In a radical departure from the statements of Pope John Paul II who while visiting India in 1999 stated that “India is ripe for conversion” the July 25, 2022 confession, admission, revelation and apologies of Pope Francis on Canadian soil has opened the door for other cultures to enter.
The first South American head of the Vatican apologised to Canada’s Indigenous peoples and ” begged forgiveness for the evil committed by so many Christians… for the way in which members of the church and of religious communities cooperated, not least through indifference, in projects of cultural destruction and forced assimilation promoted by governments of that time which culminated in the system of residential schools.”
He also hoped that Christians and civil society will grow to accept the identity and the experience of the indigenous people. He further expressed deep regret on behalf of the Christians who supported the colonial mentality as the overall policy was catastrophic.
His speech could have been directed to the citizens of India and all those Girmitiyas who now live across the globe since they were taken or escaped poverty or persecution commencing 1828. They and their descendants are in the millions scattered across the globe as can be seen from the table below. They suffered all kinds of hardships but the world must record and enumerate no matter how painful because even the Pope acknowledged “forgetfulness leads to indifference.”
One can start with the Portuguese Inquisition in Goa which went on for years resulting in torture and deaths of those who would not convert to Christianity.
Yet the forced, and fraudulent practice continues today even in the Girmitiya countries. This is not only unnecessary or immoral but the methods used in some cases may lead to civil and criminal remedies and even qualify as terrorism.
In some countries like the Caribbean and South America most have lost their ancestral language, and a few their entire culture very much like the Canadian indigenous peoples.
If anyone can trace their ancestry to the names of those who first landed in the West on May 5, 1838 and compare the loss of language and culture over the years a vague picture of the harm will emerge. National Censuses every decade will verify the rapid rate of religious conversion.
THE ROLE OF THE TEMPLES
Practitioners of Sanatan Dharma do not subscribe to one central spiritual authority but their influence across the globe can be powerful considering the numerous temples that have existed for thousands of years. In addition many more are being erected and functioning in scores of countries to serve their devotees who sustain and promote dharmic values.
If however they can be united as the Canadian victims, it is possible to get the Pope to apologise for the excesses of the Church on a future visit to India. The Colonial governments in cahoots with religious organisations and business interests that believed and enforced the “superior white European culture” on the countries they explored and exploited destroyed many native cultures in the process.
This however will not be a short simple process. It may call for many satyagrahis in the tradition of those who struggled for about 90 years to be free from the yoke of the British.
It should be noted that the Indigenous People started along this path for Truth and Reconciliation long before the discovery of hundreds of unmarked graves of children who were forced to attend Christian residential schools. They were separated from their families, alienated from culture and language by a system supported by the Canadian Government.
The lengthy struggle took them through the legal channels; the establishment of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission following the precedent of South Africa; effective and constant use of the media; online petitions supported by thousands across the world; campaigned in Vatican City in Rome, and insisted that the Pope apologise on Canadian soil. Their pleas won the support of Canadian politicians and even the Prime Minister. The Federal Government was the first to apologise for their part in financing the residential schools.
Still to come is a repudiation of the DOCTRINE OF DISCOVERY which permitted the explorers to claim lands they discovered as their own even though natives were living on it for centuries.
The temples and other social and community groups have all the tools to duplicate this path. Educated youths who can lead and connect the world with their IT skills, organise widespread media support, initiate extensive research and scholarship to accurately record the history and while laying the groundwork for compensation and mutual respect.
If all these can be coordinated no head of any other state or religious leader would have the courage to repeat the words of Pope John Paul II who as a visitor stated “India is ripe for conversion”.
Instead they would be asking for forgiveness on the soil of Bharat Mata, the land that is now celebrating 75 years since the British departed. Thereafter they would be making reparations to the extent calculable for the actions of those who thought they had a divine right to exploit the rest of the world that did not share their values.