Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II left us on Thursday 8 September and since then there has been an outpouring of condolences and tributes to commemorate the longest reigning monarch.
As I first got the news of the Queen’s passing, I was filled with sadness and my immediate reaction was to call my mother. I called her to check to see if she had heard the news and if she was ok. My mother and I consoled each other during that call, just as we would had a relative or friend passed away.
However, as the day went on, I started feeling guilty about my naturally sorrowful emotions for the Queen. A deep conflict within me started to erupt as to why was I feeling sad and bereaved for the person who was head, of the British Empire. The same Empire which caused the 1947 partition in my British parent’s country of birth – India, leaving millions displaced and dead. I may not have been alive to witness the devastating destruction and killings of the partition, but the remnant of colonialism still lives on, which my generation, those before and perhaps those after me are still grappling with in our everyday lives.
While I am in awe of an individual who I believe to be a remarkable monarch, thrust into the spotlight with responsibilities at the tender age of 25, as the Queen of our country, I cannot deny she was also part of the same legacy of loot, slavery and exploitation delivered by the British Empire, resulting in decades of suffering, death, economic and social devastation, and still dealing with the long-term impact of colonial oppression.
As British Asians we must never forget the deplorable acts of an Empire who ruled India for so long, robbing our heritage country of its wealth, though we should also take note of how our relationship with the British monarchy is today. During Queen Elizabeth’s 70-year administration, no one can deny that as ancestors were being ruled by the British Raj, our late Queen, certainly didn’t continue that tradition and gave the monarchy a facelift, by serving her people rather than ruling the people. We’ve certainly seen her service and commitment for us till the very end. Who can forget the image of a frail Queen Elizabeth, just two days before her passing, appointing Boris Johnson’s replacement Liz Truss, as prime minister, at Balmoral.
One would however argue that while she served us, the Queen never did really apologise for the horrors distributed by her ancestors. Who could also forget Winston Churchill, whose activities led to the death of millions during the partition was her favourite prime minister.
Having said that she has also been on the right side of history, in her extraordinary relationship with Nelson Mandela, her hatred of apartheid and her determination to fight it.
As my MP, Naz Shah, reminded us in her tribute speech for her Majesty, the famous clash with the then UK prime minister Margaret Thatcher over the UK’s support to the apartheid regime. Many of us till date remember how our late monarch stood up for the right cause while several British politicians enabled racism and hatred.
This is a clear example of a monarch who during her reign was more focused on serving rather than ruling. She may have inherited the British Empire and all the atrocities that came with it, but Her Majesty was in the least bit interested in maintaining any of the Empire’s tradition of rule.
This is why I and many people like me, may find our relationship with the Queen and perhaps even with the new monarch King Charles III a complex one.
Growing up in the UK we’re taught respect and admiration for the Monarch, which includes aspirations to one day be granted a Queen’s honour, even if it means the title brings with it references to an imperial past.
Our late Queen may not have always made the right decisions over her sovereignty, but that was overshadowed by the marvellous life she lived and her many achievements.
Elizabeth Alexandra Mary Windsor was born on 21 April 1926, during the roaring twenties an era unfamiliar to me, but one described as the jazz age, due to music, fashion and carefree living. As the 1930’s began Britain fell into the Great Depression, with the worst economic downturn in the history of the industrialised world, lasting from 1929 to 1939. It was during this time, at the tender age of 15 Elizabeth had got involved in public service
I learned that she knitted garments for the poor, contributed funds to purchase cigarettes for the armed forces, and attended dances and programs of evacuated children. As I explored further about our late Queen’s history, she continued to impress me with her early career as a car mechanic with the ATS (Auxiliary Territorial Service – the women’s army service), given that even today, decades later, women are still under-represented in such roles.
The late Queen certainly had longevity and stayed relevant and in trend with her memorable tongue-in-cheek cameo at the opening ceremony of the London Olympics in 2012, where she appeared to parachute down into the arena from a helicopter in the company of James Bond. This was wonderfully followed up with her tea and marmalade sandwiches with Paddington Bear as part of her Platinum Jubilee celebrations.
As I recall these incredibly entertaining and joyful moments, it’s hard not to forget the touching moment when the Queen due to social-distancing protocols brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic, sat alone in a choir stall, in St. George’s Chapel (in Windsor Castle) at Philip’s funeral.
The viral images of The Queen grieving in isolation were heart-breaking, but signified dignity, courage and duty that she repeatedly displayed during her reign.
While many us felt for Her Majesty during these moments, there have been moments, where the Queen lost some of her popularity.
In 1992, a year that Her Majesty referred to as the royal family’s annus horribilis, Prince Charles and his wife, Diana, princess of Wales, separated, as did Prince Andrew and his wife, Sarah, duchess of York. Moreover, Anne divorced, and a fire gutted the royal residence of Windsor Castle, piling on pressure from a country that was grappling with recession for the Queen to also contribute with income tax on her private income.
Although personally exempt, Her Majesty agreed to pay taxes on her private income.
It takes some strength to be able to handle such challenges, but to also win back the people again. No matter what Her Majesty was facing, she remained the beacon of stability and certainty for her subjects, especially during times when we had lost hope and unity.
The Queen’s words have always been: “Through all of my life and all of my heart, I will strive to be worthy of your service.
Therefore, for anyone who is aggrieved by the British Empire, whether that be in India or other commonwealth realms our relationship with the Queen and her family will always remain a complicated one, but right now is not the time to dig up the past, but to pay our deepest respects to who our longest serving monarch was, and not the Empire that she was born into.
Here at Asian Standard, we offer our sincerest condolences to the Royal family at a very difficult time and pay tribute to the most remarkable Queen of Great Britain and the Commonwealth.
Thank you for your unwavering service and dedication to serve your people.