Freedom is in the mind – Open it to alternative histories this Republic Day

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India Gate is easily the most recognizable monument of Lutyen’s Delhi. And of course, it’s the focal point of our Republic Day celebrations.

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Illustration by Lonely Canopy

While reading about the history of India Gate, I realized that it was initially intended as a memorial for over 70,000 soldiers (it’s claimed that about 1.3 million Indians were pulled into this “volunteer army”). Many of these names are inscribed on the India Gate.

Who are these soldiers, who traveled to strange lands, and fought for a cause in which they had no stake? Most probably, they were common people from Indian villages who were mere cannon fodder, used by the British.

The world never stops rehashing the horrors of the Nazis against the Jews. Most of us have seen movies like Schindler’s List and Sophy’s Choice. However, do we really remember the horrors perpetuated against our ancestors by the Colonial rulers. How many of us have read Manto’s Toba Tek Singh? These stories belong in our history books instead of the anglicised accounts we grow up studying.

We tend to forget that much of our behavior and beliefs is still influenced by the Colonial rule – take for example the ways many Indians almost fall over themselves when they see a white-skinned person, the constant search for a ‘fair bride.’

Popular culture portrays the British as benevolent rulers who brought light to a primitive pre-colonial Indian society. However, research by modern historians as well as such as Amiya Bagchi has shown that India had 25 percent of world industrial output in 1750 which dwindled to less than 2 percent by the end of British rule. If we were truly a primitive society, how did we possess knowledge of mathematics, commerce, ship-building, architecture, navigation, etc?

It’s time we move beyond the linear version of history taught to us in school. An event of the past can be viewed in multiple ways, depending who is recounting the event. Maybe on this Republic Day, we should spend some time reading alternate history accounts.

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