This week, protesters spray painted “Churchill was a racist” on the statue of Winston Churchill in Britain’s Parliament Square and toppled the statue of 17th century slave trader Edward Colston in Bristol. Now, digital protesters are trying to take down the statue of Robert Clive, a key figure of British imperialism and colonial exploitation of Southeast Asia and India.
Known as ‘Clive of India’, this statue in Shrewsbury Town Centre in the UK serves as a tribute to the first governor of the East India Company’s Bengal presidency. However, a petition addressed to the Shropshire County Council on Change.org is calling for it to be removed or replaced with a more appropriate figure. The petition claims that Clive, who has been called an “unstable sociopath” by historian William Dalrymple, was responsible for looting India when it was a British colony, and essentially killing a third of Bengal’s population.
“To have a statue commemorating the man that ruined a nation and held innocent people to his barbaric orders is both offensive and embarrassing,” the petition states. “Clive as a symbol of British colonialism is significantly offensive to Indian, Bengali and south-east Asian descent and to attempt to justify it as a celebration of British pride and nationalism is only justifiable if one revels in the persecution and murder of millions of innocent people.” The petition calling Clive’s statue a figure of “white supremacy” and “oppression”, had managed to get more than 3,500 signatures at the time of writing this.
According to PTI, local Shrewsbury Member of Parliament, the Conservative Party's Daniel Kawczynski, called for peaceful discussions on the fate of the statue. He also pledged to conduct a "blow by blow" investigation into the life of Clive, who was born in Shropshire. He insisted that the British Empire was a “tremendous source for good during its time.” He went on to say, "We honour and celebrate those who helped establish this empire. They are part of our history and should be treated with respect and dignity. I know some people will want to eradicate all traces of the British Empire, but I've seen huge pluses of things it did around the world.”
Peter Nutting, the leader of Shropshire Council, said that in line with the council's constitution, any petition that gets more than 1,000 signatures is taken into account to determine whether any action needs to be taken. There is another similar life-sized statue of Clive near the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) building on King Charles Street, Whitehall, in central London.
A key feature of the protests that stand in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement has been highlighting the need to unlearn deep-seated colonial history. This is being expressed by protesters vandalising statues commemorating problematic historical figures, targeting symbols of anti-race hate speech and colonial domination. Even the statue of Mahatma Gandhi was defaced as protesters called out India’s ‘father of the nation’ for the racist views he is said to have held.
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