Keep calm, carry on
In 1972, British soldiers gunned down 14 innocent civilians in cold blood in what was called the Bloody Sunday massacre.
NEW DELHI: The passing of Queen Elizabeth II had united the world in a collective sense of loss. As Great Britain’s longest reigning monarch who held the crown for 70 years, Elizabeth II was a representative of all things English – with the sense of refinement, poise and quiet dignity that she brought to the Royal family. While her death had evoked tributes from dignitaries across the world, the event had also brought forth criticism of the monarch and Britain’s colonial legacy, which has had a chequered history in India, Africa, Asia and Ireland.
On Twitter, denizens of former colonies united not only in grief, but in vitriol too as people questioned the justification of mourning the loss of who many described as a ‘representative’ of colonial oppression. India, which was ruled by the British for about 89 years, had declared a day of national mourning on September 11, to pay its respects to the Queen. This is despite the fact that Elizabeth II had never issued a formal apology on behalf of Britain for the atrocities committed by it during the occupation of India.
Political commentators in Dhaka also expressed incredulity at the outpouring of sadness in the Indian subcontinent. Bangladesh had declared a three day national mourning in the country, which observers say was not socially or politically affected by the passing of the Royal. Echoes of resentment from pockets that had borne the brunt of the empire’s excesses are now coming to the fore, as King Charles III embarked on his visit to Northern Ireland last week.
Although most of Ireland gained freedom from Britain in 1921, following a guerilla war, Northern Ireland remained a part of the UK. When The Troubles, a 30-year-long conflict broke out in 1969, Britain was pitted against the resistance of the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA). In 1972, British soldiers gunned down 14 innocent civilians in cold blood in what was called the Bloody Sunday massacre. Subsequently, in 1979, the Queen’s cousin Lord Mountbatten and his 14-year-old grandson were killed in a bomb blast believed to be carried out by the IRA.
In 2011, Elizabeth II travelled to Ireland, the first visit by a British monarch in over a century. While she offered her regret on how the British made Ireland suffer, there was little she could do to alleviate the resentment of generations. Take the case of Africa, where Britain’s rule continued over large swathes, well into the 20th Century. It was only in 1963 that Kenya was liberated from its colonial ruler, a reign marked by unimaginable cruelty. A case in point: the torture of Kenyans by British officers during the Mau Mau uprising.
Activists have called out the manner in which citizens of various British colonies in Africa were subjected to economic deprivation and injustices, whose long lasting effects are visible to this day. The failure of the monarchy to acknowledge, let alone apologise for such human rights violations has marked the rhetoric of intellectuals in the region, which has endured years of apartheid.
It might seem pointless to rake up centuries-old offences, but there is a need to renew the discourse on acceptance and acknowledgement. Barbados had removed the Queen as the head of state, in 2020, right after Mauritius severed its ties with the monarchy in 1992. Going by the track record of the British empire and its reluctance to admit any wrongdoing on its part, it is left to be seen how King Charles III handles the new dynamics that are bound to spring up from the Commonwealth Nations.