A Breach: Past and Present


By: Soibam Haripriya

“We wish to inform you that tomorrow we will be killed with our families”, Philip Gourevitch’s writing on Rwanda so titled is an anatomy of the genocide in the republic of Rwanda (a small African country in central Africa, flanked by Uganda, Tanzania, Burundi and the Democratic Republic of the Congo). Gourevitch in his writing and dissection of the genocide illustrates for us what a compelling work of journalism actually is. The title of the book is from a letter written to a Hutu Church Pastor from his congregation, a group of Tutsis asking for his intervention. His response: “Your problem has already found a solution. You must die”. The fetishisation of the difference between the Hutus and the Tutsis (the majority and minority) ethnic group of Rwanda is not too old, an insertion into their history.

The point of the need to recount this genocide for us today is this. Convention holds that the Hutus come from south and west of Rwanda; the Tutsis from the north and east, both with time lived together, intermarried, intermingled, spoke the same language. One could become another and therefore cannot ‘scientifically’ be called as distinct ethnic groups. This remains true for most ethnicities elsewhere and here too. The Tutsi minority became the ruler and the majority Hutus the ruled. There is not much in their pre-colonial history to dwell on ‘origins’. Much of the differences between them were written about after colonisation, and an impact of the “race science” of Europe of those days. The catastrophe that the amalgamation of “race science” and myths that created the idea of a superior and an inferior ethnicity is not something that the colonials will accept as of their doing. While many of the world’s greatest nations looked appalled at the genocide of Rwanda of the 1990s, the cleavage being drawn into the two groups leading to such a tragedy is something that no one till date from among the formers rulers would claim responsibility for. The point of the need to recount this is that one should not buy in the notion of superiority or inferiority of an ethnicity. Certain cultural practices are not superior to certain others; that choice of food or religion is not better than others and as Gourevitch writes about (Rwandan) history is worth a thought for us “So Rwandan history is dangerous. Like all of history, it is a record of successive struggles for power, and to a very large extent power consists in the ability to make others inhabit your story of their reality…” The fetishisation of a history as being “unique” and therefore different from all others is a tall claim so is a claim for a certain “civilisation” of purportedly many thousands of years that is superior because of practices of oppression, because one group had oppressed another. To try and learn from such a catastrophe seems appalling. Learning from history however is a resistance to such occurrences, to resist the script given to us by powers that try to drive in a cleavage into communities and people.


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