Five lessons we learned about India from Shashi Tharoor’s Oxford speech

By Sarakshi Rai for FirstPost here.

Not only do India and the British have a past, they have a very gory past as Shashi Tharoor reminded us with his speech at the Oxford Union. We share with Britain a history of being oppressed for centuries, of bloody massacres, mass arrests, the suppression of democratic rights and the supplanting of our own culture to serve the British interests. Remember Jallianwala Bagh and the Bengal famine?

Here are five important takeaways.

Britain does owe India reparations, says Tharoor. Screengrab from video.

Fact: India was governed for the benefit of the British.

This as we know it from our history books is exactly spot on. Not only was India looted of all it’s precious gems and riches, our booming industries were ruthlessly destroyed all for Britain’s own advancement during Europe’s”Industrial Revolution.”  For example, our handloom weavers were out of jobs once the British decided they wanted to promote their “finished products” that were far inferior to our handloom spun cloth. Their exploitation of our handloom industry was so famed that even Marx wrote about it in 1853 titling his paper ‘The British intruder who broke up the Indian handloom’. A much lesser known fact- the master weavers were tortured and their thumbs were cut off, so that British-made cotton cloth from their mills in England would find a good market in India.

India’s contribution in World Wars

India contributed more soldiers to the wars than Australia, Canada, New Zealand and South Africa put together. It has been reported that one sixth of the soldiers fighting for the British Empire was from the Indian subcontinent. Putting things in perspective: almost 800,000 soldiers took part in the war, around 53,000 Indian soldiers lost their lives, 64,000 were wounded and nearly 4000 went missing or were imprisoned. And this is just World War 2.

Not only that but troops from India fought in all the major centres of the war, from the Western Front in Europe to Africa and China. In 1945 India’s war contribution amounted to about 8 billion pounds in 2015 money, 1.25 billion pounds was owed to India and was never actually paid.

Indian industries suffered the most

The economic situation of the colonies was worsened because the British rule in India holds true. India’s share of the world economy was 23% when the British arrived, less than four percent when they left. Not only that, but India’s share of world trade went down from 27 percent to less than two percent.

Acknowledging a debt is more important than putting a number to it

Though Tharoor in his speech says, “I, for one, would be happy to accept a symbolic pound a year for the next two hundred years, as a token of apology” their debt is more than just a number. All these years after the British rule has ended, it’s safe to say it’s impossible to put an exact number to the 150 years of exploitation. What would be better however is them accepting that yes, Britain f*****d up. We shouldn’t have invaded you (India), nor should we have oppressed your people, or killed your industries, or starved your citizens but hey, the British built your railways and roads so maybe it was for the best. Umm, no. Many countries have built railways and roads without any overlord issuing the order like Britain and USA. Despite everything, currently, British aide to India is only about 0.4 percent of the Indian economy.

Churchill and Bengal famine

Between 15 to 29 million Indians died in British-induced famines during their rule. The worst however was the Bengal famine of 1943. Then PM Churchill, as part of his Western war effort, ordered the diversion of food from starving Indians to already well-supplied British soldiers and stockpiles in Britain and elsewhere in Europe, including Greeceand Yugoslavia. According to Madhusree Mukerjee’s book,Churchill’s Secret War, when asked about  the famine he wrote asking why Gandhi hadn’t died yet.

“Winston may be right in saying that the starvation of anyhow under-fed Bengalis is less serious than sturdy Greeks, but he makes no sufficient allowance for the sense of Empire responsibility in this country,” wrote Sir Wavell in his account of the meetings between him and the PM.

In case you missed it, watch the video here:

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