Authorities of the town of Jaslo, in Poland, found out about the origins of the tree when plans were being made to fell the tree, to facilitate the construction of a traffic roundabout. Opinions among the townspeople are divided on whether to fell the tree or not.
Some, like Kazimierz Polak, who witnessed the planting of the tree, 67 years ago, feel- “It’s a historic curiosity. What is the oak really guilty of? It’s not the tree’s fault that it was planted here to honour the biggest criminal and enemy of Poland.”
Others, like the town’s Mayor, Maria Kurowska feel – Why ‘should I allow a memorial to that criminal to remain standing?’
In India, after we became Independent from the British in 1947, names that the British rulers had given to buildings and gardens were changed. In Mumbai, as in other places in India, names like Victoria Terminus, Victoria Gardens, were changed to Indian names.
Wanting to erase the signs of a nation’s oppressors is a natural sentiment. Of course, it would have been very destructive to have torn down the monuments or buildings themselves. Changing their names was one way of trying to restore national pride.
But these things- buildings or parks or monuments, are just the outward remains of our oppressed past.
What about the invisible debris of the period of enslavement by the British?
Our education system is just the same as in those days.
Most here have read Lord Macaulay’s address to the British Parliament of 1835- ‘….I do not think we would ever conquer this country unless we break the very back bone of this nation which is her spiritual and cultural heritage, and, therefore, I propose that we replace her old and ancient education system ,her culture, for if the Indians think that all that is foreign and English is good and greater than their own , they will loose their self esteem ,their native culture, and they will become what we want them , a truly dominated nation. ‘
But after the British left India, we did not think it important to change the education system that continued to enslave us and destroyed our pride in our own Indian culture.
Today even History is taught from the Western viewpoint. Our politicians are just caught up in scoring personal points over changing what is written in our history books. Every new government that comes to power makes changes in the textbooks. But how many have tried to ensure that children learn history from the Indian point of view and not the Western?
We are so enamoured of our British past, that many people think that all the progress India has made, has been possible only because of the British. I have heard people say that the British brought the railway to India- that we would still be travelling long distances by bullock-cart if it were not for them.
They do not stop to consider the fact that progress takes place at its own pace. If the British had not brought trains to India, then we would have built them ourselves. What about the astounding technological progress that has been made in India after the British left?
If we are to stand tall as a nation it is imperative that we restore pride in ourselves, in our heritage, in our culture. While keeping what is convenient for us from British days, and adopting what is best from other cultures, it is important that we do not forget our roots.
We need to change the education system that continues to enslave us, and the mindset that disdains our own culture.
Perhaps these are India’s ‘Hitler Trees’ left by the British, that we have to cut down?