12 September 2012

Nothing to cheer about the Common Welt

The 58th Commonwealth Parliamentary Conference is currently underway in Colombo.  Over 850 parliamentarians and other officials from 54 countries are participating in this annual event.  They are to discuss at length various issues relevant to the ‘Commonwealth’ (CW), although resolution on key matters must await the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting. 

Glancing through the stated ‘Beliefs and Values’ of the CW, one is struck by a stunning absence.  Here’s the legend: ‘Beyond the ties of history, language and institutions, members are united through the association’s values of democracy, freedom, peace, the rule of law and opportunity for all’.  No mention of the one, true, abiding commonality: the common welt.  To elaborate, this refers to the ridge or bump on the cultural, physical and societal skin of nations caused by colonial lash and blow or by an allergic reaction to colonial presence in all its numerous forms.  This, more than anything, is the common bind that gives reason for periodic gatherings. 
The values are found in their breach in the welt-giver and in the welt-receiver in local engagement as well as engagement in international affairs.  In the name of democracy, countries are invaded and plundered.  That’s not in the colonial past but the post-colonial present.  In the name of freedom, bombs are dropped, enemies named, captured, tortured and killed.  The rule of law is a notion reduced to the imposition of will by the powerful, either using threat of attack or threat of pulling the rug from under the feet of nations conveniently tagged ‘rogue’ in the form of sanctions.  As for opportunity for all, it is a wish that is terribly at odds with the fixations of capitalism. 

The CW, however, periodically toss around these lovely words and notions, delude themselves and/or delude the respective populations that these values make sense, while at the same time operating as though the common welt which clearly overrides all other markers (economic, political and social etc.) has left no scars and indeed that the whipping has stopped.  The sun may have set on the British Empire, but Britain certainly has not woken up to the fact.  Instead, it has found comfort in playing side-kick to its world conquering successor, the United States of America. 

The global political economy is made of processes that commonalities such as welts and subjugated histories just cannot contain.  While regional gatherings, such as SAARC, for purely geographical reasons, make sense in terms of trade and cultural exchange (where there is commonality as opposed to the wide disparities one finds among the welt-ridden nations), the binding power of the Commonwealth is palpably thin.  The only thing it seems to reinforce is the fact of subjugation and the only tangible outcome is a mild ego boost to the conqueror, by the simple fact of a memory-upgrade of a ruling time, which, on the flip side was a time of rape, theft, murder, plunder, desecration and other crimes against humanity.
The other major absence is the total aversion to mentioning the one tangible avenue for correcting historical injustice: the compensation by returning loot. 

The class of locals who were consoled by tidbits and other crumbs from the colonial plate would point to ‘benefits’ such as roads, schools and hospitals of course.  On the other hand, roads and railways, while facilitating the transport of what was plundered, were built using local labor and taxes collected from subjugated populations.  Speaking strictly about Sri Lanka, every region had 7 types of physicians, temples were schools and the scholarship and literature produced by them (long before the British set up ‘schools’ to produce loyal human resources necessary to upkeep the plunder) is of no less value to any scholarship or writing anywhere in the world.  Our ancestors saw tree and not timber, animal and not game, community and not selfish individual.  One could go on enumerating but the point is clear: we lost far, far, far more than we gained.  We need not say thank you.  And we need not act ‘grateful’. 

The Commonwealth Parliamentary  Conference may or may not mention ‘loot’ and ‘welt’, but if these words don’t come up then let it be because of decency and civilization that always existed and not because we’ve internalized the biggest colonial lie: ‘English Decency’.