DhakaTribune
Wednesday November 22, 2017 04:04 AM

Shashi Tharoor on colonial legacy

Shashi Tharoor on colonial legacy

The Indian politician and fiction writer to unmask the dark sides of the British colonial era

Living up to its promise, Dhaka Literary Festival is fast becoming the platform for initiating conversations that are essential to making progress in the spheres of culture, politics and literature.

Brown is a beautiful colour to be. Yet, it is a colour gravely under-represented in global media narrative. It is a colour that has been subjugated for years by colonial powers that were wildly incorrect to think that the strong brown earth below their feet was no match for the waves of tyrannous milky white conquests they led from the north to suppress it. It is a colour that needs a voice – its history needs to be learned, its people need to be offered reparation, and its essence demands to be championed.

That’s the premise upon which stands Shashi Tharoor’s latest book, ‘An Era of Darkness: The British Empire in India,’ and that’s the conversation he’ll be having here at the DLF this year.

Quoted as saying that the “British [should] pay a symbolic one pound a year for 200 years” as an act of “moral atonement”, Tharoor has worked actively to highlight the ironic glorification of the British Raj.

Currently a second-term Lok Sabha MP representing the Thiruvananthapuram constituency and Chairman of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on External Affairs, Tharoor is an acclaimed Indian fiction writer. His novels include ‘The Great Indian Novel’ and ‘Riot,’ and his nonfiction books include ‘India Shastra: Reflections on the Nation in our Time’ and ‘Nehru: The Invention of India.’

‘An Era of Darkness’ dug out our horrendous past from the deep trenches of ignorance, asphyxiated by our superficial understanding of colonialism

Recently he stole the limelight following a debate at the Oxford Union and then spent time penning ‘An Era of Darkness’ that dug out our horrendous past from the deep trenches of ignorance, asphyxiated by our superficial understanding of colonialism as it existed in this part of the world. At this year’s Dhaka Lit Fest, Tharoor will be present to answer any and all questions about the history of British colonialism in undivided India, and to remind us that to progress we must heal, and to heal we must accept.

Forget what you think, especially if your thoughts are constructed from the shaky bricks of the axiom telling you that “being colonised resulted in better education.” As Tharoor leaves you thinking, there is no glorifying this point if the so-called “education” only produced generations of slaves — shackled by racial bias and a spurious sense of identity that prevents us from climbing the socio-economic hierarchy.

If you still need more reason to believe that the colonial subjects gained nothing from having been colonised, you may want to think about how the British industrialisation was funded and why our euro-centric education developed a case of “historical amnesia.” If this sparks even a slight flicker of interest, join Tharoor at the DLF and engage in the vital discourse that can help navigate the bumpy yet worthwhile road to progress.

Tharoor’s words are the much-needed beacon of light that can usher us into combatting much bigger issues such as victim-blaming after rape. In fact, it was during the colonial era that this aspect of the Indian Penal Code was incorporated in the legal system of India. Tharoor captures it nicely in one chapter of his book, “India’s rape law, enshrined in the colonial-era Indian Penal Code, placed the burden of the victim to establish her ‘good character’ and prove that a rape had occurred, which left her open to discredit by opposing counsel. Many rapes were never reported as a result of the humiliation to which this system subjected the victims.”

Victim-shaming is far from over. In a world dominated by mindless brutality that is stabbing at the core of humanity and displacing entire ethnicities – the Rohingya people just a contemporary example of this kind of atrocity – one may want to know more about what Tharoor has to say.

So, be there.

Whether it is about our own history or about the shameless humanitarian crises that stare us right in the eyes, we have much to learn from Tharoor.

So, spare my melanin. At this year’s Dhaka Lit Fest, let’s focus on becoming ten levels smarter and not ten shades lighter.

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