing firmly today.

The first step towards reconciliation started in 2002 when Rwanda introduced the community-based dispute resolution mechanism, Gacaca to try the genocide related crimes. Gacaca was traditionally used in Rwanda to resolve minor disputes. In its new incarnation, the objectives included not only delivering justice, but also strengthening reconciliation, and revealing the truth about the genocide.  

In the Gacaca court the local community elected the judges who then tried the defendants  in front of members of the local community. These community members  were asked to share whatever they knewabout the the role of defendant during the genocide. Gacaca courts functioned extensively during 2005 to 2012 and processed almost two million cases in this duration.

Though Gacaca courts were criticised by many human right organisations for putting speed over fairness in trial, it undoubtedly resulted in giving the opportunity for some genocide survivors to learn what had happened to their relatives. It helped many families of survivors and perpetrators living side by side with peace and contentment in many reconciliation villages, after the ‘perpetrators’ confessed their crimes and expressed repentance.

Taking inspiration from The Truth and Reconciliation Commission” of South Africa, Rwanda established a “National Unity and Reconciliation Commission” in 1999 with an objective to reconcile and unite the Rwandan citizens. This process used four specific tools. (1) Ingandos - to bring normal activities to a standstill in order to reflect on, and find solutions to national challenges, (2) Organising reconciliation summits, (3) Creation of a leadership academy for developing a new set of grassroot leaders, and (4) Frequent exchanges and consultations at inter-community level.

All these efforts along with that of many non-governmental organisations helped to greatly heal the deep wound of sectarian violence in Rwanda. According to the report published by the National Unity and Reconciliation Commission of Rwanda in 2016, over 92% of Rwandans feel that reconciliation is happening.  

Alongside the reconciliation process, the government of Rwanda started spending on health, education and other civic infrastructure which has paid a good dividend in last two decades.

Government expenditure on healthcare facilities per person has gone up sixfold from just $21 in 1995 to $125 in 2014) which contributed to the increase in Life expectancy at birth by 32 years between 1990 and 2016 while  reducing the infant mortality by half since 2000.

The focus on the education sector resulted in almost three quarters of girls and two-thirds of boys now completing primary schooling while literacy rates of adult males and females increased to 75% and 68% respectively.

Rwanda now ranks 6th out 149 countries in the global gender gap index and a high proportion of front-line political positions, including 61% of the parliamentary seats are occupied by women. Rwandan women possess the right to inherit property and can also pass citizenship to their children.

The newfound peace, stability and reconciliation in Rwanda gave a boost to the country’s economy which saw per capita GDP growth from $200 to almost $800 between 1994 and 2017. In 2018 the GDP grew at  8.6% and the county rated the second-best place to do business in Africa.

Rwanda today is a shining example that a country with a long and painful history of violent sectarianism, can achieve great success, if it takes every section of the population along on a path of peace, unity and reconciliation.

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October 18, 2020 6:46 PM

Bhagat Singh: The Man, The Life, And The Beliefs

Bhagat Singh is one of the ‘big names’ immortalised in the history of India’s freedom struggle and eternally cherished even after almost ninety years of his martyrdom. What makes him stand out is his popularity among the masses being almost on par with the likes of Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru, despite his beliefs and actions being diametrically opposite to theirs.

Of the freedom fighters who remain mainstream in today’s India— a crowd predominantly made up of politicians with center or right of centre leanings, Bhagat Singh occupies a relatively lonely spot as a young, staunchly left-wing revolutionary who outrightly rejected Gandhi’s philosophy, and preferred direct action over politics.

Newspaper headline after Central Legislative Assembly non-lethal bombing

Bhagat Singh is most commonly and widely remembered in association with an incident where he, along with his friend and comrade B.K. Dutt dropped non-lethal smoke bombs into the Central Legislative Assembly from its balcony in 1929. They also scattered leaflets by the Hindustan Socialist Republican Association (HSRA), which he was a major part of and was aided by in orchestrating the bombings. He is said to have been inspired by French anarchist Auguste Vaillant, who had bombed the Chamber of Deputies in Paris in 1893.

The bombing gathered widespread negative reaction due to the use of violence, especially from those who supported the Gandhian method. While Bhagat Singh and the HSRA wanted to protest exploitative legislatures such as the Public Safety Act and the Trades Disputes Bill, it is also widely accepted that they additionally intended to use the drama and public attention of the ensuing trial to garner attention to socialist and communist causes. Bhagat Singh and Dutt did not escape under the cover of panic and smoke despite the former carrying a pistol, and waited for the police to find and arrest them. During the trial Bhagat Singh frequently chanted a variety of slogans, such as ‘Inquilab Zindabad,’ which is even today often raised in protests across India.  

March 25th Newspaper carrying the news about execution of Bhagat Singh | Source: Tribune India

However, this was not the trial that ended in Bhagat Singh receiving his execution sentence. Before the Assembly bombings, Bhagat Singh had been involved in the shooting of police officer John Saunders, in connection to the death of freedom fighter Lala Lajpat Rai. At that time he and his associates had escaped, but after Bhagat Singh was awarded a life sentence for the Assembly bombing, a series of investigations led to his rearrest as part of the Saunders murder case. It was this trial— generally regarded as unjust— that led to his much protested execution sentence.

Bhagat Singh was hanged to death on the eve of March 23rd, 1931 and he was just twenty-three years old.

Despite the criticism he received for his actions, his execution sentence was widely opposed and many attempts were made to challenge it. In fact, his execution came on the eve of the Congress party’s annual convention, as protests against it worsened. He was memorialised nationwide as a martyr, and is often addressed with the honorific Shaheed-e-Azam Bhagat Singh.

Apart from being a socialist, Bhagat Singh was attracted to communist and anarchist causes as well. In ‘To Young Political Workers,’ his last testament before his death, he called for a “socialist order” and a reconstruction of society on a “new, i.e, Marxist basis.” He considered the government “a weapon in the hand of the ruling class”, which is reflected in his belief that Gandhian philosophy only meant the “replacement of one set of exploiters for another.” Additionally, he wrote a series of articles on anarchism, wanting to fight against mainstream miscontrusions of the word and explain his interest in anarchist ideology.

Bipin Chandra, who wrote the introduction to Why I am an Atheist by Bhagat Singh | Source: Wikimedia

While writing the introduction to Bhagat Singh’s remarkable essay Why I am an Atheist in 1979, Late Bipan Chandra described the Marxist leaning of Bhagat Singh and his associates in the following way;

Bhagat Singh was not only one of India’s greatest freedom fighters and revolutionary socialists, but also one of its early Marxist thinkers and ideologues. Unfortunately, this last aspect is relatively unknown with the result that all sorts of reactionaries, obscurantists and communalists have been wrongly and dishonestly trying to utilise for their own politics and ideologies the name and fame of Bhagat Singh and his comrades such as Chandra Shekhar Azad.”

Bhagat Singh is often admired and celebrated for his dedication to the cause of liberation. However his socialist, communist and anarchist beliefs were suppressed by the successive governments in Independent India. This in a way is the suppression of a revolutionary who has the potential to inspire, unite and motivate the growing population of a spectrum of activists all over India, in direct response to the fast-spreading divisiveness and intolerance in the country, often patronised by the groups and organizations professing the right-wing fascist ideology.

Bhagat Singh’s dreams of a new social order live on, not just in his writings, but also reflected in the hearts of every activist, protester, and dissenting citizen. The fight for freedom, revolution, Inquilab, may have changed in meaning, but it is far from over.

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