Dr Shashi Tharoor: Britain Does Owe Reparations (Full Transcript)

Dr Shashi Tharoor

THE OXFORD UNION SOCIETY is the world’s most prestigious debating society, with an unparalleled reputation for bringing international guests and speakers to Oxford. It has been established for 189 years, aiming to promote debate and discussion not just in Oxford University, but across the globe.

For this particular debate, THE MOTION IS: This house believes Britain owes reparations to her former colonies.

Below is the full text [Edited version] of Dr Shashi Tharoor’s speech “Britain Does Owe Reparations“.



Madam President and gentlemen, ladies of the house.

I, standing here with eight minutes in my hands in this venerable and rather magnificent institution, I was going to assure you that I belong to the Henry VIII School of public speaking — that as Henry VIII said to his wives “I shall not keep you long”.

But now finding myself the seventh speaker out of eight in what must already seem a rather long evening to you, I rather feel like Henry VIII’s the last wife. I more or less know what’s expected of me but I am not sure how to do it any differently.

Perhaps what I should do is really try and pay attention to the arguments that have advanced by the Opposition today. We had, for example, Sir Richard Ottaway suggesting — challenging the very idea that it could be argued that the economic situation of the colonies was actually worsened by the experience of British colonialism.

Well I stand to offer you the Indian example, Sir Richard. India share of the world economy when Britain arrived on its shores was 23%. By the time the British left it was down to below 4%. Why? Simply because India had been governed for the benefit of Britain.

Britain’s rise for 200 years was financed by its depredations in India. In fact, Britain’s industrial revolution was actually premised upon the de-industrialization of India.

ALSO READ:   The Sugar Coating on Your Cells is Trying to Tell You Something: Carolyn Bertozzi at TEDxStanford (Transcript)

The handloom weavers, for example, famed across the world whose products were exported around the world, Britain came right in. There were actually these weavers making fine muslin as light as woven wear, it was said, and Britain came right in, smashed their thumbs, broke their looms, imposed tariffs and duties on their cloth and products and started, of course, taking the raw materials from India and shipping back manufactured cloth flooding the world’s markets with what became the products of the dark and satanic mills of the Victoria in England.

That meant that the weavers in India became beggars and India went from being a world famous exporter of finished cloth into an importer when from having 27% of the world trade to less than 2%.

Meanwhile, colonialists like Robert Clive bought their rotten boroughs in England on the proceeds of their loot in India while taking the Hindi word loot into their dictionary as well as their habits.

And the British had the gall to call him Clive of India as if he belonged to the country, when all he really did was to ensure that much of the country belonged to him.

By the end of the 19th century, the fact is that India was already Britain’s biggest cash cow, the world’s biggest purchaser of British goods and exports, and the source for highly paid employment for British civil servants. We literally paid for our own oppression.

And as has been pointed out, the wealthy Victorian British families that made their money out of the slave economy, one fifth of the elites of the wealthy class in Britain in the 19th century owed their money to transporting 3 million Africans across the waters.

And in fact, in 1833 when slavery was abolished and what happened was that a compensation of 20 million pounds was paid not as reparations to those who had lost their lives or who had suffered or been oppressed by slavery but to those who had lost their property.

ALSO READ:   Rethinking Failure: Pat Hymel at TEDxBirmingham 2014 (Full Transcript)

I was struck by the fact that your Wi-Fi password at this Union commemorates the name of Mr Gladstone — the great liberal hero. Well, I am very sorry his family was one of those who benefited from this compensation.

Pages: First |1 | ... | | Last | View Full Transcript

Scroll to Top