Early this year I had the pleasure of hosting a documentary film screening at SOAS University on behalf of Decolonising Our Minds Society (DOM). I was keen to be part of this conversation as the documentary looked at the brutal repression in British occupied East Africa and the resistance of the Mau Mau. The methods conceived and employed by the British government in order to stifle indigenous resistance included mass detention, torture, rape, and murder. As well as the spectacular violence of the occupation the British Colonial Office (which later become its Foreign Office) engaged in ‘Operation Legacy’ - the systematic erasure of evidence that saw the British government destroy and hide files relating to its occupation in East Africa.
As you’re reading this I’m sure you’re struck by how this oppression mirrors the violence that Sikhs endured in Punjab; both directly under British occupation, and as a result of the legacy of their colonial “civilisation” project when they transferred power to the Brahmin elite in the process of formulating the indian state project.
The legendary organisation and resistance of the Mau Mau, and the collective punishment inflicted upon the civilian population, invokes for me the resistance of the Sikhs from the Gadhri Babeh and Babbar Akali’s to the Babbar Khalsa and every Sikh military unit that fought for Khalistan. The methods employed have a common origin rooted in colonial policy, by transferring power to the Brahmin elite the British also transferred the right to us all possible state violence in order to crush any form of resistance. The most heartbreaking aspect and the one that is most difficult to come to terms with, is how both in Punjab and in East Africa Sikhs, with misplaced feelings of loyalty to British occupation, became part of the apparatus of oppression.
The privilege of speaking at this event on behalf of DOM is not one I take lightly and is reflective of the NSYF commitment to building solidarity and recognising our allies. The people together will always rise against oppression and erasure, our memory will always fight back against forgetting. Khalistan Zindabad.
Bellow is the introductory speech that I delivered on behalf of, and in collaboration with, DOM.
“For a colonised people the most essential value, because the most concrete, is first and foremost the land: the land which will bring them bread and, above all, dignity.” - Fanon
Good evening and welcome, on behalf of DOM and the event co-organisers the Museum of British Colonialism, I’d like to thank you all for attending.
I hope you all remain present as we collectively bear witness to the journey the Operation Legacy documentary and the conversation with the panelists will take us on.
Before we begin it is important to recognise the space were in - as one of furthering imperialist knowledge production.
Since its formation SOAS has had the overt purpose of serving the British state to strengthen its commercial, military, and political position in Asia and Africa, and producing knowledge and narratives about colonial subjects and environments.
There can and should be no sanitisation of what it means for an institution to serve the interests of the British state: a globally genocidal and ecocidal imperial power propelled by the profits of enslavement and white settler dominions in the Americas, Africa, Asia, and Australasia.
DOM stands with the various campaigns for social justice at SOAS which are testaments to the real decolonial work that needs to be undertaken within the institution from: justice for workers, preventing the implementation of the racist and islamaphobic prevent strategy, standing against the contraventions of BDS to expose the links the university still has with settler colonialism as it continues its relationship with the Hebrew university.
We stand with all those marginalised and excluded by the university as it is to them who we are accountable.
Our accountability involves constantly unmasking the imagined language of colonisers, words such as Rehabilitation, Expropriation, Annexation, Partition are metaphors for brutal colonial violence and occupation of our land and being.
Any notion of restitution such as commissions or enquires always take place and are formulated within structures created by colonisers which never allow us to challenge the underlying exploitative nature of colonial power structures and institutions, instead they normalise and draw out oppression and it’s trauma over generations.
The Operation Legacy documentary brings the struggle and resistance of the Mau Mau to the heart of this institution. Operation Legacy was a colonial office, which became the foreign office, program to destroy state documentation that sought to cover up the role of the state in oppression and subjugation in territories occupied by Britain.