Imperial amnesia

The messy afterlife of colonialism

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  • Published 20180206
  • ISBN: 9781925603293
  • Extent: 264pp
  • Paperback (234 x 153mm), eBook

THERE IS A statute of limitations on colonial wrongdoings, but none on human memory, especially living memory. There are still millions of Indians alive today who remember the iniquities of the British Empire in India. History belongs in the past; but understanding it is the duty of the present. It is, thankfully, no longer fashionable in most of the developing world to decry the evils of colonialism in assigning blame for every national misfortune.

Internationally, the subject of colonialism is even more passé, since the need for decolonisation is no longer much debated and colonialism itself no longer generates much conflict. Still, it is striking how quickly amnesia has set in among citizens of the great imperial power itself. A 1997 Gallup poll in the UK revealed 65 per cent did not know which country Robert Clive was associated with, 77 per cent did not know who Cecil Rhodes was, 79 per cent could not identify a famous poem Rudyard Kipling had written, and 47 per cent thought Australia was still a colony.

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About the author

Shashi Tharoor

Shashi Tharoor is a Congress Party member of the Indian Parliament. This essay is an edited extract from his book, Inglorious Empire (Scribe, 2017).

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