Shashi Tharoor Special! Britain owes India reparations… Just saying ‘sorry’ would do, too!

Shashi Tharoor was the best version of himself at the Oxford union. He seemed possessed by a force so powerful that even the elite audience, comprised mainly of the scholarly British, couldn’t stand up in defense. Bit by bit, Tharoor shred their arguments apart, arguments that dared to propose that the British rule has had positive impact on India. Tharoor dismantled such cock ‘n’ bull theories with his watertight arguments, often drawing admiration from a divided Oxford house. Shashi Tharoor was in a trance from start to finish.


The Congress MP believes Britain owes India a huge debt for violating its sanctity, looting and plundering its incalculable resources, and the economic and psychological decline of its people during the British Raj….

Born in independent India, it’s difficult for me to believe that India is poorer today because of the British. I know they ruled us, I know we were mostly without any rights in our own country, freedom was an alien thought. I understand that Winston Churchill was a monstrous character, who reveled in the deaths of poor Indian peasants…. But the 19th and 20th century was not dictated by democratic processes and freedom. The powerful ran over the weak, and righteousness and morality were not the driving force… we were weak, so we suffered.

I have always believed that the 200 years of subjugation aside, the British left us with a lot to be grateful for. A number of scholars and historians have argued over the years that because of the British influence, India is considered to be quite modern and self-sufficient today. We built on the foundation laid by the British.


This is nothing but hogwash and Tharoor couldn’t have shattered the falsehood of the delusional British more effectively!

Debunking the myth!

The fact is, India’s share of the world economy, when Britain came calling, was a robust 23 %. By the time we forced them to leave, the economy had plummeted to below 4%, a fall so steep that we were never able to recover from that. How did the British manage to eat away so much?


India was being governed for the benefit of the British. Their rise for two centuries was financed by depriving India of basic, life-sustaining utilities and facilities. In fact, Britain’s industrial revolution was possible only by de-industrialising India. The handloom weavers, for example, famed for their craft all over the world, and whose products were exported everywhere, suffered a fatal blow when colonial British barged in, broke their looms, imposed heavy tariffs and duties on their products and started taking the raw material from India to ship back the finished clothes. The effect on the weavers was catastrophic. They turned into beggars and life was never the same.

India, from being a world famous exporter of finished cloths, turned into an importer. We went from having a 27 percent of world trade, to less than two percent.

By the end of the 19th century, India had become Britain’s biggest cash-cow, the world’s biggest purchaser of British goods and a source of highly paid employment for British civil servants. We literally paid for our own oppression, if you will. The wealthy Victorian British families made their money out of the Indian slave economy.


Between 15 to 29 million Indians died of starvation in British-induced famine, the most infamous being the Bengal famine during the Second World War. Four million people died because Winston Churchill deliberately diverted the essential commodities and supplies from civilians in Bengal to the sturdy Tommies and the rich and powerful, as reserve stockpile. In Churchill’s own words, “the death of underfed Indians didn’t matter when compared to the rich Britons!”

When conscientious British people raised their voices and asked Churchill why he was helping kill poor Indians, he peevishly asked, “Why hasn’t Gandhi died yet.” Violence and racial discrimination became rampant.

In World War 1, 1/6th of all British soldiers who fought the war were Indians. A total of 54 thousand Indians died, 65,000 were wounded and another four thousand remained missing. The Indian taxpayers had to cough up 100 million Pounds in that time’s money. India supplied 17 million rounds of ammunition, 600 thousand rifles and machine guns, 42 million garments were stitched for British soldiers, 370 million tons of supply and the total value of everything that was plundered out of India, in today’s money, was a billion pounds.


The Second World War was even worse. There were two-and-a-half million Indian soldiers in uniform, fighting and laying their lives for the British. Of Britain’s total war debt of three billion pounds in 1945 money, 1.25 billion was owed to India and never paid back.

Many say the British gave us the railways. The truth is, they built railways and railroads to serve British interests, not that of the locals. Many countries have built railways and roads without having to be colonized! The railways were built to carry raw materials from the hinterland to the ports, from where they were shipped to England. The needs of the locals were incidental, by default. The Indian railways were built with massive incentives offered by Britain to British investors, guaranteed out of Indian taxes paid by the Indians. How can Britain not owe us reparations?


They boast about aids. British aid to India is about 0.4% of India’s GDP. The Government of India actually spends more on fertilizers subsidy, so let’s not kid ourselves!

The dehumanization of the Africans and the Caribbean people, the massive psychological damage that has been done to citizens of various colonized countries, their social traditions have been undermined, there has undermining of property rights, the authority structure of these societies is haphazard. It is so because this is the only way through which Britain could flourish.

Many of the global problems today, the ethnic and religious tensions, are a direct result of British colonialism. There is a moral debt that Britain needs to pay.

Some are so misinformed that they attribute India’s democracy to the British, even the law and order.

Well, like Shashi Tharoor pointed out, it’s a bit rich to oppress, enslave, maim, kill, imprison and torture people for 200 years and then celebrate the fact that they are democratic at the end of it.  India was denied democracy, we had to snatch it, seize it.


India is not asking for reparations as a tool to empower anybody. They are a tool for Britain to atone for all the wrong doings. Like Tharoor said, it’s not about who pays, how much is paid, or who gets how much. Rather, it’s about the principle of owing reparation. The question is, is there a debt? Does Britain owe reparations?

Like Shashi, I believe the simple ability to say sorry will go a long way, rather than some percentage of GDP in the form of aid.

About the author


Whether it’s women issues, politics or the paranormal, Rubi has an opinion on everything. Art and entertainment interest her, too. Hindu College alumni, she has written for The Hindustan Times and The Financial Express. Every now and then, she loves picking up her camera to capture life and its various shades.


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