Who has the right to commemorate the past?
A week or so ago British tourists upset the BJP and others in India by trying to visit Lucknow in order to commemorate the actions of the The Rifles (a British regiment) during the Indian Mutiny of 1857. Lucknow is widely held to have been one of the centres of the Mutiny (or the First War of Independence, as some Indians know it), and the tourists were accused of wanting to celebrate the retribution meted out to the natives by British forces.
“Roy Trustram-Eve, the leader of the group linked to the British regiment The Rifles and which includes descendants of some of the soldiers who took part, said that there was no question of “celebrating” an event when massacres of women and children were committed by both sides.
“We are here to commemorate, and not to celebrate, the events of 1857,” he said after a service of remembrance in St James Church, New Delhi, on Saturday, “Many people died. There was bravery shown by both sides.”â€
Initially, from a British point of view, Mr. Trustam-Eveâ€™s attitude seemed to be a reasonable one. He was not going to gloat, merely pay his respects to those that had lost their lives in the conflict. However, I thought of what my reaction would be if a German came over here and wanted to pay his respects at the spot where his grandfather had dropped his first bomb on London. I would be shocked at the request, and would question him on why he wished to commemorate the Nazis. With this in mind then, I can see why some Indians were angry at the (unwitting) tourists. Obviously the Nazis were worse than the British, but the same principle is involved; the celebration of those that oppressed you.
Who decides what aspects of the past to commemorate and celebrate though? The Japanese are constantly pilloried for paying their respects to war criminals, yet the Russians are never criticised for their commemoration services. Is it because they ended up on the winning side? In India, Subhas Chandra Bose is considered to be a great hero and freedom fighter, yet I would happily rank him alongside Nazis and some of the top Japanese as premier war criminals. Similarly, some British military heroes are hated in other parts of the world.
There will always be contentious historical debates like these, so should we just accept that tensions will always be there?
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Filed in: Bangladesh,British Identity,India,Pakistan,South Asia