Revise official history on India, British empire urgently, historians tell UK
Over 180 leading historians on Wednesday called for references to the British empire, colonial India and slavery in a key text that migrants need to study before qualifying for permanent residency or UK citizenship to be revised to correct errors and misrepresentations.
All migrants need to pass a ‘Life in the UK Test’ as part of their application to the Home Office for ‘indefinite leave to remain’ or UK citizenship. It has 24 questions based on British traditions, history and customs that migrants need to know well enough to pass it.
To prepare for the test, the applicants are prescribed an official handbook called ‘Life in the United Kingdom: A Guide for New Residents’. Over 1.25 lakh migrants applied for naturalisation in 2019, a process that includes the test.
The historians, mainly specialising in the area of British empire, wrote an open letter in protest against what they call “misrepresentation of slavery” and empire in the test and the handbook, which includes references to colonial India.
The letter says: “The official handbook published by the Home Office is fundamentally misleading and in places demonstrably false…It also states that ‘by the second part of the 20th century, there was, for the most part, an orderly transition from Empire to Commonwealth, with countries being granted their independence’.”
“In fact, decolonisation was not an ‘orderly’ but an often violent process, not only in India but also in the many so-called ‘emergencies’ such as the Mau-Mau Uprising in Kenya (1952-1960). We call for an immediate official review of the history chapter”.
Signatories include David Washbrook (Cambridge), Yasmin Khan (Oxford), Joya Chatterjee (Cambridge), William Dalrymple, Tirthankar Roy (LSE), Anindita Ghosh (Manchester), Sujit Sivasundaram (Cambridge) and David Olusoga (Manchester).
The letter says: “Applicants are expected to learn about more than two hundred individuals. The only individual of colonial origin named in the book is Sake Dean Mohamet who co-founded England’s first curry house in 1810. The pages on the British Empire end with a celebration of Rudyard Kipling”.
“The aim of the official handbook is to promote tolerance and fairness and facilitate integration. In its current version, the historical pages do the opposite…Until the history chapter has been corrected and rewritten, it should be formally withdrawn from the test”.
The Home Office, headed by secretary Priti Patel, said: “Given the breadth of British history, the Life in the UK handbook provides a starting point to explore our past and help those seeking to live permanently in the UK gain a basic understanding of our society, culture and historical references which occur in everyday conversations”.
“We have published several editions of the handbook since it was launched and will continue to keep its contents under review and consider any feedback we receive.”