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An Indian politician says Britain owes reparations to its colonies, and his message is going viral.

While we can't change history, it's important that we acknowledge the facts of our colonialist pasts.

An Indian politician says Britain owes reparations to its colonies, and his message is going viral.

In the United States, independence from Britain is a distant memory that we celebrate with burgers and a beer. But in India, the wounds of colonialism are more recent — and more raw.

By the early 20th century, the United Kingdom ruled over one-fourth of the world. Most of those countries didn't gain independence until after World War II, a detail that tends to be overlooked in U.S. history books. And if you think European colonists in America had good reason to rebel against British rule, India definitely did.

Think of India like a big ol' apartment building. The Indian people have been living there for a while — centuries, even — before a new, oppressive, absentee landlord (*cough* Britain *cough*) came along and continually upped the rent while refusing to fix the toilet. Or the mouse problem. And by "toilet" and "mouse problems," I mean introduced violence, slavery/indentured servitude, and the destruction and theft of language and culture, all for profit.


And on top of that, the same terrible landlord didn't even give your security deposit back. I think you'd have a right to be upset. And that's sort of — in a very general, metaphorical way — how some Indians feel about the era of British colonialism.

GIF from the greatest speech ever written in the history of American cinema ("Independence Day")

There are people like Shashi Tharoor who believe that Britain should repay India and other former colonies for centuries of oppression.

Tharoor is an author, politician, and member of the Indian parliament who boasts such an impressive resume that I can hardly even begin to summarize it here. With more than 3 million followers on Twitter, he's also a bit of an academic celebrity.

In May 2015, Tharoor gave a speech that has reached millions of people — proving that his message has an audience.

The speech, which went viral on YouTube and Facebook, took place during a debate on reparations, just one in an ongoing series hosted by the Oxford Union, a prestigious society at the Oxford University.

Tharoor was the seventh out of eight speakers that night, and he totally brought the house down. Here are just a few of the highlights that made it such a hit:


All GIFs via Oxford Union.

Tharoor's speech not only shut down the opposition, but it also reinvigorated the conversation around colonialism and reparations.

At the end of the debate, members of the Oxford Union voted for the more convincing argument. Thanks in no small part to Tharoor's passionate exhortation, the proponents of British reparations won the debate by a tally of 185 to 56.

The speech played well on the Internet, where the message resonated with younger Indians, a sign that the scars of colonialism don't fade away so easily.

There are people who subscribe to the belief that once something stops, it's over and done with. But anyone who was ever bullied or hurt by a close friend or relative will tell you otherwise. Now apply that same psychological scarring to a national identity, and make it last for centuries. You get the picture.

The historical impact of colonial oppression is still felt all across the world — from India to Africa, Asia and the Americas.

Even today, Britain retains a strong presence in India. And India isn't the only country that has struggled with the consequences of colonialism. Nor is the United Kingdom the only country that has systematically oppressed a group of people.

Tharoor's arguments against the benefits of "enlightened despotism" can easily be applied to America's treatment of black Americans and Native Americans. Like the minority outreach panel in 2013 where a participant defended slavery as altruism for giving food and shelter to black people, or literally any reference to Native Americans as being savage or uncivilized before they encountered Europeans.

Here we are, more than a century since the end of an "official" oppression against either group — and yet they still suffer from the effects of colonialism in ways both subtle and obvious (take a look at what's happening with Native Americans right now).

It's not just people of color, either. Speaking as an Irish American, I can point to the experience of my own ancestors, who were driven to migration by Britain's genocidal negligence in the face of the Great Hunger. And while I'm certainly grateful to have been born in this country, I'm also aware of how my name has been Anglicized thanks to Britain's campaign to replace the Irish language with English.

While we can't change history, it's important that we acknowledge the facts of our colonialist pasts — lest we are forced to repeat them.

It's not about the monetary amount Britain should pay in reparations, says Tharoor, "but the principle of atonement." And judging by the success of his speech, it seems this a sentiment shared by many people — in India and elsewhere.

The world is full of shameful histories, but the people in power are the only ones served by not talking about it. Even if Tharoor's speech doesn't lead to any direct reparations (which, unfortunately, is the likely outcome), it's a good reminder that the harmful effects of power and oppression don't just disappear over time, and that the moral fiber of the majority is still swayed toward justice.

Watch Tharoor's full speech below (the whole thing is pretty great):

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