By Harsev Bains
The Labour manifesto of 2019 contained a number of vital pledges, including commitments to an unequivocal apology for the massacre at Jallianwala Bagh and teaching children about colonialism, injustice and the role of the British empire. Jeremy Corbyn, the Labour leader in April 2019, offering his apology for the Jallianwala Bagh Massacre, suggested the need to start teaching unromanticised colonial history in British schools as a form of atonement.
People in Britain are kept in the dark, blissfully ignorant of the realities of the British empire and the impact on its subjects in the colonies. From India, the jewel in the crown, £43 trillion was expropriated, millions died in famines as a result of over taxation to fund wars, with an equivalent number killed in massacres and partition, the parting gift of colonialism, thriving industries destroyed, national economies made destitute, religious and cast divisions exploited and reinforced.
There is a new yearning for the Raj, with films and TV media extolling the virtues of the colonial past. Retelling the dreams of the British Empire, where the sun never sets, so glorious, so poignant, so bittersweet, against the backdrop of the resentful realities of contemporary Britain.
Liberation as a campaigning body for democracy, freedom and human rights supports the notion for education at all levels about the imperialist past of Britain. To learn how those dreams of the ruling few turned out to be the nightmares for the many colonial subjects. Only then will there be an authentic, genuine atonement for the colonial past, providing a meaningful consideration of historical responsibility, rather than a political gesture with admission of guilt.
This will create the prerequisite awareness of Britain’s contemporary society and a sound foundation for all our future generations. Education at all levels is absolutely necessary to overcome imperialism’s selective amnesia of the brutality, massacres and exploitation that took place under colonialism, slavery and indentured labour. Some people will find the historical truths uncomfortable. However, we have to examine and learn from the past to understand the present and shape the future.
Generations of Afro Caribbean, Asian, Irish and minority ethnic people will be better placed to understand why they are in Britain. “We are here, because you were there”. Education has the potential to galvanise the links of shared history between the working class in Britain and the former colonies.
The virtual world of webinars and meetings using media to connect with the world has opened up new platforms and provide unprecedented opportunities. Up until now our deliberations with well intentioned resolutions were confined to our organisations and aired by the Morning Star, the only daily paper of the left in Britain. Now we can reach out and connect with like-minded people around the world.
Education, which hitherto was delivered to suit the ruling classes to produce and exploit a labour force which supports the neo liberal agenda, no longer remains the sole domain and prerogative of the bourgeoise representatives.
We cannot rely on influencing the national curriculum alone to do the work for us in teaching colonial history. They will do no different to what has have done to previous history. The total amnesia to the contribution of Indian soldiers killed in the first World War. Distorting the historic sacrifice of the people of Soviet Union in the defeat of Fascism. Ignoring the heroic struggles of the anti-fascist brigades in Spain and other European countries.
Liberation will make its contribution to education by initiating and supporting future education events independently and in partnership that help to interpret world events, educate and seek common solutions.
Harsev Bains is a council member of Liberation, National Vice President of the Indian Workers’ Association and trustee of the Marx Memorial Library