(South) Asians? Who? Us? – Astitva and Asmita

To the South Asianist school, the mere thought that Indians (and therefore Hindus) self define themselves is a display of “chauvinism”, “revanchist”, “saffronisation” and worse, “fascism”.

It has been another typical fortnight.

Whilst the Indian Space Research Organization ISRO successfully launched its first ever “Made in India” space shuttle, the Reusable Launch Vehicle (RLV-TD), , scholars, cultural and religious organisations and lay parents fought desperately for the preservation of India in California’s school curriculum; the “South Asianists” have been beaten back in their tracks but one can be sure that it’s not the end of the dispute.

Reusable Launch Vehicle (RLV-TD

Identity, existence, destiny and a sense of self have always been intertwined in societies. Whilst the ideals of Universalism and inclusivity are to be lauded, they cannot be used to deny the unique characteristics of any civilization, much less when these ideals are misappropriated for destructive purposes.

Wind back in space and time: The Under 15 Cricket World Cup Final at Lords, 1996: Reetinder Sodhi is winning the match for India. From among the Spartan crowd, a bunch of crescent green flag bearers invade the playing area and run onto the wicket. They are caught by the police and the ground stewards, but not before they have downed the stumps, spat on Reetinder’s face and shouted religiously motivated anti-India abuse.

The same at a Charity game in 1986 in Harrogate. As newly marrieds, my wife and I were there, two among around a hundred folks of Indian origin in a sea of green. On that occasion too, India won. Poor Azharuddin, fielding as a boundary rider, had to face the gauntlet of abuse for playing in a “kafir” team. We did not feel safe to stay till the end due to the constant, foul anti-Hindu, anti-India abuse, aggressiveness and endless stoppages and pleas for crowd behaviour by the ground staff.

Similar incidents occurred throughout the 90’s – “friendly” games disrupted with ritual Indian flag burnings in the stands and play interrupted by pitch invasions. Was the World Cup of 1999 different, one may ask? Naah! Not really! Flag burnings and Indian women being manhandled and spat on were restricted to outside the stadium, but religiously motivated hate chants went unabated inside. Even after all that, of course, India won.

Naturally, the British media did not deem it relevant to report these “sporting incidents”, brushing them off as “sub-continental rivalry between Asians”. Thankfully, the Indian cricket team has ceased from participating in these UK based “hate-fests”, and they only appear at scheduled ICC completion events or matches against England.

So, why make a fuss? Unruly elements make mischief anyplace, anyhow, and, anyway, what has cricket got to do with life; people rub along don’t they?

Yes, at a person to person level, they largely do.

However, a lot has changed since the heady days of racial equality campaigns of the 1970’s and 80’s. Whilst British society is much more integrated than ever before, there is, today, strong evidence of bifurcation in society, which even the greatest exponents of multi-culturalism admit to be an error. A recent research report by Trevor Phillips, formerly chair of the Equalities and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) for Civitas  starkly illustrates that faith (and, in an implied extension, also social norms from the origin cultures) has a significant bearing on the degree of integration of immigrants into British society.

Despite this, the term “Asian” is still mainstream and continues to be lazily used to define some people. In the British lexicon, it is perhaps better to start by saying what is NOT meant by “Asian”: it does not mean Chinese, Japanese, Iraqi, Malay, or Arab. It only means those from India, Pak, Bangladesh and sometimes, Sri Lanka. Strangely, it excludes Afghans and Burmese whilst Tibet is totally swept under the carpet as if it does not exist.

It really is confusing to mere mortals in a globalised world, since, if one were to ask an uneducated American, an Asian is one who is supposedly yellow skinned, and an Indian is supposedly red skinned. The point is simply this: such labels are foisted on people without their consent, and in time, they become legitimate. Net result: a loss of “Brand Identity” and worse, a loss of the very “cultural diversity” that the multi-culturalists and Asianists allegedly crave to preserve.

It does not take a genius to see a common thread. The South Asianists’ nefarious work of the last several decades is on show: conflate India in a mishmash that is “Asian” but be very specific about who to count in and who to leave out. Neither the Arabs, nor the Chinese would stand for this nonsense, so better not include them, but the pliant (Hindu) Indians will swallow anything, so let’s help them by defining them – their culture, their language, their religions, their history, and their geography.

Whilst the BBC, “liberal” print media and much of “Social Science” academia purposely go out of their way to underplay the ground realities being exposed by respected bodies such as Civitas, a few dissenting media voices are now challenging the abuse of identity definitions. Amazingly, they are also being supported by the rise of self-identity consciousness WITHIN communities.

Just to illustrate with a couple of examples:

Alison Pearson, of the Daily Telegraph , in her analysis of a recent ICM poll of British Muslims, highlights how blasé we have become that yet another case of grooming, pimping, and sexual enslavement is simply skipped past in the news pages. The victims: white working class girls, the criminals, men of Pakistani origin. Ms. Pearson, in the spirit of the Civitas report, but more strident in her criticism of multi-culturalism, goes beyond the prospect of “a country within a country”  to one with zones where gay people are outlawed, adulterers stoned, women treated as children and little boys tell a primary school headmistress to cover her head “because only slags don’t covers their heads”…”.  One could add to this list that polytheists and atheists are to be considered non-human. Her argument is simple: there is a need to defend our liberal values more than ever.

Rod Liddle, a journalist at The Spectator , exposes the shallowness of politically correct examples of “institutional racism” by highlighting multiple instances where inconvenient truths like electoral fraud or the incidence of mental and physical infirmity of children born of first cousin marriages are laid at the doors of “some South Asian communities”. No politician worth a candle dare challenge these truths, and as many public figures continue to discover, instead of probing further, the chattering classes force such voices to crawl in abject apology.

As Liddle observes: “So no serious debate takes place …there are hundreds more things which you can’t say, if you’re a politician, and which are palpably true — not all of them concerning ethnic minorities, even if race is the one issue which will bring down the walls of Hell on your head”.

Still not convinced as to why the descriptor “Asian” or “South Asian” is so inappropriate for Indians? Consider these points:

1. The contempt with which Hindus (and by extension, all Indians) continue to be treated by the majority of the House of Lords  and the Labour Party, the official opposition to the Conservative government in the UK, so much so that leader Jeremy Corbyn, who otherwise hobnobs with “friends” in Hamas, could not tolerate to attend Indian Premier Narendra Modi’s address to UK parliament last November.

2. The jaundiced perspective with which the political Left view India and Pakistan: When it is inconvenient to call out perpetrators of domestic crimes like underage grooming and rape or international crimes like aiding and abetting terrorism, then, at best, they hide behind using the term “Asian” and “terror has no religion” so as to keep their vote bank sweet, whilst at worst, they brazenly kick sand in the eyes of British Indians as a sign of their superiority.

Corbyn’s and his party’s long term stance on the matter of Jammu &Kashmir is emblematic of the manner in which he retracted his support of an objective EDM condemning human rights violations in POK  only to then sign a counter EDM in line with Pakistan’s terroristic aims .  It is disturbing to note that the Pak sponsored EDM refers to “Kashmir” as if only the Vale of Kashmir matters. As to whether Corbyn and other leaders in his party are against religion per se or not may not be clear, but the Labour leadership during Ed Milliband’s tenure did exercise a three line whip on all members to push the anti-Hindu “caste” legislation with India as their target.

3. Despite claims of institutional racism, poverty, language barriers, and assorted other social ills, studies over the last 25 years consistently show that British Indians are more successful than any other “Asians”. The Demos report, for instance, clearly highlights that culture and religion, and importantly the different role/status of women in their respective communities play a vital role in segregation and social mobility. But the Asianists and their supporters refuse to see the light.

4. As noted by James Kirkup, “ British Indians, quite simply, are among the most industrious, accomplished, and creditable among us – the best of British, if you like”

He further goes on to say, “More than 75 percent of British Indian students in England get five or more “good” GCSEs, compared to 61 percent of white British students. Later, 14 per cent of British Indian students obtain three A* or A grades or better at Alevel. It’s 10 percent for white British students. Then 26 percent of British Indian students in England go on to a top-flight university, compared with 15 percent of their white British classmates. And more of them go into professions such as medicine. British Indians are barely 2 percent of the population, but 12 percent of all doctors.”

Dhaliwal  offers a cutting analysis of the Left’s paranoia as being rooted in “… its own parochial neuroses of class and resentment, and its attitude towards India will only ever be a projection of that. Indians are largely an aspirational and enterprising people, and as such will always trigger the disgust of British lefties who are not, and never will be, India’s friends”.

At its core, the issue is not simply about how people get labelled, or roots, or even how economically well a community is doing.

It is a matter of Astitva and Asmita: about the very existence and identify of people of Indian origin, wherever they go, live, and work – irrespective of the languages spoken or the regions of India that they originate from.  What right do others, be they “expert” academics, or politicians, or civil servants in foreign states have to pin labels on Indians? Why deny the right for self identity to a fifth of humanity?

India is an exemplary brand name. It is an ancient land with a history and a culture going back millennia. India: the land of the Himalayas, the Saraswati, Ganga, Yamuna, Narmada, Godavari, and the Kaveri. India: which gave birth to so much of the human civilization: agriculture, land husbandry, river management, and the first cities. India: the home of the subliminal philosophy and wisdom of the Vedas, an ancient cradle of the Mathematics, the Sciences and Astronomy, the mother of great men and seers like Rama, Valmiki, Buddha, Veda Vyasa, Panini, Mahavira, Chanakya, Kalidasa, Aryabhata, Bramhagupta, Madhava, Kabir, Nanak, and Vivekananda to name a few.

What has this India got to do with the all consuming disease that some folks of Indian origin have caught calling themselves Asian? OK! Granted, some Brits have a liking for Britain’s national dish, Chicken Tikka Masala, but how many of Pakistani origin in the UK even know what an Idli or a Dosa look like?

OK, so today’s Pakistan is a bit of real estate around the Sindu-Saraswati basin where the common ancestors of modern Indians and Pakistanis both first blossomed, even if some from the land of the pure concoct an imaginary middle-eastern ancestry. But that does not make us all Asian. Much less, it does not make Indians and Pakistanis the same, not when some are inimical to the very idea of any shared values.

Sanjeev Sanyal  notes, India’s “notion of a civilizational nation” is based on her long established, continuous historic roots. The reasons for partition lay in an ideological divergence of views about civilizational nationhood, on the one hand defined by the Indic culture that has evolved over time, and on the other by an imported, static, Arabised notion. When Pakistan’s definition of self is “not Indian” and her raison d’être seems to be an implacable dislike for India, does it make sense to talk of “Asian”?

So, who are “we”, and what are “our values” and why is “Brand Identity” important?

Rajeev Srinivasan in commenting on this subject eloquently said that Brand Identity differentiates, it exudes certain attributes and qualities, it projects the underlying identity of the “thing”, and it avoids confusion.

Take Music – there is a trend, which has surreptitiously relabelled Indian Music as if it were Asian or much worse, South Asian. The late, great Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan was a master indeed. And he did hail from Pakistan. But was his music Asian?

Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan

Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan

How could it be Asian when his Raagas are alien in Arabia and China? Some jingoists might suggest that it is Pakistani music. But surely no one would suggest that the Raagas he sang – Yaman Kalyan, Bhairavi, Bhageshwari, Durga, to name a few, were invented in Pakistan?

These ragas were invented before Pakistan and will live long after Pakistan. They certainly did not come from the Middle East with whom the “Pakistani Astitva” sees a civilizational continuity to the exclusion of her Indic roots. Even if we give the matter, the benefit of the doubt, and call it South Asian, how does this explain the utter contempt in which the Indian, and predominantly Hindu culture, where this music emanates from is held by these anti-India, anti-Hindu elements? How can one take the Raagas, whilst not only forget, but to insult Ma Saraswati?

Take politics and economy – India is a diverse, vibrant democracy, one of the top ten trading nations among the world; it is fast accelerating towards an Information based economy, it is dealing with the challenges of being a forward looking, progressive contributor to global prosperity in the 21st century. India is today the third largest investor in the UK .

Having successfully accomplished a mission to Mars  barely two years ago, ISRO is now set to launch 22 satellites using the rocket Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle, PSLV-C34 in June. Sure, India has immense social and economic problems, but look where the nation started with at independence and the decades squandered almost celebrating disadvantage and poverty rather than dealing with it.

By what stretch of the imagination can this be compared with developments (or more accurately the lack of them) in India’s immediate neighbourhood?

And since when have “Asian” Strategists, Managers, Biotechnologists, Developers, and IT specialists working for both foreign and Indian owned mega-corporations around the globe? Surely no one is suggesting that any of these people come from anywhere other than India?

This is how “Brand Identity” works. A minister wants teachers, a chief executive wants skilled experts – they both go to the source, they do not dilly dally with politically correct terms like “Asian” or “South Asian”. With all these aces, the last thing India and people of Indian origin need is to have their “Brand Identity” muddied by the facile terms, “Asian” or “South Asian”. This is who “we” are, and how we carry ourselves in the world, projects our values.

To the South Asianist school, the mere thought that Indians (and therefore Hindus) self define themselves is a display of “chauvinism”, “revanchist”, “saffronisation” and worse, “fascism”. They are the same “scholars” who for decades have been ignoring grave issues like sexual grooming, women’s disempowerment and other imported social ills, whilst making successful liberal careers out of Hindu and India bashing.

Just one example, a South Asianist scholar, who, operating in a UK university and thus not far from reality, could only bring herself to dismissively refer to what is today known as “love jihad” merely as “alleged religious conversion”, which Hindu and Sikh students were fighting on UK campuses in the 1990’s. To her, the concerns of these students were “a part of an anti-Islam undercurrent”.

To think that such “researchers” were too busy writing unfounded critiques about Hindu “fundamentalist” students, to take note of “Asian” criminality at work in UK towns. Except that in 2016, this Asianist network is even bolder that they can amass the resources to attempt killer blows on the very idea of India .

Though such academics will not admit it, it is amply evident that Indians in the UK (like elsewhere) take pride in their Indian heritage and build solid bridges between indigenous as well as immigrant Brits. Like their American counterparts who have just fought off the assault on Indians’ Astitva and Asmitva, British Indians from different regions, with different languages, share a common identity and common values rather than chase a mirage of an imaginary, stratified, ghettoised “Asian” identity.

Let the wisdom of Vaisudhev Kutumbhkam unite Indians wherever they live. Let them be an example to all people around, including those of Pakistani or indeed of any origin.  As a Scholar for People and a champion for India so inspiringly said, “India for me is not a map, not a landmass, not a flag, not an AR Rahman score to a burning flag, not a sticker, poster, celebrity fad. It is the tenuous thread of love, life, soul in flow and force between generations. India is that possibility. India is Time, father and son, mother and child, cousins and cohorts…”

References

1. Times of India, 23 May 2016 “ISRO test lauches its first-even “space shuttle” http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/ISRO-test-launches-its-first-ever-‘space-shuttle’/listshow/52394283.cms

2. Deccan Herald, 21 May 2106, “Hyderabad man Vamsee Juluri saves ‘India’”, see website http://www.deccanchronicle.com/nation/current-affairs/210516/hyderabad-s-man-saves-india-in-the-us.html

3. Sandhya Jain, 20 May 2016,  “California’s Indophobic textbooks” see website at, https://www.pgurus.com/californias-indophobic-textbooks/

4. Trevor Phillips (2016), “Race and Faith: The Deafening Silence (Civitas Report)”; for the report see http://www.civitas.org.uk/content/files/Race-and-Faith.pdf

5. For more general information on Civitas see: http://www.civitas.org.uk/publications/race-and-faith/

This is a hard hitting report that blows apart the mystique that had been built up around multi-culturalism and though very long, it is a worthwhile read for those interested in this subject.

6. Alison Pearson, Daily Telegraph, 12 APRIL 2016 “Why the ICM poll of British Muslims shows we need to defend our values more than ever”  http://www.telegraph.co.uk/opinion/2016/04/12/why-the-icm-poll-of-british-muslims-shows-we-need-to-defend-our/

7. David Barrett, Daily Telegraph, 11 April 2016, “British Muslims becoming a nation within a nation, Trevor Phillips warns” http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2016/04/10/uk-muslim-ghettoes-warning/

8. Rod Liddle, The Spectator, “The truths you can’t tell in today’s Britain”, 30 Nov 2013. http://www.spectator.co.uk/2013/11/you-cant-say-that/

9. John Wright, et al, “Cohort profile: The Born in Bradford multi-ethnic family cohort study”, Int. J. Epidemiology, (2012, updated Sept 2013). An observation from this research shows that two-thirds of British-Pakistani mothers in Bradford are related to the father of their children and that this city suffers from up to eight times higher incidence of children with mental incapacity than the norm. see web article at  http://ije.oxfordjournals.org/content/early/2012/10/12/ije.dys112.full

10. Jay Jina and Prakash Shah, April 2016, “The anti-Hindu streak in British politics: The House of Lords on Religious Freedom in India” in Daily O website, see: http://www.dailyo.in/politics/hinduism-islam-narendra-modi-rss-bjp-britain-intolerance-jnu-religious-freedom-pakistan/story/1/10134.html

11. See also, Jay Jina, April 2016, “The Lords of the Lies”, on IndiaFacts website at: http://indiafacts.org/lords-of-the-lies/

12. Nirpal Dhaliwal, “British Left hates Modi: Why Guardian attacked him”, in DailyO website, November 2015 http://www.dailyo.in/politics/wembley-address-modi-in-uk-modi-not-welcome-david-cameron/story/1/7359.html

Some of Dhaliwal’s observations:

“…  how Britain’s media responded to him, to witness how this low-born Leviathan, who speaks English in the manner of curry-house waiter, dredged up various British neuroses – of race, class and nostalgia. Modi proved to be a litmus test of many British anxieties.

The left-wing press predictably abhorred his visit. The Guardian had a nervous breakdown, publishing a series of scathing articles attacking India for its religious intolerance, caste discrimination and oppression of women. …. Indeed, why is it that now, when Indians are more prosperous, open, longer-lived and democratically engaged than ever, the British Left has taken to heaping criticism on India as never before – a contempt pointedly expressed by Jeremy Corbyn, the Labour Party leader, who couldn’t stand to be in parliament when Modi gave his historic speech?”

13. EDM 393: HUMAN RIGHTS VIOLATIONS IN PAKISTAN OCCUPIED KASHMIR, 2015, see

https://www.parliament.uk/business/publications/business-papers/commons/early-day-motions/edm-detail1/?session=2015-16&edmnumber=393

14. EDM 293: HUMAN RIGHTS IN KASHMIR, 2015, see https://www.parliament.uk/edm/2015-16/293

15.The Dharmic Ideas and Policy Foundation wrote to Labour Whip, John Ashworth asking him about the whip being applied on “caste” legislation, and how the party would engage differently with the Dharmic communities. Unsurprisingly, a reply is yet to be received.

16.Demos – June 2015, “Why are British Indians more successful than Pakistanis?” See website at   http://www.demos.co.uk/blog/why-are-british-indians-more-successful-than-pakistanis/  it is also interesting to note that the reports states the stark contrast of economic participation of women from various ethnic backgrounds: the report states that “Pakistani women by and large do not work, while Indian women are much better integrated into the labour market.” More in depth information and charts on the labour market can be found at: http://www.integrationhub.net/module/work-and-welfare/#4-employment-unemployment-and-inactivity

17. Alison Pearson, Daily Telegraph 20 January 2016, “Only Muslim Women can reform Islam”.

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/women/politics/only-muslim-women-can-reform-islam/

Shaista Gohir, chair of the Muslim Women’s Network UK, says women tell her that their husbands or in-laws don’t want them to learn English because it will “disturb the status quo”.

Pearson comments: So you live in the UK, where you get all the benefits of the world’s fifth largest economy, but you can still treat your wives and daughters as if you were back in rural Pakistan. Result! You can ensure that women are confined mainly to the home while the men go out and speak for your community.

18.James Kirkup, British Indians – A Remarkable Success Story, 7 November 2015, Daily Telegraph, see website at: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/asia/india/11981677/British-Indians-a-remarkable-story-of-success.html

Some of Kirkup’s observations:  those on social integration and marriage outside their ethnic group makes a mockery of Hindus being singled out for “caste discrimination” legislation.

Perhaps a more useful – but potentially inflammatory – comparison is with British Pakistanis, whose educational and economic results lag sadly behind their British Indian compatriots. Barely 6 per cent of British Pakistani students get three A grades at A-level; among British Pakistanis as a whole, only half are classed as economically active.

This comparison becomes almost painful when it comes to indicators of social integration: British Indians are twice as likely to marry outside their ethnic group as British Pakistanis are; 70 per cent of British Indian women work, which is close to the national average. And according to the think tank Demos, they are far more likely to live in multi-ethnic neighbourhoods, instead of the homogeneous areas where many British Pakistanis reside.

This throws up questions that can be difficult to discuss without arousing strong emotions, including questions about the role religion plays: do the Hindus and Sikhs who make up most of the British Indian population fare better than Muslims of Pakistani origin because of their faith?

19. Sanjeev Sanyal (2013) “Land of the Seven Rivers: A Brief History of India’s Geography”, Penguin Books

20.Rajeev Srinivasan, “Why I am not a South Asian”, in Rediff.com website, 20 March 2000, http://www.rediff.com/news/2000/mar/19rajeev.htm

21. In the early 1980’s, Channel 4 in the UK, broadcasted a series of Indian Film music entitled “Movie Mahal”. In one of the episodes, the legendary Indian Music Maestro, Naushad Ali posited that “I could not take credit for the gift of Ma Saraswati; the Ragas that I have presented are but my humble offering of Ma’s blessings to me. I am simply a purveyor of the timeless celestial soors in a new bottle”

22. India Emerges as third largest FDI source for U.K. Lalatendu Mishra, The Hindu, 23 June 2015, see website at http://www.thehindu.com/business/india-emerges-as-third-largest-fdi-source-for-uk/article7347305.ece

23.Times of India, 24 Sept 2015, ”ISRO celebrates one year of Mars Orbiter mission” see website at http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/home/science/Isro-celebrates-one-year-of-Mars-Orbiter-Mission/articleshow/49086523.cms

24. ISRO to launch 22 satellites on one PSLV in June, in Live Mint, website, 29th May 2016. http://www.livemint.com/Politics/hi3Uzx00U5c2Zwu7xUiHbN/Isro-to-launch-22-satellites-on-one-PSLV-in-June.html

25. Dhooleka Sarhadi Raj (2000): ‘Who the hell do you think you are?’ Promoting religious identity among young Hindus in Britain, Ethnic and Racial Studies, 23:3, 535-558

26. There is a growing mass of well researched and cogently articulated material demonstrating the forces allayed against the Indic civilisation. Several authors too many to name here can be referred in this regarding this.

27. Vamsee Juluri’s inspiring post on Facebook on May 22, 2016, after he and others took on the South Asianists and won a battle for the Astitva and Asmitaa of India. See https://www.facebook.com/vamsee.juluri/posts/1192028414162604

Jay Jina is a UK-based third generation NRI. Besides pursuing a professional career as a European IT Director with a multinational and a part time university academic, Jay’s interests span history, current affairs, the Indian Diaspora and the history and politcs of Science.