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It has been more than a fortnight since Queen Elizabeth II of Britain breathed her last, ending 70 years of a vast and monumental public life as the longest living and governing monarch of the UK and the Commonwealth Realms. As the news of her death in Balmoral Castle plunged Britain into grief and mourning, it was in many ways the end of an epoch, a moment opportune for rekindling conversations on how to remember the late queen in the days to come.

The prime minister of the UK, Liz Truss, remarked in her condolence message that Elizabeth was the rock on which modern Britain was built. Indeed, the queen predated several modern inventions — penicillin, emails and ballpoint pens, to name some. She witnessed the second World War, the transformation of the erstwhile British Empire into the Commonwealth, and it was in her reign that 17 former British colonies achieved their independence. Today, as millions across the world mourn her death, may public memory be refreshed with the thought that her demise cannot sanitize her from her colonizing inheritances.

When Elizabeth was crowned queen in 1952, India was five years into its independence and two years into being a sovereign republic. In her three visits to the country, she maintained her unflinching stand yet was cautious of the wounds that were inflicted on the nation by her predecessors and colonial practitioners.

In her 1997 visit to India, she toured Jallianwala Bagh in the state of Punjab, where hundreds of native lives were shot by the British in 1919. In response to calls for her apology came her denial. Instead, she had said, “It is no secret that there have been some difficult episodes in our past. Jallianwala Bagh is a distressing example.” The next day, she visited the site barefoot and laid a flower wreath on the memorial. She acknowledged the past but did not apologize for it; her eagerness to correct history only led her that far.

Burying the colonial hatchet involves difficult conversations and, in this case, also involves demands for monetary reparations of $45 trillion, an estimated amount looted out of India by Britishers and restitution of the largest diamond in the world, the $400 million Koh-i-Noor, currently a part of the British crown jewels. As the Indian government declared a day of state mourning, netizens criticized the move on Twitter, deeming that the observance was contradictory to the very spirit of Azadi ka Amrit Mahotsav, the year-long celebration aimed to commemorate 75 years of Indian independence.

On the one hand, these sentiments echo the insistence of British atonement, but the postcolonial experience also includes surrounding emotions of bitterness, anger, trauma, hostility and grief for the colonial victims. This is precisely why Elizabeth’s death cannot demand universal mourning, one which is unconditional and indistinguishably applicable to everyone in the goodness of the human spirit. Because, unlike any other, the legacy that the queen inherited and left behind is exceedingly complicated, not to mention still reeking of colonial racism.

Cases in point are the views expressed recently by Fox News anchor Tucker Carlson on live television. He said that the Britishers ruled with “decency unmatched by any empire in history” and that the English “took their colonial responsibilities seriously.” Continuing his justification of the colonial experience, he said, “When the British pulled out of India, they left behind an entire civilization, a language, a legal system, schools, churches and public buildings.”

Not only were his tone-deaf reflections shamefully oblivious of history, but in grieving the fall of the British Empire and terming it “better times,” he attempted to erase centuries of unspeakable exploitation, racial violence, loot, maiming and plunder. Reiterating your words and making slight additions, Mr. Carlson, if the late Queen was indeed “the last living link to a truly Great Britain,” then it was the charred corpses to whom her nation owed its greatness, not her.

Hritam Mukherjee is a correspondent for Vermont News & Media and is from the city of Kolkata, India. His personal interests lie in photography and writing about issues pertaining to global diplomacy and international affairs. The opinions expressed by columnists do not necessarily reflect the views of Vermont News & Media.


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