Cultural acceptation does not come with bending the knee

Wednesday 10th July 2019 07:58 EDT

Dear Readers,

Britain is under attack. The very foundation of Great Britain is being challenged by political jokers who have unfortunately been given a voice by a majority population. I have to admit, national news these days are nothing more than a compilation of headache-inducing 'Breaking' reports. Let me address the issue at hand. Boris Johnson. The front-runner to replace Prime Minister Theresa May has once again stepped up and proved to be our bane.

Unless you have been living under a rock, you are aware of the insensitive statements Johnson has come forth with this week. “I want everybody who comes here and makes their lives here to be and to feel British. That is the most important thing. And to learn English,” Johnson said. He added that in parts of UK, "English is not spoken by people as their first language." This isn't the first time he has openly displayed his feelings for immigrants. We all remember the circus that was the 2016 Referendum when Johnson, along with Priti Patel (ironic) called for a full stop on immigrant inflow.

I believe it is his sense of cultural superiority that nudges him to speak the way he does. In my 52 years of life in the UK, I have observed one thing, among many others. Britain is by and large a tolerant country. The people here are protected by the rule of law, and also enjoys equality of opportunity, and acceptance of other cultures. I, of course say these things loosely considering current political conditions.

Every now and then, racial incidents occur than push us as a society in its entirety, a few decades behind. What is even British culture? Neo-English society is a result of the Industrial Revolution that occurred 300 years ago. Britishers have always been proud, no, conceited about their culture. History depicts their arrogance with stories of colonisation and slavery.

I have spent the first 10 years of my life under British Raj. The disease reflected in British politicians today is nothing new to me. Back in 1835, Thomas Babington Macaulay urged the then Governor-General to reform secondary education provided to Indians under the East India Company on utilitarian lines to deliver "useful learning". He said, "We have to educate a people who cannot at present be educated by means of their mother-tongue. We must teach them some foreign language."

Imagine considering one's community language and culture not fitting enough for others. Back when I first came to London, there was rampant racial discrimination. I remember trying to rent houses along with my friends, only to be greeted by signs saying, 'Indians, Irish, and Dogs not allowed'. Immigrants have suffered enough. Especially Indians, who have suffered British arrogance in their home country.

However, Indian Sanatan culture continues to withstand all adversities. The old civilisation was ruled over by the Badshahs from the 13th-14th century to the 18th century. The Muslim rulers imposed all kinds of taxes on Hindus, amidst other pressures. Despite living through those ages, the Indian population currently consists of 80 per cent Hindus. Our culture is much more than one religion.

India has been more than accommodating of all foreigners. I distinctly remember the Jewish community stating that India is the only country with no anti-semitic inclination. The country has in the past and will in the future shelter people from all the around the world without forcing them to Indianise. First the Portuguese and then the Britishers during their rule, on the other hand had run a rather hot propaganda to impose Christianity in India.

I fail to understand the whole idea behind the competition of cultures. If a culture is worth preserving, it will automatically be preserved. The common people simply want to live their lives in peace. Indians in the UK face the same difficulties as other immigrant communities. Even in doing so, they continue to excel and stand apart in various fields including business, social service, arts, and others. Credit is due to the British society and its values.

Indians combined are decidedly doing better than others despite being distinguished into separate groups of culture and religion. As for the so called 'Culture' that is so in discussion these days, first generation immigrants brought Indian cultural norms to the UK or wherever they migrated. A handful of years later, their subsequent generations walk along the same drawn cultural lines.

Some time back, a 92 year old individual with diabetes wrote me a letter and invited me to his home. I, along with Jyotsnaben, her husband, D.R. Shah and Surendrabhai went to meet him at his residence in Harrow. The house was fairly large and inhabited by three separate generations. All of us had a wonderful Gujarati vegetarian meal together. The family communicated in Gujarati, and prayed before we ate.

Similarly, I was invited to a 40th birthday party hosted by a multi-talented daughter-in-law from a distinguished family known for their public services. The palatial home is situated in outer London. Around 100 guests flocked in and the family entertained them all with warm hospitality, music, vegetarian food, and most importantly, zero alcohol. Their Indian values were as clear as day to me.

I would also like to share the story of a doctor friend of mine. His son married 20 years back and at the wedding, six of his friends were present. They made a pact to meet with their families at least once a month or once every three months. They would all converse in Gujarati and eat Gujarati cuisine. The group has now grown into a little more than 100 people. Families of the original seven friends are involved. Together, they sing, dance, and eat. When I asked the doctor how the group grew, he said their children bonded during their get-together and they continued their small pact.

My point here is, culture evolves with practice, not preaching. Progressive individuals follow what is worth following and with that, the culture remains unblemished. They also readily accept what is worth from the British culture too. There are organisations in the UK that have been contributing towards retaining Indian culture and its soft powers like dance, music, and yoga. We readily accept what is worth from the British culture too.

While politicians like Boris Johnson take every opportunity to point out how much the UK has provided to immigrants, I want to take this one opportunity to point out how much the immigrants have provided to the British, and at what cost?

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