While colonization by the British, French, Dutch, and Portuguese is frequently discussed, the role of Germany as a colonizing nation has not been highlighted until recently.
Just like the issue of the Spanish genocide in the Americas only received media attention when the Mexican President asked for Spain to apologise for how it had treated many indigenous communities including Mayans, the role of Canada’s Roman Catholic Church in the mass genocide of indigenous children became a point of discussion when a mass grave of 215 indigenous children was uncovered in May at the Kamloops School in British Columbia, Canada.
The world awakened to how the Roman Catholic Church had been engaged in forcefully taking away indigenous children from their parents and families and subjecting them to abuse while attempting to convert them. Subsequently, many more mass graves in several other Roman Catholic Church run schools continue to be uncovered in Canada.
It is not as if Bharat did not experience similar consequences of missionary activities. In fact, such incidents of missionary activities and abuse are ongoing. Tragically, the horrible incidents of abuse as the one reported here are not perpetrated by white missionaries but by brown skinned descendants of converted Bhartiya Hindus.
Germany’s colonial past in a part of Africa has been receiving media attention in recent times only after the news emerged of Germany agreeing to pay a sum of €1.1bn to Namibia as a method to ‘heal the wounds’ caused by its acts in the past.
All of us know about Germany’s Nazi past but not many have heard about the role of Germany as a coloniser. Even before its Nazi history, Germany engaged in a horrific mass genocide when it colonise a part of Africa (currently Namibia). This aspect of Germany’s history has not been highlighted partially because of the focus on its Nazi past and partially because colonisation in Africa has not received its due in media.
Additionally, as pointed out here, Germany’s colonial history was relatively short since the nation was formed in 1871 and by 1919 all its colonial loot had been taken from it, which is why it left a relatively smaller imprint on world history.
The genocide of the Herero and Nama peoples of Namibia
Namibia was made a German colony in 1894 and the lands of its resident traditional ethnic groups, the Herero and the Nama, were forcibly seized. German occupiers also enslaved the local inhabitants and forced them to work on plantations. In 1904, these locals from the Herero and Nama ethnic groups, led by their leaders like the Nama leader Hendrik Witbooi, revolted. As a response, the German commanding officer General Lothar von Trotha ordered the annihilation of the Herero and Nama.
Though estimates vary, almost 80% of the two indigenous groups were brutally killed and eliminated. Those remaining were put into concentration camps where they were sadistically brutalized. Very few survived the concentration camps and those who did were reduced to mere skeletons. Germans also drove many of these locals into the nearby Kalahari Desert where they were left to starve. Even body parts of those that died were harvested and the skulls taken for conducting experiments relating to eugenics and racial superiority.
It is the descendants of those that faced the ethnic cleansing and genocide including those that died and those that survived who filed the class action suit in 2017 demanding reparation.
Germany to pay compensation but refusing to call it ‘reparation’
Although Germany has agreed to pay the sum of €1.1bn, it refused to call this payment legally binding reparation and instead chose to call it a gesture of reconciliation. The decision to pay was announced by Germany’s Foreign Minister Heiko Maas in a statement made on May 28 this year.
Despite the refusal to call the payment ‘reparations’, it is important to note that Germany had been negotiating with the Namibian government since 2015 in an attempt to heal the wounds. It also made an effort to debate its colonial past and engage in dialogue on issues including a formal apology and reparations. In 2016, it even held an exhibition on its colonial past. This is an important change on the part of a country that had previously refused to acknowledge its role in the ethnic cleansing and near decimation of the two ethnic groups which are currently said to be marginalized.
Not much later, in 2017, the descendants of the genocide from Namibia filed a class action suit against the genocide perpetrated by Germany between 1904 and 1908.
Germany’s President Frank-Walter Steinmeier will travel to Namibia later this year to make a formal apology before the Namibian Parliament.
However, some have opined that Germany’s overtures are not sufficient:
‘But many critics argue that Germany’s agreement does not go far enough to atone for its crimes. Despite persistent calls from activists, the European nation refused to offer direct reparations to genocide victims’ descendants, according to the Post. The omission of the word “reparations” in the formal agreement also allows Germany to avoid opening a legal avenue for other countries to claim reparations, per the Guardian.’
The leaders of the Ovaherero Traditional Authority and the Nama Traditional Leaders Association Vekuii Rukoro and Gaob J Isaack issued a joint statement on Germany’s announcement saying that the ‘so-called compensation to finance social projects’ is in fact a continuation of German funding of Namibian government projects and that ‘Germany must pay reparations for the genocide.’ Many key traditional leaders from Namibia have refused to endorse the final wording of Germany’s declaration.
A Namibian analyst Emsie Erastus in a BBC Op-Ed wrote that Germany’s apology was late and patronizing in tone. He also said, ‘Jewish victims have been given reparations for the Holocaust, and Ovaherero and Nama communities are grappling with how they can secure the same.’
Meanwhile, the report cited previously which had lauded Germany’s overtures, pointedly questioned Britain on its refusal to face up to its colonial past. The report further said that even though the ‘scale, duration, and impact’ of Britain’s colonial past ‘far exceeded that of imperial Germany,’ it is hard to imagine Britain making efforts to make amends in the manner Germany did through holding special exhibitions on its colonial history. In Britain, calls for acts of contrition are generally dismissed as legally invalid.
Under British rule, Bharat too faced genocide such as the Bengal famine engineered by Winston Churchill leading to the death of an estimated 4 million people in 1943 and many other episodes such as the Jallianwala Baug massacre. In fact, the shoddily executed religion-based partition which took millions of lives also deserves to be considered as a genocide.
Is it time for Bhartiya descendants of the genocide perpetrated by the British occupiers to file class action suits demanding reparations like Namibia’s Herero and Nama did in 2017? Will Bharat stand up to its oppressors like Namibia has done?
Featured Image Source: BBC.com
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