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Is Britain as multi-cultural as India?

January 30, 2007

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“Trevor Phillips, the chairman of the Commission for Racial Equality, said that multiculturalism was out of date and no longer useful, not least because it encouraged ‘separateness’ between communities.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.

Related Reading: British teens and Indian parenting
The disadvantages of British Rule in India
Humans love to form ghettos
India is a multi-cultural multi racial country

10 Comments leave one →
  1. January 30, 2007 11:47 am

    I dont think so.

  2. January 30, 2007 4:28 pm

    People who like to annex others, for whatever reasons, dislike being annexed themselves – at least this has been my experience, limited though it be. This to me is a boundary issue. Blending in as an immigrant is much more easily accomplished when one is of the same race type, with similar , though different habits and customs = these tend to be considered charming and are more easily tolerated due to parallels that may be easily percieved by the “invaded” populations. Blending in whole from another race group seems to take several generations, and seems to depend on newcomers being able to submerge their customs and habits and adopt the camouflage of the group being joined. I live in Canada, which has a multicultural policy. Big difference from Britain is our vast underpopulated land-mass. While our multicultural blending and living side-by-side can be experienced differently there are still racial tensions, however they may not be as visible to ourselves and our multicultural biases may be more easily minimized, than say in Britain.
    I have shared your blog address with a friend who is in a mixed race marriage and has children from that marriage, so that she may share with her children an opportunity to understand a bit where they originate from, and arouse their curiosity about the country where their mother was born.
    Thank you for the effort you put into your writings – I appreciate and value what you write about.

  3. January 30, 2007 5:13 pm

    Thanks Suburban. It’s wonderful to have you as a reader and I look forward to your friend coming here too.
    You have brought up some interesting issues…about group similarities. I need to think about that a bit. You are right ofcourse. A Britisher or an American will find more in common with an Irishman than an Indian. I guess our eastern culture is way different.
    I have an old time pal in Canada and a new blogger friend as well…and from what I hear Canada is fairly tolerant racially speaking. But again, I do not live either in Britain or in Canada so it is difficult for me make any judgements.

  4. January 30, 2007 8:50 pm

    Nicely written and I hope your sticking together in the future also proves to be true because the future is not always an extension of the present. One language is good for communication thugh it cannot be imposed.

  5. January 30, 2007 9:28 pm

    Suburban’s point is a good one. Britain is a relatively small place compared to India or Canada or the US (or Russia or China…you get the idea). And, even so, they have an ancient regionally multi-ethnic society (the Scots, the Welsh, the English…well, Picts, Danes, Saxons, Normans…how far back do you want to go? A lot of people have been absorbed there over the millenia).

    The friction caused by movement of peoples can be measured, I think, by three benchmarks: how recent? How many? And how different? (Also, I suppose, how they got there: as conquerers, immigrants with skills to offer, asylum seekers who need public funds?).

    My impression, as an American living in Britain, is that the Indians have done well. That is, retained significant bits of their cultural identity, but assimilated enough to do well professionally. The Brits and the Indians have rubbed together a long time and seem pretty comfortable about it. To me, anyway. Not counting the occasional foul (I certainly wouldn’t judge cultural norms by Big Brother!).

    The real friction comes from more recent immigrants and asylum seekers, mainly from Pakistan, Africa and the Caribbean. What makes these immigrants different is that they’re recent, a number of them arrived very fast and they’re culturally very different. And to me it seems they actively dislike the host culture.

    That’s a hard thing to ask people to do: accept immigration from people who are hostile to you and your way of life.

  6. January 31, 2007 12:08 pm

    Actually I am not sure whether the immigrants who are hostile to the UK are recent immigrants. I believe that a lot of second generation Britsh immigrants are hostile to the host culture. But I agree with you wholeheartedly when you say:
    “That’s a hard thing to ask people to do: accept immigration from people who are hostile to you and your way of life.”
    I really think that if you don’t like a place, get out. So I cannot sympathise with people who stay on in Britain and hate it. Acceptance is a two-way process.

  7. January 31, 2007 12:41 pm

    I was thinking further about your comment and these are my thoughts:
    It is a vicious cycle…about acceptance. When you are not accepted it can lead to hate. But by no means am I condoning hate. If you don’t like a place – go.
    Also, in each state in India there are many different communities as many if not more than you have mentioned for Britain. However I did not mention them as there is too long a list. There are some states in India of late which have asked for a splitting of states and this has been given.
    Also, Canada and the USA are immigrant nations. Americans are all immigrants except for the American Indians. The American Indians were ethnically and in their customs widely different from the immigrants…but history has shown that they were made to change. There are very few American Indians today in America who have retained their original culture…as compared to the population that was there earlier. But this is the past …

  8. reasons permalink
    September 6, 2007 5:41 am

    London UK is the only city in the world you can live in and not be called a foreigner. People from every part of the world live in and around London, anyone who lives in London regardless of their ethnic background is a Londoner here because simply they exist here so they are. Ask me if racism exists here in London,

    Supremacists will target anyone and often do, mostly they will pick on a minority, someone they can single out and make an escape goat out of, which in BB happened to be Shilpa Shetty. Moreover BB should have evicted the injected bully family but instead chose sensationalism and I can tell you that every celebrity got there fair share of priceless publicity out of it. Shilpa Shetty’s career is booming!

    Having been to India, a country that constantly discriminates again’st ‘foreigners’, not just by refusal to access temples like Kathmandu’s Pashupatinath Temple or Jagannath Temple (Puri) but also by charging sometimes 100% extra entrance fee to people of non indian origin, imagine if this happened in London, they’d be outrage.

  9. September 6, 2007 7:27 am

    Reasons, the ‘dscrimination’ as you call it is because of religious reasons. In certain temples those of another faith are not allowed, even if they are Indians, or ethnically exactly the same. I am not saying I agree with this, I am saying this is not racism as we understand it. And nor is the taking the extra fee.
    About the fee I am not sure whether it is right, but I do know why such a policy exists. India is a poor country and its citizens are poor, therefore raising the entrance fees of the Indians will mean that only the elite will be able to visit these places. These places need money for their upkeep…but I feel that perhaps the government should contribute more…I think this sort of a thing sends a wrong message to foreigners.

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