August 28, 2003

no thank you. i belong to india

they were shabby, unshaven, and up to their nose in alcohol. and they swore at every passerby they came across, even as they tottered along on the narrow footpath we too were walking on.

as the four of us made our way through, they suddenly hushed up, and then one of them shouted out behind our backs.


not wanting to create a scene, praveen, zubin and girish just shrugged them off, and did not stop to look behind: “its the weekend, happens all the time…” they laughed.

not me. i wanted to rip off the guy’s shirt for yelling like that, slap him in the face and pour freezing water over his dirty hair, and shake him till all the booze drained off him. then i would scold him that we are NOT immigrants, and that we pay taxes too and have every right to live in this country as long as we wanted to. besides, we cannot wait to go back to our own homeland ourselves, and would do so as soon as we had fulfilled our priorities here.

i would also remind him to be happy he was part of a country that had such a huge humanitarian purpose… of helping those in search of better lives, with time and money to sort themselves out. why, just a year ago, i was so excited about the fact myself!

i guess i’ll never ever (want to) forget this incident.

i don’t even remember how long i was running it over in my head, along with my very stern speech to the drunken man… fortunately i’m a peaceful person — the type who would show a lost housefly the way out without even touching it. was the european union thinking of this when they decided to open its doors to the destitutes of the world?

why else does this country — which would perhaps not be recognisable without its being such a diverse ‘culture-pot’ — open its arms to so many different communities, when its people do not really want to welcome them? apparently, this is a question many britons are asking the government too.

the children’s publication i now freelance for, makes easy-to-read stories and educational titles for over 27 or 30 ethnic minority and asylum-seeking communities in england; and this list is growing steadily. what must it be like for all such ‘refugee’ children, to make efforts to learn english, just so that they can ‘belong’ to a country that is not even their native land?

i looked through pages and pages online, wanting to understand why the united kingdom had allowed its foreign population to grow to 2.2 million today. by agreeing to be a safe haven for refugees, perhaps uk is unable to weed out the real (read, illegal) immigrants who are stomping all over the place?

abdul hashi, a 17-year-old somali who has many refugee friends here himself, has a simple explanation (find more comments by young refugees here): “in principle, you can’t put the asylum burden on britain. but if you’re saying you are the policemen of the world and you make out that you are a paradise, then you can’t turn people away… it comes with the territory.”

i find it ironical indeed… this tiny nation once ruled over so many parts of the world; and today the same diverse identities that are housed under the english sky here, are threatening to shake the very ground of its own people, making them feel insecure.

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