SPEAKERS DEBATE EMPIRE HISTORY AT OXFORD UNION
NEARLY three years on from Indian MP and author Shashi Tharoor’s stirring speech on why Britain owes reparations to her former colonies, the Oxford Union has returned to the subject of India – which always attracts widespread attention.
This time, the motion, This House Regrets the Partition of India, was carried by 108 votes to 76.
Both sides agreed that partition brought unimaginable horrors. Those who spoke for the motion – among them Mahatma Gandhi’s grandson, Rajmohan Gandhi – expressed the belief that Hindus and Muslims could have lived together in an undivided India, as they had done for centuries.
Those who opposed the motion – they included Salman Khurshid, a former Indian external affairs minister; and Prof Mridula Mukherjee, a historian from the Jawaharlal Nehru University in Delhi – argued it was wiser to accept the fact of partition and then attempt to establish a new and harmonious relationship.
In the old days, the Oxford and Cambridge Unions were dominated by young men in white ties. But the times they are a-changin’. In the chair this time was “Madam President”, Laali Vadlamani, of Trinity College.
I found the opening contribution in support of the motion from Sabriyah Saeed, a Pakistani-origin undergraduate from Somerville College and the Oxford Union’s librarian, deeply impressive.
“Partition is something to regret,” she said. “Consider the deep-rooted animosities that still plague India and Pakistan.
“I have thought long and hard about what I should say in this debate, primarily because I knew that should I plan to visit India or Pakistan in the future, my visa status may be a point of difficulty. But as the only Pakistani speaking in this debate I feel a sense of responsibility – an even greater sense of responsibility now that I have decided to be on the side of the debate which is not typically or traditionally Pakistani.
“However, to confine this debate to the dynamic of India versus Pakistan I think would be ignorant of the nuance and immense complexity of partition.”
This girl, I predict, is destined for greatness, so long as she does not go into wealth management on behalf of a big bank.