Shashi Tharoor, a member of the Indian Parliament, believes that India needs a museum on British colonisation of the South Asian country. In his latest publication ‘Inglorious Empire: What the British Did to India’, Chairman of the Indian Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee says that the greatest challenge Indians are facing is the decolonisation of the mind.
Tharoor recently urged the Indian government to convert the Victoria Memorial in Kolkata, the country’s one of the most renowned heritage buildings, into a museum that will display the truth of the British rule in India or the colonial atrocities. The former UN peace-keeper said it is unfortunate that the famous monument, built between 1906 and 1921, is still glorifying the British rule in the country. According to the noted human rights activist, the global community should know how the British imperialists conquered one of the richest countries in the world (27% of global gross domestic product in 1700) and exploited the nation for nearly two centuries. The Britons left the country in 1947 only after reducing it to “one of the poorest, most diseased and most illiterate countries” in the world. That is why India took seven decades to emerge as an Asian powerhouse, added the former Indian minister of state for human resource development and minister of state for external affairs.
Tharoor has mentioned in his book that there is not a single museum dedicated to the colonial experience either in India or inBritain. Britain has some world-famous museums, like the Imperial War Museum, Albert Museum and the British Museum, which reflect the country’s imperial conquests. But, they say nothing about the colonial experience, the destruction of the Indian textile industry and the depopulation of the great weaving centres of Bengal by the Englishmen, he pointed out. Also, the British people (intentionally) did not build any memorial to the massacres of the British Raj in Delhi in 1857 or in Amritsar in 1919, despite the fact that unnecessary famines caused by British policy claimed lives of 35 million Indians. Even, the British rulers’ “divide and rule” policy triggered the Partition of India in 1947.
The seasoned Indian parliamentarian has slammed Britain for committing imperial crimes against humanity, saying that many apologists for British rule argue that there were several benefits to India from it, but they know that the British rule ultimately destroyed the Indian economy. Instead of describing the Indian Railways as a “generous British endowment to knit the country together”, Tharoor used the term “big colonial scam”, stressing that the venture was intended only to enhance British control of the country by wasting the hapless Indian taxpayers’ money. Historical data show that the average construction cost of each mile of Indian railways was USD 22,000 in the 1850s and 1860s as against USD 2,500 in America at the same time. While Indian passengers had to pay unfairly high rates, British companies enjoyed the lowest freight charges.
According to Tharoor, various less tangible legacies of British colonialism are still affecting Indians. He argued that the parliamentary system of democracy, especially the Westminster model, is ideal for a tiny and homogeneous island nation, but not for a vast and diverse country, like India. As a result, India is bearing the burden of all the inefficiencies created by such a system in a diverse multi-party polity. He is of the opinion that a presidential form of government, just like America, might have provided the stability to the Indian political system.
The parliamentarian once again urged Indians to “decolonise” their mind and force the government to abandon obsolete colonial laws, saying that the laws drafted in the Victorian era should be replaced with new laws. He believes that India needs a place to house permanent exhibits about what the British actually did to India. The proposed museum could help Indians come out of the colonial hangover, said Tharoor, adding that people across the country need an enduring reminder to properly educate themselves.
Meanwhile, the Indian government plans to hold a discussion on Tharoor’s proposal at the Parliament in near future.