Does Britain owe reparations? Dr Shashi Tharoor MP says yes, and it’s hard to disagree with the arguments he made when speaking at the Oxford Union earlier this year. You can watch his full speech below.
“As my colleague the Jamaican High Commissioners pointed out our railways and roads were really built to serve British interests and not those of the local people. But I might add that many countries have built railways and roads without having had to be colonised in order to do so. They were designed to carry raw materials from the Hinterland into the ports to be shipped to Britain, and the fact is that the Indian, or the Jamaican or the other colonial public – their needs were incidental… Britain made all the profits, controlled the technology, supplied all the equipment and absolutely all these benefits came at private enterprise – British private enterprise, at public risk – Indian public risk.”
“…There have been incidences of racial violence, of looting, of massacres, of bloodshed, of transportation in India’s case, even of one of our last Mughal Emperor. Yes maybe today’s Britains are not responsible for some of these deprivations, but some of the speakers have pointed with pride to their foreign aid. You’re not responsible for the people starving in Somalia, but you give them aid. Surely the principle of reparations for the wrongs that have been done cannot be denied. It’s been pointed, for example, the dehumanisation of Africans in the Caribbean, the massive psychological damage that has been done, the undermining of social traditions, of property rights, of the authority structures of these societies, all in the interest of British colonialism. And the fact remains that many of today’s problems in these countries, including the persistence, in some cases the creation, of racial and ethnic and religious tensions were the direct result of the colonial experience, so there is a moral debt to be paid.”
“With the greatest possible respect, it’s a bit rich to oppress, enslave, kill, torture and maim people for 200 years and then celebrate the fact that they’re democratic at the end of it. We were denied democracy so we had to snatch it, seize it from you. With the greatest reluctance it was conceded in India’s case after 150 years of British rule and that too with limited franchise.”
“The fact is very simply, we’re not talking about reparations to empower anybody. They’re a tool for you to atone for the wrongs that have been done.”
“We’re talking about the principle of owing reparations, not the fine points of how much is owed and to whom it should be paid. The question is, is there a debt? Does Britain owe reparations? AS far as I’m concerned,the ability to acknowledge a wrong that has been done, to simply say sorry, will go [much further] than some percentage of GDP in the form of aid. What is required is accepting the principle that reparations are owed.”