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#COMMENT: Pay Reparations? Return the Koh-i-Noor? Now, hold on a minute…

The Indian politician Dr. Shashi Tharoor was recently invited to the Oxford Reading Society to participate in a debate, on whether Britain owes reparations to its colonies. 

It is doubtful if he envisaged his speech going viral in the days that followed or predict that politicians from India and UK would jump on the media bandwagon to get in on the patriotic and nationalistic fervor that the debate stirred up.

A lot of column inches have been devoted to proclaiming that the British should, among other things, return the Koh-I-Noor to India as an atonement for their sins, the latest being Leicester East MP Keith Vaz.

The British have presented themselves with a lot of gifts and artefacts from the colonies.

India was not the only source of “pillage”. 

It was the sad truth of how colonies operated in those days.

While, without doubt, British colonisation was a period of torture and discrimination for Indians, I would question the merit of quantifying and extracting the cost of reparations from modern Britain.

India as a country has been subject to colonization in one form or the other well before the British arrived in India in the early 1600s and all invaders and then settlers have practiced some form of discrimination and plunder.

There is a theory that the Aryans invaded India and displaced the Dravidians from their homes.  The Mughals dealt a similar fate to the Rajputs and the other princely states.

If, as a nation, India is serious about reparations, maybe we should ask for reparations for the families of the 20,000 skilled artisans who had their arms and legs cut off by Shah Jahan after the Taj Mahal was built so that the beautiful ode to love could never be replicated elsewhere?

And even if we were to go down the route of retrieving all the spoils of war over the centuries from other countries, what happens when those spoils enter India is a fearful thought.

The negligent state of the Taj Mahal in Agra, the Brindavan gardens and the Mysore palace in Mysore to name but a few, are evidence of the fact that India has not been able to give its heritage the care and attention it deserves.

Sadly, Tipu Sultan’s sword and the Kohinoor are much better preserved and presented here in London than back home.  

On the argument about whether Britain owes reparations, I would argue that Britain has given reparation, by progressing from a colonial empire to be one of the most open and liberal countries in the world today, where an ISCKON devotee can propagate his religion next to a public demonstration about the ‘West defeating Islam’, in the middle of London’s Oxford Street and no one will stop them.

Britain is a city where even an Abu Hamza is granted human rights and a fair hearing.

Will saying sorry for their colonial past be welcome?

Of course it would.

It shows the maturity of a nation that has accepted and learnt from the mistakes of its past.

That would be true reparation not the return of the Koh-I-Noor or similar artefacts. To quote Dr. Shashi Tharoor himself: “It is the principle of whether the colonies are owed reparation that is being debated here not the evaluation and complexities of how much and in what form.

“Personally I would be quite happy if Britain were to give even £1 for every year that our country was colonized”.

{module Deepa Nair Pillai – Author }



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