Saturday, 8 August 2015

Here Are Your Reparations, Mr Tharoor.

Indian M.P. Shashi Tharoor excelled himself in the victimhood stakes by coming to the Oxford Union and complaining that Britain owes India "reparations" for the Empire. According to him British rule was a terrible "oppression" and Britain only became powerful by "looting" India. He wants us to give back the Koh-i-Noor diamond and pay reparations for 200 years. It was all a predictable exercise in Britain-bashing.

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Sharoor even backed up his accusations with some classic misleading statistics. He claimed that under British rule, India's share of  world productivity dropped as a percentage. Of course it did, because in that period there was a massive rise in productivity in the economies of other countries. The Industrial Revolution made output figures rocket on other continents, such as America. This does not mean that India became poorer or worse off. And Tharoor's claim that Britain never paid the volunteers of the Indian army for their services in World War II is simply untrue. The full sum was paid to the new government of independent India, which proceeded to spend it on nuclear weapons.
         To make matters worse, the Indian PM Narendra Modi has supported Tharoor's silly speech, and suggested that the UK should pay India symbolic reparations of £1 per year for 200 years - forgetting that we are actually handing them sums in the region of £260 million per year in foreign aid. Meanwhile they spend £25 billion per year on defence, and have a £600 million lunar exploration programme as proof of hardship.
        I wonder why Dr Tharoor does not want reparations from Iran for the four hundred years of Moghul rule in Northern India, that preceded the British Raj, And what about reparations for the Adivasi and other tribal people, who occupied the subcontinent thousands of years ago, long before the Hindu majority arrived and drove them off their land? The few descendants of these ancient inhabitants are now forced to survive in reservations euphemistically called National Parks. Does Tharoor think all the Hindus and Moslems should depart, leaving the land to the Adivasis and paying them reparations?
          The truth is that British rule did India a lot of favours. Until the British came along there was no such nation as India  - there were over four hundred independent, petty states that were constantly at war with each other and none of them was a democracy. Slavery was commonplace and it would be no exaggeration to say that the inhabitants of these petty states were mostly virtual slaves. They certainly had no "rights" in the modern sense. The Hindu caste system was a form of entrenched racism, relegating millions to the status of "untouchable". If you were born a harajan, nobody would employ you and you would end your days as you had started, in the gutter. Women never went to school and could be burned on the funeral pyres of their husbands. This was called the "suttee" i.e. "purity". Since independence, under the democratic system introduced by the British, a harajan and a woman have been Prime Ministers of India.
    The British made peace and put a halt to the steady advance of Muslim dictatorship that had been pushing across the subcontinent for four hundred years. Moghul conquerors slaughtered and beheaded Hindus, Sikhs, Jains and Zoroastrians who refused to convert and conform. Indian historians count the numbers of victims not in millions but in "crore" - tens of millions. Under the British Raj, India got peace, religious tolerance and a completely new infrastructure. Roads, railways, schools, colleges and hospitals, were built right across the subcontinent and most of them are still used daily by hundreds of millions of Indians. Postal and telegraph communication was set up for the first  time. The docks, the water-supplies and the drainage systems in most big Indian cities were put there by the British. India has Britain to thank for the invention and introduction of the bicycle, a blessing that makes life far easier for hundreds of millions of the poorest Indians. Would they really want to go back to walking barefoot over rough dirt roads or using carts drawn by bullocks? Without the British, India would not even have the printing press.
      It was the British who saved the Taj Mahal, which was an abandoned ruin until the nineteenth century. It was inhabited by birds, rats and jackals and bits of the marble were being taken away to use in buildings elsewhere. The Hindus had no interest in it, and nor did the Muslims as it was not a mosque, merely a folly built by an extravagant Shah in memory of  his favourite wife. It was the British governor of Agra who ordered it to be repaired and preserved, and now it attracts 3 million visitors per year.
       So I have a proposition to put to Dr Tharoor: here is a deal that will make everything "fair". Britain will give you back the silly piece of glass called the Koh-i-Noor and you can make what use of it you like. Perhaps children would like to play with it.
      In return, give us back some of the billions we have given you in foreign aid over the past sixty-odd years. And give us back the railway network that covers your entire subcontinent and is used by hundreds of millions of Indians every day to get to and from work. Give us back all those schools, colleges and hospitals, all those sewerage systems and Macadam roads that cross thousands of miles of plain and mountain. Give us back the bicycle! Give us the income you get from those 3 million tourists per year who visit the Taj Mahal. Bring back the caste system and the "suttee". You may get a few complaints from the lepers who will be left to rot without the penicillin invented and bestowed on you by the British, but I am sure that won't bother you.

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