So a former minister of the Indian government went in front of a couple of hundred students and argued that British colonialism in India was a dreadful thing, and that Britain owes India “reparations”. I’ll give you one guess as to how that vote in the Oxford Union went.
But despite Shashi Tharoor winning the debate entitled, “This House Believes Britain Owes Reparations to her Former Colonies”, I’m afraid I have to say, as a Briton of Indian descent: he’s dreadfully wrong.
Yeah, alright, Dr Tharoor came equipped with a few choice quotes from Churchill on Gandhi, and an anecdote or two about how the British behaved during the Raj. But if India was serious about levelling the playing field on colonialism, it’d scrap its parliamentary democracy, tear up its railroads, flood its irrigation systems, and bomb its roads to smithereens.
Ridiculous, you say? Well quite. India benefited massively from British rule. In fact, were it not for how pathetic and disgraceful our current government is, one might look at the state of India today – the abject poverty that abounds despite all the talk about her being the next superpower – and say, “Hmmm… maybe the British could run this thing a little better.”
Britain invested almost £400 billion in today’s money in India between 1850 and 1930. Under British rule, the Indian population tripled. Because living standards improved. And who can forget
gin and tonics quinine, which drastically cut malaria deaths?
Gasp. We can’t say that, can we? That’d be “rraaacccissstttt” or something. But not nearly as racist as what Dr Tharoor himself said in the Oxford Union debate. I’m still waiting for a social justice warrior to cry about this one. I’ll probably be waiting a long time. But in his speech Dr Tharoor said: “The Sun couldn’t set on the British empire, because even God couldn’t trust the English in the dark.”
Think about it for a second. In fact, let’s play a game. You swap out the word “English” for another nationality, and see if you think you wouldn’t get into a heap load of trouble for making such a remark. Come on, try it with me:
Even God couldn’t trust the Nigerians in the dark. Racist.
Even God couldn’t trust the Chinese in the dark. Racist.
Even God couldn’t trust the Americans in the dark.
Well that one’s fine because America is obviously another repressive, hate-filled, Nazi country with nothing to be proud of, but everything to apologise for, right?
Dr Tharoor made a further point in his speech that he didn’t even want much from Britain on the reparations front: “…personally I would even be happy if the UK pays a pound a year for the next 100 years”. I wish that were the case.
Actually, we’re paying more like £200 million a year in India to aid, despite her having a larger economy than us, with her own foreign aid budget and indeed space programme. And even though this is supposed to stop (so say the Tories, anyway) it seems to me that we’ve given a little more than what Dr Tharoor is asking. So on the basis that it stops immediately, Dr Tharoor can consider all of that his country’s “reparations”.
Actually, no he can’t. Because that would imply wrongdoing, and Britons need to be clear about the fact that you can’t have things both ways.
India would be a much poorer country were it not for British rule (and vice versa, by the way) – culturally, financially, and politically.
So why don’t we just cut out all the rhetoric and embrace each other as Commonwealth partners? Equal partners even. Which means India doesn’t need British aid to pay for street lights or space rockets, and Britain doesn’t need to grovel for something that a lot of right headed Indians are still grateful to this day for.
You can watch Dr Tharoor’s speech in full, below: