Legacy of Violence: Caroline Elkins in conversation with Shashi Tharoor
Jaipur: In conversation with politician Shashi Tharoor, Pulitzer Prize winning Professor of history at Harvard University, Caroline Elkins, spoke about her new book, “Legacy of Violence: A History of the British Empire”. They spoke about a variety of themes, including the global history of the empire, its violent undertones, the legal case that was filed against Britain and its manifestations in South Asia. Through the book, Elkins says, she hoped to connect the dots of what happened across the colonial events of violence in 1857 India and 1954 Kenya, among others. She says that while these are explained as one-offs, they are in fact rooted in the very ideology of liberal imperialism which was deeply violent.
Shashi Tharoor also mentioned how there was evidence of the use of violence and intimidation and that of “legitimate violence” in maintaining the empire in India too. He also discussed the many instances of violence in colonial India, including the Jallianwallah Bagh massacre which he said was part of a much larger pattern of British-instituted violence. Elkins contributed to these ideas by talking about how colonial officials who engaged in such violence moved across territories, from Thailand to Kenya to Palestine. She also spoke at length about the colonial antecedents of the colonization of Palestine. The evidence of this violence, she suggests, was usually erased or burnt.
They also discussed the election of Rishi Sunak. To this, Tharoor said that this reflected a change in the domestic politics of Britain, but said it was vital to keep in mind that the people of color in British politics are often conservatives. According to Elkins, even the selection of a Black Caribbean woman to speak after Queen Elizabeth II’s demise, was a choreographed affair meant to show the success of the civilizing mission.
On the whole, the event shed important light on the violence that underscored liberal imperialism, and how the colonial affair was riddled with this type of systemic violence against the indigenous people, and how the evidence about this was often erased. Elkins’ new book is a contribution to the existing literature as it draws a pattern between these kinds of violences across the empire. Tharoor called it a “welcome corrective” about the narrative of the British empire.