Monarch vs. Matriarch, the Death of Queen Elizabeth II Leaves British South Asians Divided on her 70-Year Reign


16 min read

Following the death of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II on 8 September 2022, Brown Girl Magazine’s U.K. team along with guest contributors, some who have been associated or recognised by the monarchy, have penned their views on whether this historic moment will shift attitudes towards the significance and standing of the Royal Family.

As I lay down flowers outside the grounds of Buckingham Palace to pay my respects to the late Queen Elizabeth II earlier this month, I am taken back to the summer of 2001. My then 4-year-old cousin had decided to throw a royal tantrum outside the palace grounds, once she realised that she wasn’t on Her Majesty’s invite list to the annual Garden Tea Party. “But I want to see the Queen!” she cried. Just like her, I grew up on fairy tales of Kings and Queens living in magical Kingdoms — yet our reality was far from fiction. Elizabeth Alexandra Mary Windsor, the country’s longest-serving monarch, leaves behind a legacy that will continue to heighten so many emotions and divide views amongst South Asians in the United Kingdom. For many, the history of colonisation and wounds of partition, inflicting my own family, is far from forgotten. Yet, equally there are those, like my immigrant grandmother, in wanting to move forward, not only participated with fellow South Asians in the Queen’s Jubilee celebration in June, but waited 12 hours to see the late Queen lying in state — that are simply mourning the matriarch, the mother, the grandmother — who single-handedly served the country for over 70 years. A country that my grandmother calls home. As BGM’s UK Editor, I was well aware of the challenges in bringing together different voices on one platform. Voices of loss, grief, anger and even hope, but voices that need to be heard. I am thankful to my team and all the guests that have contributed such raw emotions.

All my life I’ve known one monarch —The Queen. She was spoken of fondly in my Indo-Caribbean household. My family would reflect back on Guyana during British rule where life, at least during their time, was good. Her passing felt unreal, and as someone who identifies both as British and Guyanese, confusing too. Queen Elizabeth II has always felt a bit like a grandmother figure from afar and so her passing does feel like a personal loss. The way she navigated her reign from the young age of 25 and earned the respect and admiration of leaders across the world as a woman was pretty incredible. Yes, she ascended to a throne and empire that was rooted in colonialism. As a figurehead of neutrality, her silence has at times been at the expense of people’s suffering. But living within a constitutional monarchy, you also have to question, how much power did she really wield? The Queen’s ‘reserve powers’ included appointing the prime minister, opening and closing sessions of Parliament, and to approve the legislation. However, even these powers were limited by constitutional conventions. A lot of the anti-monarch sentiment appears to hold The Queen solely responsible for the British Empire without really acknowledging that the government and prime minister are the ones that effectively make the decisions in the United Kingdom. The right time to really have this conversation about colonialism would have been while the Queen was alive. While I agree the monarchy should acknowledge the suffering people endured throughout this time, there should be a plan to move forward–together. I think about how awful indentured servitude must have been and how my great grandfather left India never seeing his family again. But with migration to the U.K. possible, this allowed my parents to build a life here where I then got to study and pursue my passions. I’d like to think his hardship wasn’t in vain. The U.K. isn’t perfect, but if it wasn’t for all that happened before, I question whether we would be here and think about what an alternate life would look like. Personally, I think King Charles III will find his footing and have a better understanding of how to steer the monarchy in a way that is progressive but still hold duty and service at its core. There was a post that quoted Nelson Mandela who said:  “It is so easy to break down and destroy. The heroes are those who make peace and build.” I think that’s a good message for us all to live by.

Thinking about the Empire, monarchy and what the Queen represents is bitter-sweet for me. Without it, I wouldn’t be here and wouldn’t have my life in the U.K. but that’s hard to square with what happened to my father, grandfather and family at the hands of the Empire during Partition. The death of the Queen has evoked a strong emotional response in many. My father is actually very upset despite his own history, he greatly admired the Queen and met her on several occasions. For many others, it has evoked a visceral response as it has triggered feelings of oppression and the legacy of colonialism. There have been angry exchanges on social media regarding whether South Asians should mourn the Queen’s death. My own view is that the country will become greater by embracing the past, learning from it and driving change, rather than directing hate or anger towards previous rulers. If we are to change the culture in the U.K., it starts with education and an honest conversation about our Imperial past and how it affects us today. Without that understanding, it is difficult to move forward.

My reaction to the Queen’s passing is one of indifference. That being said, many of the discourses surrounding the news have stirred up a flurry of intense emotions within me. I cannot separate the Queen from an institution which reeks of the bloody legacy of colonial rule and unnecessary wealth — the latter of which I perceive to be particularly vulgar in a time where too many have too little. I acknowledge the Queen as a source of comfort, unity and pride across communities — a particularly powerful phenomenon within a political climate saturated with divisions. However, as a British South Asian and someone who has a deep interest in the experiences of people of colour, I believe that her passing marks a pertinent time during which we as a society need to seriously listen to the valid criticisms that black and brown people voice in towards the Queen and the royal institution. Whilst I cannot entertain any notion of monarchy abolition (as a fantasy land this is not), I envision a future in which royal successors acknowledge their colonial past and have a serious think about what reparations mean as we stand in the 21st century.

As someone who was born and brought up in the U.K., especially in Hornchurch, a suburb of London, the royal family and Queen were huge influences in my upbringing. I remember my parents being invited to Buckingham Palace in the ’80s for the Queen’s Garden Party, and mum being so excited when Her Majesty complimented her outfit and took great interest in the Assamese silk that her mekhela sador was made from. My admiration for the Queen only grew after I moved across the pond to New York. A true matriarch, role model and warrior of her times, the Queen transcended generations and cultures and got along with everyone she met. As a long-term volunteer and mentor for the Prince’s Trust, I have also become quite familiar with the then Prince of Wales in his genuine desire to give back to society and empower our youth. Now as he steps into his new avatar of King Charles III, I’m sure he’ll make sure that the charities and initiatives that he’s founded and supported over the years will continue to flourish. It will be interesting to see the transition in the King’s attitude and approach to global diplomacy, and world affairs, especially since he was always seen as quite an activist for social causes in his former life. I have no doubt he will follow in his mother’s footsteps and perform his role with great leadership and diplomacy and also add in his own vision and personality along the way.

As a proud brown woman, I’ve never shied away from voicing my deep dislike for the British Empire’s colonial history. Yet, the passing of our Queen left me sorrowful. The Queen was not an empress in name. The title was stripped from the British monarchy with the independence of India and Pakistan in 1947. However, we can’t ignore that she did inherit and sustain imperial wealth for decades to come. One may think it’s easy to expect cold attitudes from South Asians towards the Queen’s passing. There are no excuses that her ancestors were part of a brutal regime that presided over the subcontinent and damaged the region in indescribable ways. Yet, Queen Elizabeth ll achieved the implausible. She managed to win the respect and hearts of the Commonwealth. This respect wasn’t forced like it once may have had. It was earned because of who she was as a human being. It partially stemmed from her direct disconnection from the savagery of the British Raj. The monarchy was evolving and redefining from its conventional “ruling” methods, and adapting to the new role of “servants.” Queen Elizabeth II was determined to foster equal and healthy relationships and defeat the wretched legacy of the British Empire’s past. As a Muslim, it’s hugely significant how she came forward in uniting with Islamic communities across Britain. The Queen was the first British monarch to enter a mosque in the U.K. It gave Muslim minority groups recognition, confidence, courage and freedom to practice their religion with ease. Is this a complex issue? Of course. It’s not perfect. There is still a LOT of work to be done, and I hope to envision a future where the Royal Family addresses its imperial past with proper dialogue and discussion. To perform duties that may have looked easy but were unimaginably difficult from a young age, with grace and dignity, is what Her Majesty is admired and will be remembered for. For those of us in the UK, she was a beacon of hope and stability.

It’s fascinating watching the world divided in how they feel about the passing of Queen Elizabeth. Many people, particularly those of younger generations do recognise the grey among the black and white. Where on one hand she did a lot of good and provided a feeling of nostalgia, stability and reassurance in a world that is constantly undergoing change. But on the other hand, it baffles me to see people from the same culture as me, as descendants of a country that was brutally and haphazardly torn apart and completely sapped of its riches and resources, celebrating, mourning and idolising the very symbol that sits on a throne decorated with the blood and sweat their own ancestors spilt. It screams ignorance and cognitive dissonance to me and I do hope the voices that speak about the injustices the British monarchy has put so many countries through are heard louder than those who still rave about how great and benevolent the royal family is. They’re certainly a symbol of feigned grandeur and power, but in reality merely a caricature, and following Meghan Markle and Prince Harry’s interview with Oprah recently, it became obvious that it is only the media that keeps them relevant today. King Charles III is no Queen Elizabeth II, and so has a lot of work to do to earn respect across the board and knowing the rumours of how he treated Princess Diana who was at one with the public, it’ll be interesting to see if he manages to capture the hearts of anyone at all, or whether the passing of the queen officially marks the demise of this institution that should have never really deserved the adulation it so proudly holds.

In a lot of ways, I have a big sense of acceptance of what’s taken place. It’s sad, it’s poignant and it’s massively significant for the U.K. and our identity and history. I’m no Royalist and as a brown girl, I certainly welcome as we increasingly question the history of the institution, the late Queen was born into, grew up within and then became an almost seemingly eternal symbol of, within the context of colonialism and racism. However, for this moment, for the next 10 days, there does need to be respect, silence and perhaps some space given to the traditions that will play out in the coming week or so. In a funny way, I can accept and fully respect why people feel the sentiments they do, that she represented us and symbolised Britishness for so long and for so many.

Thank you to our iconic Queen who has dedicated her life, over 70 years, to service.  As a British Asian she has been a constant in my life and will be incredibly missed by the nation. When I received my MBE in the Queen’s honours list in October 2020 for services to health and fitness, I was delighted to be told by ITV news on the night they were announced, that the Queen had heard about my workouts personally! I will treasure this memory forever and have always imagined her doing some of my chair-based exercises from her throne with her corgis by her side! This is a time of profound grief and I extend my best wishes to His Majesty, King Charles III, who I’m sure will continue the Queen’s legacy, with ethnic communities, and the deep connection she had with India and its traditions. He has been most charming and personable on occasions with my father and late father-in-law when they met him in person. I wish him success in his reign and hope this period of grief brings the nation stronger together.

I’m simply failing to understand why so much of our time, energy and taxes go toward the monarchy. The late Queen, who stood as Head of State for what felt like an eternity, almost transcended history. Her presence was everywhere, yet nowhere. The fantasy of her limited power equating to limited accountability is shameful, as although [her power] wasn’t absolute, she represented heinous crimes of the British empire. I could proceed to the source of her wealth, how her whole institution is built on the back of slavery, theft, racism and ultimately the sheer hard work of working-class individuals globally, but this is widely known and by the looks of it, accepted. That is her legacy. I should mention the Commonwealth, orchestrated visits of stupidity, in the name of ‘unity,’ when in actual fact she stood to exploit them. Millions of Commonwealth soldiers fought for Her Majesty, from young boys traumatised from war to dedicated men overseas given inadequate recognition and support. How can I mourn her death when there are nameless victims who were robbed of a resting place? She passed peacefully and lived a long and comfortable life, whilst others fought for independence with theirs, the lucky survivors now dealing with psychological traumas and broken economies. That is her legacy. Domestically, we are in a cost-of-living crisis, with a newly appointed King dodging inheritance tax on royal estates whilst children are starving and homeless numbers are on the rise. This is her legacy. She stood and supported inequality globally. Her institution should lay with her, hidden away just like the Bengal famine, or if royalists insist on upholding an outrageous outdated tradition, showcase their collective sins just like they did with the  Kohinoor diamond. Regardless, I will not mourn the Queen. I recognise her once-importance and can appreciate the sense of familiarity and community she provided to those in the Commonwealth. Yet, I know as well as your neighbour that sugar-coated history means no progress. I simply cannot accept the “mother of our nations” narrative. Where was her motherly loving presence to the nation when hiding her alleged sexual abuser son? She enabled Andrew’s behaviour, just like the Commonwealth crimes and lastly her stolen wardrobe. Ultimately, That is her legacy.

 The country came to a standstill. Whether you’re a royalist or not there was a moment of pause. You can feel the heavy sombre of grief as the news of Queen Elizabeth’s death is everywhere. Within this bleak time of sadness, I can’t help but become disappointed at the distasteful content influencers are uploading, taking full advantage of this desolate time to poke fun or bringing the history of India and the U.K.’s relationship to the forefront of scrutiny. The hypocrisy that these influencers and high-profile people who are quoting terms like; genocide, colonisation, war, and diamonds do so from their privileged, western country abode reeking the benefits of living and growing up in a Western country protected by laws, decorum, policy, Equality Acts and freedom of speech. Living within a culture that is historically stereotyped on narratives, such as; “forced marriages, honour killings, sexist customs, mental health issues and of course, the aunty’s gossiping” from the lineage of grandparents that led their lives normalised by these beliefs being the correct and honourable right way to live. The Queen is of the same tradition. A stiff upper lip, living and working by an inherited belief system, however, may be outdated, nonetheless, she took over a role not chosen but forced onto her which also comes with the repercussions of prior decisions. Today we have a new King and a new Prime minister in place. An opportunity where we will see a new monarch with his own pathway to shape the establishment. King Charles III has always voiced his concerns on ecological and climate issues and more opportunities for disadvantaged young people matching today’s current subjects of discussion. Which I judge will become prioritised. It’s been reported the new monarch has suggested he’d accept Commonwealth countries’ requests to become independent, showing the humanity of the king, healing past wrongs and building new relationships. Even possibly going a step forward to acknowledge or apologise for historical events would be helpful in order, to move forward and learn from prior decisions that could be part of King Charles III new statement of power. Whatever the new king decides, I am excited to see a fresh style of modernised monarchy and parliamentary judgement.

Perhaps for people who have grown up in the U.K., there is an understanding/image of the Queen herself — as the longest ruling monarch, her face on posters, events centred on her, the Jubilee celebrations etc. It makes sense that she is an icon to those who are used to seeing her everywhere they look. However, for people like me, who have only recently moved to the U.K. and for people outside of the country, specifically in previously colonised countries, we don’t separate the Queen from the monarchy. To us, the Queen is a symbol of colonisation. She’s both an icon and a symbol, it’s just dependent on who you ask.

LONG LIVE THE NEW (MODERN WORLD). As a young girl growing up in India, the British Empire and its Queen represented terrible colonial oppression. Now as an older woman living in Britain, juggling my dual identities, the death of that same Queen creates conflicting emotions: respect, anger at colonialism, and grief at the death of a mother figure. It’s all deeply complicated, as you’d expect for any immigrant from the so-called “colonies”. Thinking of the new King Charles III, I’d like to think that the British monarchy will be more forward-looking, considering it’s 2022. My personal belief is even if Charles doesn’t want to be, he will have to be more modern, and more diverse. Because that will determine something he & every member of the monarchy needs: its very survival.

I was saddened to hear about the passing of the Queen. I’m not a Royalist but I did like the Queen — she was a powerful woman, who ruled for 70 years. And I enjoyed watching her show her personality at various events — the Paddington video & James Bond London Olympics opening ceremony video (which I loved), not to mention her birthday photoshoot with the horses (#goals). We as a nation have witnessed a historical period of time that I don’t think future generations to come will witness again. As we look to the future I would like to see King Charles III bring a new voice to the monarchy. He’s known for his ‘outspoken’ views on important topics such as climate change, and political policy and it would be great if he did bring this to his reign. In his time as Prince, he’s also done a lot of good e.g Prince’s Trust. As a British Asian, I can’t write this and ignore the devastating effect colonialism has had on countries around the world. Over the past years, there has been a shift in how younger generations feel about the monarchy, (not viewing them favourably) & I think it will continue unless King Charles can ensure the monarchy adapts to reflect the views of modern Britain.

I think everyone was saddened by the news of the Queen’s passing. There are some who would like the monarchy abolished,  but it should be noted how  Queen Elizabeth 11 was crowned Queen on her father’s passing at the young age of 25 and had a big responsibility which she carried out for 70 years, hence deemed Britain’s longest-reigning monarch in history. Alongside this, she committed her life to serve others. Queen Elizabeth II’s impact on poverty was profound as she supported more than 600 charities and organisations in the U.K. and the Commonwealth. I could not help but think of when Queen Elizabeth 11 hosted then king of Afghanistan Zahir Shah along with his daughter Princess Bilqis Begum and son-in-law, General Sardar Abdul Wali on their state visit to the United Kingdom in 1971 and how she welcomed them. This mirrors her state visits across many less developed countries around the world such as Nepal, Bangladesh, Ghana, India, Iran, Pakistan and much more. The future is not clear with King Charles III taking the throne but I hope he, as well as the royal family, can have more of a positive impact on the United Kingdom and the world at large.

For me, the death of the HRH the Queen marks the end of an era that has been a long time coming. As a woman, I can’t help but admire her resilience, perseverance and ability for commanding power through respect in what was essentially a man’s world when she started out. She broke multiple glass ceilings during her 70-year reign, inspiring millions of women to do the same. As a daughter, I sympathise with the pain a family feels when they lose someone beloved to them. As a mother, I can’t deny her unwavering dedication to protecting her children from the world, whilst never stepping away from her duties. As a spiritualist in pursuit of my own Dharma, I am in awe of her self-awareness, her devotion to serving others and how committed she was to her path in life. And as a British Asian citizen, I shed a tear when I saw the love, gratitude and admiration she inspired, that brings an entire nation together today. Yet as a human and person of colour? I find this loss bittersweet as I also can’t help but see she was a major contributor to the colonisation of my ancestors, genocide of many and quite frankly, as part of the Monarchy, the largest influencer of white supremacy the world has seen. 

As a human, I can’t help but sympathise with the trauma of entire generations of indigenous families across multiple continents — the effects of which can still be seen in current generations and that will continue to affect the financial standing of future generations. All whilst her own family sits on the profits reaped from these actions. As a human, I can’t deny that perhaps influenced by capitalism and a sense of service to her country there are blurred lines around the morality of her actions and how much she actually questioned the impact they had on those enslaved through imperialism.  And as a human, I am in awe as WE; a society coming out of one of the toughest periods of our generation, on the verge of war, in the middle of climate disasters, supported by a crumbling National Health service and about to see millions in on the poverty line this winter due to energy bills. Aren’t we questioning ourselves more about where we want this new era of Monarchy to take us as a society?  

It’s easy to be swept up in the media hype and romanticise what the Queen stands for as an establishment. But do we blindly follow yet another monarch?  Or do we start asking questions that enable us to start creating a fairer society, where the 1% doesn’t benefit alone? Do we take back our power to build freer communities that focus on that which binds them together rather than divides them? The answer for me lies in the AND. I can be sympathetic AND see the reality of a situation. I can admire someone AND know their actions may be questionable. I can be in awe of an establishment AND strive to look for better ways to do things. Ultimately, I can embrace those that are devoted to the Monarchy, a cornerstone of what it means to be British AND make a loving space for the voices of those that have been traumatised by it. AND I hope, if we all do the same and respect the diverse backgrounds from which we ALL come as British citizens, this leads to building a more inclusive and equal society for our future generations.


The opinions expressed by the writer of this piece, and those providing comments thereon (collectively, the “Writers”), are theirs alone and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Brown Girl Magazine, Inc., or any of its employees, directors, officers, affiliates, or assigns (collectively, “BGM”). BGM is not responsible for the accuracy of any of the information supplied by the Writers. It is not the intention of Brown Girl Magazine to malign any religion, ethnic group, club, organization, company, or individual. If you have a complaint about this content, please email us at hello@browngirlmagazine.com. This post is subject to our Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. If you’d like to submit a guest post, please follow the guidelines we’ve set forth here.

 





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