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  • You’re wrong, Mr. Nayar!

    Posted On October 14, 2002

    By Karan Thapar

    You could say I have a love-hate relationship with the UK. It’s a ghastly cliché but it reflects my feelings accurately; I love to criticise the country but hate it when others do. I justify this on the grounds of the attachment, even fondness, I feel for Britain and things British. After living there for almost 25 years I consider it my second home. I know it well, understand it instinctively and resent it strongly when those who don’t criticise the country. I’d say it’s the most civilized country I know.

    That, to be honest, is my explanation for what follows. It’s the truth even if it sounds one-sided. So if you think I’m being judgemental, unfair or intolerant, so be it.

    A recent article by Kuldip Nayar in The Indian Express has got my gall. It’s not just inaccurate – in fact, it’s totally, hopelessly, indefensibly wrong – but it’s also unforgivably prejudiced. No one who knows the country can claim what he does. Yet here is a man who once served as India’s High Commissioner passing off blatant bias as the truth.

    First, though, a précis of the gentleman’s views. Let me quote so he can speak for himself. “I can feel, even taste, the sense of superiority that white Britishers increasingly brandish. The liberal space is shrinking; racism is increasing” is how he starts. Non-whites, to use his terminology, don’t deny this. “They have come to believe that second-class citizenship is the price they must pay if they want to live in the UK … Indians openly talk about discrimination in recruitment …there is an invisible glass ceiling, an unwritten law not to let non-whites go beyond a point … racial discrimination and exhortations to meet the imperatives of economic liberalisation and privatisation have drowned the voice of equality in almost every sphere. It is the survival of the fittest, more so of the white.”

    These views are bunkum. Complete balderdash. Sheer unadulterated rubbish. But before I start to point out why, let me draw your attention to two anomalies in Mr. Nayar’s article. He claims that “Indians openly talk about discrimination”. Yet

    he doesn’t name a single victim nor cite a single example. In fact, he uses unattributed quotations to substantiate his point. But if Indians are speaking out openly why did they not do so to him?

    Mr. Nayar also suggests that this has happened in the last decade. He’s not alluding to Victorian or Edwardian Britain or even the country Churchill fought to preserve. The inference is that things have got worse in the ‘90s, particularly with Tony Blair. “The English have changed in the last decade or so. Especially after the September 11 strikes in the United States, every non-white is suspect.”

    The truth is the complete opposite. If anything, Britain is today more multi-cultural than it has ever been. It’s also more multi-cultural than any country I know, including USA. Just look at the facts.

    Let’s start with Parliament, the heart of British democracy. There are 37 MPs (40 if you include the European Parliament) who are of Asian or black origin. Of these, 25 are peers which means they were selected by the government. Most were probably ennobled by Tony Blair. In fact, the Blairs are also known for their penchant for Indian clothes. Cherie has worn saris and shalwar kameez in public and Tony’s style of bandgala has created a trend even in Delhi. Yet Mr. Nayar insists he can “feel, even taste, the sense of superiority white Britishers increasingly brandish.”

    Turn now to the media, possibly one of the most sought after professions. Simply by scanning the British papers available in a library in Delhi I’ve counted 22 Asian names that appeared as by-lines in the course of a single week. Unfortunately, black names don’t stand out in the same way. But the total of both must be considerably bigger. The same is true of TV. Just looking at the BBC as we see it, I’ve spotted 8 faces who regularly appear on screen. I didn’t count the black ones. And then there are those who work for ITV, Channels 4 and 5, Sky TV and the other BBCs we don’t receive.

    But that’s not all. While only 6.7 per cent of the British population is Asian or black, 8 per cent of the BBC’s staff are. They promise to push it to 10 per cent next year. The figure for Carlton and LWT is 10 per cent whilst it’s 11.5 per cent for Channel 4. Yet Mr. Nayar claims “Indians openly talk about discrimination in recruitment” and that Britain believes in “survival of the fittest, more so of the white.”

    And when it comes to people who dominate their professions – be it culture, business or the civil service – Asian names fill the upper echelons of success. Suma Chakbrabarti, who was born in Jalpaiguri, is the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of International Development. At 42 he is the youngest ever permanent secretary in British history. In fact, when appointed, he was more than five years younger than any of the other 22 top secretaries in Whitehall. Meera Syal’s comedy series – ‘Goodness Gracious Me’ and ‘The Kumars’ – are amongst the most highly rated and highly awarded on British TV. Films like ‘East

    is East’, ‘Bhaji on the Beach’ and ‘Bend it like Beckham’ were made in Britain with British funds. There are over 200 Asian millionaires (or billionaires) most of whom came to Britain as migrants seeking their fortune. The City has several Asian bankers who are senior vice-presidents, managing directors or CEOs. Yet Mr. Nayar maintains there is “an invisible glass ceiling, an unwritten law not to let non-whites go beyond a point.”

    I could go on and on. But no matter where you look the evidence disproves Mr. Nayar. The truth sticks out, it stares you in the face, you couldn’t ignore it even if you tried. Asians (and blacks, although less so) are doing better, earning more, progressing faster and integrating more fully in Britain than ever before. Of course, it wasn’t always like this. And, no doubt, it could be improved upon. But the situation is definitely not what Mr. Nayar describes.

    For my part, much of what I like about myself and perhaps everything that others have occasionally admired has been fashioned by Britain. I owe a lot to that country and I’m happy to proclaim it loudly. And whilst there are things I don’t like, wish to change, or prefer to ignore they are small and insignificant. There’s much worse that I daily live with in Delhi. And none of it makes non-whites second-class citizens, subject to racial discrimination, stopped by unwritten laws that thwart and frustrate them.

    At least not in the way Mr. Nayar suggests. The British are xenophobic and they tend to be snobs. They’ve only slowly learnt to like foreigners and observe egalitarian principles. But now that they’ve started they’re consciously and steadily making amends. Perhaps that’s why, if given half a chance, most of us would catch the first flight and go there. It’s another matter how many would return!


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