The Queen was not a gentleman for many in the former colonies

New Delhi – Hours after the world knew it Queen Elizabeth II was dead, Twitter feeds across India exploded with angry demands for the repatriation of a precious Heera is called KohinoorIt has become a symbol of Britain’s often bloody history of colonial conquest and rule.

The British government has denied stealing the Kohinoor diamond and has repeatedly refused to return it to India. And for millions across the Indian subcontinent, the diamond – one of the most famous in the world – has become a symbol of a colonial past.

Queen Mother's coffin with priceless Koh-e-Noor diamonds, garland of white flowers and Queen Mother's coronation crown on April 8, 2002.
The coffin of the queen, her coronation crown with a garland of white flowers and the priceless Kohinoor diamond.Tim Graham/Corbis via Getty Images File

Demands reflect anger over the history of colonialism amid an outpouring of sympathy Elizabeth died last Thursday At the age of 96. In many residents of former British colonies such as India and Kenya, reactions to his death ranged from mild interest to anger and disdain.

At its peak, the United Kingdom controlled the largest empire in history, ruling an estimated 20% of the world’s population and occupying nearly a quarter of the Earth’s landmass. This era was marked by famine, genocide and grinding poverty in the resource-rich countries colonized by the British Empire.

In the shadow of the historic Red Fort in New Delhi, where the flag of newly independent India was hoisted for the first time 75 years ago, Devi Shankar Shukla reflected on the death of the British monarch.

“Her Majesty’s passing away reminds us of the freedom struggle of all its colonies,” said Shukla, who worked in a cloth shop.

“We must mourn the loss of our freedom fighters,” he said.

Perhaps paradoxically, Elizabeth herself was seen as a “gentle grandmother” by most Indians. India held a national mourning on Sunday, hoisted the flag at half-staff on government buildings and canceled public entertainment. Earlier this year, the government announced a day of mourning for the similarly slain Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and the ruler and president of the United Arab Emirates, Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan.

When told that Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi A day of mourning was declared, many dismissed it as an empty gesture.

Citizens celebrate India's independence in the streets of Calcutta on August 21, 1947.
Indian people celebrate independence from British rule in the streets of Calcutta, now Kolkata, on August 21, 1947.Keystone/Getty Images File
Image: The Indian flag is flown at half-mast in Central Park, Connaught Place, following the Thursday death of Britain's Queen Elizabeth II, in New Delhi on September 11, 2022.
The Indian flag is flown at half-mast in New Delhi on Sunday.Manish Swarup / AP

“Flag hoisting is not mourning,” said 50-year-old Sameer Choudhary, a fourth-generation owner of a family-run bangle shop in the capital.

However, it was not all constant criticism.

Swapan Dasgupta, a former member of parliament who met Elizabeth on a visit to India in 1997 and again in 2017 when she visited London, described the Queen’s 70-year reign as “brilliant”.

In a telephone interview from her home in Kolkata, she said the Queen took her role as head of the Commonwealth – a voluntary association of more than 50 independent countries that were former British colonies – “very seriously.”

Chowdhury said, even though the queen had a “terrible” reign, she was a symbol of the brutal colonial institution that ravaged India and other colonies for centuries. A series of famines in colonial India, the last of which, Bengal famine of 1943killed estimated 3 million peopleBased on the collective memory of a country of 1.4 billion.

Indian citizens wait in line at a soup kitchen in Calcutta, October 1943, at the height of the famine.
Indians wait in line at a soup kitchen in Calcutta, now Kolkata, in October 1943 at the height of the famine.Bateman Archive

So, the bitterness remains long after the British left – not just because of the diamond, said Soumya Gupta, associate professor of history at Delhi University. The fact that Britain has been slow to acknowledge the deaths of the thousands of colonial soldiers who fought for the crown as members of the British Army during World War I and Second has not forgotten, she says.

According to the British Library, of the 8.6 million men mobilized to fight in World War II, 1.4 million came from India and 134,000 from other colonies.

In the former African colony of Kenya, prominent journalist and political cartoonist Patrick Gathara dismissed Elizabeth’s image as a benign figure.

“It’s part of the whole global branding of the royal family,” he said over the phone from the capital, Nairobi.

Gathara said, “I think a lot of people saw the Queen as this friendly good figure and a marker of high society, which I think a lot of people want.” “In Kenya, people also wanted to be part of this global movement of appreciation.”

In Kenya, the ruling elite, who had been handed the keys to the country by the late British decades ago, declared three days of official mourning, while the rest of the African nation ignored headlines emanating from London.

Gathara said, many Kenyans do not know that Elizabeth was already queen when the British brutally Mau Mau Rebellion In the 1950s which helped pave the way for the country’s independence in 1963.

“They put people in concentration camps, they killed people, they tortured people,” he said. “I know she was not involved in day-to-day decision-making or what the colonial government was doing here, [but] The fact that she was silent about it – she never admitted it and never apologized for it.”

British police guarding Mau-Mau suspects
British policemen capture the men of Kariobangi village at gunpoint, while their huts are searched for whether they had participated in the Mau Mau rebellion.Bateman Archive

The Mau Mau Rebellion was the longest and most violent rebellion against British rule since the region was colonized in the late 1800s. During the 12-year conflict, which was eventually crushed by the British, 12,000 people were killed and an estimated 150,000 Kenyans, many not associated with the Mau Mau, were wounded in those camps.

One of them was the former President Barack Obama’s Grandfather Onyango.

The British government did not admit to torturing Kenyans until 2012, when a London court ruled on three victims, including a man. who was castrated By the colonial authorities, they could claim compensation for what they suffered.

The British Foreign Office said it was disappointed with the decision but decided not to oppose it. As for Elizabeth, a poll of news articles found no indication that the Queen ever apologized for the brutal manner in which the Mau Mau rebellion was crushed.

British police investigate suspects for seven initiation cuts on a body marking a member of the Mau Mau secret society on November 24, 1952.
British police investigate suspects for seven initiation cuts on a body marking a member of the Mau Mau secret society on November 24, 1952.Express Newspapers / Getty Images

Even in the UK, where elizabeth is revered Many had mixed feelings about the Queen, whose family was originally from the former British colonies – and is now part of what is now known as the British Commonwealth.

“I have known and admired him for 57 years,” said Mickey Provost, 57, who lives in London. Works in the fashion industry and whose family is from Jamaica. “But the issue of colonialism should be on the table for discussion. Because until this is discussed more openly, people – especially the younger generation – will disagree more and more for the royal family.”

When the British seized Jamaica from the Spanish in 1655, it turned the island into a major sugar exporter and created a plantation economy backed by black slaves brought there from Africa against their will. Slaves were not freed until 1838.

Jitha Moya, 48, who was born in Zimbabwe and immigrated to London in 1998, said she hoped King Charles III would discuss the dark past that left her mother Elizabeth during her 70-year reign. was largely avoided during Moya’s homeland was once a crown colony called Southern Rhodesia, where, for more than half a century, the white colonial ruling class enriched itself at the expense of the black majority.

Queen Elizabeth II visits Nairobi, Kenya, November 10, 1983.
Queen Elizabeth II visits Nairobi, Kenya.David Levenson / Getty Images

“I think talking about it will make it easier for people to move on and move on,” Moya, who works as a nurse, said. “If we pretend it didn’t happen and try to downplay it, that makes it hard for a lot of people to move on. But that’s our history. It’s who it is.”

Roshan Yapa, 38, who was born in Sri Lanka (also a former British colony) and now lives in London, agreed, but said neither Elizabeth nor Charles should be held responsible for the abuses that were largely named after their predecessors.

The information technology engineer said, “I would first say that we are in the 21st century, so we cannot compare the monarchy of today with the old days.” “The world has changed.”

But Charles now has a chance to make a real difference in the countries that British colonial rulers took advantage of and Elizabeth helped maintain. Commonwealth Mainly through symbolic gestures and the force of his personality.

“I think Commonwealth countries and other colonial territories should be helped and empowered, so that those countries can be more successful,” Yapa said. “Britain could do more to improve working conditions in the former colonies, that’s for sure.”

And yet, despite their misgivings about Elizabeth, the provost, Moya and Yapa were among thousands who descended on Buckingham Palace on Sunday to pay their respects to a monarch who was so much older in his life.

Mithil Agarwal reported from New Delhi. Haider Abbasi, Daniel Arkin and Corky Simaszko reported from London.

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