At a recent debate on the British colonisation of India in Oxford, Congress MP and writer Shashi Tharoor brilliantly argued why Britain owes reparations for its exploitation of the subcontinent.
The video of the debate, held on May 28 by the Oxford Union, went viral on social media in the past few days.
The motion for the debate was: “This House Believes Britain Owes Reparations to her Former Colonies” and Tharoor, along with eminent speakers from Ghana and Jamaica, spoke in favour of it. British and American intellectuals spoke in opposition.
Tharoor’s speech was widely appreciated in India because of the succinctness with which he illustrate how and why colonial rule exploited the subcontinent, and how violence and racism were the order of those days.
“It’s a bit rich to oppress, enslave, kill, torture, maim people for 200 years and then celebrate the fact that they are democratic at the end of it. We were denied democracy, so we had to snatch it, seize it from you,” he said to loud applause from the audience.
What’s unmistakable in Tharoor’s speech, though, is his sense of humour.
Sample this, “The Sun couldn’t set on the British empire, because even God couldn’t trust the English in the dark.”
Also, Tharoor argues against the opposition's arguments in a compelling manner.
Talking about railways in India, a development often described as a 'gift by the British', Tharoor said, "Roads and railways were built to serve British interests in India."
He added that many countries in the world have got roads and railways built without being colonised.
While the social media conversation on the speech has been mostly positive, some said that the same point had been made by others earlier.
Brilliant speech by Dr Shashi Tharoor on colonialism, brought out many facts many people don't hear often. https://t.co/pyHTFHWLPG— Bhavesh Mistry (@kuffon) July 22, 2015
Though numerous conversations take place in the public domain on India's freedom struggle, very little happens about critically analysing, with data and facts, how much colonial rule affected undivided India.
Tharoor’s speech went a long way in explaining in easy-to-understand ways how colonialists ruined and exploited India.
Here are three reasons why you must watch the complete speech:
To know how colonial rule ruined India’s economy
“Britain’s rise financed by depredations in India,” said Tharoor, highlighting that through British rule, India’s share of the global economy fell from 27% to less than 2%.
He described how British rulers destroyed India’s handloom industry and turned the country’s “weavers into beggars”.
He added that by the end of the 19th century, “India was Britain’s largest cash cow, world’s biggest purchaser of British goods and source of highly paid employment of British Civil servants”.
Tharoor told the audience that Indians paid fat salaries to the British officials only for oppressing them in return.
At the end of the speech, Tharoor said reparations should not be considered as a "tool to empower" somebody, but rather as a tool through which the British can "atone" for the sins of the past.
To know how wars affected India's economy
Tharoor said in World War I, one-sixth of all British forces were Indians and 54,000 Indians lost their lives.
In addition to that, he said, India actually funded these wars through taxes as well as supplied ammunition and garments.
Moreover, Indian tax-payers had to pay 100 million pounds at the time to bear the expense of the war.
The total value of everything taken out of India during the war, Tharoor said, was 8 billion pounds in today’s money .
Even in World War II, the cost that Indians paid was immense.
Tharoor said that of Britain’s total World War II debt of 3 billion pounds (in 1945), it owed 1.25 billion pounds to India, and no part of it was ever paid.
To know how the British never cared for starving Indians
Explaining the available data on starvation in British India, Tharoor said 15 million to 29 million Indians died of starvation.
He further said four million people died in the Bengal famine of the 1940s because then British Prime Minister Winston Churchill diverted food supplies from famine-hit areas to Europe, only to be piled up as reserved stock.
When “conscious stricken” British officials wrote to Churchill, Tharoor said, he wrote back, “Why hasn’t Gandhi died yet?”
(The writer tweets as @saha_abhi1990 )