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Friday May 24, 2024

Day of apology

By Dr Ramesh Kumar Vankwani
May 27, 2022

Australians used to mark National Sorry Day every year on May 26 in order to acknowledge and raise awareness about the forced removal of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people from their families, communities and culture. On this day, white Australians express their grief, shame, and regret over the mistreatment of the indigenous peoples of the Australian mainland and many of its islands.

At the time of the European arrival in the 17th century, the local indigenous population was about 350,000 in Australia. The settlers introduced various systematic practices by the late 19th century, under which a large number of indigenous children were forcibly taken away from their parents and families. These children, known as the ‘Stolen Generations’, were handed over to non-indigenous families, where they were restricted from following their native culture, language and customs. Unfortunately, this removal was official government policy in Australia until 1969.

According to an estimate, more than 17,000 Australians still belong to the ‘stolen generations; – by some estimates more than half of Western Australia's population consists of stolen generations. There are some in Australia who are of the view that the negative effects of this brutal past are being passed on from generation to generation and more to future generations. According to them, concrete steps are needed to rectify the mistakes made in the past.

An investigative report, ‘Bring Them Home’, was published on May 26, 1997 and also tabled in the Australian parliament next year. The report recommended that the state and federal governments must formally apologize for the cruel act of separating indigenous children from their families. The Australian parliament also expressed sorrow over the plight of indigenous peoples in Australia, especially the stolen generations and their families. In recognition of the said report, the first National Sorry Day was marked in 1998.

This was seen as a crucial step towards reconciliation between the indigenous peoples of Australia and the settler population. However, the then prime minister of Australia, John Harvard, regretted to apologize formally, but ten years later, on February 13, 2008 Australian PM Kevin Rudd issued a formal apology on behalf of the government and people of Australia.

Every year, events are organized across Australia to mark the day. Various competitions are held to raise awareness among the children of educational institutions; candles are lit to show solidarity with the stolen generations, special transmissions are aired by the media; leaders of the indigenous community are invited to attend various events for promoting national harmony.

In my view, whether it is Australia or South Africa or the European Union, today all sensible nations of the modern age have come to realize that the secret of peace and prosperity is linked with respecting each other. That is why their top leadership is paying special attention to rectifying past mistakes by adopting coexistence, brotherhood and tolerance.

As far as Pakistan is concerned, at the time of independence, 23 per cent of our population was non-Muslim; they now make only less than four per cent of the population. Even after seven decades, numerous temples, buildings, towns and cities across the country remind us of the non-Muslim population that once used to live here happily.

Alas, the non-Muslim population was forced to migrate from their native homeland at the time of Partition. Today there is no mention of non-Muslim leaders in our curriculum. Our new generation is unaware of the sacrifices being offered by non-Muslim Pakistanis for the betterment of our beloved country.

We are even failing to appoint a non-Muslim politician to look after the ministry related to minorities. Similarly, forced conversions of minor girls and forcible marriages are still not being controlled. Australian people, while marking National Sorry Day, are feeling guilty for their past atrocities. When will we be ashamed of how we have treated our patriotic minorities?

The writer is a member of the National Assembly and patron-in-chief of the Pakistan Hindu Council.

He tweets @RVankwani