Indian women had to kill themselves —and other bitter stories of British colonialism revealed in a podcast

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Indian women had to kill themselves —and other bitter stories of British colonialism revealed in a podcast
  • Afua Hirsch podcast ‘We Need to Talk About the British Empire’ describes the misdoings of British in the colonial era.
  • In the podcast, British-Indian Rani explains how she could never meet her grandfather as the British divided the nations based on religion.
  • The Brits still glorify its act of colonising 25% of the world’s land.
During the tough times of Colonial aftermath, Indian women had three choices - be killed by the enemy, be killed by their family so as to avoid being killed by the enemy, or kill themselves, said Anita Rani in a recent podcast by Afua Hirsch, a Norwegian-born British journalist.

While a few well-read people in India are aware of the atrocities of partition, unfortunately the British education system still tries to glorify colonisation as a ‘golden era’. Hirsch however is dispelling many such myths in a series of interviews that go against the popular word.

“We rarely hear the stories of the colonised. It’s the voices of the colonisers that have shaped our ideas of the British empire,” the podcast presenter Hirsch said.

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The Great White Hope

In British schools, children are told how the ‘clever’ Brits arrived in chaotic foreign lands, and bestowed them with world-class structures and roads etc. “Moreover, things went mad in the country after the British left,” said Hirsch.

India was the largest colonial empire when they covered 25% of the world lands - claiming the Sun never sets in the British empire. Rani, a British-Indian TV presenter herself, belongs to Punjab. In the podcast, she speaks about her grandfather ‘Sant Singh’ who was in the British-Indian army.

The Greatest Modern tragedies

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The partition in 1947 described as “one of the greatest tragedies in modern human history” created the largest recorded mass migration in history. About 15 million people became refugees overnight as they were forced away from the country they were born in.

Sant Singh’s family who, while he was posted elsewhere, were forced to leave their home. Presumed murdered, they were never seen again. Many families were divided and friends turned foes during the vast communal violence as depicted in the moving novel, Train to Pakistan by Khushwant Singh, a writer and a Punjabi like Rani.

Famines, funds and wars

In spite of what British claim, for Indians, colonial times were far from wonderful. Though to be fair, the British did establish schools, the railways and even tried to mitigate inequality amongst the ‘natives’ they so abhorred. In fact, they fought a lot of extremists against the violent practice of Sati where young women of deceased husbands were burned on the pyre.
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Indian women had to kill themselves —and other bitter stories of British colonialism revealed in a podcast
Credit:BCCL

Yet, much Indian blood was spilled during the British rule. The Bengal famine of 1943, which ended up claiming over 2 million lives was a result of the British government’s policies where grain was lifted off to fund its war rations. In India, it resulted in malaria, starvation and malnutrition.

Last year in April 2019, India marked the 100th anniversary of Jallianwala Bagh, where the British troops fired mercilessly on innocent protestors.

No clear, full apology
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The former British Prime Minister Theresa May expressed “deep regret” for the 1919 Jallianwala Bagh massacre. However, May did not offer an absolute apology; she told the House of Commons, “We deeply regret what happened and the suffering caused by the massacre.” Opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn and other MP’s asked May for a full, clear apology instead.
Indian women had to kill themselves —and other bitter stories of British colonialism revealed in a podcast
Credit: BCCL

Queen Elizabeth however apologised for the act in October 1997, when she visited Jallianwala Bagh to pay tribute with a 30-sec moment of silence. In February 2013, British Prime Minister David Cameron while visiting Amritsar, called the massacre “a deeply shameful event in British history”.

The Imperial Amnesia

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Many historians and thinkers refuse to believe that the British truly regret their actions. Shashi Tharoor the Congress MP is one of the many critics who wrote a book called ‘Imperial Amnesia’.

Indian women had to kill themselves —and other bitter stories of British colonialism revealed in a podcast
Credit:BCCL


“There is a statute of limitations on colonial wrongdoings, but none on human memory, especially living memory. There are still millions of Indians alive today who remember the iniquities of the British Empire in India,” the book’s abstract says.

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Hirsch however is one of the few who refuses to forget. She says that “we need to fully recognise our past – not as far away as we imagine – in order to understand ourselves.”

The other parts of the podcast available on Audible Amazon have six episodes which include Emmy the Great and Benjamin Zephaniah, are not just telling their own stories but the stories of millions and different British empires.

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It’s 2019 and India is debating if the murder of Mahatma Gandhi was Godse’s ‘patriot act’
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