ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Repairing Complex Historical Injustice

Political theorists no doubt have to take the history of injustice, for example, untouchability, seriously. But, the beginning point of repair of historical injustice is the "here" and the "now," the democratic context that shapes collective lives and aspirations. Comprehension of how deep the roots of injustice are, is important. But, it is also important not to get trapped too much in the past and in the politics of recrimination and resentment that divides society irremediably, and prevents the consolidation of a consensus on the need to battle discrimination.

The concept of historical injustice takes note of a variety of historical wrongs such as war-time brutalities, appropriation of land and extermination of indigenous people, slavery, genocide, colonialism and imperialism, killings, mass rapes and mutilations during territorial partitions, apartheid, and extraction of wealth through bonded labour, among others. Some injustices are inflicted on people in times of exception such as annexation and partition, war, riots, and civil strife. Other injustices like slavery and “untouchability” fall into a different category altogether. Though, all cases of injustice cause deep harm and warrant retribution, reparation, public acceptance of wrongdoing and apologies, the second category—past wrongs—continues into the present in some form or the other, and tends to resist repair.

Two reasons might account for resistance to repair. One, not only are the roots of injustice buried deep in history, the injustice itself constitutes economic structures of exploitation, ideologies of discrimination, and modes of representation. Two, the category of historical injustice generally extends across a number of wrongs such as economic deprivation, social discrimination, and lack of recognition. This category is complex not only because of the overlap between a number of wrongs, but because one or the other wrong, generally discrimination, tends to acquire partial autonomy from others. This is borne out by the history of repair in India.

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