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King Charles finally gets crowned

On Saturday, May 6, the United Kingdom celebrated the coronation of King Charles III, 70 years after his mother Queen Elizabeth II was crowned Queen in 1952. King Charles will be the new monarch of the U.K. and 14 Commonwealth realms.

But it’s come at a time when there is much debate over the relevance (and existence) of the British monarchy in a post-colonial world. Among South Asians in the diaspora, the British monarchy evokes mixed emotions.

It’s hard to ignore the parasitic influence of the monarchy on entire countries, cultures, and the world, says Atlanta-based analyst Aditi. “We can’t deny that the continued existence of the royal family, along with the attention and wealth they receive, is a stark reminder of the pillage and colonization that took place under the crown and Great Britain.”

The colonial backstory

Post-colonial South Asians like Aditi find it hard to appreciate the wealth and opulence of the Royal family while dealing with the history of colonialism. The monarchy had full control over undivided India after the revolt of 1857, till the Independence of India and Pakistan in 1947. The British Crown symbolizes the start of a rule that destroyed the subcontinent in every way possible.

When Britain left following Independence, they took with them the spoils of 400 years of colonization. Queen Elizabeth II, however, would remain the symbol of a fading British monarchy until her passing in 2022. Throughout her reign, the Commonwealth continued to be a symbol of South Asia’s colonial past with the Queeen serving as titular head. But her death set off uncomfortable conversations about the legacy of the monarchy, its role in perpetuating colonialism, and its relevance in the modern world.

On Twitter, Uju Anya, an American professor, sparked a massive debate days before the Queen’s death, saying, “I heard the chief monarch of a thieving, raping, genocidal empire is finally dying. May her pain be excruciating.” Despite the backlash, Anya received a lot of support for her tweet, which was eventually removed.

We make the Royal family more relevant than it needs to be

In New Hampshire, journalist Mrinali Dhembla feels that though the monarchy isn’t politically relevant, it still has social relevance. “We make the Royal family more relevant than it needs to be,” remarked Dhembla. “There is so much importance attached to the social lives of the Royal family. British news outlets particularly enjoy capturing news like what the Royals are wearing. The fact that many people were crying after the Queen died shows that the monarchy is still relevant. It is problematic to make this family socially relevant – this means they will mint millions and millions of dollars from it.”

Chandra Sekhar, an analytics professional based in Chicago, is far from impressed. “The monarchy is not relevant in the current world where most countries are democratic republics. The coronation might be a symbolic ceremony for the U.K. but not to the rest of the world.”

Coronation controversies in the UK

In some circles, the monarchy still has support. The host of Dan Wootton Tonight tweeted, “Despite our challenges, the U.K. remains the greatest country in the world – and our monarchy is something to be extremely proud of. So I will gladly pledge my allegiance to King Charles III this Saturday as he is crowned in Westminster Abbey.”

Despite such support, in the U.K., the monarchy is grappling with historically low approval rates. According to a YouGov survey, fewer younger Britons favor the monarchy. Only 36% of young Britons want to keep the monarchy, as opposed to 40% who want an elected head of state. The U.K. issued a new Public Order Bill to enforce penalties and imprisonment of protestors who seriously disrupt everyday life. Under its aegis, members of Republic, a London-based anti-monarchist campaign group, were dragged away by police in Trafalgar Square, even before King Charles had an opportunity to see them from his opulent golden carriage, riding home to Buckingham Palace after the coronation.

The new king who has inherited a more multicultural, diverse Britain, has long understood the need to modernize the monarchy. It may pose a challenge, given the missteps made within his own family, over son Prince Harry’s marriage to a woman of color.

But Charles III’s coronation oath featured a new pledge to make the UK welcoming to all faiths, not just the Church of England. He has supported research into historical links between Britain’s monarchy and the transatlantic slave trade. He also plans to potentially slim down the monarchy by reducing the number of working royals to just seven.

The picture shows a parade with a horse drawn carriage
The Royal carriage heading to Buckingham palace after the coronation (image courtesy/ Twitter)

Commonwealth Representation

The coronation featured soldiers carrying flags from countries like the Bahamas, South Africa, and Tuvalu to ‘honor’ the monarch and affirm his ties to the former colonies. But activists in the Caribbean have called for the severance of all ties with the monarchy. On May 4, campaigners from 12 Commonwealth countries wrote to King Charles, urging him to apologize for the legacies of British colonialism.

Though King Charles is advocating a different style of Commonwealth from that of his predecessors, it will be tricky to disassociate himself from the bloody history of colonialism perpetuated by the very seat he will now take.

Stolen Jewels. Tone deaf display

In the run-up to the coronation, jewels in the headgear that would adorn the new King and Queen threatened to evoke unpleasant memories of stolen treasures from former colonies. Judiciously, Queen Consort Camilla chose not to be crowned with the controversial Koh-i-Noor diamond. British colonialists obtained the diamond by coercing the 11-year boy King Duleep Singh to hand it over in the 19th century. Several countries, including India, Pakistan, and Afghanistan, have claimed the infamous Koh-i-Noor, now ‘the jewel’ in the Crown Jewels, and asked for its return.

Instead, Camilla chose the equally controversial Cullinan III, IV, and V diamonds from Queen Elizabeth’s jewelry collection. The Cullinan diamonds are from South Africa and are associated with the violence of the Boer War.

“The symbols of colonialism, such as colonial-era jewels and other artifacts, carry with them the painful memories of oppression and exploitation,” remarked Aditi. “For me personally, it is imperative that these jewels and all artifacts that were taken not only by the Royal Family but by colonizers as a whole, including stolen historical and religious items in the British Museum, as promptly returned to their respective countries.”

She called the display and parade of these artifacts ‘tone deaf’. “They perpetuate the power imbalances and inequalities of the past.”

The picture shows a man on a throne
In the hot seat. King Charles at his coronation (image courtesy/ Twitter)

Ignoring Meghan Markle

The face of Britain is changing. In 2021, nearly 20% of residents identified as non-white. Given the growing ethnic diversity in the country, it was disheartening for Brits to watch the racist treatment meted out by the tabloid press to its first colored royal. More dismaying were revelations that the house of Charles and Camilla had planted negative stories in the media to rehabilitate Camilla’s own public persona.

The family feud was plainly evident at the coronation. Markle was absent. Harry sat three rows behind the brother, the Prince of Wales and future king. Aditi believes that this treatment reflects the unspoken racism within Royal circles, even though Britain serves as head of a Commonwealth that includes non-white nations.

“My personal opinion is the controversies surrounding Markle and monarchy are overhyped due to social media. I do not think King Charles can have the same impact as Queen Elizabeth did,” said Chandra Sekhar.

Complete dissolution of Monarchy

Aditi firmly believes that King Charles’s promises to ‘modernize’ in the face of shifting public sentiment towards the monarchy, is primarily motivated by a desire to protect his family’s wealth. “True modernization would require the dissolution of the monarchy and the equitable return of wealth and artifacts to former colonies. A monarchy is still a monarchy.”

Mrinali Dhembla agrees. “A monarchy is fundamentally an unequal system where one person who believes to be ordained by God lords over commoners and other people. A monarchy can never be modernized because the whole concept of a monarchy is elitist, wrong, classist, and racist in many ways.”

Modernization won’t change the Crown’s relationship with its colonies, adds Chandra Sekhar. “Most British colonies are already thriving without the need for this so-called modernization or help of the monarch.”

The views and opinions expressed here are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of India Currents. Any content provided by our bloggers or authors are of their opinion and are not intended to malign any religion, ethnic group, organization, individual or anyone or anything.

Ankita Mukhopadhyay is a media product manager and freelance journalist based in San Francisco. She recently graduated from Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism. Ankita’s articles...