Remove the racist, colonial statue of Frederick Roberts in the Kelvingrove Park, Glasgow.
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With the possible removal of a confederate monument in Charlottesville that led to the terrorist attack of a white supremacist on an anti-racism protest in August 2017, crucial debates are taking place all over the USA about the glorification of racist monuments.
However, such debates should not be restricted to the USA. Whether it is in the USA or the UK, we should not have to be watched by silent reminders that reinforce the white supremacist systems that oppress minorities. Many imperial statues, such as Cecil Rhodes in Oxford, still stand tall and glorify the “greatness” of the British Empire. Such cold-hearted, imperial relics leave the 8.4 million Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) people all over the UK feeling like inadequate, second-class citizens.
As a person of Indian origin living in Glasgow, I have spent almost every rare sunny day lounging on the lawns of the Kelvingrove Park. On the highest hill of the park, the Frederick Roberts monument has often haunted me. It always reminds me of the British Empire’s inglorious past that oppressed my Indian ancestors for several centuries; a past that is still celebrated by many today. Straddling his harnessed horse, in his military attire, peering in the distance at the University of Glasgow and the Kelvingrove Museum, the statue of Frederick Roberts is granted the most prestigious position in one of Glasgow’s most beautiful parks. One might begin to wonder what glory this white man must have achieved to gain such an honourable seat. Fear not. The inscriptions on his pedestal, listing his violent victories, justify his perch for the inquisitive visitor:
“INDIAN MUTINY, UMBEYLA,
ABYSSINIA, LUSHAI, AFGHANISTAN
BURMAH, SOUTH AFRICA
‘I seem to see the gleam in the distance of the weapons and the accoutrements of this Army, this Citizen Army, the wonder of these islands, and the pledge of the peace and of the continued greatness of this Empire.’ Extract from Lord Roberts’ Speech in Glasgow on 6th March 1913.”
Is Roberts’ “pledge of peace” really reflected by his conquests in the listed wars? Looking into his actions during the Indian Revolt and the Second Anglo-Boer War, it is obvious that his statue is inappropriate today.
After the “Indian Mutiny”, Frederick Roberts was applauded for his “gallantry” in 1858 when he murdered numerous Indian soldiers. These Indian soldiers, or Sepoys, were fighting for the freedom of their country from the chains of the British Empire, which was unfortunately only achieved a century later. 800,000 Indians were killed during the Indian Revolt and its aftermath included one of the many famines caused by the misdistribution of food under British rule. Many Indians who escaped death were sent to plantations in different colonies to work as life-long indentured workers, very much like slaves. While slavery was abolished in the USA in 1865 and in the British Empire in 1833, the British Empire was still trading Indian indentured workers across the globe in the same slave ships to do the work that black African slaves had been forced to do for five centuries. While the UK still holds close ties with India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka as Commonwealth countries, even making tikka masala its national dish, the UK needs to stop glorifying violent, racist warriors such as Frederick Roberts who personifies the oppression of BME people in the name of “peace” and “greatness”.
During the Second Anglo-Boer War in 1899 in South Africa, Roberts led the British forces against the Boers, the Afrikaans-speaking white South African descendants of the Dutch colonisers in South Africa. He burned farms and created concentration camps for Boers to force them to submit. The concentration camps lacked food, space, medical care and the conditions resulted in the spread of disease and the death of 26,370 women and children. Yet, the fate of the Boers was not as terrible as that of many black South Africans. While Roberts’ war was taking place, the British Empire continued to operate an indenture system for Xhosas, since October 1843, similar to slavery and the Indian forced labour system – again, ironically, after it had formally abolished slavery.
It is clear that Frederick Roberts propagated racism, violence and injustice which allowed the British Empire to prosper. Just like the USA, it is time for the UK to come to terms with its darker history and acknowledge the value of BME people and their ancestors, without glorifying the white supremacy that oppressed them. Frederick Roberts’ statue belongs in a colonial museum where people can learn more about the suffering caused by the British Empire and the moral, human costs of Victorian prosperity. Allowing this statue to remain in the Kelvingrove Park will only further deepen national amnesia. It undermines the role of BME people in British history with their endless contributions to British economic and socio-political prosperity in the past and still today.
Please remove the racist, colonial monument!
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