His­tory of colo­nial­ism should be stud­ied even as it as­sumes new forms

New Straits Times - - Viewpoint -


vi­o­lence, en­slave­ment and ex­ploita­tion of non-white peo­ples. It de­mys­ti­fies the benev­o­lent bene­fac­tor, and what ap­pears to be hu­man­i­tar­ian and dig­ni­fied. It de­mys­ti­fies in­de­pen­dence and, now, the term em­pow­er­ment. It seeks to ques­tion im­ages of benev­o­lence and non-vi­o­lence.

The deep struc­tures be­neath colo­nial­ism are hor­ren­dous. The his­tory of colo­nial­ism and the hu­man suf­fer­ing it in­flicted should be stud­ied and un­der­stood, es­pe­cially when colo­nial­ism con­tin­ues, as­sum­ing many new forms.

A colonial mu­seum de­con­structs the colonial pact and the colonial past for fu­ture gen­er­a­tions. In­dian mem­ber of par­lia­ment and au­thor Shashi Tharoor, in The In­glo­ri­ous Empire: What the Bri­tish Did to In­dia (2016), men­tioned the “”his­tor­i­cal am­ne­sia about what the empire en­tailed”. The Bri­tish hardly knew about colonial atroc­i­ties.

Bri­tish chil­dren from the new gen­er­a­tion are not taught that their country fi­nanced the in­dus­trial revolution and its pros­per­ity from the depre­da­tion of the empire. In the 18th cen­tury, In­dia was one of the rich­est coun­tries in the world. The Bri­tish came and re­duced it, af­ter 200 years of plun­der, to one of the poor­est.

Repa­ra­tions from Bri­tain, or from any of the colonial pow­ers to its former colonies? Eras­ing the mem­ory of colo­nial­ism and colonial his­tory would fur­ther add salt to in­jury. But, An­glophiles would re­mind us — it is be­nign, and it is over — “we have to move on”. Mov­ing for­ward is not an op­tion. But, where do we go to if we do not know where we come from?

Colo­nial­ism has robbed us of our time — that longue durée in­form­ing and giv­ing per­spec­tive on our his­tory and iden­tity. In colonial his­tory, that white man in a brown mask in Kuala Lumpur or Pe­nang would not be con­scious in “post-colonial time”, and eter­nally be at the cross­roads of des­tiny.

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