Should we, Pakistanis, mourn the late Queen of England?
The Queen of England passed away last week on September 8th, 2022 at Balmoral Castle in Scotland. The world as we know it had just changed. I called my grandmother and broke the news to which she responded with, “Haye bechari. Bohat afsos hua sun ke.” I immediately tried to settle the confusion that was bubbling inside me. “But she was a coloniser!”, I accused, unable to contain myself any longer. “Oh yes, absolutely.” Replied my grandmother calmly. Despite the countless backlash over the royal family, the Queen was around for 96 years and reigned for 70. She has been alive longer than half the world. Our mothers and grandmothers have all grown up watching a young queen come to power. “We thought it was a fairytale. The stories we would read about kings, queens, princes, and princesses in crowns and horse drawn carriages – it was as if one of them was happening in real life before our very eyes!”, my grandmother recalled when Elizabeth II was crowned in 1952. She served as an icon of British royalty, with characteristics of grace, elegance, kindness, regality, perfection. She was a princess who was now the most powerful ruler in the entire world.
On September 12th, a day of mourning was to be observed throughout Pakistan in honour of the late queen. I heard of a school where students created a sort of an ofrenda for her. I can’t lie about the anger that I felt in that moment. Why? Because all I could remember were the brutal acts and events of colonisation and British imperialism that devoured almost all of South Asia (if we’re going to be specific, Britain invaded 90% of the countries in the entire world by the 20th century). By definition, colonisation is ‘the action or process of settling among and establishing control over the indigenous people of an area’. What started out as harmless trading soon gave away to what we now know as the British Raj in the subcontinent. After the mutiny of 1857, the ‘trading’ took on more aggressive synonyms, both in term and action: ‘extracting’, ‘looting’, and ‘pillaging’. The British Empire was now in control. Rebellions were met with arrests without warrants and detention without bail. Uprisings were met with bullets and cannon fire. I’m sure we all remember the Amritsar Massacre from our school history books? Or the Bengal Famine during the second world war that wiped out 3.8 million people? What they left out was the blatant racism, classicism and economic imperialism that prevailed. The British would employ tactics that would boost their own economy and overpower all others. They had a world-wide monopoly in textiles, spices, gemstones, lumber, tobacco, and opium. A fun fact about the latter is that the British got the entire population of China hooked on to opium so they could have the monopoly of being the only supplier of the drug in the whole of Asia. There is an argument about the good they did for us i.e. railways. The truth of the matter is that the railways were constructed for their own benefit and efficient extraction of goods from our lands, which were left to us, who now bankrupt, could not maintain them. I can go on and on about these economic (or otherwise) atrocities, but let’s stick to the story.
Day after day, the call for decolonisation is getting stronger and stronger. In Belgium, the statue of Kind Leopold II was taken down and he was branded a coloniser because he was the sole perpetrator in causing such brutal and exploitative acts against the native Africans such as child slavery, human zoos, and lethal punishments, in Congo that resulted in the deaths of 10 million people (an actual genocide). The king died a long time ago, some would argue, why act now? I wasn’t alone in my anger and frustration. The death of the queen was met with opposing responses. There was one side who celebrated the life of their beloved queen (regardless if they were her English subjects or not), and another who blacklisted mourning altogether. At the risk of repeating myself, the queen has passed, and so have the people responsible for colonialism, so why are decolonialists more active now than ever? “The thing that I think Western people need to genuinely try to absorb and realise is that colonialism is history in the West,” said Sipho Hlongwane, a writer based in Johannesburg. “It is a thing of the past, in the West. But in our countries, colonialism is now.”
There is a something called collective memory and 90% of the world today has inherited it from our forefathers. We understand each other’s pain and loss. We are still recovering economically, socially and politically from the aftermath of European and British colonialism. I once read a tweet that asked why the world calls us ‘third world’ countries, and they continued to state that we were wounded, looted and dismantled for three hundred years, give or take. We are lacking behind in modern civilisation because we are recovering from our past, and the foundation on which this modern civilisation is made is marked with the blood of millions of indigenous people (that’s us). And I liked that definition better. It was honest. It was not whitewashed with the biases of white supremacy who refused to acknowledge their own colonial history, let alone account for it. After the second world war, when the entire world was in shambles and Britain was no longer gaining anything out of India, they left. And they left their governance in such a haste that it resulted in the biggest mass migration in the history of the world: the Partition, where 14 million Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs were displaced. I implore you to ask your grandfathers and your grandmothers about their stories of the partition, or read Aanchal Malhotra’s book called ‘Remnants of a Partition’ where she interviewed 19 people who survived 1947. These are not just stories but actual memories of loss and terror, set against a backdrop of bloodshed and animosity. Our people suffered. Our ancestors suffered. Just think for a moment: you are alive today because some of your family managed to get across the overnight border, hidden in the night and graced by a miracle.
The queen, being more or less a figurehead of the English monarchy, has passed, but British ideology is still in our history books. We need to rewrite that narrative by teaching our future generations the truth about what really happened, and how it affected the world as we know it today. The queen was an icon for not only the English population, but the entire world, and this iconography has prevailed because of western media.
Death is nothing to joke about because we are subjected to it when our time comes. It is saddening when we hear of a death, and we wish to comfort those affected. It is only natural. But the problem lies in the blatant consumption of media, the ignorance and the choice to forget our histories. We are not obliged to mourn the death of another country’s ruler. But if an individual
must do so, let it be with the full knowledge of all actions, including the atrocities and barbarities of their reign. In this case, ignorance might be a bliss for you, but your ancestors might curse you for it.