Tanjil Rashid: The statue topplers are obsessed with white men and white history

Tanjil Rashid
June 20 2020

The statue-topplers are obsessed with white men and white history

Black and Asian luminaries like Rammohan Roy are always ignored in favour of Colston, Churchill and Rhodes

On my visits to Bristol in the past, there was always a certain statue peering over the city centre that would trigger heightened emotions in me. I’m not talking about the recently toppled monument of slave-trader Edward Colston, but the memorial to another representative of empire: the radical scholar and reformer Raja Rammohan Roy, who came to London in 1830 as the ambassador of the Mughal Emperor (who was by then a titular sovereign under the rule of the East India Company), and died in Bristol three years later. He now stands in pride of place on College Green, outside the cathedral, about five minutes’ walk from where the Colston statue stood, until last weekend.

Both statues commemorate quintessential products of the British Empire. And yet they couldn’t have been less alike. The moneyed, dandyish Colston, portrayed with cane in hand, was an unscrupulous capitalist who earned a fortune from the enslavement of 84,000 Africans, whereas the austere, scholarly Rammohan Roy, seen wielding a hardback, was a spiritual reformer who wrote and campaigned in five languages, notably against child marriage and widow-burning.

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