A rare anti-monarchy protest took place this week in the UK. For many in Britain's former colonies, anti-monarchy dissent has been a big part of its stru. Photo: Marco Bertorello / AFP
A storm has been brewing around the legacy of the late Queen Elizabeth II’s monarchy. Much of the UK is caught in grand gestures of grief over their queen and reportedly exhorbitant state funeral preparations are currently underway. Elizabeth II’s net worth was $442.92 million, according to one estimate. This is a pretty hefty number that, according to royal public records, is funded partly by its taxpayers – to the tune of over $100 million annually, from a country of 67 million people – and partly by the royal family’s inherited private and commercial real estate.
But for many from Elizabeth II’s former colonies, the extravagance of the British monarchy – even in death – underpins the dark realities of not just violent colonisation, but also extreme drain of wealth from their countries. In the former British colony of undivided India, that number comes to a whopping $45 trillion. Indian economist Utsa Patnaik’s calculations show the massive amount of loot taken from the Indian subcontinent over a course of 200 years, up until 1938. That’s just nine years before the British monarchy gave independence, dividing the subcontinent into India and Pakistan, along with what would become Bangladesh 24 years later. “Indians were never credited with their own gold and forex earnings,” Patnaik told local media about her findings. “Instead, the local producers here were ‘paid’ the rupee equivalent out of the budget – something you’d never find in any independent country.” Had the Indian subcontinent been paid its international earnings, it would have been far more developed, with better health and social welfare indicators, Patnaik added. Pakistani historian Ammar Ali Jan told VICE World News that countries in the Indian subcontinent continue to face the repercussions of these economic extractions. “Because of this history, we have aid dependency, like you see in Pakistan and Bangladesh, and even India to some extent. We have a historical, structural disadvantage vis-a-vis Europe,” he said. “We’re still caught in a historical cycle of 250 years of plunder and structural poverty.”
Even Pakistan’s ongoing super floods have been linked to the history of British colonisation. While the British took money, millions in India died when it was under the British empire, from famine and natural calamities. During one deadly famine in 1943, over 3 million Indians died partly due to terrible and extractive policies by then British Prime Minister Winston Churchill. The demands for reparations have gained credence in South Asian countries over the years. A few years ago, Indian politician Shashi Tharoor went viral for demanding reparations at Oxford University. Indian subjects during the British rule coughed up nearly $120 million in taxes to support the British empire, Tharoor said. But his demand goes beyond monetary compensation.“You can’t put a price on, for instance, the 35 million people who died total unnecessarily because of how the British dealt with famines,” Tharoor told VICE World News.Apart from a simple apology for colonial crimes, Tharoor said it’s also imperative that Britain introduce the “unvarnished” truth about British colonialism in schools as well as museums. “The British have an imperial war museum to celebrate their imperial conquests. Why not a museum for the subjugated and victims of unjust plundering and pillaging?”The British government has never worked to repay colonial loot. Former British Prime Minister David Cameron infamously said that if they were to say yes to demands, “then you would suddenly find the British Museum empty.”
Britain’s conservative Prime Minister Liz Truss told the British press last year that the country should take pride in its imperial history, “warts and all.” “In fashionable circles, people talked about how we should be ashamed of our history and doubtful about our future,” she was quoted as saying. “It’s time to be proud of who we are and what we stand for. It’s time to dump the baggage holding us back.”British historian William Dalrymple, who documents the fallouts of the British empire, told VICE World News that the “incredibly dark past” of imperialism and colonialism are not widely known or talked about in British schools. “Never underestimate how little the modern British know about their own empire,” he said. The huge gap between British monarchy loyalists and the realities in former colonies are also attributed to how little the British government has done to acknowledge this side of history. “In 1947, the British packed up their ‘empire’ trunks and put them away in the attic,” he said. “They joined the European Union and saw themselves as the new nation. During Queen Elizabeth II’s reign, Britain changed from a country where one in 22 was non-white, to one where one in 6 was a person of colour. It is no longer the white supremacist monolith.”
Over the years, those documenting the colonial past have been trolled by monarchy loyalists. Historian and journalist Sathnam Sanghera, author of Empireland, was trolled last year. “Empire has been weaponised by the right wing ever since Black Lives Matter,” he told Guardian. “[Imperial history has] become a proxy for patriotism and race.”Rare anti-monarchy protests are erupting in the UK at the moment, questioning their rulers and demanding democratic processes. But many have been arguing that the queen’s death is perhaps not the most “sensitive” time to rake up colonial dirt. Jan, the Pakistani historian, said that there’s never a “right time” to question power. “Questioning the monarchy doesn't mean people are disrespecting Elizabeth II, but rather, they’re paying respect to all those who were cheated, humiliated and killed by the monarchy.”Follow Pallavi Pundir on Twitter.