Museums have long overlooked the violence of empire

Deana Heath in

ScreenHunter_1527 Dec. 01 17.30It took Britain a century to conquer most of the Indian subcontinent, which it then dominated for a further century. The subcontinent also witnessed a partition that led, by a recent estimate, to over three million deaths, and the largest mass migration of human beings in global history. The violence of colonialism is palpable even in the most cursory rendering of India’s past. But scholars have only recently begun to examine the many forms such violence takes, the rationales behind them and their impact on Indian bodies and minds.

When the violence of South Asia’s colonial history appears in academic scholarship, it largely does so only in certain forms: narratives of rebellion and resistance, religious or ethnic violence, and cataclysmic events. Framing violence in this way displaces it onto the colonised and underestimates the endemic, everyday forms of violence through which colonialism operated. Such erasure is not unique to Indian history. It merely illustrates the ways in which violence has been written out of the history of Britain’s imperial past.

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