Shashi Tharoor on what the British did to India | Antidote Festival at Sydney Opera House

Shashi Tharoor on what the British did to India | Antidote Festival at Sydney Opera House

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You went to high school in an education system that was set up by the British. You're educated in English. You're a man who rose to be UN Under Secretary General. I mean, these are advantage that might not have been or most certainly wouldn't have been possible without the British Empire. Are you ignoring that historical reality? You know, it's a very good question. Because, in fact, the educational system in India that the sort of elite subscribes to is very much indeed a legacy of the colonial era with appropriate modifications. So we do study Indian history from a somewhat more nationalist perspective than I'm sure our ancestors did when the British were teaching it. But by and large, a lot of the, in fact, I took examinations of what are nominally called Indian school certificate. But when I took them, the examination answer papers were shipped off to Cambridge, literally by ship. And we had to wait three months for somebody in Cambridge to correct them, grade them and send them back. I mean, the system was very much anchored [inaudible]. [ Inaudible Comment ] Though, in fact, the schools I went to happened to be missionary schools, Jesuit.
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So were not English. They were Belgian and French and Spanish and God knows what else. And Indian too. But not too many English Jesuits. Nonetheless, the system came from that. And I've talked about it in the book. That one of the more insidious challenges of colonialism is the extent to which our minds are colonised as well. And that colonisation of a mind takes some growing out of. For us, for some of us, one never really grows out of it. I do know that there are many who can't help, as it were, their identification with things Anglophone and Anglophile. Because that's really what they were schooled to appreciate. I have argued in the book, for example, that my fondness for Wodehouse and cricket, which you mentioned, actually is despite in many ways the fact that they had English origins. Of course, I've even more fond of cricket now that we regularly beat the English at it, but.
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>> An Indian game accidentally discovered by the British, I think. >> That's a great line by sociologist called Ashis Nandy that it's actually an Indian game accidentally discovered by the British. I mean, clearly, you know, our climate is far more suitable for cricket than theirs for one thing. But, anyway, where were we? I've lost my train thought. That's okay, we. Oh, yes. PG Wodehouse, for example. Obviously, the delights of Wodehouse are the delights that are imparted to you by your appreciation of the English language. What it does with stylistic humour, plotting and so on and so forth. But the interesting thing is precisely because of that. You don't actually have to have any allegiance to Britain as long as, in other words, you don't need the - the passport is the English language. But you don't need a British visa to get there. You can sit in India surrounded by a very different world from that which he describes. And enjoy the escapism that his writing represents. And so it goes. But I realise that this is self-interested pleading.
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Because, obviously, I am a product of the system, as you rightly point out. And I suppose one of the great problems with history is you can't establish the counter-factual. It's impossible to know what India might look like had the British not been there. Can I take you to those more structural things. The fact that India speaks the world's language. The fact that India has a centralised unitary government. That it is a democracy. How much has India's way in the world been made easier by those legacies? I think highly contestable. No, there's no question that some of this has been useful to us. And the English language certainly. But I want to stress, and I think you alluded to this in your introduction. That all the things that apologists for empire like to claim credit for, the English language. Parliamentary democracy. The rule of law. The railways. You know, all of the classic cliches. And for that matter even tea. Every single one of these things was brought in by the British to advance their control
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of India. To enhance their profits and serve their interests. Not one was intended principally to benefit Indians. And the fact that when they left they couldn't take this with them. And we were able then to turn them around to purposes the original people who introduced them would never have intended is something that I think is more to the credit of the Indian nationalist than to the Englishman. I'm happy to go through the examples you mentioned. You take language, for example. The British had no intention of imparting education to the masses of Indians. And made it very clear they weren't going to spend the money doing that. And, indeed, as late as 1930, the American historian Will Durant observed that the entire budget of the British for education in India from the nursery level to the highest university levels amounted to than half the high school budget of the state of New York. And that was for the entire country of India with at that point ten times as many people as the state of New York. The fact is that the British were not interested in investing in education. And even the English language was brought in just to educate a narrow class of sort
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of interpreters between the governors and the governed. People who would help the British by constituting a buffer between them and the dirty masses whom they ruled. I mean, that was very much the attitude. Macaulay actually said this in his notorious minutes on education. And he said that we need to create a class of Indians, Indian in skin and colour, but English in opinions and tastes and morals and in intellect. That was his exact, those were his exact words. And it was to serve their purposes. Now, of course, Indians then used English to open up another world of ideas. Often very radical and critical ideas. And ideas that eventually made English a language of Indian nationalism. Our first prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru wrote his classic "The Discovery of India" in English. So an Indian nationalist discovered India in English as it were. But that was our, if you like, change of what the British had intended to do. Democracy, you mentioned political unity. Well, political unit is one that the British point to with pride.
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That they came into a bunch of warring principalities, and they made a country out of it. Not so. For 2,000 years before the British ever set foot on India, there had been a very clear sense of a common civilizational unity. And an aspiration on the part of monarchs to consolidate that territorially. Obviously, they couldn't. I mean, we had two people who came very close. There was the Mauryan Empire, Ashoka and Chandragupta who controlled about 90 percent of the subcontinent, including Afghanistan. And then the Mughals, particularly Akbar and Aurangzeb, controlled about 95 percent of the subcontinent. And that was the sympathy, the fact that everyone tried to do it, aspired to do it and failed in trying shows that, if the British hadn't succeeded. Somebody else around the same time with the advantages of modern communications and so on would have. So political unity was not a British gift. Democracy had to be pried from the reluctant grasp of the British. In fact, the history of the advent of democracy in India, as I demonstrate in the book, is
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actually littered with the broken promises of English rulers. Who keep promising responsible self-government and then sort of yanking it away just when the time came for them to redeem their pledge. But still a franchise of vote was offered to Indians properly for the first time in 1937. Before that there'd been elections. But, for example, in the 1920s, only one out of every 250 Indians had the vote. Hardly a training ground for democracy. And even then they did not allow people to vote for a national government. The national government was still the British headed by the viceroy. It was only provincial governments that Indians were allowed to form up to the second World War. So given all of that, it's very difficult to point. And, as I say, the British did a great deal to undermine Indian unity.
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When the Indian National Congress was established in 1885 by a well-meaning Scotsman with various Indian supporters, it was truly a body the British could have easily co-opted. It was a bunch of largely Anglophile lawyers who wrote decorous petitions and held very civilised meetings in which they asked the English to give them the rights of Englishmen. But the British saw even this as a threat. So far from welcoming it as a first step towards responsible self-government for Indians, what the British did instead was try and undermine the Congress. To the extent of helping encourage the setting up of a rival body 20 years later, the Muslim League. Which was set up explicitly on sectarian lines. With the British prodding them to say, look, these people will only represent the interests of the Hindu majority. Now, you look at their first 20 presidents, and they're Christians. Muslims. Parsis. As well as Hindus. And there's even an Irish woman. An Irish Catholic, Annie Besant of the theosophist movement.
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So it was a very open, very inclusive body. But the British had no intention of cooperating with it. Had no intention of taking it serious. And these are not retrospective judgments. I've quoted, for example, a Sunday "Times" journalist from London who travelled in India 1907, 1908, Henry Nevinson. Who attended meetings of a Congress. Met British officialdom. And recorded his horror at the way in which the British were denying fair due process and fair rights to Indians. So all this was apparent at the time. And yet the British drag it out as long as they could. So it's a bit rich, as I've said at Oxford, to, you know, arrest. Maim. Imprison. Torture. Deny rights to a people for 200 years. And then celebrate the fact that they're democratic at the end of it. Let's talk food. You, one of the great lines of the book is, "There's never been a famine in a democracy with a free press." One of the striking things that comes out of this book is the widespread starvation
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that occurs in India during the first half of the 20th century. Can you talk about the famines and what [inaudible]. Absolutely. It really was a horror show what the British did. And if there are any Irish people in the audience, this will resonate with them. Because they did the same thing in Ireland. The British had a compound of attitudes at the time that they were ruling India. The first was that one must not give charity because it encourages idleness. The second was the rather callous notion, but they justified it in Adam Smithian terms. That the free market must prevail. So if there is a famine and the British government buys the only grain available to ship it off to London for the breadbaskets of the East Ind. But the poor people left in India who are starving for food can't afford to buy it because the Brits have driven the price up. Well, those are the rules of the free market. It's tough, but that's the way it's going to be. Third was the Malthusian Principle. That if the land cannot sustain the population that's trying to live off it, well, people must die.
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So they did. And the final thing, of course, was Victorian fiscal prudence. Thou shall not spend money thou has not budgeted for. So with all of this put together, they refused to help people in famines. Which was exactly the opposite of the Indian experience in the past. Where whenever there was a drought, whenever there was a failure of a harvest, the rich people, the aristocracy, the local kings and princes and so on, all came into help people. And there are no recorded incidents of people just dying of famines until the British came along. In fact, there are actually accounts by British observers in the late 18th century, during the first devastating British-made famine in Bengal. Which wiped out 1/3 of the entire population. Saying that in the nearby states still ruled by Indians, because Britain hadn't concurred all of India yet, people were being helped. And here in British India they were not being helped as a matter of policy. Now, in Ireland they did the same thing. Which led to the great potato blight of 1841 and the deaths of people. But the Irish at least had the option of jumping onto boats and sailing off to America.
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We didn't have that option. So we stayed in India and died. And the worst example that one can come to is Winston Churchill and the Second World War. Winston Churchill personally took decisions to allow people to die while his government acquired all the grain in Bengal that they could get. Not to feed the war effort, as was wrongly suggested, but to enhance buffer stocks, reserve stocks in the event of a likely future invasion of Greece and Yugoslavia. And Australian ships were docking at the port of Calcutta laden with wheat. And Churchill was personally deciding, either he or his odious paymaster general, Lord Cherwell, acting on his instructions, to not allow those ships to disembark their cargo, but to continue to sail onto Europe. When officials in India wrote to him saying people are dying. They're literally dying on the streets. He said, well, I hate Indians. They're a beastly people with a beastly religion. It's all their fault anyway for breeding like rabbits.
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These are all exact quotes verbatim. And when one particular memo reached the prime minister's desk about the unconscionable number of deaths, it ended up being 4.3 million. All Churchill could bring himself to do was to write in the margin somewhat peevishly, why hasn't Gandhi died yet? Now, this is the man, and the British expect us to hail as an apostle of freedom and democracy. He has as much blood on his hands as the worse genocidal dictators of the 20th century. So then remedy. We're here at the Antidote Festival. What is the antidote to a historical wrong as you'd lay it out here. The Oxford Union debate was on the subject of reparations. It is fiscal? It is political? Is it an apology? Where do we go from here? Well, you know, I got saddled with this reparation thing. Because that was the topic the Oxford Union students chose, Ben. And the fact is that, even in that debate, I said that you can't really quantify the
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value of the damage done by the British. How do you put a price on these 35 million Indians who died totally unnecessary deaths in those famines? Or how do you measure the lives and livelihoods of the weavers whose thumbs were chopped off so they couldn't weave again? When their looms were smashed in case the looms were rebuilt, they no longer could ply their craft? How could you measure all of this? And the financial drainage has been calculated. In fact, an Englishman called William Digby in 1901 published a 900-page book. Which I have on my laptop. In which he worked out down to the last penny and shilling how much the British had each year repatriated to England from India. But, I mean, it was after that that India spent the equivalent of 80 billion pounds sterling in supporting the First World War and so on. So those numbers have long since been overtaken. So I don't want to go the financial route. In that debate I said, even a symbolic one pound a year for the next 200 years will do it. Because the larger point is not finance, but reparation.
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But atonement, I beg your pardon. It's not reparations, but atonement. Why do I say that? Because reparations, any sum of money that would be payable would not be credible. And any sum that would be credible, that would take into account all this damage would not be payable. So why go down that route? Atonement, however, is necessary. I think all sinners need to atone. And Mahatma Gandhi, in fact, is the one who wrote to a viceroy that he considers British rule in India to be a sin. And for him that was a very strong word. Because a sin was, but at the same time he had the very Hindu notion that you must hate the sin and not the sinner. So once the sin was over, once the Union Jack had come down, there was no more any rancour towards the sinner. Because he was no longer a sinner. However, what about the past sins? And my answer is, first of all, well, there are three things I'd like to suggest to the British. And, indeed, have been suggesting to the British. The first is I think they should teach unvarnished colonial history in their schools.
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There's this very convenient historical amnesia in Britain today. As a result of which what's happening is that you can do an A level in history in Britain today without learning a line of colonial history. Most people don't know what the British did to the extent that YouGov, which is a poll that often looks at young people's views in Britain. Every year for the last few years, I've quoted one. But there's another poll which is even worse. Showing that a significant proportion of young English people actually are proud of the empire and would love to have it back. They have no idea what they're proud of. So they've got to be taught. That's one thing. Link to that I would say is there needs to be more by way of memorials and museums. London is just absolutely covered with museums of various sorts. Many of which are full of the products of theft from colonies. They're sort of Chor Bazaar for the Indians in the audience. Yeah. Masquerading as museums. But having said that, you know, you can even find an imperial war museum in Britain.
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But you can't find an imperial museum, a colonialism museum. There's no place for children, tourists, visitors to go to and see for themselves the whole picture what was done by the British and their foreign rule. And the third thing, oh, by the, there's even a statue to the animals that aided the war effort in Britain right in the heart of London. I've driven past it. And there is no statue to the 1.3 million Indians who gave of their own and won an improbable number of Victoria crosses and so on in the First World War. And the 1.7 million Indians who fought in the Second World War. No statue to them. The animals, however, are commemorated. The British really have to recognise the debt that they owe. Finally, you mentioned an apology. To me that is important. And I've got the perfect opportunity for it looming right now. On the 13th of April 2019, will be the centenary of what I consider the single worst atrocity of the British Empire. The Jallianwala Bagh Massacre. The Amritsar Massacre some people call it.
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Not because of the numbers of people killed. The British actually killed 100,000 people in Delhi alone in putting down the revolt of 1857. But rather because of everything that accompanied it. Well, give me two minutes explain. It came at the end of the First World War, which even Mahatma Gandhi had supported the Indian war effort. And Indians had sent money. Treasure. Taxes, which they could not afford. Pack animals. Rations. Clothing. Uniforms. Carts. Even rail lines ripped out of the ground to aid the war effort. In the hope that at the end of all of this there would be the grant of what the British had promised to the white commonwealth, responsible self-government. It never came. They betrayed the promise. And not only did they betray it, but they actually re-imposed wartime era prohibitions on freedom of speech. Freedom of assembly. Freedom of the press and so on. Immediately protests broke out saying this is simply not what we were promised. And the British in effect declared marshal law. They didn't use the phrase, but they sent generals out to the various provinces to put
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down the unrest. In Amritsar, the second largest town in Punjab, we had the arrival of Brigadier General Reginald Dyer. And he got there, and he proclaimed that people couldn't gather in groups of more than five and so on and so forth. But he had completely failed to notice that this was the Punjabi spring festival of Baishakhi. And in a walled garden called Jallianwala Bagh, a large number of men, women and children had gathered to commemorate the festival. Completely unarmed. He arrives there with a bunch of soldiers. He doesn't ask them what they're doing there and why they're there. He doesn't even take a look at who they are. He doesn't fire a warning shot. He just orders his soldiers to shoot into the bodies of the unarmed, wailing, soon stampeding men, women and children. And as they try to flee this garden, this walled garden, there's only one gate, one exit. And he stations his soldiers right there. As he himself explains later, because that makes these people easier targets. 1,650 rounds were fired.
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And he boasted proudly not one bullet was wasted. The British admitted to 379 killed and the rest injured. The Indians claim the figures are much higher. Whatever the truth was, it was a horrendous, horrendous massacre. At the end of it, he bars the gates shut and doesn't allow even the relatives of the dead, the dying and the wounded to tend to their dear ones. They are forced to lie for 24 hours in the hot April sun. Many of whom died because of that. On top of that he forces Indians to crawl on their bellies on a narrow lane nearby. And if they so much as lift their heads, their leads bashed in by British staves. At the end of all of this, of course, there is outrage. The House of Commons condemns him. The House of Lords promptly passes a resolution praising him for what he had done. And the British take out a collection to reward him. And they raise the equivalent of a quarter of million pounds sterling in today's money. Which is presented to him with a bejewelled sword. And that flatulent voice of Victorian imperialism Rudyard Kipling hails him as the man who saved
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India. Now this, that entire package, the betrayal at the beginning. The cruelty of the massacre. The racism and indifference to Indian suffering that followed. The justification and reward. You take the whole thing together, and to me it makes it the single most fitting act that is worthy of an apology. And if somebody on the centenary of that event, somebody from the royal family. Because everything was done in the name of the crown. Were to come to Amritsar and go down on their knees in Jallianwala Bagh and beg forgiveness or express remorse. Apologise for this sin. I think it would have a remarkably cleansing effect. And perhaps wash away much of the wrongs that were done in the preceding 200 years. [ Applause ] I'm going to open the floor shortly to questions. You'll see there's a couple of mic stands. I'm peering into the blackness here but I can see one and two. If people would like to start making their way down, I'm not sure if there are any
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defenders of the Empire in the house, if anyone wants to go ten rounds with Shashi Tharoor. Any Churchill fans out there. Can I ask you another question, perhaps a little off topic of the book, but extrapolating it further to India's future. And because you're a person who went within a handful of votes, I think, of being UN secretary general. How do you see India's place now for an independent India on the global stage in the 21st century? In particular, how does a rising India deal with a dominant China? And to your experience in the UN, is a reformed UN security council with India on it still an ambition? >> Gosh, these three are the subject of an entire other book. It's called "Pax Indica, India and the World of the 21st Century." It was published a couple of years ago. But, I mean, the short answer would be that India I think has an enormous contribution to make to the world of the 21st century, and it should. We have the ability to contribute to the stewardship of the global commons. We have the skill, the resources, the technology, the human capacity to make a difference in everything from cyberspace to outer space. And we ought to step up to the plate and do it.
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We are waiting, as you rightly said, for a seat on the security council. And you can understand that because a security council reflects the geopolitical realities of 1945 and not of 2017. So countries like India, but not only India. Also Japan. Germany. Brazil. South Africa. Others. Are all asking for a place at the table. And in international affairs this is very true. You're either at the table or on the menu. And the fact is we have been rule takers in the international system for a long time. Observing rules that others have written for us. And I think we feel that we've come sufficiently of age and made enough of a contribution to the world system in peace keeping and in other ways. Democracy promotion, so on. To have earned the right to be amongst the rule makers. So, yes, I do believe India has a significant and credible role to play. On China, I mean, you know, China's way ahead of us in economic development terms. GDP growth. The size of their economy. Their manufacturing base.
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Their infrastructure. I don't see this as a race. I think as long as both countries are able to eradicate poverty in their countries. Give their people three decent meals a day. A roof over their heads. A possibility of decent work. And ultimately the hope of leading decent lives. Then more power to both of them. And it doesn't have to be a competition. There's enough available in the world and Asia too for both countries to thrive and prosper. Those in either country who are inclined to see this as a zero sum game, I believe are wrong. And I think there certainly are some in China who periodically seem to like to needle in there to keep it off balance. Likely to remind it that it shouldn't have pretensions to challenge China. And there are some in India who seem to be locked into a mindset that China is some sort of permanent enemy. Which I don't believe it needs to be. I think the two can cooperate. I pointed out, for example, that something like the sea lanes of communication across the Indian Ocean are actually a mutual interest. Instead of us worrying about every Chinese base and the Chinese suggestion of every Indian
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ship, we could be conducting joint anti-piracy patrols and so on. Because we have the same interest. The same lanes that go from the gulf in East Africa to China have to pass by India first. So we have the same interest. Why don't we cooperate? I'm going to be ruthlessly democratic about our questions today. I'm going to one, two, one, two. Can I, in my most politic terms, urge people for questions rather than dissertations with a question at the end of it. And we'll try and hook through. We'll go here to number one first. Thank you. Thank you, sir, for your very thought-provoking words. One of the legacies of the "Inglorious Empire" is the English language, as you mentioned. According to some stats I saw recently, 12.18 percent of the Indian population claimed to speak English and 0.42 percent of the population acknowledge it as their own, as their first language. However, the federal civil service conducts his business in English. So do the law courts, as does parliament.
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My question is, do you believe that India is still held in colonial thrall by a small [inaudible] of English speakers? And, if not, what is the audience to which you are addressing your book written, as it is, in English? But available I'll show you in translation in multiple Indian languages too. No, the fact is that history has left us with English as the link language. Before the British came it was Persian that was the language of the courts. And the aristocracy and the elite. There would always have to be a link language in a large and diverse country like ours. If, for example, as some in the north would like, Hindi were to be thrust on the rest of India as a national language, it will breed far more resentment. Because it would mean that the government of India and the law courts and everybody else would be addressing themselves to Sharma [assumed spelling] in a language that is not known to [inaudible]. And the fact is that that would give one set of Indians unfair advantages over another.
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Whereas, everyone is at an equal disadvantage or advantage in English. I rest my case. I think we need English as that link language at the national level. And at the same time Indian languages are thriving and flourishing. Particularly since the expansion and democratisation of the media. Every Indian language has multiple television channels serving it. Culture, literature and music, cinema are flourishing in every Indian language. And hopefully a majority of the population doesn't need to use those law courts that you're worried about. Sorry, we'll go to number two. Thanks, Dr. Tharoor. My question is around the rise of populism in India over the last 30 years or so. How much would you say that is a legacy of colonialism in India? And what do we do going forward? No, I think we have to accept the blame from our own populism. I love blaming everything on the British, but in all fairness not that. Because what's happened is the nature of our democratic politics has, I think would certainly
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surprise our founding fathers who created the system very much in fulfilment of the models they'd seen in Britain earlier. I think if Nehru hadn't been cremated he'd be turning over in his grave multiple times. Because he thought caste would disappear. For example, as a good English educated Indian, he thought it was a backward idea. And instead democracy has made caste all the more entrenched. Because it has become an instrument of political mobilisation. Similarly, every one of us members of parliament, elected members of parliament as opposed to the upper house. All of us, every one of us knows that we represent voters, a majority of who live on less than $2 a day. You're forced to be populist because our voters need the system. And they need the political representatives to ensure that their system delivers benefits for them. Otherwise basically you don't get reelected. I mean, the reelection rate in the Indian [inaudible] in the last 25 years has averaged 26 percent. So 3/4 of our MPs don't make it to a second term.
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So inevitably populism has crept into the system. I think as the populist and, therefore, the electorate gets more educated and more aware, undoubtedly populism will not be able to exert the same stranglehold on them. But right now it's very much our system, our democracy and the way we worked it that has given us this result. Thank you. Are you really sure that populism will fade with the maturation of democracy? I mean, we're seeing populism all over the world. We're seeing it in, you know, mature democracies. Like the United States. Like this one. I like this one. Look, I don't know. But I do think that that's the best hope we've got. Because in India the transformation that I tried too prematurely to trace was from a politics of identity to a politics of performance. I did have concrete examples underlying my thesis in states like Andhra Pradesh and Bihar and so on. Where populist won on an identity appeal. And when they failed to deliver performance got left out.
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And alternatives were elected who didn't appeal on identitarian grounds. But spoke about, you know, [foreign language]. That's red clothing and roofs over our heads. Are now [foreign language], which is electricity, good roads and water, drinking water. Which are things that voters are now judging their elected representatives by. Okay, we'll go to number one. Thank you for your great insights. And I really look forward to reading this book. Thank you. And about time after 70 years that this book has come. And great on both sides. And, you know, from India and Pakistan. Coming like to whatever I've read, you know, up to since I've bought the ticket about "Inglorious Empire," that makes me think that, isn't that mostly empires are inglorious? And even coming to the present times, where we see post-9/11, what has been happening. And what the atrocities have been, you know, in Syria lately.
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And before that in Iraq and Afghanistan. So what are your thoughts? And also including Indian occupied Kashmir, you know, where people are fighting for their freedom? And here there's another perspective where a man is a freedom fighter to one and a terrorist to another. So what are the lessons that would you see, you know? Because your, with your profound experience and your long association with the United States, you see that what are the take-aways. And what can you really tell the present government of India and other present people in power? [ Multiple Speakers ] That would require a very long answer, young lady. And I hope you will read the book. There's a lot of it is covered in the book. First of all, I do stress right throughout that nothing in the book is meant to absolve the present-day governments of any of the successor countries to the British Raj, of their failures and their actions. Ultimately, I'm not using the past to justify the present. I believe one should face the past. One should embrace the past. But one should leave it in the past. I've often said, you know, our problem in the subcontinent is we have a forgive and
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forget culture. And forgive is good because nursing hatred and resentment and bitterness really hurts the hater far more than the hated. So that's no point. But, while forgive is good, forget is bad. We must not forget. And we must not forget. Because, as I often say to young people like yourself, if you don't know where you've come from, how will you appreciate where you're going? You must have a sense, just as we're all curious about our parents or grandparents. Why shouldn't we as a society, as a collectivity be conscious of what went on in the past? So that's one of the first and larger points. There are inglorious moments in contemporary India. Pakistan. Bangladesh and so on. And those have to be dealt with, in my view, in their own terms. The history may have lead us to that point. But there's no point blaming history anymore. We're the ones making the decisions today. On Kashmir, it's a rather complicated story, as you know. I am not a fan of partition. I understand many Pakistanis are. Because they wouldn't have a country without it. Whereas, I think we wouldn't have all the hostility, conflict and wasted energies that.
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Sorry to interrupt you. But isn't it about time that this should be accepted. Okay, now Pakistan is there. It's been 70 years. And let's resolve the issues. And let's talk about Kashmir. And how long will we keep on talking about Kashmir and keep the sense of bone of contention? I'm not, you are. But the point is. But with your profound experience with the United Nations, I see you somewhere, you know. Yeah, but just to answer that. I mean, the thing is that what Pakistan has often failed to appreciate is that there is a big difference in the logic underlying partition from two different sides of the border. Pakistan is created as a result of one party wanting a state for people of a particular religion. Now, the Indian nationalist movement never bought into that logic. It always claimed to be a movement of every faith. Every religion. Every caste. Every language. Every colour and so on. And it never accepted the logic that because Pakistan had been created as a state for Muslims
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that what we remained must necessarily be a state for Hindus. In fact, the Indian nationalist movement explicitly rejected that logic. And so it looks to its Muslim majority province, I mean, districts and one state with pride as belonging and affirming the idea that religion is not a valid determinant of nationhood. Religion, frankly, the kind of logic that led to the creation of Pakistan would have been the kind of logic that would have been considered disreputable to express in India. That speaking in the name of one faith or one religion would have been seen as bigotry rather than as a national cause. So this is the fundamental problem that there are two different logics at work. One seeing nationhood as an erring in faith. And the other seeing a large diverse nation in which people of various backgrounds can overcome differences of caste. Of creed. Of colour. Of culture. Of cuisine. Of conviction.
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Of costume and of custom. And still rally around a consensus. And that consensus in a diverse country like India is that you don't really need to agree all the time. So long as you agree on the ground rules of how you'll disagree. That's how we've been able to manage consensus without consensus. How we've been able to preserve through our democracy this astonishingly diverse land. And to us, therefore, the only way that works is if everybody feels an equal ownership an equal stake. And, whereas, there have been secessionist movements in other parts of India, they've been put you down through a very effective combination of either law and order enforcement on the one hand. Or political cooperation on the other. So that yesterday's rebels and secessionists become political candidates today. Chief ministers tomorrow. And given the vagaries of democratic politics, leaders of the opposition the day after tomorrow. That's essentially the way it works everywhere except in Kashmir. [ Multiple Speakers ] I, look I admire. Because we have a neighbouring state that fuels it.
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I admire your enthusiasm and passion. I'm not sure we're going to solve Kashmir this afternoon. One repostand then we're going to move on. But my last point is coming back to your, you know, where British denied the fair trials at that time when, you know, Indians and the subcontinent were fighting for freedoms. So this is where I'm seeing that we can learn a lot from history. And what is your take where we can give referendum rights to Kashmir and give them a fair trial and let the. Sit down. [ Inaudible Comment ] We've dealt with that reasonably extensively. Number two. Sure you don't want more? Talking earlier about an apology or maybe a monument. With there being a conservative government for at least the next four years in the UK, that's probably not going to happen. What role does the Indian population in Britain have to play in getting across these [inaudible]
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and what actually happened [inaudible]? Good question. First of all, you did notice that I didn't suggest the prime minister should come and apologise. Because I know she won't. But I did suggest a member of the royal family. Because that's the, I mean, the, we were the jewel in their crown. So they may as well, you know, come and burnish the jewel a little bit here. But as far as the Indian community in Britain, I was struck by two contradictory phenomena during my many visits to the UK to promote the UK edition of this book. The, for the first few months, the only pushback and the only negative reviews I got were from the Indian Brits. In fact, I had a most amazing appearance at the House of Lords where a British viscountess, title goes back 800 years, praised my book. And, you know, expressed a great deal of chagrin as an Englishman. One of his ancestors had been a viceroy of India. And an Indian peer who's family had migrated from Kenya or Uganda about 40 years ago spoke
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up passionately in defence of the British Empire and all the good it had done. So there was that paradox to begin with. But subsequently I have noticed in my audiences a rather significant number of Indian Brits feeling that in some ways this sort of is a reminder and a validation of their place in British society. I was reminded of this wonderful photograph I saw of a demonstration against the anti-immigrant speeches made by a certain conservative politician. There was a wonderful demonstration. And the demonstrators, black and brown Britains, were holding up placards saying, we are here because you were there. And I think it's something that. [ Applause ] It's something the Brits need to be reminded of from time to time. Come over here. Hi, in your book you talk about how, during the height of colonialism, the British in
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India were outnumbered by natives at a ratio of something like 2,000 to 1. And you say that Indian labour and soldiers and commercial acumen was used to further the interest of empire across the globe. To what extent or how culpable are Indians or were Indians in allowing that to happen and not throwing off those shackles within 200 years? And helping and aiding and abetting the spread of colonialism from the [inaudible]? >> Very much culpable. Very much culpable. Indians were complicit in their own repression. They served the states that was oppressing their people. They were very happy to betray each other for personal advancement. I mean, there are lots of cases of this. The very first battle, the Battle of Plassey that Clive won in 1777. He overthrew the Nawab of Bengal, Siraj ud-Daulah. Who was betrayed in the battle by one of his cousins and courtiers Mir Jafar. Who not only revealed battle plans to Clive. But also paid Clive off to put him on the throne in place of his cousin.
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But ten years later Mir Jafar's cousin and courtier Mir Qasim comes along and pays the East India Company even more money to put him on the throne in place of Mir Jafar. And ten years later Mir Jafar, having raised more funds, comes back a third time and has his cousin displaced. I mean, this was, and it's a worst-case scenario, but this kind of thing happened a lot. Tipu Sultan, for example, who was one of the few heroes that actually managed to win a couple of battles against the British. But then, when he was defeated, he retreated to his impregnable fortress at Srirangapatnam, south of Mysore. And it was surrounded by a moat full of water and crocodiles. And the besieging British army couldn't get in. There was nothing they could do. He had secret tunnels under the water that were bringing him supplies. Food. Ammunition and so on. So he was actually entirely secure. How did the British manage to defeat him? Typical story. One of his aides betrayed him to the British. And when I went there with my kid, by revealing the location of a gate under which, under
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the moat, through which the British soldiers were able to come. And when I went there with my kids, one of the tourist guides said to me. Sir, second Watergate, Washington. First Watergate, Srirangapatnam. They lifted the water gate to let the British come in. So we did it to ourselves a great deal. And the British could not have ruled India without Indian complicity. Without the comprador capitalists. And the native informants. And, frankly, the willing sepoys. >> We have a question over here. >> Hello. Thank you so much for your talk. I enjoyed it very much. I wanted to ask you a real quick question about, you mentioned trade before in the past about trade now. And whether you think it is fair. Whether you think, I know that tech is very strong in India right now. But a lot of it is just outsourcing. They don't have much ownership. They're just labour. A new form of labour, I feel. What your view is on the current-day kind of oppression, whatever, the financial climate
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of India? >> Right. It's a little more complicated than that in the sense that there's also high-end outsourcing going on. So you've got Boeing, for example, gets some very sophisticated airline wing parts. [inaudible] being made by R and D outfits in India. Philips has more R and D employees in India than they have in the Netherlands. GE the same thing. Intel is expanding its research for print in India. So there is high-end work taking place as well. It's not just the call centres, you know, asking you to pay your credit card bills. Though, that's there too. But the big worry is that a lot of what India's been doing well because of skilled human beings could well be taken away by artificial intelligence. So right now, for example, MRIs in Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston are being read by trained radiologists in India. I'm told they're now developing an artificial intelligence software that will read those MRIs for free essentially in America.
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Medical transcription was a booming industry in India. A doctor would dictate his notes at the end of a day into a machine or a phone line. While he was asleep, a qualified Indian paramedic would type them up with all the right vocabulary and so on. And when the doctor came in the next morning, he would read this out. Now with voice recognition software and AI, he may not need to do that anymore. He might have it done for him in his office. And so it goes. So India is more and more vulnerable to advances in technology that may actually take our people out of their value-added in employment. Manufacturing is already, China seized the opportunity at the right time. India was too late. India has gone in for this make-in-India campaign. But there's a real worry that we will be asking companies to make in India things that will not be made by human beings anywhere. Because robots will be doing it. So there's that risk as well that's facing us. So there are some real challenges, absolutely real challenges.
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As far as trade is concerned right now, we're not doing terribly well. But don't forget that, you know, the days when India and China accounted for 50 percent of global GDP are in any case not only over, they're never coming back. China has climbed up to about 16 percent of global GDP. But it's a long way down from its peak. Which I think at the most was 29 at one point. It's not going to get there. I mean, the world is now a more complicated place. More countries have prospered. So I would rather now start focussing, as an Indian policy maker, on what we can do to ensure decent lives for our people. And worry less about percentages and complications there. It was a relevant argument I believe in looking at the historical experience. But today in policy terms, we just have to help. Save. Feed. Employ. Educate people. That's all. [ Multiple Speakers ] >> [inaudible] would that look like a form of protectionism in policy? >> Well, at this stage there's no real political constituency protectionism. I often point out that, while people like Mr. Modi, our present prime minister, I'm
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in the opposition. But Mr. Modi is very much part of this anti-globalised elite cultural backlash. He is not an anti-globalisation backlash man. He wants to be Davos Man. He doesn't want to knock down davos as say Donald Trump does. There's a difference there. But at the same time the prospects have to be admitted, to be rather tough right now. He's not heading towards protectionism. India is still looking towards more foreign investment. More open markets. And I think so far the direction is very much away from protectionism. But in the long term, everyone will have to see what's best for them. Driverless cars, they will be protectionism. If we get driverless cars in India, we throw 25 million people out of work the next day. That's how many people are drivers, whose only profession is driving. Some of those things we won't do, but we love to see [inaudible]. >> We've got two minutes. So we'll just ask for a quick question and a quick response. >> Thank you very much, Dr. Tharoor. Very quick one.
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I wanted to go back to an issue that was raised at the introduction. Which was the treatment of women in India and the greater visibility globally around that unfortunately. And your views on the impact of colonialism in terms of how women, how gender, how sexuality was viewed before British India and the consequences of British India. >> Gender, I'm sorry to say India did not have a. [ Applause ] India did not have a great record. There were a number of discriminatory practices in regards to women. Though the great thing about India is the paradoxes. There's always been positive stories of women rulers. Women warriors. Women conquerors. Women leaders of various sorts in various fields. But the British by and large chose to leave things alone as they saw it. And so some of the negative and social practices continued. Except when you ask about sexual relations and gender relations. There, of course, the British imposed Victorian morality on a culture that had never practised
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it. So India, which famously, as our ancient texts demonstrate, had had a very open attitude towards all sorts of human relationships. Including homosexual ones. Suddenly got saddled in the 19th century with a Victorian Europe Penal Code that criminalised all sexual activity except in the missionary position, as it were. And the result, I mean, it's really not funny. Because the result now is that we have been unable to shake off some of these laws. And it's only now that a legal finding in the supreme court suggests there might be a way to get rid of that particular punishment from the statute book. But I do want to stress that this paradox that I mentioned continues to the present. India has had the world's first women doctors. It has had the world's first women lawyers. The first lawyer to, a women to get a legal degree in Oxford University was an Indian woman, Cornelia Sorabji. And when she studied law at Oxford, no women had every studied law before.
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And when she graduated, they couldn't give her a degree because by tradition women were not allowed at the convocation ceremony. She had to wait 30 years to be given her degree after graduating from Oxford in the 1860s. We had first women [inaudible]. The first woman pilots. And one of the first women heads of government. So women have had these opportunities. But at the same time at many, many parts social ladder, women are being abused. Being discriminated against. Being essentially sold off as chattel. Having had dowry paid. All sorts of other negative things. The interesting thing is that Indian women themselves are rising against these things. There are women's movements across all fates. Against all castes. There are women lawyers organising female construction workers. There are women organising other women. For example, against their salaries being given to their husbands or their husband's bank accounts. And policies have gradually changed, take some of these things into account. More and more benefits are being given to women directly in their accounts so they have some control over how it's spent, government funding.
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Things like this are changing for the better. It's not an unrelieved negative picture as sometimes foreign reporting can suggest. Yes, there is violence against women. But the rape statistics in India are actually lower than those of any comparable western country per head. Of course, there's some underreporting as well. Women are often ashamed to go to the police. And police are often unwilling to record sexual transgressions as crimes. These are things that still need to be fixed. But I do believe that consciousness has never been higher right across Indian society. And if, as long as men and boys begin to understand that there's a problem here, that problem will start to disappear. [ Applause ] >> Ladies and gentlemen, we have run out of time. So we'll draw this quite extraordinary discussion to a close. We've traversed a lot of territory. From driverless cars to the missionary position. We've rewritten Churchill's biography. And I thought we made some fair headway on Kashmir there for a while.
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So, look, thank you very much for your participation. And could I ask you to thank again Dr. Shashi Tharoor.

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