‘Britain came to one of the richest countries in the world in the 18th century and reduced it, after two centuries of plunder, to one of the poorest’
Dr Tharoor said the British educational system failed to tell the real story of empire, and claimed Britain would have to accept Indian workers and students freely moving across its borders if it wanted to sell its goods in Indian markets following Brexit.
The former UN under-secretary general was speaking to Channel 4 News’ Jon Snow, and was introduced as “one of the world’s foremost diplomats”. He is the author of 15 best-selling works of fiction and non-fiction, all of which address Indian history, culture and society.
Asked whether colonialism was a British or an Indian problem, he said: “It is a British problem, first of all because there is so much historical amnesia about what the empire really entailed.
“The fact you don’t really teach colonial history in your schools… children doing A-Levels in history don’t learn a line of colonial history.
“There’s no real awareness of the atrocities, of the fact that Britain financed its Industrial Revolution and its prosperity from the depredations of empire, the fact that Britain came to one of the richest countries in the world in the 18th century and reduced it, after two centuries of plunder, to one of the poorest.”
The 5 of the worst atrocities carried out by the British Empire
1/5 1. Boer concentration camps
During the Second Boer War (1899-1902), the British rounded up around a sixth of the Boer population – mainly women and children – and detained them in camps, which were overcrowded and prone to outbreaks of disease, with scant food rations. Of the 107,000 people interned in the camps, 27,927 Boers died, along with an unknown number of black Africans
Hulton Archive/Getty Images
2/5 2. Amritsar massacre
When peaceful protesters defied a government order and demonstrated against British colonial rule in Amritsar, India, on 13 April 1919, they were blocked inside the walled Jallianwala Gardens and fired upon by Gurkha soldiers. The soldiers, under the orders of Brigadier Reginald Dyer, kept firing until they ran out of ammunition, killing between 379 and 1,000 protesters and injuring another 1,100 within 10 minutes. Brigadier Dyer was later lauded a hero by the British public, who raised £26,000 for him as a thank you
3/5 3. Partitioning of India
In 1947, Cyril Radcliffe was tasked with drawing the border between India and the newly created state of Pakistan over the course of a single lunch. After Cyril Radcliffe split the subcontinent along religious lines, uprooting over 10 million people, Hindus in Pakistan and Muslims in India were forced to escape their homes as the situation quickly descended into violence. Some estimates suggest up to one million people lost their lives in sectarian killings
4/5 4. Mau Mau Uprising
Thousands of elderly Kenyans, who claim British colonial forces mistreated, raped and tortured them during the Mau Mau Uprising (1951-1960), have launched a £200m damages claim against the UK Government. Members of the Kikuyu tribe were detained in camps, since described as “Britain’s gulags” or concentration camps, where they allege they were systematically tortured and suffered serious sexual assault. Estimates of the deaths vary widely: historian David Anderson estimates there were 20,000, whereas Caroline Elkins believes up to 100,000 could have died
5/5 5. Famines in India
Between 12 and 29 million Indians died of starvation while it was under the control of the British Empire, as millions of tons of wheat were exported to Britain as famine raged in India. In 1943, up to four million Bengalis starved to death when Winston Churchill diverted food to British soldiers and countries such as Greece while a deadly famine swept through Bengal. Talking about the Bengal famine in 1943, Churchill said: “I hate Indians. They are a beastly people with a beastly religion. The famine was their own fault for breeding like rabbits”
As the conversation turned to the present day, Dr Tharoor was asked whether Britain could still expect a “special relationship” with India.
He called for “hardheaded, realistic business propositions” between two states he claimed now have equal economies, with Britain accepting more movement of students and workers in return for trade opportunities post-Brexit.
Dr Tharoor’s latest book is titled Inglorious Empire: What the British did to India. He argues many of the modernising developments cited by empire apologists were built for the sole or primary benefit of the British occupiers, and that the real story of empire was one of theft, murder and expropriation of wealth.
In a viral speech given to the Oxford Union last year, he noted that Britain reduced India’s share of the world economy from 23 per cent to 4 per cent