Pepper changed the world – but how many people know that? | Anna Sulan Masing

Colonialism was born from the greed for spices and led to today’s globalised world. I know because it’s my family’s story

In 1603, James Lancaster arrived back in London after several years in pursuit of riches, bringing ships laden with peppercorns. He was in command of the first British East India Company fleet, an entity that was granted a royal charter by Elizabeth I in 1600, and had travelled to south Asia and back.

Pepper is believed to be originally from Kerala and specifically the Western Ghats, a humid and wet stretch of mountains on the western coast of India. It was known throughout antiquity and particularly loved by the Romans, and was well established in England by the 1100s, when the Guild of Pepperers was formed in London. (This guild went on to become the Company of Grocers, which is still in existence today.)

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‘Cultural appropriation’: discussion builds over western yoga industry

Practitioners fear Indian culture has been ‘suppressed by colonisation’ while some question accessibility

Yoga has been a big part of Nadia Gilani’s life since she was introduced to the practice by her mother at the age of 16. A few years ago, after various personal struggles, she became a full-time yoga teacher.

But almost immediately, she realised not only were most yoga teachers and students in the UK white, but the accompanying wellness narrative has divorced yoga from its 5,000-year-old roots.

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Indian minister calls for abolition of 1,500 laws dating back to Raj

Archaic laws include fining those who fail to beat a drum to beat back locusts or report money found in street

An Indian minister has called for his country to abolish 1,500 archaic laws dating back to the British Raj.

On the statute book are laws that range from equating kites with aircraft so that anyone wanting to fly a kite needs a licence, to a requirement for car inspectors to have “well-brushed” teeth.

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‘Painful memories’: what will the royal family do with the Koh-i-noor diamond?

India’s Narenda Modi has suggested Queen Consort should not wear infamous gem on coronation day

The phrase “jewel in the crown” once evoked Charles Dance, Peggy Ashcroft and the sepia-tinted prettiness of a 1980s Granada TV series. Today, in headlines around the world, it is linked to a very modern, and potentially very ugly, diplomatic row.

The Koh-i-noor, Persian for Mountain of Light, is neither the biggest diamond in the world, nor the most beautiful, but it is arguably the most infamous. For many in India it has always represented the humiliation of colonisation.

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Under our monarchy, a deeply unequal world flourished | Letters

Readers respond to Afua Hirsch’s article calling for Britain to confront the painful truth of its colonial past

Afua Hirsch’s article explicitly describes the everlasting damage created in the name of colonialism (This is a Britain that has lost its Queen – and the luxury of denial about its past, 13 September). I saw first-hand the ongoing horrors and cruelty of this in the 25 years that I worked for the international trade union movement in Africa, Asia and the South Pacific islands.

Land was taken over to grow food for the west so it got used to having cheap pineapples and mangoes all year round. Rubber and palm oil plantations in Malaysia destroyed soil and reduced the amount of land for domestic farming. Mines ruined people’s lives and created civil disturbance in Papua New Guinea – the list is endless.

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‘There hasn’t been closure’: India mourns Queen but awaits apology

In largest Commonwealth country, personal affection for Elizabeth II mingles with need for recognition of British colonial atrocities

Over the course of her seven-decade reign, Queen Elizabeth II made three visits to India, a country she would herald for its “richness and diversity”. But it was her third and final trip in 1997 that is often considered the most significant.

India was celebrating 50 years of independence and on the Queen’s itinerary was a visit to Jallianwala Bagh, the site in the city of Amritsar where in 1919 a British general ordered thousands of peaceful protesters to be shot, a massacre that was one of the bloodiest episodes of British colonial rule over India. The hope among many was that the Queen’s visit would finally bring about a long-awaited apology for colonial atrocities. But in the end, the apology never came.

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Dutch PM apologises for state’s role in abuses in 1940s Indonesian war

Study finds ‘widespread’ ill-treatment and extrajudicial executions during 1945-9 war of independence

Mark Rutte, the prime minister of the Netherlands, has apologised after an inquiry revealed that the Dutch state condoned the systematic use of extrajudicial executions and torture during the 1945-9 Indonesian war of independence.

The “extreme violence” of the Netherlands’ military and intelligence services was said in the report to have been sanctioned at the highest levels of government, with all considerations subordinated to the goal of maintaining the colony.

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Reparations to the Caribbean could break the cycle of corruption – and China’s grip | Kenneth Mohammed

The belt and road initiative is ensnaring vulnerable countries in debt via corrupt infrastructure projects. Slavery reparations from former colonial powers could help turn the tide

As Transparency International (TI) publishes their annual Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) this week, it will be interesting to see where certain countries land: 2021 has been a bumper year for corruption.

In Britain, corruption has been on the minds of journalists, academics and practitioners alike, as Boris Johnson tries to get himself run out, the only hope of him continuing his innings lying with Sue Gray.

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Amitav Ghosh: European colonialism helped create a planet in crisis

Indian author says pillaging of lands and killing of indigenous people laid foundation for climate emergency

Amitav Ghosh can clearly remember his first interaction with the climate crisis. It was the early 2000s, and Ghosh, now one of India’s most celebrated authors and winner of its highest literary prize, was researching a novel set in the Sundarbans, a network of islands around the mouth of the Ganges Delta in the Bay of Bengal, which is home to the world’s largest mangrove forest.

Climate change had barely entered into public consciousness back then, but Ghosh clearly remembers “visible signs that something wasn’t right”.

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Images of India: from courtesans and colonial rule to a child’s-eye view – in pictures

Since its invention in the 1840s, photography has played an integral part in Indian art history. Although it is often said that India is the most photographed country in the world, the history of its representation is more complicated, and more political, than initially meets the eye. Visions of India: From the Colonial to the Contemporary is the first major survey of Indian photography in Australia and will be on show at the Monash Gallery of Art in Melbourne until 20 March 2022

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Lessons about the legacy of Indian partition need to be taught | Letter

The events of 1947 and their impact are clearly part and parcel of British history, writes Professor Sarah Ansari

In view of the forthcoming 74th anniversary of the partition that accompanied independence in British-controlled South Asia, the call for a better understanding of what the end of empire there entailed is very timely and welcome (Letters, 1 July). But we should note that there was no state of “Bengal” created in August 1947 , though East Pakistan did later become Bangladesh, in 1971, following a bloody liberation war. And estimates of the number of people displaced thanks to partition now stand at around 12 to 14 million (precise figures will never be known) rather than 3 million, making it the 20th century’s largest such migration with long-lasting political and human legacies in the region and beyond. Moreover, the suggestion that communal violence only happened because the restraining hand of the Raj had been lifted is to ignore how far the Raj’s policies were directly responsible for the deadly breakdown in intra-community relations. The events of 1947 and their impact are clearly part and parcel of British history – losing its so-called “jewel in the crown” reshaped the UK’s global position after the second world war – and help to explain subsequent South Asian migration to this country.

As initiatives such as the Partition History Project and its successor the Partition Education Group have highlighted, and as a parliamentary debate on 28 June flagged up, much more engagement with this country’s complex past is needed in UK schools, together with support for the history teachers who would be providing it.
Sarah Ansari
Professor of history, Royal Holloway, University of London

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British rule in India: an abusive relationship | Letters

Arguments that ‘it was not all bad’ can quickly descend into a catalogue of justifications for atrocious acts and behaviours, writes Dr Nandini Boodia-Canoo. Plus letters from Geof Wood, John Griffiths and David Bentley

Amartya Sen has delivered a critical appraisal of British rule in India (Illusions of empire: Amartya Sen on what British rule really did for India, 29 June). Yet what is missing from his ponderings is a clear critique of the apologist arguments which underpin inquiries into the so-called “achievements” of colonialism.

Instead, he highlights an issue of methodology, namely the impossibility of envisaging an India in which British rule had not occurred. While Sen acknowledges the difficulty of such an evaluation, he finds merit in queries which seek to establish how India was lacking at the time of British conquest and how those deficiencies were met by the new rulers. He promptly embarks on such an examination.

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Don’t ignore the plight of Tibet under the Chinese Communist party | Letter

Chinese rule in Tibet has been characterised by brutal repression and ethnic cleansing, writes Terry Philpot – and yet the rest of the world takes little interest

Your otherwise excellent editorial on the centenary of the Chinese Communist party (29 June) ignores entirely, as do so many commentaries on China, the appalling suffering of the Tibetan people, citing only the oppression of the Uyghurs. Tibet’s plight under Chinese rule goes back even longer. Tibet was an independent country when invaded by the Chinese army in 1950. Its spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, fled to a life of exile and his young successor was kidnapped by the Chinese and never seen again.

Chinese rule is characterised by brutal repression, ethnic cleansing (partly by the mass settlement of Han Chinese and the promotion of Mandarin Chinese over Tibetan), persecution of religious believers, torture, murder, “disappearances”, and incarceration without trial. Tibet evokes little interest from governments (including successive British ones) and none from the left or the right. Its cause is kept alive in the UK largely by Free Tibet.
Terry Philpot
Limpsfield Chart, Surrey

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Amartya Sen: what British rule really did for India

It is true that before British rule, India was starting to fall behind other parts of the world – but many of the arguments defending the Raj are based on serious misconceptions about India’s past, imperialism and history itself

The British empire in India was in effect established at the Battle of Plassey on 23 June 1757. The battle was swift, beginning at dawn and ending close to sunset. It was a normal monsoon day, with occasional rain in the mango groves at the town of Plassey, which is between Calcutta, where the British were based, and Murshidabad, the capital of the kingdom of Bengal. It was in those mango groves that the British forces faced the Nawab Siraj-ud-Doula’s army and convincingly defeated it.

British rule ended nearly 200 years later with Jawaharlal Nehru’s famous speech on India’s “tryst with destiny” at midnight on 14 August 1947. Two hundred years is a long time. What did the British achieve in India, and what did they fail to accomplish?

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Gandhi tries to get colonial Britain to ban opium in India – archive, 9 December 1926

9 December 1926: Addiction, particularly among the poor, has become a serious problem

An English friend of Mr. Gandhi writes from Santiniketan, Bolpur, India:–

We arrived at the Ashram (Dr. Rabindranath Tagore’s home) on Mr. Gandhi’s birthday, and, of course, hundreds of people kept arriving to do him honour. There are about 200 people living at the Ashram – mostly in families. Some scholarship boys are there for three months to learn spinning and weaving so that they can go out to the villages and spend their lives working among the humblest, starting khaddar so as to augment the scanty wages of the peasants, teaching them to think for themselves, trying to break down “untouchability,” discouraging child marriages, and weaning the people, men, women, and children alike, from drink and opium.

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