Chicago artist hopes King Charles can do what his mother did not
A more explicit acknowledgment of harm done by Britain’s colonial rule would be a start, said Pritika Chowdhry, whose grandparents lived through the partition of India at the end of British rule.
As many around the world mourned Queen Elizabeth II, Britain’s longest-reigning monarch, many descendants of those subjected to colonial rule had a more nuanced view of her legacy.
“I guess I had mixed feelings because on one hand I felt sad about her passing since she is such an iconic woman and she’s a mother and a grandmother,” Pritika Chowdhry, a Chicago artist of Indian descent, said Friday. “But on the other hand, there was a sort of feeling that she had this very long reign, in a very powerful role and she could have done so much more to acknowledge the wrongs associated with Britain’s colonial history.”
Chowdhry said rather than confronting those atrocities, the queen sidestepped and often refused to make amends.
She points specifically to the partition of India in 1947, which is the subject of Chowdry’s current exhibition at the South Asia Institute in Chicago.
Partition was imposed at the end of Britain’s colonial rule, as the country was divided into India and Pakistan — one majority Hindu, the other. majority Muslim. The result was religious genocides in which hundreds of thousands were killed during one of the biggest migrations in history.
Chowdhry said even though the events were 75 years ago it still affected her family; her grandparents lived through it.
“Granted, that happened under King George VI’s watch, but Queen Elizabeth assumed power soon after and not that much time had passed,” Chowdhry said. “She should’ve used her power and her influence to set things right but she unfortunately chose not to.”
Chowdhry said the partition of India is just a single “dark history” of British colonial rule and other countries across the world had suffered at the hands of the monarchy. She hopes King Charles III can do what his mother couldn’t — that is, at minimum, recognize the harm the British Empire inflicted to gain power and influence for centuries.
The next step to righting past wrongs, she added, would involve looking at some form of reparations.
“I really do hope that he will do something more than what Queen Elizabeth was able to do, or chose to do,” Chowdhry said.
Chowdhry’s exhibition “Unbearable Memories, Unspeakable Histories: Partition Anti-Memorial Project” commemorates the 75th anniversary of the partition. It is on display at the South Asia Institute, 1925 S. Michigan Ave., through December.
Contributing: WBEZ reporter Indira Khera