We Are Taught Shakespeare in School But not Kalidas and That’s a Shame: Shashi Tharoor on British Raj in India
Shashi Tharoor’s sessions are always a crowd puller at the Jaipur Literature Festival. In its 10th year, Tharoor spoke about the dark ages that India underwent under the British Raj. Tharoor along with Historian Jon Wilson spoke about how the British always had their own vested interest in India and the idea was never to really civilize the country.
Tharoor’s latest book An Era Of Darkness: The British Empire In India highlights the subjugation that India was put under. Tharoor was quick to remind that when the East India Company came to India, they could have just had trade ties, which was what it aimed at and yet the colonization happened despite India being a far richer and affluent country.
Dr Wilson, who has written several books on British colonization, described how the aim of the British Empire was never to civilize or bring positive change in the country. Highlighting the infamous Bengal famine of 1770 and 1943, Tharoor explained that British were least interested in rescuing the starving Indians. For British PM Winston Churchill, the Bengal famine was not high on the priority list at all. “By the time they sent food, it was very late. “And what they provided to the famine-ridden Bengal was far less than what Nazis gave their inmates,” said Tharoor.
While atrocities, loots, plunder were the norm under the British Raj- “The civil servants were the highest paid in the world, more than the American civil servants,”- Jon Wilson also pointed out that not much is discussed about the various Indian institutions and banks came up under the British rule. “It was a response to the British atrocities,” added Tharoor.
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In fact, when Tharoor was asked if abolishing of Sati by the British a propaganda or a genuine reform, Tharoor said, “You must realize it was initiated by an Indian, Raja Ram Mohan Roy. The British never wanted to get involved in the matters of us Indians. All the reforms that took place were initiated by Indians and British passes laws only after they were asked to intervene.”
Tharoor also stated that it was unfortunate that Indian education system was still following the British model. “We are taught Shakespeare in school but not Kalidas. And that's a shame. We continue the British way of education. We are missing out on learning about our heritage.”
Taking a sly dig at the BJP, the ruling party, Tharoor a Congressman, stated, how the government is paying a ‘lip service to the Mahatma”. “The ruling party, whose ideology originally was anti-Gandhi, is now hailing Mahatma Gandhi.” Tharoor said that it was not surprising for Sakshi Maharaj, an MP, wanting to build a statue of Nathuram Godse, but it was ironical that the ruling party was appreciative of Gandhiji.
Tharoor insisted that it was important to seek lessons from the past but keep it there only. “It's important to forgive but don't forget. Past should always remain a lesson but kept there only.”
When asked if the past affected India and Britain's current relation, the politician said things were very different now. “Of course, in Cricket we keep defeating them and I hope we continue to do so,” added Tharoor as the audience cheered.