Prince William & Kate’s recent tour of India & Bhutan was quite a royal success. In an increasingly visual world, the photo opportunities alone of the Royal Couple provided a priceless public relations campaign for the British Royal Family that the world was only too happy to consume.
Even in America, news of Kate’s dresses and cricket games with street children in the slums of Delhi made headlines. The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge are so enchanting and charming it makes us almost believe the British Royals are still somehow relevant in today’s world.
But in 2016, having the new generation of British Royals visit India without any real, substantive conversation, or even mention of the British Raj, and how hard India struggled to win her Independence from the British, is insulting. Despite my personal fondness for Will & Kate, it is hard for me to see who really benefited from this tour other than Buckingham Palace.
“I have fond memories of our previous visits to India and this event is a wonderful opportunity to celebrate the enduring friendship between our two countries, our shared culture and the business opportunities we can create together,” read a message from Queen Elizabeth & Prince Philip that Prince William delivered at a celebration at the British High Commissioner’s residence in Delhi. “It is with great pleasure that I entrust another generation of my family to strengthen and renew our bonds.”
One can only imagine how fond the Queen’s memories must be of India, a land her great great grandmother, Queen Victoria was the Empress of, and under whose rule India was raped and robbed and plundered for hundreds of years.
When the British finally left in 1947, after brutally crushing all rebellions and revolts for liberation across India for hundreds of years before then, they left India torn and divided. The subsequent human migration which followed India’s Partition was the largest in the history of the world. From Kashmir to the Bangladesh-India border, today we are still fighting over lines the British drew over our lands.
Kate’s world-class fashion and dashing Prince are beautiful to watch, especially while sitting in front of the Taj Mahal or at social events in Delhi in the company of Bollywood royalty Shah Rukh Khan, Madhuri Dixit and Aishwariya Rai.
But who are we trying to fool and what are we trying to forget?
If the British Royal family are truly interested in forging new relations with India built on respect then perhaps Will and Kate should have watched the riveting speech Indian MP and former diplomat, Shashi Tharoor gave last summer at Oxford University, when he passionately argues why Britain should pay reparations to India:
At the beginning of the 18th Century, India’s share of the world economy was 23%, as large as all of Europe put together. By the time the British departed India, it had dropped to less than 4%.The reason was simple: India was governed for the benefit of Britain. Britain’s rise for 200 years was financed by its depredations in India. By the end of the 19th Century, India was Britain’s biggest cash-cow, the world’s biggest purchaser of British exports and the source of highly paid employment for British civil servants – all at India’s own expense. We literally paid for our own oppression…As Britain ruthlessly exploited India, between 15 and 29 million Indians died tragically unnecessary deaths from starvation. The last large-scale famine to take place in India was under British rule; none has taken place since, since free democracies don’t let their people starve to death. Some four million Bengalis died in the Great Bengal Famine of 1943 after Winston Churchill deliberately ordered the diversion of food from starving Indian civilians to well-supplied British soldiers and European stockpiles. When officers of conscience pointed out in a telegram to the prime minister the scale of the tragedy caused by his decisions, Mr Churchill’s only response was to ask peevishly “Why hasn’t Gandhi died yet?”
Tharoor goes onto state that it does not even matter what the amount is that Britain pay to India, but whatever the sum may be, he also asks the British to return the famed Kohinoor diamond.
Will and Kate had the perfect chance to teach a new generation the truth about India and Britain’s shared history, and finally stop pretending that the British rule of India was some great and glorious chapter in history. It is a shame that such a well-loved couple missed the opportunity to acknowledge and apologize for the tyranny of the British rule of India.
Looking back through the glamour Princess Diana’s son and his wife graced India with this past week is really beautiful to see. That is undeniable. But in the Information Age, to conduct an official tour that just strolls through India while ignoring so much history is just wrong.
Will and Kate could have taken Shashi Tharoor’s argument of why Britain should pay India reparations all the way to the ear of the Queen. The fact that they didn’t reminds us exactly why we must stop romanticizing the British Raj, and never forget the cruelty of colonialism.
You can watch Tharoor’s full speech below: