Indian prime minister Narendra Modi has reportedly praised a recent call for Britain to pay reparations to India for two centuries of colonization.
Indian parliamentarian Shashi Tharoor called for Britain to provide reparations in a debate at the Oxford Union last week, saying a "moral debt" needs to be paid after Britain's rise was financed by its "depredations in India." The video went viral and triggered debate nationally in India.
Tharoor noted that India accounted for 23 percent of the world economy before colonization in the middle of the 18th century. By the time the country gained independence 200 years later, that share was down to about 4 percent. India also became the world's largest buyer of British exports and the source of salaries and employment.
"We literally paid for our own oppression," Tharoor said.
Crossing party lines, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who is scheduled to visit the UK later this year, praised Tharoor's argument on Thursday.
"Tharoor's speech reflected the feelings of patriotic Indians on the issue and showed what impression one can leave with effective arguments by saying the right things at the right place," Modi said.
The issue has never been debated as much as it is being now, says Alyssa Ayres, a senior fellow for India, Pakistan, and South Asia at the Council on Foreign Relations — though she said it remains to be seen what may come out of the debate, or whether it will gain momentum beyond social media.
"What seems to have really captured people's attention is the way [Tharoor] quantified the colonial experience that exploited the Indian economy," Ayres told VICE News. "[Indian] people aren't thinking about it every minute of every day, but when it does come up, people feel this was a period of history that was wrong and morally unjust."
She also noted that similar issues have arisen over the Koh-i-Noor diamond — mined in India and now part of the British Crown Jewels — as there has been a push around the world to return objects of cultural and historical significance to their homelands.
Tharoor said reparations would not be unprecedented, citing Italy's reparations to Libya; Germany's to Israel and Poland; and Japan's to Korea. He also pointed out that Britain has paid reparations to New Zealand Maoris.
"Many of today's problems in these countries, including the persistence and in some cases the creation of racial and ethnic and religious tensions, were the direct result of the colonial experience," Tharoor said. "So there is a moral debt that needs to be paid."
Tharoor noted that the UK currently sends aid to India that amounts to about .4 percent of India's GDP — and then pointed out that India spends more money on fertilizer subsidies.
Opponents at the debate argued that reparations wouldn't help the country and would be used as a propaganda tool. Tharoor said he would be happy if India received 1 pound a year for the next 200 years:
"As far as I'm concerned, the ability to acknowledge a wrong that has been done — to simply say 'Sorry' — will go a far, far, far, longer way than some percentage of GDP in the form of aid."
Follow Aliya Iftikhar on Twitter: @aliyazeba
Photo via Flickr