In India, Queen Elizabeth’s funeral is contested by colonial heritage

In India, Queen Elizabeth’s funeral is contested by colonial heritage

In India, Queen Elizabeth’s funeral is contested by colonial heritage

NEW DELHI – Jennifer Cooke was in junior high school when her choir sang for Queen Elizabeth II during the monarch’s first visit to India in 1961.

“She came in a carriage. We had to stand in a straight line and couldn’t look away,” said Cooke, speaking at St. Paul’s Cathedral in what was then Calcutta, the former capital of British India. “I don’t remember much else, but she read from the Bible.”

The 70-year-old pensioner spent Monday in front of a television in the New Delhi retirement home where she now lives, watching with a hint of wistfulness as the Queen was carried away for the last time in a traditional funeral and procession.

In Mumbai, Sarvar Irani watched the ceremony surreptitiously on her smartphone during her work day as a mall administration officer. At home, she has dozens of rare books, stamps and other memorabilia, collected over decades, highlighting Elizabeth and Princess Diana.

“Something about [the queen’s] her eyes and smile told me she must be a kind and nice person,” said Irani, 61. “That spark is gone forever now.”

But most Indians, especially young people, felt little nostalgia. The Queen’s death has sparked a complicated conversation here about colonial heritage, and so even as world leaders and heads of state gathered in London for the service, there were no violent expressions of grief in the country that was once a crucial corner of the British Empire. Unlike many of his colleagues, Prime Minister Narendra Modi stayed home.

Mumbai activist Yash Marwah, 27, called the funeral not a “big deal” and did not watch it. His first thought when he heard of the Queen’s death on 8 September was that it would overshadow more important events.

“I thought about all the news that doesn’t make the news,” he said.

Former British colonies are haunted by the ghosts of the past who mourn the Queen

Although India achieved independence before Elizabeth was crowned queen, many feel she could have at least apologized for the violence and looting that characterized British rule in the subcontinent and led to the partition of India and Pakistan.

“There is a need and a demand for an apology,” said historian Jyoti Atwal, who teaches at Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University.

The closest the Queen came to it was on her third and final trip to India in 1997. Before a visit to Jallianwala Bagh, a site in the north where in 1919 British troops had fired on a gathering of unarmed Indian protesters, killing hundreds, the Queen obliquely acknowledged the bloody currently.

“It’s no secret that there have been some difficult episodes in our past,” she said. “The Jallianwala Bagh, which I will visit tomorrow, is a disturbing example.”

Still, she went no further, saying “history cannot be rewritten, no matter how much we may sometimes wish otherwise. It has its moments of sadness as well as joy. We must learn from the sadness and build on the joy.”

In Britain’s oldest overseas territory, a farewell toast to Her Majesty

Atwal said the queen played an important role in reaching out to former colonies and the new king must decide what to do next. “She laid the foundation for this kind of renegotiation and reshaping of the role between the crown and the colonies,” she said. “This is the changed scenario in which Charles must operate.”

On social media, memes and posts have demanded the return of the Kohinoor, a 105.6-carat diamond originally from India that adorns the Queen’s crown. “Reminder that Queen Elizabeth is not a colonial holdover,” a tweet noted. “She was an active participant in colonialism.”

And just last week, Modi renamed a stretch of road in the heart of Delhi that had been called Kingsway or Rajpath. He described it as a “symbol of slavery”.

“Today we fill the picture of tomorrow with new colors, leaving the past behind,” he said.

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