ISSN: 1391 - 0531
Sunday March 9, 2008
Vol. 42 - No 41

Too late to apologise?

By Rukshani Weerasooriya

Roughly between 1910 and 1970, Aboriginal and 'half-caste' children were forcibly removed form their parents and communities under the Aboriginal Protection Act of 1869 in the State of Australia. Agents of the state, such as policemen, were given the power to locate and transfer such babies and children from their mothers, into institutions which were set up especially for this purpose. The supposed rationale behind this was to "culturally assimilate" mixed-descent people into Australian society. However, behind this rationale was a policy based on an ideology adopted by some at the time which held that mankind could be divided into a civilzational hierarchy. This supposed that the civilization of Europeans was superior to that of Aborigines. Some adherents of these beliefs considered any proliferation of mixed-descent children (labeled as 'half-castes' and 'crossbreeds') to be a threat to the nature and stability of the prevailing civilization.

Such was the ugliness of the divide between black and white Australia. Evidence indicated that in a large number of cases children were brutally and forcibly removed from their parents, sometimes even from the hospital immediately after their birth. In Western Australia, the Aborigines Act 1905 removed the legal guardianship of Aboriginal parents and made their children legal wards of the state, so no parental permission was even required in order to remove them.

The situation was ghastly and resulted in what is known today as the 'lost generations' of Australia. I am certain that many Aboriginal communities gave up all hope for an improved state of affairs. However on the February13, 2008 there was what many believe to have been a historic turnaround in events when the Australian government officially apologized to the Indigenous people, stating that "the time has now come for the nation to turn a new page in Australia's history by righting the wrongs of the past" and moving on to a future "where this Parliament resolves that the injustices of the past must never, never happen again". This powerful statement of apology was the result of a motion unanimously passed by the Australian Parliament. Change took place in a situation that looked hopelessly bleak for decades.

Can we experience such a change in Sri Lanka? How many of us realise the presence of racism and injustice in this nation, and how it underlies so many of our problems? The majority has so often overridden the minority. We cannot deny the facts – nor do we want to – if we truly want to heal this land and be a part of its solution.

My only conclusion is this – the battle is no longer between races. That battle, horrific as it was, ended years ago. The one we are left to fight now is that which rages furiously between what is right and what is wrong. It is wrong to discriminate; wrong to judge; wrong to label; but it is right to invest our every effort in rectifying our wrongs. This is where the battle is being fought. This is where committed and vigilant troops are so desperately needed.

It is too late to undo the damage already done, but there is yet time (and in fact there has never been a better time than this) to realise our wrongs and to rectify our ways, as a nation, as a people, and above all, as a family of human beings.

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