“Churchill was a Racist”: Why Many Indians Despise the Former UK PM Whose Statue Was Desecrated

History

“Churchill was a Racist”: Why Many Indians Despise the Former UK PM Whose Statue Was Desecrated

Illustration: Robin Chakraborty

Across the world, protestors are taking to the streets even in the face of the coronavirus pandemic to show their support for the Black Lives Matter movement, which have spread across the world after the killing of George Floyd, an African-American man, in Minneapolis. Alongside the peaceful protests, there have also been instances of rioting and property damage. While in the US, the statues and memorials commemorating racist figures from the Civil War era have been targeted by some of these groups, in the UK, a statue of the country’s World War II Prime Minister Winston Churchill was marked with the words “Churchill was a racist” and other posters.

For some, this was an unforgivable insult to the memory of a man who fought against Hitler’s Nazis during WWII. However, many others saw the truth in those words, and the incident has become an occasion to revisit the tainted legacy of Winston Churchill and explore an uglier, less romanticised version of the leader.

In India, a country that suffered under Churchill’s rule, there has been a wave of support for the protestors on social media, as people remember the Bengal Famine, where three to four million Indians died of starvation due to Churchill’s policies, even as he turned a blind eye to their suffering. In 1943, he diverted food to British soldiers and countries such as Greece as famine hit India.

Through his own words, Churchill’s racial biases come to the fore when examining some of his quotes with regards to India and Indians. Some choice selections of Churchill’s most bigoted statements include “I hate Indians. They are a beastly people with a beastly religion” and blaming the Bengal Famine on Indians themselves, saying it was their fault for “breeding like rabbits”.

It’s not only in India that Churchill’s prejudices came into play. In his time, the British Empire still held colonies across the globe, and from Africa, to Asia, and even in Europe, Churchill’s tendency to look on foreign peoples and races as inferior was on full display. The criticism of Churchill is not limited only to Indian Twitter, but indeed issues forth from accounts across the globe.

The former UK PM has for long been a controversial figure in Indian politics. Congress MP Shashi Tharoor has been a vocal critic and in his book Inglorious Empire chronicles the atrocities of the British rule in India. “This is a man the British would have us hail as an apostle of freedom and democracy, when he has as much blood on his hands as some of the worst genocidal dictators of the 20th century,” Tharoor had said at the Melbourne’s writers’ festival broadcast in 2017.

For Britain, of course, Churchill remains a hero and the descreation caused an outrage. In fact, on Monday morning, a group of volunteers scrubbed the graffiti off the statue.

But there is no denying that despite his role in resisting Hitler’s Third Reich, Churchill was hardly a benevolent ruler to those under the oppressive thumb of his government. And it’s high time his failings stopped being swept under the rug of history.

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