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Why do we mourn the Queen?

By all rights, Indians should either be totally indifferent to, or even secretly delighted by, the passing of Queen Elizabeth.

And indeed, Newsweek, has already run an article explaining why “some people from Ireland, India are celebrating the Queen’s death.”


In fact, the celebrations that Newsweek seems to have uncovered are very much a minority activity, restricted to a few trolls and quasi-fascists. I don’t know about Ireland but most Indians would not dream of celebrating anyone’s death. This is not our way. And nearly all of the people I have spoken to seemed saddened by the Queen’s passing.
   But yes, it isn’t difficult to see why some people might expect us to feel no sorrow at the death of a monarch whose Kingdom ruled India for so long, subjugating our people and draining our country of its wealth. No matter how much some historians seek to make excuses for it, the British Empire was not a force for good. And the harm it did to India is incalculable.
   So why are we sad? And why do we mourn the Queen? After all, we loathe nearly everyone else associated with the Raj: Warren Hastings, Robert Clive, Lord Curzon and all the men who imposed foreign rule on us --- and in many cases, robbed us blind. Speaking for myself (and probably for many other Indians) I despise Winston Churchill for the millions of deaths he knowingly enabled during the Bengal famine and the terrible, racist things he said about Indians. In recent years, even Lord Mountbatten who had hoped to be regarded as a hero in India has been attacked for his role in the Partition of India, one of the great human tragedies of the 20th century.
   As far as I know, the Queen never really apologised for the misdeeds of her ancestors. And she actually admired many of those whose activities led to the death of millions of Indians. Winston Churchill was said to have been her favourite prime minister and Mountbatten became a charter member of the Royal family by virtue of his blood relationship with Prince Philip.
   And yet, Queen Elizabeth managed what many would have considered impossible: She remained the face of the British monarchy and still managed to win the respect and administration of the citizens of former British colonies.
   Partly this was because we never saw her as being connected to the horrors of the Raj. Some of this had to do with the redefinition of the monarchy itself. Most kings and queens stand at the top of a pyramid of aristocrats, of dukes, counts and earls and the like.
   The British monarchy, on the other hand, stands by itself, quite apart from the hereditary aristocrats.
   This is because of the monarchy’s decision to move away from its traditional role as rulers to a newer role as servants of the people in which duty is more important than prerogative. The royal family is here to serve not to rule.
"And some of the credit must go to the Queen who erased all traces of racism from royal Britain and worked tirelessly to create a new, more equal Commonwealth."
   Right from her famous Cape Town speech, the Queen made it clear that her approach would be one of someone who is guided by duty and more than once she described herself as a servant of the people.
   That redefinition of her role radiated outwards from Britain to the former colonies. Just as India was changing, so was Britain. We had moved on from the days of the durbars where various Indian maharajas, dressed in their finery, bedecked with British decorations, genuflected before the King Emperor.
   By the early 1970s, the maharajas counted for nothing in India unless they became politicians or ran palace hotels. And the British monarchy now had no real connection with them. (The last public encounter between the British royals and India’s maharajas came in the early 1960s when the Queen and Prince Philip went tiger hunting with the Jaipur royals. Now the Maharaja and Maharani who took them shooting are long dead and so, alas, are the tigers).
   Instead, the Queen dedicated herself to the Commonwealth. What the countries of the Commonwealth had in common was certainly not wealth. It was a connection with the United Kingdom (UK). We had all once been part of the Empire. But rather than lord it over us, the Queen worked to strengthen new bonds based on the few good things to come out of the Empire: Language, culture and sport, among other things.
   In nearly every corner of their Empire, the British had imposed some form of colour bar. And yet, because of her total lack of prejudice and her determination to overcome that unhappy legacy, the Queen worked to erase memories of that period and to forge new relationships based on a more equal footing.
   In this respect, she came off better than many elected British prime ministers. The most notable example (now more widely known thanks to The Crown TV series) was her hatred of apartheid and her determination to fight it. Successive British governments (including Labour regimes where such foreign secretaries as George Brown argued in favour of maintaining relations with South Africa because Britain needed the Simonstown base) propped up the Pretoria regime over the Queen’s reservations.
   Matters came to a head when Margaret Thatcher clashed, relatively openly, with the Queen over the UK’s support to the apartheid regime. But history was on the Queen’s side and to this day, people in Africa remember that she stood up for the right cause while several British politicians enabled racism and hatred.
   Indian history books still recount with horror, Churchill’s sneering comment about Mahatma Gandhi in 1931, “It is nauseating to see Mr Gandhi, a seditious middle temple lawyer, now passing as a fakir of a type well known in the east, striding half naked up the steps of the royal palace… to parlay on equal terms with the representative of the King-Emperor”.
   We have come a long way from all that. And some of the credit must go to the Queen who erased all traces of racism from royal Britain and worked tirelessly to create a new, more equal Commonwealth.
   She must also get the credit for the way which she brought up her children. Long before it became fashionable to do so, Prince Charles fought to have more people of colour included in the regiments he was associated with and his Prince’s Trust helped and empowered black people in Britain’s inner cities. When you look at today’s UK government where none of the great offices of State is held by a white person, it is clear that, in the long-run, it was the Queen who won, not Winston Churchill.
   Those changes seem now to be irreversible. Prince William seems as committed to a view of the monarchy as a duty rather than a privilege. And while Prince Harry sometimes seems to be more Targaryen than Windsor, the one thing he cannot be accused of is racism.
   So yes, it is complicated. Why should we, whose ancestors were subjects of the racist British Empire mourn the passing of the British monarch? The answer has to do with the kind of person the Queen was. Quietly and almost without anyone noticing, she changed the nature of the monarchy and re-arranged the UK’s relationship with its former colonies. She did this with admirable grace and dignity, making what must have been an incredibly difficult task look easy.
   She was a remarkable woman. And she will be missed. By us in the Commonwealth and by her own subjects in the UK.


  • Rao 13 Sep 2022

    Well, sad to see Elizabeth II pass away but she lived a full grand life of 96. Apart from the eulogy that British monarchs get abundantly.. the other often less covered is the Institutional Racism, superiority & arrogance shown by the Imperial family. There are thousands of Indian manuscripts looted at the British Museum which she could have help release to India along with a formal apology for occupation & engineered famines / genocide. But she did NO such thing. How gracious & majestic of her.

  • Hiten Thakkar 11 Sep 2022

    Did not even apologize for Jalianwalla Bagh massacre when she visited India with Prince Philip, just laid a wreath.

Posted On: 10 Sep 2022 04:16 PM
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