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India held day of mourning for the queen, but many are indifferent to her death

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

World leaders gather in London for Queen Elizabeth's funeral on Monday. But the prime minister of India will be absent. India was once the jewel in the crown of the British Empire and is the most populous country in the Commonwealth. But Prime Minister Modi is skipping the queen's funeral. India's ceremonial president will attend instead. NPR's Lauren Frayer reports from Mumbai.

LAUREN FRAYER, BYLINE: On the day Queen Elizabeth died, India's leader, Narendra Modi, happened to be giving a fiery anti-colonial speech, renaming a road in New Delhi that used to be known as Rajpath or Kings Way after the queen's grandfather, King George V.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRIME MINISTER NARENDRA MODI: (Speaking Hindi).

FRAYER: It was a symbol of our slavery under the British, Modi said. Later, he tweeted condolences for the queen and announced a day of national mourning. But few Indians are really grieving. Priya Atwal, a historian of empire and monarchy at Oxford University, says the queen is a reminder of the British colonial exploitation that India cast off 75 years ago.

PRIYA ATWAL: She benefited from the wealth and enslavement of colonized people and never did anything to rectify that.

FRAYER: Queen Elizabeth visited India three times while on the throne. She was met mostly with polite flag waving but also some riots in her final visit in 1997.

(SOUNDBITE OF PROTEST)

FRAYER: Protesters wanted her to apologize for the 1919 Jallianwala Bagh massacre when a British general ordered troops to open fire on thousands of Indian civilians. The queen laid a wreath but stopped short of saying sorry. Instead, in India, she rode elephants, posed with a dead tiger shot by her husband and waved at crowds from convertible cars.

APARNA VAIDIK: People kept straining their ears, but she never apologized.

FRAYER: Historian Aparna Vaidik from India's Ashoka University says the queen came from a racist colonial era.

VAIDIK: You know, she grew up in an era where India was a colony. So those attitudes would persist. It's not like she's having her prejudices questioned. Her world remained the same.

FRAYER: But the rest of the world has changed.

(SOUNDBITE OF CARS HONKING)

FRAYER: Khaki-clad policemen are directing traffic outside one of Mumbai's most ornate landmarks. It used to be called Victoria Terminus for Queen Victoria, the empress of India. Now it's been renamed Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Terminus. It's a train station, and it's like a cathedral. Its soaring buttresses and gargoyles, and hordes of commuters are rushing in and out between bursts of monsoon rains. And I've stopped a few of them and asked them what they think about Queen Elizabeth's death.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: I did not think anything, actually. I did not have a lot of respect for her. So yeah, it didn't make any change for me, frankly speaking.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: We do care a bit, but also it's like, yeah, they ruled us, but now we are independent.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: What happened in the past, it doesn't matter. We have to look forward.

FRAYER: Looking forward, India is now the fifth-largest economy in the world. This month, it surpassed that of its colonial master. Historians say that probably would have happened way sooner, though, if Britain hadn't extracted so much of India's wealth. But the tables have certainly turned, says Atwal, the Oxford historian.

ATWAL: Since the Brexit referendum, the vote to leave the European Union, Britain is the one looking to India for deals and assistance and a future economic partnership.

FRAYER: There is one thing some Indians would like to make a deal with Britain for - the giant Kohinoor diamond. It was mined in India centuries ago and is now embedded in one of the British royal family's crowns. Lauren Frayer, NPR News, Mumbai. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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