Addressing the legacies of colonialism and slavery has been a distinguished narrative all through 2020. A lot of calls to recognise, take away, rename, repatriate, and redress have underlined the extent to which Britain’s historical past of slavery and colonial exploitation are woven into, and layered over, the constructed atmosphere.
One such name has made a breakthrough. On November 25, Ealing Council in London’s west London formally introduced that it was renaming Havelock Highway in Southall. It is among the dozens of locations world wide named after considered one of Britain’s most distinguished navy leaders in colonial India. Havelock Highway will now grow to be Guru Nanak Highway, after the founding father of the Sikh religion.
The London suburb of Southall, by which three-quarters of the native inhabitants are of South Asian descent, is house to one of many largest Sikh communities outdoors India. On Havelock Highway, itself is Europe’s largest Sikh temple, the Sri Guru Singh Sabha Gurdwara.
What’s in a reputation?
Responding to Britain’s post-war recruitment drive throughout the empire and Commonwealth, hundreds of Sikh immigrants sought jobs in Southall’s factories from the Fifties. This transfer adopted the independence and partition of India, by which the Radcliffe Line cut up Punjab in two. This was a traumatic and dislocating expertise for inhabitants of the area, which had a profound and enduring impression on the South Asian diaspora.
Life for the rising immigrant communities of London’s “Little India” was in no way simple. Intense racism led to murders, road fights, and unrest on the streets of Southall, notably within the 1970-80s. By the early 2000s, the socio-economic standing of Southall’s Sikhs had significantly improved and movies reminiscent of Bend it Like Beckham additional elevated the realm’s visibility. However inequality, marginalisation, and discrimination in some ways endure.
The stark symbolic juxtaposition between the gurdwara and the realm’s inhabitants with their deal with has been famous lengthy earlier than the latest push to “decolonise” issues and even lengthy earlier than the gurdwara’s building in 2003.
The member of parliament in Southall, Virendra Sharma, was born in Punjab 4 months earlier than the British partitioned and left India in 1947. Sharma emigrated to West London within the Nineteen Sixties, changing into a councillor in 1982 and MP for Ealing Southall in 2007. Speaking in a latest video about campaigning within the Nineteen Eighties, he stated: “I’ve usually been ashamed [that] the names of empire nonetheless pervade our streets,” including that “names like Havelock belong in books, school rooms and museums, not on the streets to be celebrated”.
Additionally commemorated with a statue in Trafalgar Sq., Henry Havelock was a distinguished East India Firm basic. He turned well-known for his brutal suppression of the 1857 Indian Rise up at Kanpur, Uttar Pradesh. Earlier than this, nevertheless, he had battled the Sikhs within the First Anglo-Sikh Conflict (1845-46), which culminated within the British annexing a big swathe of Punjabi territory.
Not everybody’s completely satisfied
The choice to vary the title adopted a strategy of session which responded to the mayor of London’s announcement, in June this yr, to nominate a fee to evaluation and enhance the variety of neighborhood illustration throughout London’s public memorials. Ealing Council’s session resulted in a small majority favouring the renaming, although general response charges have been low.
Considered one of Henry Havelock’s descendants, Emily McKenzie, welcomed the information. “This makes me actually completely satisfied,” she wrote. “My ancestor’s story will at all times be a part of British historical past, however his dwelling kinfolk have a a lot totally different view on the world and are very completely satisfied to have a good time Sikh influences and tradition within the UK.”
The announcement of the change at Havelock Highway has, nevertheless, not been universally welcomed. A lot of the backlash argues it’s the results of “political correctness” and constitutes an “erasure of historical past”. One individual tweeted: “What a load of nonsense. What if we went to India and began altering their road names.” Unsurprisingly, Twitter customers responded of their a whole bunch to this reactionary colonial amnesia, together with many individuals from India the place numerous place names have been Anglicised, or modified completely, over greater than three centuries.
City environments within the colonised world, and the imperial centre, each mirrored – and have been instruments of – colonisation. Civic areas symbolised the facility of the state, its growth prowess, civilising mission, and, in the end, the supposed superiority of the coloniser. The present resistance to addressing legacies of imperialism displays a permanent and even rising feeling of colonial satisfaction and nostalgia.
However renaming the road after Guru Nanak has proved contentious amongst some Sikhs as nicely. Nanak is taken into account a common, inclusive icon by those that advised celebrating his title in Southall. Nonetheless, others have argued that the Guru is susceptible to being disrespected. These individuals declare that drug and alcohol abuse, playing and prostitution happen within the space.
Opponents are additionally involved that Ealing Council is just indulging in a superficial name-changing in response to this summer season’s heated protests, however is in any other case doing little of actual worth to advertise neighborhood uplift within the borough’s socially disadvantaged areas. As a part of the brand new assertion issued on November 25 to announce the title change, Ealing Council additionally reiterated its plans to proceed with a evaluation of all structural inequalities within the borough by Might 2021. However it stays to be seen what sensible modifications it will deliver.
Eradicating the title of a infamous colonialist from one road in Southall is clearly of symbolic significance. Sharma informed us:
[Havelock’s] title is to me, and I’m positive hundreds of thousands of different British Indians, British Pakistanis and British Bangladeshis, synonymous with homicide, oppression and thuggery. It means recollections of tales informed by mother and father and grandparents of being a second-class citizen in your personal nation.
However for a lot of, taking down a statue or a road signal is only the start of decolonising Twenty first-century Britain.
The authors don’t work for, seek the advice of, personal shares in or obtain funding from any firm or group that might profit from this text, and have disclosed no related affiliations past their educational appointment.