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Wednesday, July 1, 2020

Should History be re-written - Confederate statues being pulled down !

In our school and college days, History interested us but sadly, now we feel that most of what was read was biased or partly presented.  History (from Greek στορία, historia, meaning 'inquiry; knowledge acquired by investigation')  is the study of the past.  There is no doubt that most history across the world has been written with a strong bias towards the victor and those in power. History of World War two is perhaps the best example where mainly British and Americans have been glorified and credited with achieving victory over Nazi Germany.

In our School curriculum – we read mostly about British Viceroys, their reforms and the Governor Generals but not how they treated Indians.  Congress (Gandhi Nehru) got us freedom without shedding blood and freedom was gotten in midnight by peaceful agitations (then why so many were imprisoned, punished, killed and died in harness !).   We read in detail about Slave dynasty (Mamluk was a soldier of slave origin who had converted to Islam) After death of Muhammad of Ghor, his empire was split in Ghazni, Bengal, Multan, slaves rose to power.  Iltumish ruled from Delhi.  But there was no lesson on Skandagupta Maurya – Bhitari pillar inscription portrays that he restored Gupta powe defeating enemies, repulsed invasion by Huns and ruled a vast territory expanded from Junagadh to Afganistan.  Our children may not read about him – whose fault ?  The life history of many Indians who sacrificed themselves in freedom movement too has been forgotten and finds no place in our history, yet we took pride in memorizing the name of Lord Curzon, Wellesley, Dalhousie, Minto-Morley reforms – History !!.

In the arterial Mount Road of Chennai, at Spencer Signal stood a  10-foot bronze statue perched on a 12-foot pedestal dwarfing its surroundings.  There was a satyagraha for its removal – did our History tell us anything of this ?    What do you feel – should History ever be rewritten ? should it not be factually recorded and what happens when a latter generation feels it is unjust and was loaded against them !

In 1513, a group of men led by Vasco Núñez de Balboa marched across the Isthmus of Panama and discovered the Pacific Ocean. They had been looking for it—they knew it existed—and, familiar as they were with oceans, they had no difficulty in recognizing it when they saw it. On their way, however, they saw a good many things they had not been looking for and were not familiar with. When they returned to Spain to tell what they had seen, it was not a simple matter to find words for everything. For example, they had killed a large and ferocious wild animal. They called it a tiger, although there were no tigers in Spain and none of the men had ever seen one before. Listening to their story was Peter Martyr, member of the King's Council of the Indies and possessor of an insatiable curiosity about the new land that Spain was uncovering in the west. How, the learned man asked them, did they know that the ferocious animal was a tiger?

In  1492,  Columbus nursed a growing urge to sail west to the Indies—as the lands of China, Japan and India were then known in Europe.  He reportedly studied books,  made hundreds of marginal notations in them and came out with ideas about the world.  Christianity has meant many things to many men, and its role in the European conquest and occupation of America was varied. But in 1492 to Columbus there was probably nothing very complicated about it. He would have reduced it to a matter of corrupt human beings, destined for eternal damnation, redeemed by a merciful savior. Christ saved those who believed in him, and it was the duty of Christians to spread his gospel and thus rescue the heathens from the fate that would otherwise await them.

Although Christianity was in itself a sufficient justification for dominion, Columbus would also carry civilization to the Indies; and this, too, was a gift that he and his contemporaries considered adequate recompense for anything they might take. When people talked about civilization—or civility, as they usually called it—they seldom specified precisely what they meant.   One way to define civility was by its opposite, barbarism. To them, all those who were practicing what they were not practicing were barbaric.

Christopher Columbus (1451 – 1506) was an Italian explorer and colonizer who completed four voyages across the Atlantic Ocean that opened the New World for conquest and permanent European colonization of the Americas. His expeditions, sponsored by the Catholic Monarchs of Spain, were the first European contact with the Caribbean, Central America, and South America.  He married Portuguese noblewoman Filipa Moniz Perestrelo and was based in Lisbon for several years, but later took a Castilian mistress; he had one son with each woman.   Following persistent lobbying, Queen Isabella I and King Ferdinand II agreed to sponsor a journey west, in the name of the Crown of Castile. Columbus left Castile in August 1492 with three ships, and after a stopover in the Canary Islands made landfall in the Americas on 12 October (later celebrated as Columbus Day). Columbus subsequently visited the islands now known as Cuba and Hispaniola, establishing a colony in what is now Haiti—the first European settlement in the Americas since the Norse colonies nearly 500 years earlier. He arrived back in Castile in early 1493, bringing a number of captive natives with him. Word of his voyages soon spread throughout Europe.

Columbus made three further voyages to the New World, exploring the Lesser Antilles in 1493, Trinidad and the northern coast of South America in 1498, and the eastern coast of Central America in 1502. Many of the names he gave to geographical features—particularly islands—are still in use. He continued to seek a passage to the East Indies, and the extent to which he was aware that the Americas were a wholly separate landmass is uncertain. He never clearly renounced his belief that he had reached the Far East and gave the name indios ("Indians") to the indigenous peoples he encountered.

Columbus's legacy continues to be debated. He was widely venerated in the centuries after his death, but public perceptions have changed as recent scholars have given greater attention to negative aspects of his life, such as his enslavement of the indigenous population in his quest for gold and his brutal subjugation of the Taíno people, leading to their near-extinction, as well as allegations of tyranny towards Spanish colonists. Now with the present unrest and ‘black lives too matter’ movement, there has been push to remove confederate symbols.

A statue of a confederate soldier was removed in Jacksonville, Florida, and the Navy moved to ban all confederate flags from public spaces. As cities and organizations across the country continue to take down monuments, memorials and other symbols of hate, one controversial historical figure has come back into the spotlight: Christopher Columbus. While the debate over the controversial European explorer reignited, some of his opponents have already taken bold action to his memorials.  On Tuesday night, a Columbus statue in Richmond, Virginia, was torn down by protesters, set on fire and then submerged into a lake, police said. Overnight Tuesday, another Columbus statue in Boston was decapitated, according to Boston police.

A decapitated statue of Christopher Columbus stands in Christopher Columbus Park in Boston.  The statue's head, damaged overnight, was recovered by the Boston Police,  as a movement to remove statues commemorating slavers and colonizers continues to sweep across the U.S. In New York City, Columbus's opponents are re-upping their calls to the city to remove the 14-foot marble statue that stands above a pedestal in Columbus Circle outside Central Park.  They say that this is right time and the city  did not need a monument to a figure who had a history of destroying and enslaving indigenous people. Proponents for the statue acknowledge that Columbus' history was far from the heroic, noble explorer portrayed in some history books; however, they said the history behind the New York statue is more nuanced.
A  distinguished professor of sociology who was part of a special commission that reviewed controversial monuments in New York City, noted that the New York statue was erected mostly to honour Italian Americans persecuted during the 19th century, while many confederate statutes were  put up to symbolize the triumph of whites over blacks in the south.  In 2018, the city removed a statue of J. Marion Sims, a 19th-century surgeon who conducted experimental operations on female slaves, from Central Park, following the commission's report.

History is a powerful wave and those who try to hold it back will be crushed, it is stated.  Getting back to that bronze statue in the middle of Mount Road – it was that of   Colonel James Neil  erected in 1861.  He was notorious for indiscriminately killing Indians in revenge after the First freedom war in 1857.  In 1927 there was a famous agitation, satyagraha for its removal. It was subsequently moved to Ripon Building Campus and from there to Madras museum after a resolution was passed in Madras Corporation. Last known, it was lying uncared for, with gunnies surrounding it in Madras Museum.

Ozymandias is a sonnet written by the  PB Shelly and published in 1818 ~ its  central theme is the inevitable decline of all leaders and of the empires they build.  

With regards – S. Sampathkumar

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