Voices: British Indians have a racism problem – we need to be honest about it

Voices: British Indians have a racism problem – we need to be honest about it

Smriti Singh

Sat, 20 August 2022 at 4:06 pm

I was recently sent a WhatsApp clip of a street vendor in India, dressed in a manner that suggested he was Muslim, apparently spitting into food containers. The clip was clearly doctored and shared in the name of “raising awareness”. But in fact it was intended to stir up more hatred against India’s Muslims – not just there, but among Hindus here in Britain.

I come from a family of immigrants – my parents came to the UK from India and we all experienced racism, particularly in the early days. Yet despite this, I am heartbroken by how much racism I am seeing from British Hindus today, directed at Muslims and stirred up by India’s extreme right-wing government.

Since the election of the BJP government in 2014, Hindu fundamentalism has been growing in India. Legislative changes from the top, with the judiciary and mainstream media capitulating to this agenda, are turning India from a secular country to one that puts “Hindu” first.

In 2019, the BJP passed the Citizenship Amendment Act, providing Indian citizenship to refugees from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan – but specifically excluding Muslims. Muslim girls who wear the hijab are increasingly excluded from schools. There are frequent reports of lynchings of Muslims for (allegedly) killing cows. Day-to-day life for religious minorities, particularly Muslims and lower-caste Hindus, is becoming harder.

Despite this, the Indian prime minister, Narendra Modi, and the government, enjoy widespread support amongst the Hindu diaspora. This is in part due to the underlying belief that India should put Hindus first. While the founders of post-independent India were firm in their view that it must be a secular country, other nationalists from that time fostered the ideology of “Hindutva” (Hindu nationalism). The BJP has embraced this ideology.

Modi’s success, in India and among the diaspora, is also in large measure due to the appalling state of Indian politics and its ruling elite. Despite talking the language of socialism, the Congress Party was rife with corruption. In five decades of Congress rule under the Gandhi family, economic progress was anaemic and trying to do business was a bureaucratic nightmare. It was known as the age of the “Licence Raj”. And though Congress has lost badly in the last two general elections, the Gandhis remain leaders. There is no effective political opposition.

As a child, I experienced direct and pretty brutal racism – from name-calling to pushing and occasional violence. Teachers were reluctant to do anything about it and I was usually told “sticks and stones”. This was against a background of casual racism on TV and in the rest of the media. Even as a child, I knew that the playground taunts and brutalities I faced came about because of the culture in which we lived – everything around us told us it was ok to be nasty to Indians.

Sadly, now I belong to a group that is itself perpetuating racism. Hindus have become more used to using “Indian” and “Hindu”, with a deeper feeling that only Hindus are the “true” Indians. I see normally kind and mild-mannered people in my community becoming callous when speaking about Muslims. Such anti-Muslim sentiments are then turbo-charged through social media with sharing of (fake) stories on WhatsApp.

I live in a country where elections for the leader of the ruling party include a Hindu, a credible candidate not defined by his race or religion. Yet the country from which my parents emigrated is one where minorities who have been there for many hundreds of years are increasingly denied the right to exist.

British Hindus should ask how we would feel if we were treated the way Muslims in India increasingly are. The moral case for Hindus in the UK to speak out against anti-Muslim prejudice is staring us in the face.

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