Historical Harms and the Role of Restorative Justice: Insights from Prerna Barua

In a riveting presentation given by Prerna Barua, a graduate student at the Center for Justice and Peacebuilding at Eastern Mennonite University, the audience was transported into a realm that questioned traditional notions of justice. Drawing on her extensive research and academic grounding, Barua tackled a poignant question: Can historical harms be “corrected” or “transformed” through Restorative Justice mechanisms, especially for those who did not survive the injustices they faced?

Prerna’s multifaceted academic background, combined with her association with the Zehr Institute of Restorative Justice and her internship roles with the Ahimsa Collective and the Counsel to Secure Justice, provided her with a unique vantage point. Her perspective delved deep into the realms of justice and memory, inviting attendees to critically engage with concepts often left unexplored.

While the broader domain of Transitional Justice touches upon addressing historical harms, it predominantly focuses on broader societal healing and transitional processes. However, Barua’s presentation spotlighted a rather untouched domain, emphasizing individual victims and the unique justice they require. Can large-scale memorializing and remembrance projects truly serve individual justice?

The heart of Barua’s argument revolved around narratives—the power of personal stories of those who did not survive the harm they faced. She contended that these narratives, when brought to light, have the potential to serve as potent instruments of justice. By remembering and amplifying these stories, society can work towards combating “ethical loneliness”—a concept that encapsulates the isolation felt by victims when their suffering goes unnoticed or unacknowledged.

Barua introduced the idea of “remembrance-based justice,” urging society, and particularly those who caused harm, to shoulder the moral responsibility of ensuring that victims are remembered. This goes beyond mere acknowledgement; it encompasses understanding, empathy, and transformative actions that seek to correct or transform historical wrongs, even if they can’t be fully rectified.

Throughout her presentation, Prerna wove in case studies and real-life examples that showcased the efficacy and impact of remembrance-based justice. These narratives were not just tales of suffering, but also powerful testimonies to resilience, strength, and the indomitable human spirit. They underlined the need to change societal perspectives, emphasizing that it’s never too late to remember and act.

One of the most impactful moments of the presentation was Barua’s emphasis on the interconnectedness of individual and collective memories. While individual narratives bring forth personal tales of suffering and injustice, they also contribute to a collective memory—a shared recognition of past wrongs that shapes societal values and paves the way for a more just future.

The session culminated in an interactive dialogue, where attendees grappled with the challenges and possibilities of integrating restorative justice mechanisms into their own contexts. Prerna’s approach, deeply rooted in empathy and ethical responsibility, provided a roadmap for attendees to envision a more inclusive and just form of remembrance.

In conclusion, Prerna Barua’s presentation underscored the importance of revisiting and reshaping traditional notions of justice. By weaving together theoretical concepts with heartfelt narratives, she paved the way for a deeper understanding of restorative justice’s potential in addressing historical harms. Her call to action—to remember, to understand, and to transform—echoed long after the presentation ended, urging all attendees to play their part in ensuring justice for every individual, past and present.