Multiple Pasts

Holding multiple perspectives of the past is quite normal. The Indian peoples are a variegated lot and so are their histories. It is, therefore, possible to both mourn Bhima Koregaon as a victory for British colonialism and celebrate it for helping destroy a terrible system of caste apartheid.

Indians, in fact, have mostly been comfortable with this complexity. Until now, that is. Remember, Bhima Koregaon had been celebrated without incident for 90 years until this year. What has changed now is the emergence of the BJP’s strict European-style nationalism, where anything other than the nationalist narrative is sought to be airbrushed. But given India’s fantastic diversity and long record of resistance to one-size-fits-all narratives, this mono-nationalism might take some time to take shape, if, that is, the BJP manages to make it happen at all.

In the past, while writing on Haifa victory of Indian Cavalry, the same journalist had taken a 180 degree turn. The title of his article was From Haifa to Jallianwallah Bagh: Celebrating the Raj’s military history will open a can of worms.  The same author had then felt that memories of colonial wars and pride over exploits of British Indian Army is a case of ‘Commemorating Colonialism’. Here , he had said:

Commemorating colonialism?

The Jallianwallah Bagh massacre, while the most well known, was just one of several atrocities committed by the British Indian Army in their endeavour to maintain colonial rule in the subcontinent. In spite of this rather sordid history, a curious move has been afoot in India to honour and commemorate the colonial armies that served the British Raj.

The latest demand comes from New Delhi, where attempts were made to rename Teen Murti Marg to Teen Murti Haifa Marg, after the Israeli city. This was to commemorate the Battle of Haifa in 1918, where the British Indian Army’s soldiers displayed exemplary bravery while fighting the Ottoman Empire during the First World War. In fact, for some time now, there have been calls for the modern Indian state to remember the soldiers who gave up their lives while defending the British Empire.

There is a problematic part to this equation: colonialism. The British Indian Army was the world’s foremost colonial military in the world. Through the 18th and 19th centuries, the predecessors of the British Indian Army defeated one Indian state after the other to establish colonial rule over the subcontinent. They also put down numerous revolts – the Santhal Rebellion, the Chittagong uprising and the Revolt of 1857, to name a few – as Indians struggled desperately to overthrow the foreign yoke.

He ended this article with a largely contradictory opinion in comparison to his assessment of Bhima Koregaon victory of British Indian Army.

It is then a curious act of historical masochism that Indians, as the victims of this very army of colonial occupation, now want to celebrate its exploits in service of the British Empire.

Where was Shoaib Daniyal’s conscience when Bhima Koregaon victory was being celebrated?