british-colonialism

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January 30th 1948: Gandhi assassinated

On this day in 1948, Indian pacifist and leader of the independence movement, Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, was assassinated by Nathuram Godse. Gandhi was famous for his non-violent struggle for Indian independence from British colonial rule, disavowing violence and instead advocating mass civil disobedience to secure India’s independence. For instance, in 1930 he led the Salt March, which saw thousands of protestors defy the British monopoly on salt production by marching to the coastline and producing their own salt. Gandhi’s goal was achieved a year before his death, with Indian independence secured in August 1947. However, in January 1948, he was shot at point-blank range while walking to a platform to address a prayer meeting. The assasin was Nathuram Godse, a Hindu nationalist who believed that Gandhi was sympathetic to Muslims and responsible for weakening India by insisting on payment to Pakistan. Gandhi was mourned across India and throughout the world, with thousands flocking to his funeral. He remains a revered figure today, honoured in India as ‘Father of the Nation’ and respectfully referred to as ‘Mahatma’ (’Great Soul’) and ‘Bapu’ (’father’).

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January 26th 1950: Indian Constitution enacted

On this day in 1950, the Indian Constitution came into effect, thus founding the Republic of India. The struggle for independence from British colonial rule had been ongoing for many years, characterised by the non-violent resistance led by Mohandas Gandhi. In 1947, these efforts came to fruition, with the Partition of India creating the two independent nations of India and Pakistan. However, the transition to independence was not a smooth one, and religious violence was commonplace in the years after partition. In an effort to stabilise the new Indian state, the India Constituent Assembly adopted a new constitution in 1949. It was decided that the constitution would be enacted on January 26th to commemorate the 1930 Declaration of Independence on the same day, which resolved the Indian parliament to fight for self-rule. The 448-article document provided for a government based on the British parliamentary system, with elections every five years, and enshrined the principles of universal adult suffrage and equality. Unlike Britain, India was to be a republic, with a President holding a ceremonial head of state role. The new republic’s first President was Rajendra Prasad. Jawaharlal Nehru served as Indian Prime Minister until his death in 1964, having led the nation through a very turbulent time, and was succeeded by Lal Bahadur Shastri. Nehru’s daughter, the famous Indira Gandhi, went on to become a four-term Prime Minister. This day is commemorated in India every year as Republic Day.

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language moodboard: American English

English is the most widely spoken language in the United States of America. American English has diverged from the colonial British dialect in many ways. Notably, American english is largely rhotic (except for some dialects in the south and on the east coast) and its vocabulary, grammar, and pronunciation have been influenced to some degree by Native American languages and by other immigrant languages.

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Happy Together (春光乍洩). Dir. Wong Kar-wai (王家衛). 1997.

Made on the eve of Hong Kong’s return from British colonial rule to mainland China, Wong Kar-wai’s Happy Together features the tumultuous relationship of a gay couple, Ho Po-wing (Leslie Cheung) and Lai Yiu-fai (Tony Leung Chiu-wai). The film is set in Buenos Aires, Argentina, exactly halfway around the world from Hong Kong, and through Wong Kar-wai’s trademark loose narrative structure, illustrates the couple’s destructive, yet mutually co-dependent relationship, as they break up only to get back together over and over again. Despite the film’s English title, which references The Turtles’ 1967 song of the same name, Happy Together is brimming with melancholy and unreciprocated emotions alongside momentary encounters of hope and love. The film also explores themes of diasporic exile, as the characters simultaneously long for home while also desiring to be in transit, and is commonly read as an allegory about Hong Kong’s return to China. The film abstracts the journey of coming to terms with one’s past, present, and future. As Leslie Cheung’s character repeats throughout the film: “Let’s start over again”.

Happy Together received international recognition, winning the prestigious Palmes d’Or and allowing Wong Kar-wai to win Best Director at the 1997 Cannes Film Festival. 

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January 4th 1948: Burmese independence

On this day in 1948, Burma declared independence from the United Kingdom, having been colonised in the nineteenth century after a series of Anglo-Burmese wars. The country’s first Prime Minister, Ba Maw, came to power in 1937 and advocated for greater self-rule for the colony, thus fueling an independence movement. In 1940, the Burma Independence Army was formed by revolutionary Aung San. During World War Two, the Japanese occupied the country, leading to a violent struggle with the Allies to reclaim Burma, with Burmese fighters on either side of the conflict. At the end of the war, Aung San emerged as the leader of a transitional government to oversee the nation’s independence, securing an agreement with British Prime Minister Clement Attlee in January 1947 guaranteeing Burma’s independence within a year. Despite Aung San’s assassination by a group of political rivals in July 1947, which was allegedly backed by the British, his dream was fulfilled on January 4th 1948, when Burma became an independent nation. Aung San is still remembered as the father of the nation, and his daughter Aung San Suu Kyi is a Nobel Peace Prize-winning politician. Upon independence, Sao Shwe Thaik became Burma’s first President, and U Nu its Prime Minister. This day is celebrated every year in Burma to commemorate the day the nation achieved independence from colonial rule.

Readers of the Times had been told, by an Irish correspondent, as early as Christmas of 1846 that, in Skibbereen (Cork), for example, ’[t]he poorhouse is full to overflowing, and the guardians are weekly obliged to refuse admission to the famishing creatures that throng around the doors; though the general impression among the poor is that admission to the workhouse is equivalent to a sentence of death.’ Yet, a correspondent from England was sure that the remedy for Ireland was “to toil for food, not to get it by begging.‘
—  Gerry Kearns, “Bare Life, Political Violence, and the Territorial Structure of Britain and Ireland” in Violent Geographies: Fear, Terror, and Political Violence
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January 21st 1950: George Orwell dies

On this day in 1950, the acclaimed English writer George Orwell died in London aged 46. He was born in 1903 as Eric Arthur Blair in Motihari, India, as his father was a colonial civil servant there, though moved to England while still an infant. The aspiring writer penned his first poem when he was four years old, and had his first poem published in a newspaper at age eleven. Blair studied at the prestigious Eton school, and went on to work for the imperial police in Burma. After he returned to England, he adopted the pseudonym George Orwell and published his first book - Down and Out in Paris and London - in 1933. Even in his early works Orwell demonstrated a keen interest in political issues, and offered a sharp critique of the British class system and colonialism. In 1936 he joined the international brigades fighting in the Spanish Civil War on the side of the Republicans, against the fascist Francisco Franco. He was injured in the fighting in Spain, and his health didn’t improve when he returned to England, where he was diagnosed with tuberculosis. He continued to write, and worked for the BBC for a couple of years as a propagandist during the Second World War, before resigning in 1943. It was after he left the BBC that Orwell wrote his two most famous works - Animal Farm (1945), and Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949). The former is an allegorical satire of the Soviet Union, as while a socialist himself, Orwell had become disillusioned with Stalin’s betrayal of communist ideals. The latter is a dystopian novel, set only thirty-five years after it was written, that envisioned a world characterised by excessive government control and curtailment of civil liberties. This novel introduced several phrases into the lexicon that are still used today, including ‘Big Brother’, ‘doublethink’, 'Room 101’, and 'thought-police’. Orwell achieved great success with these two works, but sadly lost his ongoing struggle with tuberculosis in 1950.

“He who controls the past controls the future. He who controls the present controls the past.”  
- George Orwell, Nineteen Eighty-Four

“All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.”  
- George Orwell, Animal Farm

The charity of the British was challenged by their perception of the Irish as bringing calamity upon themselves through their culture and religion, and bringing disease into the heart of British cities through their filthiness. In Ireland, the desperate and starving peasants haunted the streets of every town and city. There was no avoiding the catastrophe, and contemporaries spoke of the murder of Irish people through deliberate British neglect. Those charitable souls not content to allow the British state to measure the quality of their mercy sent missionaries to the west of Ireland and, there, language almost failed them. These issues of representation have serious consequences. The Irish, it would appear, could not be represented as what Agamben has termed “politically qualified life,” that is as people with rights. Disqualified from representing themselves politically, they could not, in turn, be represented as political subjects. At best, they were represented as biological objects, as bare life. The degradation of poverty and starvation produced images of the Irish that were ironically complicit with their representation as mere animal life. In this context, they could be objects of charity but never subjects who had a right to put their own care. They were moralized about rather than listened to. In 1848, Charles Trevelyan, who was largely responsible for the administration of poor relief in Ireland, wrote to his colleague at the Treasury, Charles Wood, in precisely these terms: ‘the great evil with which we have to contend is not the physical evil of the famine, but the moral evil of the selfish, perverse and turbulent character of the people.’
—  Gerry Kearns, “Bare Life, Political Violence, and the Territorial Structure of Britain and Ireland” in Violent Geographies: Fear, Terror, and Political Violence
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December 8th 1941: Battle of Hong Kong begins

On this day in 1941, during the Second World War, the Battle of Hong Kong began. The attack on the then British colony of Hong Kong began just hours after the Japanese attacked the American base of Pearl Harbor, marking the beginning of Japan’s quest for domination in Asia. The British government was sceptical of their chances of defending the outpost, but in September 1941 drafted Canadian troops to Hong Kong. The Battle of Hong Kong lasted 17 days, seeing heavy bombardment and fierce fighting, including a massacre at an Allied hostpital. The 12,000 Allied troops - comprising Canadians, Britons, Indians, and locals - were vastly outnumbered by the 50,000 Japanese. Ultimately, over 2,000 Allied troops died trying to defend Hong Kong, and the British governor surrendered on December 25th. The Japanese occupied Hong Kong until August 1945; after the war, the Japanese governor was executed for war crimes. The battle of Hong Kong remains an important moment in Canadian and Commonwealth history, for, despite overwhelming odds and little military training, the Allied forces refused to surrender, and many subsequently endured brutal conditions as prisoners of war.

75 years ago today