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India Currents gave me a voice in days I was very lost. Having my articles selected for publishing was very validating – Shailaja Dixit, Executive Director, Narika, Fremont
This Independence Day, I want to focus on an event in history that is far less known. Fourteen years after achieving independence, the Indian government formally annexed the Portuguese colony of Goa, rendering it as part of India.
Goa is known for its lovely beaches and is a tourist hot spot. But its natural beauty belies a troubled history. The atrocities committed by the Portuguese government in Goa are rarely taught in Western history books, and are little-known to many even in India. But while this history may be obscure, it is no less troubling.
The Goa Inquisition was established in 1561 and lasted until its disbandment in 1812. It was an extension of the Portuguese Inquisition, itself a product of the more infamous Spanish Inquisition. The Portuguese Inquisition was a systematic set of atrocities with the goal of converting non-Christians to Christianity, which operated with particular brutality in Goa. It resulted in one of the few documented anti-Semitic campaigns in India, which historically had been very tolerant toward Jewish people.
I bring up the Goa Inquisition not just to shed light on a little-known historical atrocity, but also because of its relevance to the current moment. This Independence Day feels different, in part because it marks the 75th anniversary. But it is also different because of its implications.
The Scars Of Colonialism
Despite India’s economic growth and ascent as a world power in the decades following its independence, the country still feels the scars from centuries of colonial rule.
Reparations for colonialism and slavery are an imperative, because both of those institutions had a profound role in shaping the modern world that we live in today. Much of the richer countries are former colonial powers, while much of the poorer countries are former colonies and now independent nations.
There is little to object to in terms of colonialism and slavery being wrong. Despite talking points regarding the so-called beneficial impacts of colonialism, the reality is that it caused poverty and famine nearly everywhere where it occurred. Few in the modern world defend slavery, which is almost universally regarded as an abhorrent institution.
Logistics Of Reparations
Thus, to argue that reparations are not necessary is to argue that colonialism and slavery are not wrong, which they clearly are. The other criticism that is often brought up with regard to reparations is the logistics of how it would occur. This criticism does have some merit, but reparations is still a very doable practice.
Reparations have been paid for many times throughout modern history, but with one crucial difference: the oppressors were the ones compensated. After slavery was abolished, the U.S. government gave compensatory payments to former slave owners. This phenomenon occurred in many other countries after the abolition of slavery, including Britain.
In an even more infamous example, the Haitian government was actually forced to pay reparations to France for slavery. The argument provided was that the Haitian Revolution had cost the French government many slaves, and that the Haitian government must pay the French government for the end of slavery in Haiti. This is the only known example in history of a former colony paying reparations to a colonial power.
Thus, the practicality of reparations is really not the issue, because arrangements have historically been made to secure a form of reparations for the actual oppressors. Rather, the issue stems from an inability to recognize the fact that the harms caused by colonialism and slavery are still relevant in the modern world, no matter how far removed we may feel from those institutions.
If the question of affordability is raised, then there is a simple response to this. That the wealth of the wealthier countries has frequently been built on extraction of resources from colonies. Money is not really the issue. Rather, the issue stems from a lack of desire to apportion funds for reparations, not from a lack of funds.
In terms of reparations, there is a unique opportunity with regards to Goa. The current prime minister of Portugal, António Costa, is of Goan descent on his father’s side. In addition, Costa is a member of the left-wing Socialist Party, which indicates that he may be inclined toward reparations. If the Portuguese government were to pay reparations to the Goan government, this could set a precedent for other reparations around the world.
An important part of this step, however, is actually convincing governments to pay the reparations. In my view, the best way for this to happen on a broad scale is for the formerly colonized and non-Western countries to unite to demand reparations. Both the Chinese and Indian governments have been critical of the West, but neither has broached the topic of reparations. Both governments would like to strengthen their ties with African countries, and demanding reparations would be a good start to doing this.
India was a colony for centuries, while China was subjected to both British and Japanese imperialism. While this history is different from that of many African countries, there is the similarity of exploitation by outside powers.
The irony here is that the Chinese government’s Belt and Road Initiative, particularly in many African countries, has been criticized as a form of debt-trap diplomacy and even neocolonialism. However, by demanding reparations, both the Chinese and Indian governments can strengthen the legitimacy and specificity of their criticisms of the West. Too often the global debate is framed as a contrast between Western liberalism and non-Western illiberalism. What this framing conveniently overlooks is the tremendous exploitation of non-Western countries and colonies by Western countries and colonial powers.
Thus, calling for reparations challenges this simplistic and damaging framework while providing the opportunity for partnership between various non-Western and formerly colonized countries.
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