Is Britain as multi-cultural as India?
A huge debate has been sparked off by the Shilpa Shetty episode in Britain about whether the society is accepting of immigrants and multi-culturalism or not. Apparently, right from the time when immigrants first started pouring in to Britain several decades ago, the country has encouraged and ‘accepted’ diversity. Of late, this ‘policy’ of multi-culturalism has had its detractors.
This is what Trevor Phillips, the head of the Commission for Racial Equality said not very long ago:
“Trevor Phillips, the chairman of the Commission for Racial Equality, said that multiculturalism was out of date and no longer useful, not least because it encouraged ‘separateness’ between communities. As British-born Muslims burnt the Union Jack on the streets of London yesterday, he said that there was an urgent need to ‘assert a core of Britishness’ across society”
He has also said:
“I want to see an integrated society where we are all equal, but free to be different; fundamentally a society in which our origins do not determine our destinies…”
I found it a little difficult to understand what these statements meant…what does he mean by ‘integrated’ if in the same breath he says that immigrants in Britain are ‘free to be different?’
If they are different will they be accepted? To my mind not being accepted by mainstream society is also racism of sorts. If an immigrant is simply ignored, is he going to feel happier than if he were insulted?
For example, why can’t a British Muslim woman who wears a burkha or or an Indian Sikh male who wears a turban be as British as someone who wears their hair loose? Whether the turban or the burkha is good or bad is not the issue here…let the communities themselves sort that out, as long as it is not hindering the law and order situation in any way. I believe that communities when left to themselves do make changes…
But I guess my lack of understanding of the situation in Britain is because I don’t live in Britain…have never lived in Britain. I have no idea what it feels like to have thousands of immigrants come and live in my country.
In my case, I belong to this huge country (India) which because of its huge geographical area has managed to encompass a multi-cultural, multi-racial society. We are an amazingly diverse people.
In India there are different ethnic groups, distinctly different cultures, a sizeable population of almost all religions in the world (we have the second largest Muslim population in the whole world). Hundreds of Muslim women in India were the burkha, hundreds of Hindu women are in ‘purdah’, hundreds of westernised people wear short dresses and tight jeans, hundreds of Hindu women wrap themselves up in sarees, hundreds of men lounge around in lungis, hundreds of them wear shirts and trousers and suits, others wear dhotis. India has a list of 23 national languages (including Hindi and English) and almost 3000 dialects.
Outsiders find it difficult to understand that Indians are not just a whole mass of brown people…that Indians from two states are as different as the British and the Irish, the British and the French, the British and the Italian. In fact the further away you go geographically, the more marked the differences.
In India though we know this very well. We know that our features and colours differ (Kashmiris, Assamese, Punjabis, Keralites, Bengalis all look distinctly different) and our customs differ even when we share the same religious identity…
In fact people from different geographical areas are so different that the religious differences pale in comparison. A Hindu Kashmiri has more in common with a Muslim Kashmiri than with a non-Kashmiri…and so on for other states. We know it and we live with it happily because a long time ago the British made us all into one country.
There is no true ‘integration’ here. Traditionalists from different ethnic groups do not like to intermarry or mix socially except for business purposes…but no one has ever thought it as a problem. It’s just there. The important point being is that no one group thinks of the other group as not Indian! We may all feel that our region is the best, our people the most superior, but no one feels of the other as not belonging. I guess it is because no one ever came from anywhere else. We were always here!
We have separatist movements, but these are natural considering our diversity. However, I have faith that if we have stuck together for so many years, we will continue to do so in the future.
The government of India ofcourse has this myopic policy of trying to make us all speak one language…and its scary. If a time comes when all Indians speak one language, wear the same clothes and celebrate all festivals it will be a futuristic nightmare. Why bother to reproduce then? Let’s just clone ourselves.