Does Britain Owe India Reparations for Colonial Rule?

Only if India owes reparations to dalits for the caste system


Indian politician and celebrated novelist Shashi Tharoor caused a mini-sensation recently when he went before

Poor Indian Woman
rahuldlucca / Foter / CC BY

the Oxford Union, a debating society in England's prestigious eponymous university, and argued that Britain needed to give India reparations for "depredations" caused by two centuries of colonial rule. It was a virtuoso performance — almost pitch perfect in substance and delivery — that handily won him the debate in England and made him a national hero at home.

But the most eloquent point that emerged in the debate is one he didn't make, I note today in TIME:

While Brits are grappling with their sordid past by, say, holding such debates, Indians are busy burying theirs in a cheap feel-goodism…

Colonialism, without a doubt, is an awful chapter in human history. And Tharoor did a brilliant job of debunking the standard argument of Raj apologists that British occupation did more good than harm because it gave India democracy and the rule of law. This is akin to American whites who argued after the Civil War that blacks had nothing to complain about because — as the Chicago Tribune editorialized — in exchange for slavery, they were "taught Christian civilization and to speak the noble English language instead of some African gibberish."…

But an elementary rule of moral logic is that if India is going to demand reparations for sins done against it, it should also be willing to pay reparations for those it has done. And, if that's the case, then India might be handing out many more "one-pound" bills to many more groups for many more years than it receives.

Go here to find out why.