From Riches to Rags under four centuries of British domination
Melbourne, Australia, April 22, 2019
It is Year 1600 and India is dressed in the colours of the Mughal Empire.
One of the world’s richest countries, it has 23% share of the world economy.
India opens her arms to the East India Company and for more than 200 years, Royal colours of Maroon and Gold are forcibly replaced by White, Blue and Red.
By the time the Company leaves in 1947, India has been turned into a poster child for third world poverty.
The Jallianwala Bagh massacre
It is Year 1919 and Sikhs in the city of Amritsar celebrate Vaisakhi at Jallianwala Bagh, a walled garden. Without so much as a single warning shot, Colonel Reginald Dyer orders troops to open fire on a crowd of innocent, unarmed Indians. He later boasts that not one piece of their 1600 rounds of ammunition was “wasted.”
Rudyard Kipling calls Dyer “the man who saved India.” 1200 people die in the April Sun.
It is year 1943 and India is starving.
Sir Winston Churchill deliberately redirects grain needed in the midst of a famine for the reserves of troops on the frontlines in World War II.
Churchill’s hatred for Indians
During a Cabinet meeting he tells Secretary of State for India Leo Amery, “I hate Indians. They are a beastly people with a beastly religion. The famine is their own fault for breeding like rabbits.”
Churchill is confronted by his own men stationed in India, with concern over the rising death tolls. He writes in the margin of the Memorandum, “If famine is such an issue, then, why hasn’t Gandhi died yet?”
Ten million die because of famine.
It is now Year 1947. On August 11, cries of “Pakistan Zindabad” are carried on clouds of green and white. On August 15, shouts of “Jai Hind” are carried on clouds of green, white and orange. In the months that follow, trains of Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs are carried on tracks marred with green, white, orange and deep scarlet.
Two million people will perish.
Comfort of Complacency
If reading the above unsettled you slightly, its just mere proof of the existence; and comfort of complacency. Reading the narratives of indigenous peoples from all around the world is nothing short of an eye-opener, but affects all the senses, leaving a bitter taste.
It is funny that what happens when you remove the thick layer of sugar that coats our histories.
In this age, everything seems to be under scrutiny — the media, authenticity and verification of reporting — it seems puzzling that there are still some of us who ignore the fact that our history is one-sided.
Our textbooks reduce what is a sphere of vast knowledge and experiences to a rudimentary circle, drawn with as much care as the Radcliffe line.
Historical amnesia is a serious issue and is one that tends to be overlooked in the pursuit of comfort. We have been operating in a colander; one that allows authentic experiences and indigenous history to fall through the sieve, yet places a clear emphasis on the ability to preserve, revere and martyrise apologists, romanticists and leaders on the definitive wrong side of history.
A huge issue exists in the reality that so many People of other Colours (PoC) learn the authentic history of our countries of origin through an isolating and uncomfortable journey into revisionist history.
It is a journey on which we often embark on our own, in contradiction to academic narratives we have been presented for most of our lives.
To have consumed material that has glamourised and presented a false view of our history for so long, and then to suddenly unlearn so much of what we professed to know about our histories is a big mouthful to swallow, and one that does not go down smoothly.
It often puts us in the awkward position of having to correct mainstream historical narratives in a classroom situation, leaving an invisible label of an ‘angry brown person’ floating above our heads. Historical amnesia places us in direct opposition with almost the entire faculty of History, especially as it currently stands.
The current social climate seems to project the ideas of “PC Culture” having infiltrated too many facets of society and that it is a scourge that needs to be limited.
This has resulted in the “burden of proof” to fall solely on the shoulders of PoC, to argue for and make a case for reading against the grain.
While I am not here (unfortunately) to convince you of the horrors of the Empire, I do believe that all of us should have the ability to decide for ourselves what side of history with which we should align ourselves.
Making a choice without having all the information available is not only impossible, but forces a generation of ‘independent’ young adults to be shepherded into a particular narrative.
I’m not sure about you, but being a sheep isn’t something I want added to my resume.
Veera Ramayah is a student at the University of Melbourne. She grew up in New Zealand and writes about her experiences as a student of History and Politics, and unlearning much of what she knew about her country of origin. Veera writes on various topics, including her experiences as an immigrant in her column in ‘Farrago,’ a magazine, a University Student Publication. The above article has been reproduced here with cosmetic changes with the permission.
Graphics by Tiffany Widjaja