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Indian Economy and Its History

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Reparations by the British

The atrocities and torture committed by the British Empire on its colonies is a well established and widely known fact, with only the British voicing out their denial for a very long time. But in the recent past, as the United Kingdom settles for compensation and aid to the countries it so ruthlessly colonized, should it be seen as an admission of the inhumane treatment and torture that such nations were subject to? The package for $30 million in aid towards Kenya, and in the words of Mr. Hague, Foreign Secretary, UK, that the government “regretted the abuses”, certainly seems to suggest that The Empire is beginning to acknowledge the wrongs of its past. Mr. Hague’s acknowledgement of these atrocities, although welcome, fall woefully short of an apology, which once again bring up the question – does Britain still think it is superior to the rest of the World, the premise under which it undertook colonization in the first place?

The Kenyan package is the first historical claim for compensation that it has accepted. The Caribbean nations have long clamoring for slavery reparations from their European colonists. Dr. Shashi Tharoor, MP, made a passionate argument in favor of Britain providing financial compensation for two centuries of economic destruction and exploitation. With the acknowledgement of torture, comes the precedent. As the Commonwealth countries voice their dissent and play the victim, pressure is on the British Empire to acknowledge their hunger for riches and power and how it has resulted in modern day backward countries. But the Kenyan package comes on the back of a case being processed in the London High Court, and only on the wake of evidence in the form of secret and classified documents being released which point figures right till the top, from the Governor of Kenya to the Cabinet in London. The victims of the Mau Mau rebellion were each paid a sum of $4000.

Yet, although the compensation package comes in good faith, there has been no apology doled out on the inhumane manner in which the colonized were treated. Take India’s case for example. Dr. Shashi Tharoor argues that India’s economy dropped from 25% of the world economy at the onset of the 18th century to less than 4% by the time the British left India – not to mention the brutality, racism, suppression of human rights and Bengal famine among other injustices. A fine calculation of all the reparations and compensations to India comes up to $3 trillion today, although the loss of lives and the atrocities committed could not be quantified. India gradually formed into a colony that supplied cheap raw material to the British and a lucrative market that bought their finished goods, imported from England. India’s foreign outflow was what financed the dominance of the British Empire. As Dr. Tharoor argues, even a paltry sum of money would be an acknowledgement of the atrocities committed on our forefathers and should come in the form of reparations. A symbolic gesture made by David Cameron while visiting the Jalianwala Baug where he expressed deep regret is a symbolic gesture of Britain wanting to mend its ties with India. But where was the apology? The reparations due should not come from the Empire that once sat on higher ground, but instead from an England that is humbled by the realization of seeing India as an equal in today’s globe.

Now that we have established that reparations are not only our moral right, but also a tool that would clear the conscience of the British, the question that arises next is – how relevant are these reparations in the 21st century? Do the British owe us reparations in today’s date, more than 70 years after Independence? So where do we start? With Mahmud Ghazni from Central Asia, or should we look closer home at the Cholas, Marathas and the Mauryans?  Surely we cannot ask for compensation from the Central Asian countries or from the descendants of these dynasties. And the British haven’t been the only one oppressing us, so have the Portuguese, the French and the Dutch. The Arabs, Americans, Italians, Germans have too been involved in the suppression of humans at one point of time or another. If each nation started giving aid and reparations to another, that would essentially leave no country better off than the other, and such grants would make no economic sense at all. Then again, how do you put a monetary value to the brutality committed on a nation? You cannot put a value on the number of lives lost at the Jalianwala Baug, or the Bengal Famine.

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