The Politics of Public Remembering

The concept of memory in academic research destabilises several meta-narratives of history and power. Memory, recording and remembering are central to our way of being and belonging to our world. The lingering of the past hurts in our present makes memory studies important and profoundly relevant. The growth of social media has unleashed a politics of public remembering. Hence, it is essential to scrutinise how this remembering represents our past and how it is employed to sustain identity politics. This exercise is needed because vested interest often privileges some memories and subordinates or forgets other memories. Politics of pubic remembering is connected to powers that be. It is the power elite that selects the forms of remembering and sets up the political discourse of society. This is why it is important to understand how a powerful resource like memory is exploited to read history from the privileged location of an elite. The politics of public remembering often uses memory to image a particular reading of the past to further a vested interest.

Social memory is a web of remembered experiences embedded in collectively communicable symbols. This means social memory is an inter-space of social cohesion. We can be in the world only through mimesis and social memory becomes an important way of belonging and becoming human in the world. We can only experience our lived time against our common experience of our cosmic time. Our fidelity to our experience is manifested to our memory. Social memory is directly connected to our collective experience and opens possible ways of narrating the past to testify to our past. History, therefore, as Paul Ricoeur indicates is a debt we owe to the dead. We pay this debt by remembering our past. This imperative to pay the debt of the past is abused by vested interests who are promoting the politics of public remembering. Our sense of responsibility to the past is being exploited by the politics of public remembering that has taken a firm stranglehold over us.

It is clear that our sense of ethical responsibility to the past is being abused in several ways in our society today. The politics that remembers the temple at the site of a mosque, the hunt for the shiva lingam and the destruction of the temples by the Muslim rulers are all instance of politics of public remembering. We can see how social media becomes the medium of circulation as well as the site that produces our response. In Goa, besides the claim that says that some churches are sites of previous temples, we can notice that social memory is being exploited to position the upper caste are also victims of the Portuguese rule and thus qualify to become the protectors of the Bahujan Hindus. In some way, the painful memories of the colonial past are invoked to position the majority community as only victims of the past and insinuate the present minorities as the villains. Thus the politics of public remembering seeks to do justice to the broken past. Hence, hate politics begin to look like normal and the right responses to the present condition of our society.

We need an ethical response to the imperative that pushes us to take responsibility for our past. We need to make ethical choices to remember, forget as well as forgive our past. Our sense of being indebted to the past needs to be critically scrutinised so that we make ethical choices to remember, to forget and to forgive. True forgiveness is willing to forgive the unforgivable. We need to embrace forgiveness to generate peace and harmony in our society.

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Hypocrisy is the tribute that vice pays to virtue.

- Fr Victor Ferrao