Civilizations, one after another, are now history. We can forgive our dark past but not forget the dark memorial. We cannot even forget colonialism as a black chapter of our history. In this piece, my entire focus is on the British colonialism that had spread worldwide, enforcing its influence and plundering resources. In the twenty-first century, a growing movement contends that Britain should recognize its colonial past and the shade of colonialism that still prints hatred. Only reparation to her (British Empire’s) former colonies can remove the shadow.
In a famous debate at the Oxford Union, Dr. Shashi Tharoor said, “The sun never sets in the British empire; even God couldn’t trust the Englishmen in the dark.” In other words, the darkness of the night was feared because of British torture and looting. Almost 200 years were spent under British colonial control in the Indian subcontinent, which includes modern-day Bangladesh, Pakistan, and India. Britain maintained its social and cultural dominance during this time while extracting massive resources and imposing economic exploitation. Rich cultural traditions, diversified people, and thriving businesses in the region suffered severe setbacks, with long-lasting effects that still influence these countries today. For all those years, the British Empire caused its colony’s people to suffer in pain.
British Raj had looted, blew down the continent’s economy, applied forced labour, and carried out unequal trade practices. Foreign Minister of India Subrahmanyam Jaishankar also mentioned that the British took away $45 trillion during their rule of two centuries in India, which was valued at half of the world economy then. We should know where we are coming from. If we do not know where we have come from, how can we appreciate where we are going? After finishing the Battle of Plassey in 1757, the area became part of the British East India Company as the first in the Indian subcontinent, under British administration. Bengal (Colonial period Bangladesh) inevitably faced dictatorship from the British – economic exploitation, terrible famines, and social unrest were experienced in the region. In the end, millions died because of the Bengal Famine of 1943, which was worsened due to the British policies and their carelessness. Amartya Sen’s famous research on the Bengal Famine titled Poverty and Famines: An Essay on Entitlement and Deprivation also acknowledged this.
Reparations can remedy this historical injustice and provide an opportunity to advance Bangladesh’s economic growth, poverty reduction, and infrastructure and education programs. But if you think practically, the major issue in this context is whether reparation from the British to her former colonies is possible.
The author of The Future of Capitalism: Facing the New Anxieties, Paul Collier, illustrated that paying reparations is difficult for a country like Britain because of its numerous obstacles. Financial limitations play a crucial role, as delivering reparations to several former colonies in various regions would necessitate enormous financial obligations that could strain the country’s resources and economy. The author of ‘Neo-Colonialism’, Kwame Nkrumah, tried to portray that when it comes to reparation, legal issues can often make things even more difficult because determining the proper legal framework, identifying beneficiaries, and determining the level of reparation needed are all complex tasks. He contended and sought to illustrate in his work that former colonial powers should take decisive action to provide reparations and accept responsibility for the exploitation and oppression during the colonial period and this might involve funding for nation-building initiatives in formerly colonial countries and assistance with development. However, what may the alternative in this case be?
A simple and nice “sorry” can be an excellent reparation. The British should express remorse and seek an apology for the horrendous evils of the British rule. There is greatness in apologizing. If this were not true, the apology of Germany’s Chancellor and the Prime Minister of Canada would not have appeared as considerable reparations. German Chancellor fell to his knees at the memorial to the Warsaw Ghetto in the 1970s as an apology for what the German Nazis had done to Polish Jews. In the same line, nearly 102 years after the Komagata Maru shipping disaster, Justin Trudeau, Canadian Prime Minister, apologized in the House of Commons.
The sorry word can wipe out centuries of colonial stigma. Not only that, but this apology can allow a victim country to forget its loss and begin a new journey to prosperity. The new generation of Britons may not be comfortable seeing their forefathers being called ‘looters’. Hence, now is a good time for the British to apologize and set a precedent of reparation. It will not cost them anything but rather enhance their image to the world. This simple gesture will strengthen the bond between the former colonies and Britain and leave no stains.