The PeaceWorks Human Rights Defenders Programme at Chowringhee High School : Day 8

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For the first session at CHS in 2019, Samya and I decided to pick a topic that is usually excluded from school syllabi in India- the stolen generations of Australia.

ccccWe began the session by dividing the class into three groups and giving each group a testimony from Bringing them Home: The ‘Stolen Children’ Report (1997). Without providing any background information about what they were about to read, we asked each group to go through the testimony together. All we told them was that these were testimonies recorded by children their age- they did not know which country these children belonged to, or to which community or time period. After they went through their respective handouts, we encouraged them to attempt to figure out where these children were from, and to find common factors in the children’s experiences. A few of the students were able to identify the country as Australia, because their testimony mentioned Queensland. We then began a general discussion about Australia’s colonial history, talking about the ways in which European settlers destroyed the ways of life followed by the Aborigines and the Torres Strait Islanders. The students took special interest in this discussion and admitted that when they imagined Australians, they always thought of them as white skinned and blonde haired (and playing cricket, one of them quipped).

ccccThe students had never been exposed to Australian history- they had only learned a little bit about Australia’s climate and landscape in their geography classes. In order to help them understand this history, we urged them to imagine what it would have been like if the British had never left India. “Our lives would be totally different”, “We would not have many of the rights we have now”, were some of the responses. The discussion also included brief references to American and Canadian history, and the stolen generations in the latter country. We then handed out some copies of the Australian Prime Minister’s apology to the stolen generations, delivered on February 2008 at the Parliament of Australia. Do you think this apology changes anything, we asked. Most of them shook their heads, and some argued that this apology could never make up for the separated families and lost childhoods. Others observed that even though it could not change what had happened, it could bring public attention to the issue. We concluded the session with the reminder that developed countries like USA, Canada, Australia etc. are what they are today because of their ruthless eradication of indigenous peoples, and that we should keep this history in mind when we think of these countries in terms of being ‘advanced’ and ‘superior’.