[Reader-list] Shashi Tharoor at the Oxford Union

Patrice Riemens patrice at xs4all.nl
Thu Jul 30 01:18:19 CDT 2015

Original to:

(with video of the performance)
(check out also the 'Colonial Comeback Cocktail' fracas!)

Shashi Tharoor Makes An Eloquent Case For Reparations For Britain's
Colonial Legacy

Career diplomat and former minister of state for external affairs Shashi
Tharoor took part in a debate at the Oxford Union recently, arguing for
the motion that put to the house whether Britain should pay reparations
for its colonial excesses. The Thiruvananthapuram MP tore through the
myths of any "benevolence" by British colonisers, and eloquently
demolished the arguments routinely made to whitewash the excesses of the
island nation's colonial past.

"British aid to India is 0.4 percent of India's GDP," said Tharoor. "The
government of India actually spends more on fertiliser subsidies, which
might be an appropriate metaphor for that argument."

At the debate, which Tharoor's side won by 185 to 56 votes, the
59-year-old former UN official unearthed a series of statistics to point
India's financial decline due to Britain's ill-gotten gains.

"Britain's rise for 200 years was financed by its depredations in India,"
he said, referring to India's slide in its share of the world economy from
23 to 4 percent due to British colonisation. "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."

Describing how Britons irretrievably damaged India's cloth trade by
smashing handloom weavers' thumbs, and "flooding the world's markets with
what became the dark and satanic mills of Victorian England", Tharoor said
colonialists "bought their rotten boroughs in England with the proceeds of
their loot in India, while taking the Hindi word loot in their
dictionaries as well as their habits."

"We literally paid for our own oppression," Tharoor said, describing how
India became Britain's biggest cash cow — by becoming the world's biggest
purchasers of British goods and exports, and also the source of highly
paid employment for British civil servants.

He dismissed all notions that the British were trying to do their colonial
enterprise "out of enlightened despotism", referring to Winston's
Churchill conduct in 1943 as "simply one example of many that gave a lie
to this myth".

"No wonder that the sun never set on the colonial empire," he said,
"because even God couldn't trust the English in the dark."

Giving the examples of Indian losses that went towards fighting for the
British Army in the two world wars, as well as financial strain that the
building of the Indian Railways put the country through, Tharoor said that
"all these came as British private enterprise in Indian public risk."

Should Britain Pay?

While Tharoor conceded that perhaps today's Britons are not responsible
for some of these reparations, he said there was a "moral debt" that needs
to be paid. Alleging that many of today's problems in colonised countries
— "including the persistence and in some cases the creation of racial,
ethnic, and religious tensions were the direct result of the colonial
experience" — he said many countries had indeed paid reparations. Germany
had paid Israel and Poland, Italy paid Libya, Japan paid Korea, he said,
adding that indeed Britain had also paid, to New Zealand's Māoris,
since the 1970s.

"So this is not something that is unprecedented or unheard of that is
somehow going to open some nasty Pandora's box," he said.

Denying that such reparations were to empower anybody, he said that
Britain should use it as a tool to "atone for the wrongs that have been
done." He urged Britons to accept they had to pay reparation "on

"As far as I'm concerned, the ability to acknowledge a wrong that has been
done, to simply say sorry will go a far long way than some percentage of
GDP in form of aid," he said. "What is required, it seems to me, is
accepting the principle that reparations are owed."

Well said, Mr Tharoor.

The debate landed in controversy over a cocktail it served at the event
named "Colonial Comeback".

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