UK students boycott Rudyard Kipling over anti-India views

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Published: July 19, 2018 8:51:43 PM

A poem by renowned English writer Rudyard Kipling has been scrubbed off the walls of the Manchester University by students as a boycott against his “racist” views that legitimised the British Empire in India.

Kipling’s famous poem ‘If’, which was written in the late 19th century, had been painted on a wall of the university’s newly-refurbished Students’ Union. But students decided to paint over the verses to replace them with a 1978 poem ‘Still I Rise’ by US poet and civil rights activist Maya Angelou. (Reuters)

A poem by renowned English writer Rudyard Kipling has been scrubbed off the walls of the Manchester University by students as a boycott against his “racist” views that legitimised the British Empire in India. Kipling’s famous poem ‘If’, which was written in the late 19th century, had been painted on a wall of the university’s newly-refurbished Students’ Union. But students decided to paint over the verses to replace them with a 1978 poem ‘Still I Rise’ by US poet and civil rights activist Maya Angelou.

“It’s important for us to represent the voices of black and brown students, which is why we felt Rudyard Kipling’s poem was completely inappropriate,” said Riddi Viswanathan, an Indian-origin Student Union Diversity Officer at the university. She said that elected members representing students felt any work associated with Kipling, who was born in Mumbai during the Raj in 1865, was “not in line with our values”.

“Well known as author of the racist poem ‘The White Man’s Burden’, and a plethora of other work that sought to legitimate the British Empire’s presence in India and dehumanise people of colour, it is deeply inappropriate to promote the work of Kipling in our SU [Students’ Union],” said Sara Khan, Liberation and Access Officer at Manchester University Students’ Union.

Kipling, whose works include classics such as ‘The Jungle Book’ and ‘Kim’, wrote many of his works inspired by the country of his birth and was the first English-language writer to be awarded the Nobel prize in literature in 1907. ‘The White Man’s Burden’, written in 1899 during the Philippine-American war, encourages the US to assume colonial control of the country.

A spokesperson for the Manchester University Students’ Union apologised for not considering student opinion before commissioning the mural.

“We understand that we made a mistake in our approach to a recent piece of artwork by failing to garner student opinion at the start of a new project. We accept that the result was inappropriate and for that we apologise,” the spokesperson said.

‘If’ was painted on the wall of the Leaders Lounge after being commissioned by permanent union staff as part of renovations to the building, which is named after South African anti-apartheid campaigner Steve Biko.

The work was painted white on last week before being replaced with Angelou’s poem this week, which was chosen by the union’s executive committee.

“Certainly his [Kipling’s] politics were imperialist but that’s only half of the story.
The University of Manchester declined to comment on the issue, saying the Students’ Union was independently operated.

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