Toppling and Relocating Statues

On the one hand, activists(Vatal Nagaraj) have been quite critical of statues of Edward VII and Queen Victoria in the Cubbon Park. On the other hand, local natives and historians have been exhorting to cultivate tolerance and avoid destroying public spaces.

The act of setting up monuments has been seen as a symbol of power since ancient times. Kings, invaders and public figures have used iconography to create a narrative of great and prosperous rule for millennia. Thus, Indian national leaders, namely Nehru were critical of the royal family’s imperial iconoclasm and gradually, in postcolonial India, these statues were relocated to parks and museums to maintain them as a sign of historical memory.

King George V’s statue was removed in the 1960s from India Gate. It was relocated to the coronation park.

The Picture above tries to show the historical trend of removing colonial-era statues from public places in India. Although this trend has become global in the backdrop of the recent Black Lives Matter movement in which statues of slave traders and imperialists were toppled across American and European cities as a sign of resistance against the racial injustices from the past. Protesters toppled a statue of Edward Colston in Bristol on the 7th of June, an infamous slave trader. In Belgium, demonstrators burned and defaced several statues and monuments to King Leopold II, who ruled the Congo Free State from 1885 to 1908, treating it as his personal property and committing atrocities against its people.

The act of setting up statues and the removal of statues often mark significant events in history. For example, the setting up of Coronation Park marked the beginning of imperial rule from Delhi. The toppling of Stalin and Saddam Hussein statues marked significant geopolitical shifts in Russia and Eastern Europe(Hungarian revolution).

To conclude, the reclaiming of identity by the subalterns require changing historical consciousness. To reach this goal, the popular memory of the masses can be altered through the measures like toppling and defacing statues and public monuments. As a student of history, I think public statues need not be relocated or destroyed to reclaim the subaltern identity. The descriptions of these statues can narrate historical injustices perpetrated by the colonisers to make us aware of colonial rule. Removal can often whitewash history as it does not resolve any of the problems of racial injustices and colonial exploitation; these statues must serve as a reminder of the social exploitation so that we can collectively undertake affirmative action measures to move towards a more moral social order.



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