History is often written and controlled by the victors. Facts and truth get submerged. In Britain the history of empire has been off the education curriculum. Today there is huge interest in that history, with the success of books like ‘Empireland: How Imperialism Has Shaped Modern Britain’ by journalist and author Sathnam Sanghera and the viral new podcast series called ‘Empire’ by historians Anita Anand and William Darlymple.
A painful and bitter story of violence, exploitation and expropriation is revealed – something directly relevant to the Indian diaspora. Our migration is directly entwined with that history. We are over here because the British were over there.
Worse still is the discovery of what Britain thought of Indians – heathens, dirty, illiterate and incapable of organisation. How prejudiced and untrue that view was, and how it helped the rulers to keep their distance and exercise authority through trickery and guns, using our own people to run the country. That attitude was also woven into the textbooks and systems of education. It’s a very painful and violent history but important to study and understand – it explains how we came to be what we are today.
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It’s a miracle that in spite of that history we managed to retain our culture, enterprise and values. All over the world we still build and run temples and gurdwaras, and pray and teach our culture to the young even when it’s not in the school curriculum. However, we are often put on the defensive and in the school our children are asked to defend their views on caste or why it is that we eat with our fingers. There seems to be a warped story about India in their mind. They forget that India has 1.4 billion people, and it’s creditable that it has such harmony in spite of everything.
I recommend you delve into the subject of your history – personal as well as collective. Understand the layers of prejudice that have shaped us. Sanghera decided to remove his turban to ‘fit in’ even though Sikhs were once the tough martial race of India who helped defend Britain in countless wars. When it comes to discrimination, Britain is a master at hypocrisy. And deceit.
Also, Sanghera argues convincingly that there are no pluses and minuses when it comes to Empire. It is what it is. The big question to ask is do our rulers and masters still have this mindset of prejudice, exploitation and duplicity? Unless they study this history too, they may never understand the culture and wisdom they colonised.
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And we will simply be defending our values and beliefs, when in truth they have much to contribute to the challenges of modernity.