LitFest discusses reparation for colonial injustice

Robert Clive was a controversial 18th century administrator in British India.

Robert Clive was a controversial 18th century administrator in British India.  

Reparations by Britain to India for the injustices of colonial rule is a fair demand but must take forms other than financial, a group of writers and historians speaking at the 2016 Jaipur Literary Festival (JLF) held at the South Bank argued.

Speaking at a session chaired by the writer William Dalrymple on the role of the colonial state as represented in two books, the recently published Tears of the Rajas by Ferdinand Mount and an earlier book, The Corporation that Changed the World by Nick Robins, Mr. Mount said “Knowledge is the best form of reparation.”

Transferring knowledge

He added, “We should rehabilitate something of the respect that is due in restoring the understanding of the economic system and the remarkable commerce, the culture and heritage that lay beneath all the colonial prancing.”

Mr. Mount’s book is an unapologetic account of his ancestors, the Lows of Clatto, a family that spent a century serving the colonial state, and participated in the battles and killings of the 1857 mutiny of Indian troops against the East India Company.

Prime Minister David Cameron had ruled out reparations to Nigeria for slavery during a visit to the country in 2015, a sore rejection for the descendents of those who still suffer the consequences of slavery’s historical impact of subjugation.

“Why doesn’t the British government erect a statue to the unknown Indian peasant, who suffered the harsh impact of British taxation, opposite that of Robert Clive that stands in Whitehall?” Nick Robins asked. Robert Clive, a famous though controversial 18th century colonial administrator, was known to be the foremost of the ‘robber barons’, a class that bought power in England from the proceeds of their plunder in India. Yet another speaker suggested the writing off of the debt of African nations.

Speakers at the session also drew attention to the whitewashing of the colonial enterprise in the way history is taught in British schools. “The British empire does not figure on the syllabus in textbooks,” Mr. Dalrymple said. “British children read about the Tudors, Stuarts, and then about Hitler. The role played by the British in between is left out.”

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