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As Icons Of Colonialism ‘Fall’ Across The Globe, India Must Also Reassess Its Cultural ‘Heroes’

The world is in a state of churn due to a global anti-racism movement sparked by the brutal death of an African American man, George Floyd, at the hands of a police officer in Minneapolis, USA.

The widespread protests have started a much overdue discussion not just about police brutality, but over historical crimes against humanity like colonisation, slavery, cultural genocide and persecution of native populations.

So many statues of past heroes are falling all over the world, including that of slave trader Edward Colston in Bristol, King Leopold II in Antwerp, Christopher Columbus in Boston and Junipero Serra in San Francisco in a spontaneous public movement.It is a sign that ordinary people everywhere are demanding a fresh look at their history.

A few days ago, protestors in the US toppled statues of Spanish missionary Junipero Serra at several places in California. Junipero Serra was a Spanish evangelist from the 18th century. He established 21 Catholic missions in California. These missions were an integral part of Serra’s mission to convert the indigenous population of California to Christianity.

These missions alienated thousands of Native Americans from their own culture and traditions and forced them into penury. Thousands perished due to disease as the Missions forced an alien way of life on them. The mission buildings and the huge estates they amassed were built using slave labour extracted from the Native American population.

In 2015, Vatican canonised Serra as a Roman Catholic saint. At the time, many groups of Native Americans had protested, expressing their distress at the Vatican’s decision to turn the perpetrator of a cultural genocide into a hero.

The Pechanga Band of Luiseño Indians had written an open letter to Pope Francis. The tribe’s letter accused Serra of wiping out the tribe’s population using repressive tactics. The letter said: “In just one generation, the total population of all Payómkawichum (Luiseño) villages suffered a greater than 90 per cent population loss through disease and abuse brought by Fr. Serra’s missionisation. Fr. Serra’s mission system killed between 9,000 and 13,500 of our ancestors.”


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