Oxford Union


United Kingdom
Date began: 
01 Jan 1823

The Oxford Union is a student debating society that was established in 1823. As a forum for political (and non-political) debates, it has attracted a number of high-profile speakers and bred a number of international politicians.

Student members of the university could join the Oxford Union, and hence a number of South Asian students in the nineteenth and early twentieth century were members who attended the debates. Many of these debates related to Indian issues, including a debate during the First World War about the deployment of Indian troops. A number of South Asian students also tried (with varying degrees of success) to become a part of the Union Society committees, all of which were decided by election.

M. C. Chagla was elected to the Library Committee in 1921. In Michaelmas 1923, Solomon Bandaranaike was elected Secretary of the Union, and Treasurer in Trinity 1924. He stood for presidency of the Union but was defeated. Some believed that many old life-members turned out for this election specifically to defeat Bandaranaike. Humayun Kabir was elected to the Library Committee in 1929, was elected Secretary in 1930 and then Librarian in 1931. He was also unsuccessful in standing for President.

The first Indian President of the Oxford Union was D. F. Karaka. He was elected in November 1933 and so was President in the Hilary Term of 1934. He had been Secretary and Librarian previously. As Secretary of the Union in 1933, Karaka was present at the controversial debate: 'That this House will under no circumstances fight for its King and Country'. The motion was carried and Karaka's minute book was torn through this date. In the final debate under his presidency, Karaka launched a scathing attack upon the colour bar with particular reference to the Oxford Carlton Club.

Secondary works: 

Hollis, Christopher, The Oxford Union (London: Evans Bros., 1965)

Karaka, D. F., I Go West (London: Michael Joseph, 1938)

Karaka, D. F., The Pulse of Oxford (London: J.M. Dent, 1933)

Symonds, Richard, Oxford and Empire: The Last Lost Cause? (New York: St Martins Press, 1986)


Oxford Mail, 9 March 1934


A report on Karaka's last debate as President of the Oxford Union.


Mr Karaka’s attack on his traducers, particularly his effective conge on the newspaper correspondent, who wrote: “Now that an Indian has been elected to the office of President of the Union, it no longer will be held in such high esteem”, brought a crowded house to his side at once.
“It was ungracious of that paper to make such a remark of any person before he had been tried in that office” was his quiet comment which evoked a torrent of cheers.

Archive source: 

Oxford Union Archives, Oxfordshire Record Office

Oxford Mail, 9 March 1934