Eternal meanderings of mind on Politics-Culture-Religion-History-Civilisation-Economy-Science-Language…Questions par un esprit libre sur sa raison d'être, ses souvenirs et pensées sans fin…বাঙালির জানালায় পৃথিবী – সাহিত্য দর্শন রাজনীতি ধর্মে বাঙালির চোখে বিশ্ব আর বিশ্বের চোখে বাঙালি। একই জীবনদর্শনের ভিন্ন রূপ না দুই সমান্তরাল মহাবিশ্ব?
Thank goodness that this was JNU, not Jamia Millia Islamia, so the students were arrested by plain dress policemen inside the campus and were charged for sedition and their social network profiles are pasted all over the Internet as the traitors of India. On the contrary, if they were from Jamia, perhaps the students would have been branded as members of SIMI or potential terrorists. Whilst there were reasonable doubts over Guru’s role in the attacks, the curtain of secrecy around his execution is definitely not a shining example of the Indian judicial system. This is not the first time someone voiced concerns over his conviction and execution, but perhaps twenty-something students are much softer targets of the state than the seasoned politicians and stalwarts in the legislative procedures. Needless to say, his execution took far too long, but the sudden and secret operation, tantamount to assassinations of Soviet-era political dissidents, was not without political motives. If Afzal Guru was proven a terrorist beyond doubt, he should have been executed when he was convicted. It didn’t have to be done hidden behind an iron curtain. How the government wrapped the news around secrecy, didn’t inform his family, or denied a funeral, the integrity of the government was definitely questionable, especially approaching 2014 as all political parties were keen to prove their good intentions to the electorate.
DSU, the hosts of the cultural programme are a leftist student body, and they used the occasion to debate and discuss the systemic killing of Afzal Guru. A bold decision indeed, where the presence of the socialist voice in most part of India is in decline. Perhaps the decision to commemorate the occasion was spurred by the reference of Afzal Guru during the Hyderabad university protest and the death of Rohith Vemula, another victim of state-sponsored oppression that created an uproar but soon fizzled out and forgotten, with no action against the Uni authority who rusticated Rohith.
Smriti Irani said the anti-India chants were insults to mother India. So did Rajnath Singh, the home minister. Not sure who that fabled mother India is, she must be a polyamorous person, sleeping around with everyone’s fathers. When thousands of years before, the poet wrote Janani janmabhoomischa swargadapi gariyasi, he didn’t confuse the identities of the mother with the land one is born. The personification or to be specific, maternalisation of India is yet another subtle way of splitting the society at least in two fragments — ones who are okay to accept it, and most of a billion population belongs to this side and those who don’t. Mother India, Mother Nature, Mother Earth…the examples are boundless across the world, in every region, every culture. To carry on with the practice in the name of heritage and culture is basically an easy way of indoctrinating nationalist feelings from an early age. The country is your mother, so criticising your country is tantamount insulting your mother — the logic is simple and effective. And we like cheap drama, or nautanki, as proven by the success of soaps. So, the slogans were defaming the motherland etc are all bogus arguments altogether, in order to gain political mileage and appease the crowd that is already biased through a systematic brainwash from childhood.
If a nation is greatly offended by someone challenging the national unity and integrity, that definitely raises a question on the integrity of the nation itself. To truly become a country that is a champion of unity and integrity, the country will have to progress including everyone, not differentially. Incidents like JNU protests question and point at the shortcomings, where the systems and psyche of the nation still have a long way to go before we can truly proclaim ourselves as a diverse yet united country. Perhaps, this was also an occasion to remind ourselves that the nation can be the biggest terrorist – and there are numerous examples across the world – as the country and its government and institutions are the ultimate voice, and it can control the voices that speak against it. Sedition is a blunt concept in this day and age. It only tells if the legal system is at par with the reforms needed for the twenty-first century. There was no threat to the country or any violence that ensued the claims, people were debating views and ideas, not dealing ammunitions. The charges against Kanhaiya Kumar will not hold ground during the court hearing, and he will probably be discharged without any conviction. Looking beyond the anti-India chants and claiming to immortalise Afzal Guru, there was an attempt to defy the government, defy the legal system. Defy the fact that no matter who is in power, a nation is still merely a puppet of the whims and avarice of the politicians who run it. It was a protest against the preferential treatment by the government and at large, the public. We act based on the bias in-built within us.
If there were any group of the population who is and has always been vocal against such atrocities are students. They are the harbingers of change, the visionaries of tomorrow. The outcry to tarnish all protesters in the same colour is both foolish and dangerous. Even though the charges against the arrested students won’t hold water in court, social vigilantism spread their profiles and images all across the country. And needless to say, in a prejudiced country like India where people still ask age, religion, father’s name, mother’s name, husband’s name for a job application, where equal opportunity is perhaps merely a word in the HR strategy document gathering dust in a locked cabinet, these students will be discriminated against for a long time.
And then there are the right-wing student unions like ABVP, they are getting the mileage they wanted on a national platform, whilst the student movements have historically been mostly left-wing. Without a direction and vision, their agenda of inciting hatred against the protesters have struck the chord with millions of students, who would now subscribe to their ideology. The ABVP treats themselves as the sole spokesperson of nationalism at university campuses, and in fact, their role during the debate was undemocratic, by trying to overrule a meeting that was approved for, by directly threatening the university governing body.
We Indians have a great tendency and ability to paint everything in the same colour. We do not treat issues singularly, but collectively. So, the outcry to shut down JNU is widely endorsed, people voicing concerns over the injustice in India are anti-nationalist and the protestors are traitors to the motherland. And the treatment they received from the country collectively — be it the media, politicians, police or public, just proves their point. They exposed the system and its divisive position. People voiced their opinion against anything undemocratic, before India was independent, and after. However, in the new Swachh Bharat surge, it appears that such thoughts and protests have suddenly become undemocratic, and therefore need to be swept under the carpet. So, rather than condemning the DSU student union for their villainy, we should pat their backs for standing strong against all adversities and being bold enough to choose an occasion that aptly demonstrates the shortcomings of the legal system and human rights in India.
Also, glorifying another country, even if they were deemed your enemy, does not count as sedition. If Pakistan has done something praiseworthy, people can say good things about them, just as it was found that the government finally passed the Hindu marriage act, allowing Hindu marriages as official. However, the JNU protesters went beyond this and voiced anti-India chants that mainly caught the media attention. What the BJP government and their ABVP sidekicks are turning a blind eye on, is they cannot make someone love their country, nor can anybody else. Forcing someone to say Bharat Mata ki jay does not prove they are proud of their country, but it is tantamount an abusive husband raping his wife night after night and boasting during the day how much she loves him!
It is not necessary to love the country one is born in. It is most likely, as there is a bond developed since the childhood that is mainly nostalgic rather than informed, but that does not mean that people cannot change their opinion later on. Think of North Korea or Saudi Arabia, can the citizens there love their country with the rogue people running it? More oppressive the state becomes, more vocal the voices of the public need to be before the country truly becomes a place one can be proud of.
The same can be said about the Kashmir debate, which was another reason why the sedition charge was brought in. It is almost comical how the rest of the nation has unanimously decided that Kashmir is part of their country and even debating the subject is sacrilege, although they tactfully exclude the views of the Kashmiri people, whose fate were being decided by the rest of India whether they should stay a part of India. The government doesn’t even recognise what the Kashmiri residents think, let alone arrange a referendum. With the unfortunate disaster at Siachen glacier recently, I wonder how many centuries it will take the fools across India and Pakistan to stop wasting exorbitant amount of money in protecting a border whilst that money could be utilised in progressing the country forward, improving hundreds of millions of lives who still lacks basic necessities of life – food, clothes and shelter.
A University is an ideal platform for such poignant debates, as what we learn in the courses are hardly ever used afterwards, but we learn from classmates of various location, background and views shape the person we become in the future. Whatever and whoever the DSU supporters have discussed, disputed, criticised or defamed, that could have been countered with an equally critical discussion of their actions and agenda. Also, this has become a platform for all political mudslinging, where depending on their political clout, the parties are extending support or criticising, rather than leaving it as a debate between two politically opposite orientated student unions. There are a multitude of conspiracy theories going around for both sides — about the protesters shouting anti-India slogans coming to campus days before, or the ABVP activists in the DSU rally saying anti-India chants — digressing from the fact that this is not an issue to start a witch hunt, but to reflect the truth behind the claims and debate how the society can progress. Sending police in plain dress and arresting student body president just exemplifies the point these students have been trying to prove — that India is fast becoming an oppressive state and anyone who dares to speak against the government or the country, will be publicly persecuted. Let’s hope that the protests such as this keep continuing all across the country, to challenge the government of its actions and the public at large, to change their age-old ideas about nationalism and love for the motherland. It’s time we share the social profiles the Bhakt media spread over the internet to show they were anti-nationals, to spread the excellent work they have done for human rights in India, and for its better future.
The only moot point is that with the advent of technology, we are fast becoming net-activists. We are exasperated at something, we act on it, we criticise, and then within two weeks, that lesson is forgotten. We go back to our daily lives or find another issue to fight about. We don’t fight hard enough to bring closure. It’s like thousands of matchsticks are lighting up and put out, and failing to light the candle with a raging fire that the country needs to cleanse the injustice gathered over centuries. To make it really happen, people are needed to come down in the streets, be visible, be heard — revolutions cannot start from the confines of the room.
“Yes, I am a traitor, if you are a patriot, if you are a defender of our homeland, I am a traitor to my homeland; I am a traitor to my country… if patriotism is the claws of your village lords, … if patriotism is the police club, if your allocations and your salaries are patriotism,… if patriotism is not escaping from our stinking black-minded ignorance, then I am a traitor”
There are two pieces of news circulated in the media, at two different corners of the world, last week. In India, the famous actor, producer and director Aamir Khan stated in an interview that his wife Kiran was scared of the future of their children due to growing intolerance in the country. On the other corner of the world, cinemas in the UK refused to broadcast Lord’s Prayer before the films, for the period building up to Christmas festivities. Both these news caused uproar and debates in social spheres and the media flared the gravity of the incidents beyond proportion, creating national headlines. Although the two pieces of stories are seemingly unrelated, they are intertwined by the concept of intolerance and social vigilantism. This is an attempt to analyse the first incident using the latter to demonstrate that intolerance is not only limited to the confines of a region, religion or country.
Aamir Khan is one of the most gifted mainstream actors of the Indian film industry. After featuring in films with resounding success, Aamir moved into directing his own films and made films on contemporary issues in the Indian society. One of his recent films, PK, based in the religious vaingloriousness of the humans, became a big hit in India, despite the ultra right-wing Hindu groups threatened closure of the film and vandalised the cinemas in many cities. With a huge fan base, gained since his first film around 1989, Aamir is also one of the most successful Bollywood actors. Despite being nominated for the national awards several times, Aamir refrained from attending as he had no faith in the selection procedure for the awards. In a recent interview, he admitted that despite living all is life in India, it’s the first time he is concerned about the future of his children as there appears to be a growing unrest and intolerance in the country. I only came across the news the next morning by the tempest in the teacup, as Facebook was found flooded with condemnation and criticism, mostly personal attacks on his ethnicity and religion. Aamir instantly became the target of a social media witch hunt, a traitor and a Muslim sympathiser of terrorism. It wasn’t only limited to the overzealous public venting off their feelings, but other celebrities weighed in as well. This affair culminated in Aamir releasing a public statement. The statement was more of a clarification of his interview rather than a reconciliation to the growing media pressure, expecting a public apology. The nation is still enraged, and the abuses are continued as observed in social media.
I may have heard the Lord’s Prayer before, but wouldn’t recognise it. Some of the words are like this-“…Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil…”Church of England made an ad on Lord’s Prayer and wanted to broadcast it in cinemas before the films started. Majority of the cinemas including Odeon, Cineworld, Showcase have refused to play the short film due to their policy. A public uproar ensued in the island nation, with a dismayed portrait of Archbishop of Canterbury featuring front pages of nations newspapers, BBC tirelessly garbling out angry reaction from the public to celebrities. A public petition started on the official parliament website to overthrow the decision by the cinemas, whilst the conservative media and politicians launched a scathing attack on the cinemas’ management policy. The petition gathered momentum throughout the weekend and by Monday it received enough signature to be debated in the parliament. Three days later, as I’m writing this, the petition has been officially rejected citing that forcing the cinemas to play the ad does not come in the jurisdiction of the parliament, it falls under the Digital Cinema Media, so all disgruntled Christians should write to the DCM if they wanted the decision overturned.
Two separate incidents, two geographically contrasted locations, yet one inference could be drawn from both is the growing social vigilantism and the intolerance of the public. Starting with Aamir’s interview, it lasted about half an hour, where many constructive points were discussed regarding Indian society and its progress, and after he mentioned about the heightened intolerance in India, the journalists asked him a number of questions regarding his views on double standards of politicians as well as his views of terrorism incited by Islam. Aamir aptly clarified that he criticised the extremist mentality that is in the rise, regardless of the community, and the terrorists carrying the Quran, did not legitimise their Muslim belief. However, the sensationalist Indian media only scooped the section that would produce the most uproar, and they succeeded brilliantly. Overnight Aamir became victim to a nationwide hate campaign, with the most lenient ones blaming him of heresy and betraying the country he built his career on, whilst the more vociferous ones went way further, from proposing to throw him out of the country to declaring 100,000 Rupees for someone to slap him in public. Even after Aamir released his statement people are maintaining their stance that he did an about-turn facing such a strong public reaction and he insulted the country and de facto, its 1.25 billion people. The debates continued, and people promptly responded to the call for unsubscribing the android app Snapdeal, which Aamir is a brand ambassador of. However, this is neither the beginning, not the end of the debate around growing intolerance in Indian society.
The right-wing parties such as the present ruling party BJP and its ultra-right sections such as Shiv Sena, Visva Hindu Parishad, Bajrang Dal as well as BJP’s youth corps Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangha or RSS, took over the role of protectors of the interests, culture and heritage of India’s Hindu population, and any attempt to criticise, satirise, question any of the centuries-old practices and custom was met with severe and at times violent reactions. Apart from being the self-proclaimed harbingers of Hindu identity, their stance was severely anti-Muslim, the second largest ethnic group in India. Not much later than the Rushdie affair involving Satanic Verses, the renowned Indian painter Maqbool Fida Hussain was criticised for his depiction of Hindu deities in nude, especially his painting of Saraswati, the goddess of wisdom, similar as Minerva of Athena in Roman and Greek mythology. The death threats, court petitions for defamation, ransacking his art exhibitions hounded Hussain until his death, and after, although the paintings were done in the ’70s. The fact that Hussain was a Muslim helped the right-wing hooligans in their anti-Muslim agenda provoking racial hatred in the spheres of art and creativity. The next incident, where the Hindu fundamentalists felt their feet trampled, was not so straightforward when it came to apportioning the blame. In 1996 a film was released by Deepa Mehta, “Fire” that portrayed a married woman’s lesbian extramarital relationship. Adultery and homosexuality, both were deemed damaging to the fabric of Hindu ideology and was vehemently criticised by the BJP and its extremist factions, calling for a public apology from the director and instant ban on the film. The next film on the sequel, “Earth” in the partition of India and the ensuing communal violence also attracted cries for shutting down the film. The third film, “Water” featuring an affair of a widowed Hindu woman in the holy city of Benares, was met with vehement opposition from the right-wing Hindu nationalists citing defamation of the sacred city as well as tainting the characters of widows, who, regardless of their age, are expected to lead life if a recluse. The production of the film was halted several times, as the mob attacked the film sets. The release was much delayed than the planned release around 2000-01. The then cultural minister of West Bengal offered Deepa to have the film shot in Bengal. However, the double standards of the communist government came to light as they offered Deepa Mehta to shoot Water in Bengal to snub right-wing parties, trying to prove that the left is progressive, but in case of Taslima Nasreen, the exiled author from Bangladesh. Despite providing asylum to her in Calcutta, the government stance soon did an about-turn, in face of growing protests from the Muslim communities in Bengal, harbouring the blasphemous author. The hypocrisy of various governments’ at various times to protect free speech always affected Indian societies. In recent past, the right-wing factions began to promote a Hindu lead actor in Bollywood such as Hrithik Roshan, to diminish most of the public support divided amongst the three Khans, Aamir, Shahrukh and Salman. Incidentally, all three of them being Muslim caused ire of the right-wing Hindu supremacists.
Apart from the creative media, the propensity to disfigure the truth has never been so blatant than what was used by the BJP and the other right-wing Hindu factions. The 1992 Babri masjid demolition was a first demonstration of the blind malicious side of the right-wing nationalist parties to a republic. They also tried to stop celebrations of Valentine’s Day as the true celebration of love was expected to be the birthday of Shri Krishna, a Hindu god with 16000 wives. BJP and their crony bunch of intelligentsia have been and still is instrumental in claiming the invention of numerous modern-day best practices in medicine, science, astronomy, politics to be rooted in ancient Indian civilisation, which they proclaimed to be world’s oldest at 5500 BC, contrary to the archaeological findings and most factual historical findings of around 2000 BC. The latest addition to the hilarious claims was made in 2014 when the new Prime Minister Narendra Modi claimed that the full head transplant was invented in ancient India deriving from tales in ancient Indian mythologies. BJP also tried to manipulate the educational system and the history by portraying Shivaji as a national hero because of his Hindu origin and also introducing Saraswati Vandana, a prayer dedicated to the Hindu goddess of wisdom Saraswati, to be recited in every school, rather than the national anthem. In 2007, a major sea canal project between India and Sri Lanka was permanently stopped, due to relentless disruptions by the right-wing Hindu activists claiming the sand shoal in the shallow waters spreading between the two countries was made by Lord Rama, another mythical character, purported to be a true person. The assassination of the renowned Karnatik author and free-thinker M.M Kalburgi in recent times, only proved the fact that the BJP and its other right-wing Hindu extremist factions would go to any length to promote their version of Indian history and culture and pulverise, not by logic and information, but by brutality, any voice of reason contradicting them.
As I said before, Aamir’s case did not start with his interview last week but is rooted far deeper. Whilst the Indian market opened to the world in the late nineties, bringing the much-needed deregulation, it was at that time when the Hindu radicalism was on the rise. As exemplified above, along with state-sponsored violence observed in riots in ’92, Gujarat riots on ’02 and many other individual attacks spreading communal violence, BJP and its cronies used their propaganda to promote Hindu nationalism and any view that questions their superiority would be criticised and castigated. Their agenda also included the idea of Hindu supremacy, and hence by side-lining the Muslim population, apart from the one trump card they used to gain Muslim votes, by supporting Dr APJ Abdul Kalam for the role of the president. With the rise of social media, apart from the right-wing mouthpieces like newspaper, party pogroms etc, BJP also had another platform to permeate its agenda of nationalism. It was evident from the election campaign in 2014, which shared numerous photoshopped images of PM candidate Narendra Modi, as well as denigrating the free thinkers like Mahatma Gandhi, Tagore. With such a background, it was expected that the general public would refuse to bring a tyrant like Modi, who has blood on his hands, to power. Yet, no other opponent proved to be strong enough to stop the NaMo juggernaut, as public voted by the glamorous election campaign, and exasperated by the fading Congress’ nepotism, corruption and sycophancy to the old Nehru empire. After BJP was elected with an absolute majority, it was clear that the propaganda machinery will be in full motion, promoting Hindu supremacy from day one. Aamir’s statement about growing intolerance in last 6 months, therefore, riled the BJP, and the media reported the case to the Indian population portraying Aamir as a heinous character, that he is ungrateful that all his films are made in India. Aamir was an easy target, his surname is Khan, and his fear of the growing intolerance in his surroundings is something that could be presented in a manner making him an unpatriotic person.
Having lived by the first 30 years of my life in India, the only way I could summarise it is chaos. Chaos – not in a negative way, but the country is in a state of chaotic equilibrium. Nothing is perfect, yet everything works. Trains run late, yet the Indian Railways, world’s second-largest public office, runs like a clockwork to make the unimaginably complicated system work. The dabbawalas in Mumbai deliver packed lunches to millions of people without a complicated IT system, and so does the dhobiwalas cleaning the laundries for millions of people, yet achieve remarkably high accuracy. India is a curious place, a conundrum for the outsiders, a quest to the ones who know the country, how are we so different, yet there is a common emergence of a unique national character? This is why I revered India but never fell into the glorious trap of patriotism. India was, and still is, my country, but never my mother, the Bharat Mata. India is also a land of contrasts — not just two, but many different contrasts at various degrees intermingle at every instant, and hence, stereotyping India is a difficult task. Indians are driven by boundless aspirations, trying to keep abreast to the tides of change modern time is bringing, yet in adherence to the archaic custom and cultures which has no place for coexistence. It’s not a dilemma between old and new, but instead of progress against regress.
This conflict between the two has always existed and still does, and it shapes our thought process and logic. When we speak about unity in diversity, that diversity mainly focusses upon the regional, cultural, linguistic diversity; although the religious orientation of all such diverse constituents is still Hindu. Despite a large number of non-Hindu communities residing in India, Hindus still make nearly 80% of the population, and therefore, any image projected of India largely constitutes portraits of a country for the Hindus, and as the second-largest minority, Muslims. Other minorities, although they are part of an incredible India, their stories often go unheard. The Muslim fishermen on Kerala, or the Chinese shoemakers in Calcutta, or the Jewish and Parsi communities in Bombay, or a Gurkha tea plantation worker in Darjeeling – they remain away from the limelight of the Incredible India vision. As do the multitude of tribes spread all across India – from the central plateaux to the North-Eastern provinces to the Andaman & Nicobar Islands. A majority Hindu population creates in public mind vision of a state with Hinduism at the centre of its raison d’etre. Impaired with this vision, anything that contradicts the key dogma of Hindu faith, the disagreement is often seen as the blasphemy, and denouncing the Hindu identity is tantamount denouncing India. Majority of the Indian population are reactionary, and therefore, easily manipulated. The right-wing parties, irrespective of Hindu or Muslim, capitalise on this mob tendencies, along with a lack of clear thinking and decision making abilities. The lack of analytical thinking causes the mind to be easily led, to believe anything they read or listen or see, and whether that image fits the preconceived notion of a Hindu India. With such warped concepts, a Hindu is also seen as an Indian, whereas a Muslim Indian is still a Muslim, a Hindu Bengali is a Bengali, but a Muslim Bengali is just a Muslim. The borderlines between nationality, regional identity and religion are blurred and intersect with each other – making a complex maze of identities. This fuzzy identity lies at the centre of the Aamir Khan scandal, which was started as a question on growing societal intolerance in India but flared up as saying India is not tolerant, and that statement coming from a Muslim actor, his Indian identity is promptly ignored, and the debate is portrayed as a Muslim insulting India.
The biggest pride I have in India is that since the early days of independence, it is a republic and remained a republic state. A republic gives every citizen to express his/her opinion without fear, hesitation and discrimination. In Tagore’s words, “Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high/ Where knowledge is free/ Where the world has not been broken up into fragments/ By narrow domestic walls”—the vision of India portrayed in his poem is far from the reality as observed in the twenty-first century India. What Aamir alluded to in his interview, about growing intolerance in the society, was only a fear, for the lives of his children. Yet, the following few days, and the mob witch hunt that was witnessed since then, only strengthens the truth in Aamir’s statement. The public reaction claiming Aamir’s statement as an act of insult to the country, heresy and treason, is no different than Saudi states — the intolerance of free speech is still the same. The concept of constructive criticism is, of course, non-existent in the sub-continent, where parliament session means the ruling parties and opposition shouting at each other, throwing abuses, often breaking into fights, and the smaller insignificant parties walking out. Many circulations and re-posts are going around in social media since Aamir’s statement, yet I have not seen a single person come up with simple logical facts to refute his claims. The biggest criticism was, what if Aamir said something about Islam? If India was intolerant, can he think what would have happened to him if he was in Saudi Arabia? The answer to these questions is, maybe a lot worse, but that is an absolute ludicrous way of dealing with criticism. It’s as silly as explaining why you failed a test to your parents saying ten other students failed as well. We call India a democracy, we say it’s a diverse country, but of course, it’s easy to state that being the majority, of course, Hindus can claim to the world that they live in harmony with Muslims, Christians, Jews, Jains, but can those minorities say the same with equal ease? Can they say that they enjoy equal opportunities and are not marginalised? Can they boast of the unity in diversity? They can’t, because the moment they do, they will be branded unpatriotic, be subjected to the harassment Aamir has been through in last one week. As a republic, we have a lot to learn, a long way to go before we can truly boast of our diversity which does not depend on numbers but everyone believes in it.
This brings the discussion back to the Lord’s Prayer debate. Like India. Britain is a democracy, and it is a country with majority white Christian population, although, unlike India, a large number of Christian born population do not identify with Christianity any more, they are confirmed, atheists. Christianity has been and is part of the main fabric of the country; although Britain can boast of widely diverse demography in present days, Christianity is an undeniable part in forming the popular custom, language and festivities. Christianity shaped the UK in its present form as we know it. So the public may celebrate Yom Kippur or Chinese New Year with equal excitement, Christmas and Easter are still the biggest festivals of the season. Considering the vast majority of the confirmed Christian individuals are not churchgoers and don’t live their lives by the Ten Commandments, it is surprising how a refusal to pray Lord’s Prayer before the cinema made it to the national news! The numerous public figures blaming the decision to be shambolic, right-wing parties licking their lips finding a topic to win supports on their white supremacy agenda, the petition seeing an avalanche of supports to overturn the decision — what we saw is a reactive intolerance, from a large number of the public in one of the epitomes of democracy and multiculturalism. The British public, who cried out loud “bring our country back”, never cared what Church of England was doing, but with that refusal, they are all united in protest again, against policymakers implementing multiculturalism, against a harmonious society. Whilst in India, the general public is too blasé about the feelings of the other minorities, in Britain, the general public is, although more liberal, too uncomfortable to be seen of having any prejudices. However, instances like this present a rare glimpse of the undercurrent of the prejudices that run deep in people’s psyche, and the outcome is not the finest example of tolerance. That Britain is a democracy and irrespective of the background, the common sense that playing Lord’s Prayer in the cinema is unacceptable — it hasn’t permeated through the minds of the people crying wolf. To them, this is a sacrilege that the country isn’t Christian any more, the country is being taken over by the immigrants, who dictate how the country should be run. Britain has never been a Christian country when it became a democracy and brought in the immigrants to run the country better. But of course, only a logical mind would think this. For the rest, if you are not born British and Christian, you are expected to show allegiance to the country in every step — revere the Royal family, celebrate Christmas, wear the poppy. The allegiance to the gimmicks became synonymous to adherence to the values.
As I started this discussion to analyse the incident of Aamir khan’s statement about intolerance and the reaction of the Indian population in light of the Lord’s Prayer ban in cinemas in the UK — both these incidents show us an undercurrent of intolerance, of different degree and manifestation, but identical in its concept. The boundaries between religion, ethnicity, language and nationality are blurred and all is brought under the same canopy of patriotism, the almighty word that tells you if you love your country. You must be a patriot, support your country in every deed to make your existence in this universe meaningful! What’s the life worth it doesn’t want to sacrifice itself for the country? The tales of heroes and martyrs emerge, tales of great heritage, but wasn’t it how a Mein Kampf was born?! The intolerance that exists in the society is omnipresent, as does the tolerance. One cannot exist without the other, otherwise “to err is human” would have no relevance in our lives. Intolerance is not limited to the boundaries of a country, or religion, or ethnicity. It is our inherent fear and tendency to distrust others. Being intolerant does not mean that people are not tolerant at all, it only alludes to the fact that they are not 100% tolerant. What needs to happen is acceptance of the intolerance and to address the issues constructively, not by declaring sums to slap a person who raised some concerns, nor by saying the country is taken over by immigrants.
This brings to two other factors that are vitally important for the discourse related to intolerance in society. First, the role of the media. In these two incidents, apart from people’s shortsightedness about tolerance and its meaning, media is the next biggest culpable factor. In their rat race to increase ratings, media twist the facts in such a manner that it creates a headline, unconcerned of whether the facts are true, semi-true or blatant lies. The hype Aamir’s story received is because they repeatedly broadcasted only two minutes of an interview that lasted half an hour, where many other social issues were discussed. Just in the same way BBC and ITV telecasted repeatedly the same news of CoE ad ban for the next few days. Especially for India, with a lower literacy rate that hinders the analytical reasoning, media needs to play a more responsible role than fuelling mass hysteria. The majority of Indian and British working class and uneducated sections don’t have the time nor luxury to delve into arguments and counter-arguments, and perhaps draw an informed conclusion analysing all the facts. They probably take every news on its face value as seen as heard in the media. The flippancy of media observed in both these cases only made a much detrimental effect in maintaining a diverse society. The other factor is, of course, the role of the minorities in eradicating the intolerance from society. Just by saying that the ethnic majority is intolerant, it doesn’t mask the fact that it runs in the minorities as well — illustrated by a gathering of thousands of radical Muslims in protest when a captured terrorist in India was hanged or people were seen celebrating Paris attacks. Like BJP and its Hindu supremacist cronies, undeniably there are radical Islamist groups in India as well, as does separatist mujahideen outfits fighting for independent Kashmir, or militants in the northeast. By being a free thinker, a voice of reason, one doesn’t have to stand up for minorities in every occasion, right or wrong. The question of right and wrong, good or evil eluded us since the early days of civilisations. We still form our opinions based on our understanding of the social filaments, our views towards life. It is a continuous struggle against ourself as well, where we need to break the stereotypes and paradigms layered over the years. If the reaction to Aamir khan’s statement was termed intolerant, my analysis is intolerant as well, as it represents intolerance of such intolerances.
So, what does the balance sheet look like, of the Aamir Khan controversy last week? Media gained, of course, with their heightened TRP and circulation of extra newspapers. Aamir lost a few dedicated fans and may not have his Snapdeal contract renewed. But he also won, although a handful, of admirers for speaking out the truth while the others shied away. Aamir’s wife Kiran has suffered the full brunt of public wrath, for having no opportunity to defend herself as Aamir did. Snapdeal, the company Aamir was the brand ambassador for, despite losing nearly 100,000 memberships, gained in rating due to increased interest on their website for the controversy. But the biggest winner, from this debate, is BJP and the PM Modi, as no official reprimand was issued through government of India. This is a surreptitious way BJP let its far-right factions do the dirty work for them, such as maligning Aamir, his achievements and personal life; yet officially kept a safe distance from them to project an image of neutrality. Of all the involved sides, Modi’s image emerged as a leader who is calm and stoic, unperturbed by the scandal, his incredible India and swachh Bharat remained untarnished — much to the dismay and disconcert of any liberal person, as sycophantic praises poured in all over the media and Internet. In a few weeks, all will be forgotten, but this controversy will hush all the voices willing to ask questions or point fingers at the government. The returning of national awards by scholars has already been much politically polarised, and their protests were degraded by the predatory right-wing activists and Modi sympathisers. With Aamir added to this list of quarantined personalities, this paves the path for an unrivalled Hindu indoctrination of the country. The brooms of swachh Bharat movement will swiftly brush away the voices of criticism. India will be promoted as a country for its space programme, IT and manufacturing prowess, but the dark sides of the caste system and discriminations, sectarian violence and intolerance, honour killings and female foeticides will be neatly tucked away. One may even ask at this juncture that if an actor is worth three billion rupees, is there really a concern for his children regarding social intolerance? If he is rich enough to possibly buy an entire security company, was there any ulterior motive? Will Modi go to the media with grand gestures of pardoning Aamir as part of Indian tradition and other similar nonsense, boosting his image up as the results don’t show the Achchhe Din or the good days he promised is imminent? We’ll never know this…
It’s been over a week now since both these scandals broke out. People have now gone back to their daily humdrum life away from the uproar. Perhaps the nerves are still a bit raw in India, as the Aamir story still dominates the internet and social media. In Britain, people have forgotten about Lord’s Prayer already and engrossed in Christmas shopping spree. The guise is back, in both worlds, until the time something else flares up when the fangs and talons will lash out again, baring our primitive instincts. Until then, we are all back to our pretentious social harmony, back in our sheep’s skin.
Prologue: As I am near finishing writing this article, France witnessed the worst ever terrorist attack on its soil. As an immediate reaction, the borders have been shut and there is a public outcry in Europe – not only in the nationalist parties but amongst the general public, to stop Syrian immigrants entering Europe. Rallies held in numerous Eastern European countries as well as in France and the UK, for sending back the refugees waiting to be resettled. The Italian speaking province in Switzerland banned the burqa or niqab. Donald Trump in the US spoke about creating a database for Muslims in the country. Several states in the US revoked the pledge to accept refugees. Greek coastguards were witnessed to be trying to sink boats filled with refugees. The abject discrimination against the Syrian refugees is just one of many examples of the persecutions of the refugees in today’s apparently modern world…
An obituary to Aylan Kurdi
Aylan Kurdi. The entire world now knows the name of this child. His limp innocent body on the seashore of Turkey made us all realise what the refugees are going through, and what losses they are suffering just to give a safe life to their offspring and families. Aylan’s death brought our world to a standstill, and it dawned on us how insensitive our values have become, when it took death of a three-year-old boy, whose last words to his dad was “Papa, don’t die”, for the world to empathise with the miseries of the refugees and react to the crisis. After a few days of online philanthropy, Aylan’s little body will fade away from our memory, the world will become an indifferent, fragmented place again, where we don’t know and don’t care how lives of other human beings are constantly put under threat in other corners of the world. But I won’t forget you little Aylan Kurdi, your angelic smile, and every time I’ll think of you, I will have tears in my eyes, for your death that was so unnecessary, so cruel, and I will be angry at the world, who watched by as your little hands lost the grip of your father, until the waves carried you to the shore. I don’t believe in heaven or hell, but I will say rest in peace little Aylan, you are finally safe, to eternity…
I am fascinated by anthropology and a recent visit to the Natural History Museum in London opened my eyes to time — the most important dimension we never have the full appreciation of and the scale of it. When we think that our planet Earth is 4.5 billion years old with geological periods lasting millions of years, during which, dinosaurs have ruled the world and became extinct, and the first human beings only appeared one million years ago — putting that time into perspective, the earliest discovered human civilisation around 8000 years ago means we humans are only a microscopic part of a jigsaw that is our universe. Since the first human beings appeared in Africa, they were eternal ramblers, always looking to voyage for great unknowns and finding pastures green. Driven by the carnal desire for a better habitat, abundance of food or simply evading the conflicts of leadership, these early humans dispersed from Africa to Central Asia, Americas then through Bering Strait into the Far East. The stories of migration and exploration of our ancestors fascinate us and make us marvel at the phenomenal progress of the human civilisation since time unknown. Yet, standing in the 21st century, where mankind achieved exponentially since those prehistoric times and pushed the boundaries of human capabilities beyond belief, on the humanitarian front it is shameful that we have not extricated ourselves from the vices and superstitions characteristic of those ancient times. The shameful manifestation of anti-migration views in the world’s most advanced countries is a stark example, whereby with these malicious feelings, people are denouncing the very existence of their evolution. Rather than wonder and encourage it, migration has become a stigma of our time.
Writing about migration is quite contentious as the public opinion seems to be bifurcated — half the population is usually against it and nearly the other half does not know much about it — only leaving a small fraction of people, who actually understand the situation and care about crises. The definition of migration is the first stumbling block. There are so many different words used in the media — migrant, immigrant, refugee, émigré. Without trying to open the Oxford dictionary, the broad definition of immigrant denotes a generic term referring to anyone living in a foreign country; it does not depend on the reason. On the other hand, popular connotations of an émigré exude a sense of superiority, belonging to the upper echelon of the social tiers of a country, but in real terms, they are opposite of immigrants, citizens of a country emigrated abroad mainly for career prospects. The remainder two — migrants and refugees are the most widely used terms in the context of migration. They both refer to the people leaving a country or region, mainly the places where they were born, to live in another country. Although both of these terms can be classified by the noun Migration, the fundamental differences between these two terms have been largely overlooked or purposefully misused by the world media. Whilst migrants are affected by the present situation of their country, the catalyst to move to another country or another part of the world is mainly economical, driven by their ambitions to achieve something for themselves or provide a better future for their future generations. Refugees, on the contrary, are forced to abandon their habitat and move to another country for a haven, that their country cannot provide. Migrants are driven by an aspirational issue, whilst refugee or asylum-seeking is existential — the survival depends on escaping the habitat — be it from genocide, autocracy, religion, famine, endemic or militias. The burning example of the purposed or erratic misuse of terms referring migration is the context of the Syrian crisis, where the refugees are often referred to as migrants. The bias of right-wing press is obvious, but the liberal media often followed the bandwagon quoting the millions of homeless victims of religious crossfire between the Assad regime and ISIL as migrants, not refugees.
Migration and asylum is an issue very close to my heart as my entire life has circled around listening to stories of migration — forced and consensual, or witness the post-migration impacts on refugees’ lives. Both my parents were born in the Indian provinces in post-partition East Pakistan, to be later called Bangladesh. Threatened by the religious genocide between 1947 and 1971, like millions of other Hindu families, my parents fled their troubled homes to India, then struggled all their life to make the lives of our generation better. Thus, the stories of their struggle and sufferings made one detest the factors that incited the migration, but on the other hand kindled hope and optimism, provided us with a raison d’être to give a meaning to their fight. My parents risked their lives to flee a region becoming exponentially volatile for the sake of their lives and subsequently sacrificed rest of their lives — trying to make our lives free of such trauma, once they found a safe livelihood in India. HOME became a sacred word; my father always wanted to have a house of his own that he could say is home — a sense of belonging to a piece of earth, a dream that has eluded him all his life, and now that I have migrated to the UK pursuing my aspirations, he always asks me to have a home of my own. Like him, I have uprooted myself from the place where I was born, leaving behind everything and everyone known. However, I am a migrant, whilst my father was a refugee, and our account of moving from our country is completely different — I can reminisce the past days through rose-tinted glasses, but for my father, it probably was a time he rather forgot or wished never happened to him. This essay is therefore like a lens, looking through my entire life and building up the hypotheses based on anecdotes, information and experiences gathered along the journey so far.
From time immemorial human migration has been taking place, as our ancestors continuously strived for better living conditions. The modern civilisation in its current form would not exist, had the primordial men and women not migrated. However, limiting our focus only on the twentieth century would show what factors instigated migrations and socio-political unbalance. The biggest contributor to social unrest is two — politics and religion. In most cases these two factors are intertwined, perhaps politics of religion could aptly include the two causes. Regardless of the semantics, politics and religion, the invasive nature of both these factors is incited by wealth. Looking at the single biggest incident that destabilised the entire world — from Middle-East to Americas and Far-East, is Communism. But at the heart of the Communism debate and the Cold War lies the capitalist world’s fear of mass movement of the oppressed to demand their share of the profit. It is Wealth what incited the Cold War and the resultant arms race, that contributed the complete destabilisation of the political system in the Middle-East, the home of the biggest refugee crisis in recent times or the breeding ground for the cause of it — religious fanaticism — through obliteration of any working liberal governance in the region. On the other hand, the fall of Soviet Union saw the collapse of entire Eastern Bloc countries especially the complete dissolution of Yugoslavia, creating religious factions all trying to have a land they can claim their own.
The other biggest component is of course Colonialism — its spectre plagued the entire world. Like politics and religion, colonialism is also fuelled by wealth, perhaps with a more overt correlation. Starting with the Spanish and Portuguese, the hunger for power and wealth soon spread to the rest of Western Europe during the middle ages. In the modern post-Renaissance era, the worst perpetrators are still the British, but not far behind will be the French, Dutch, Flemish/Belgians, Germans. Whilst many scholars recently argue about the benefits of colonialism to the developing countries, it is without a doubt that any such supposed benefits came at a much heftier cost the countries didn’t deserve or choose to pay. There has been mass exodus during these colonial regimes with people trying to flee the atrocities and famines. After WWII, with the cost of running the colonies skyrocketing, the resources thoroughly exploited and depleted and finally the ghost of two great wars haunting the developed world, the rulers left the colonies in ruins having plundered all the resources over hundreds of years. The colonised countries, with the skeleton of infrastructure from their exploited past, became breeding grounds for class division, corruption, nepotism and racial/religious fission. Africa was one of the worst-hit continents picking up pieces together to form countries but managed to be embroiled in bloody tribal wars that have possibly seen the most number of mass migration. Famine, endemics followed suite as a result of unsustainable exploitation of natural and human resources. The Middle-East, already waged into turbulent sectarian conflicts amongst member states were further destabilised by the formation of Israel, and the west’s pledge to sponsor its atrocities later on. On the other hand, the sub-continent was scarred forever with religious conflicts. The wave of religious hatred even engulfed the far reaches of Myanmar, where the Bangladeshi Rohingya tribes are forced to migrate to as far as Malaysia to avoid the violence. The Divide and Rule ploy not only split countries, neighbourhoods and families into pieces, but also fuelled the conflict amongst them, to profit from the arms deals. It is the biggest mockery of our times that the G8 countries are purported as harbingers of world peace, yet all of them are the biggest arms dealers in the world, responsible for most of the armed conflicts in one way or another!
These are some of the underlying factors that coerce people to move out of their homeland, abandoning their habitat and familiar surroundings for hundreds and thousands of years. Looking at the other side of the spectrum on the refugee crises — regarding the rehabilitation and integration of refugees in the countries they seek shelter in — the situation is much worse. Although not for the reasons we see in today’s world, human migration is an undeniable and unavoidable phenomenon — it will never stop, as the end of it will mean people stopped dreaming and aspiring. It will mean that we have become a defeated race on earth and a superior species will rise to throw us down the precipice of anthropological oblivion. Hence, considering human migration is an unequivocal fact, it would be a completely different story, if people at different corners of the world wanted/was forced to move at another region and their exodus did not encounter any resistance. Looking at the legendary settlers, they moved to barren lands and built civilisations. The nomadic nature of our ancestors is completely undermined in the present society, more so in the so-called developed world than the other parts. In an ideal situation, these people need not flee their habitat, but if that can’t be prevented, the next best scenario would be that they all found a safe refuge, and if the countries in the developed world can boast about their social infrastructure, they should be the forerunners in providing shelters for these refugees.
Instead, the refugee crises across the world paint picture completely in contrast with what should have happened. The biggest instigators of the migration crises are the ones who are most vociferous against immigration on their land. The hypocrisy of the US, UK and Saudi Arabia, in mitigating the Syrian refugee crises, is at best shocking, at worst abhorrent. Considering the US is not directly affected by the Syrian migration as is Europe, and their pledge to receive some of the Syrian refugees is commendable, the US foreign policy in the Middle East especially backing Israel in the Palestine conflict has long destabilised the balance of the region. The UK, the sidekick in the US affairs, has become a myopic xenophobic state under the Tory regime, but the roots go much deeper. Against what is commonly purported as quintessential British values, the public psyche has done a complete volte-face and suddenly became nationalist, utterly intolerant and devoid of any compassion or empathy. The Syrian migration crisis was a perfect platform for the government to prove that it there is still a voice of reason within the party whip, but the decision to take a paltry 20,000 refugees over five years simply quashed that expectation. When millions of Syrian refugees fled the country — being caught on the crossfire between the autocratic Assad regime and the ISIL terrorists, the gulf nations played silent bystanders sitting on their petrodollars. On the other hand, rather than taking refugees or at least sending aides, the astounding decision by Saudi Arabia to build mosques in Germany defeats all reasons. Australia, on the other hand, puts any asylum seekers or refugees to other oceanic countries to make them receive financial aid from Australia. With an enormous, albeit not entirely habitable landmass, passing the responsibility to another country is equally brazen.
What the refugees are facing, especially trying to move to a country in the developed world e.g. Europe, US, Australia etc, is extremely inhuman. Their fate is met with the cold calculating political impasse by the countries they seek refuge in or use as an entrepôt en route their final destination. These governments believe in the economy of war, and the politics of fear. Keeping people misinformed and fearful of the refugee situation would then justify armed action, thriving the economy of war. This is why, accepting 20,000 refugees took Britain to think about it for a week, whilst the decision will probably be taken in unison about sending troops in Syria, which will cost millions of taxpayer money. Helping the refugees settle could have made lives of thousands of more refugees waiting to be accepted more bearable after the horrific spell they have been through. During the temporary phase of public outcry to support Syrian refugees, there was one banner that became much circulated — you don’t put your children in water if the land was safer. The desperate situation these people are put into, caught in a complicated web of power, politics, religion and wealth; yet, other than countries like Germany and Sweden, with reference to the Syrian crisis, what the other developed nations are doing can be termed as tumbleweed.
However, there is a more sinister twist in the situation that will need unveiling more urgently. Governments, and on much wider terms, all mainstream political parties, are the mirrors to the public psyche, and they hardly take a stance for the greater good, when the majority of the population is either unaware or misinformed about the actual situation and are against the policy. Looking at the reluctance of the governments to provide help to the refugees, it is merely a replication of the unwillingness or even the antipathy of the public against the migrants. The rising levels of nationalist and anti-immigrant sentiment are not only witnessed in my present residence in the UK, but it is observed everywhere else, where there is a migrant influx in the country. In the UK, it has become a very clichéd practice now, to blame the eastern European migrants as the root cause for all problems. Treatment of Syrian refugees in Eastern European countries in recent times was absolutely diabolical. How the men were separated from women and children is a stark reminder of the biggest genocide against migrants in Europe since WWII — Srebrenica — a lesson in history that was pledged never to be repeated. In India, there is a growing voice against people fleeing communalism and religious persecution from neighbouring Bangladesh. Even within the country itself, migrant workers from other states are often targeted by the right-wing local hooligan parties. A common trend emerges from all these snapshots from a wide geographical span — that it is the common working-class people, the majority of the population, who are against the refugees migrating to their country. This makes one wonder, why are so many hard-working people, who are often characterised by the brother’s keeper mindset, antagonise their counterparts from another part of the country?
The answer lies in the panic-mongering of the political parties and migrants often prove to be the perfect red herring, a scapegoat to divert people’s attention from real issues. In very few societies across the world would one find working class keeping abreast of the current affairs and form their opinion on those issues. In the absence of an alternative voice of reason, the capitalist led media diabolically steered the attention to all the crises their economies faced, to migrants. Housing, education, employment, economy — migrants are portrayed as bloodsuckers on all facets, purportedly depriving the citizens of the benefits. This antagonism is served with a twist of past glory — jingoistic nationalism, where everything was hunky-dory when the countries/regions were made of indigenous people of the same colour, language and religion. With a barrage of such twisted media representation, the working class begins to think that their predicament is somehow attributable to the migrants, not the actual perpetrators in their high citadels. These reportings are bolstered by statistics to make them appear more authentic, whereas the figures are at best misrepresentative at worst fraudulent. Duped by these statistical figures, the general public saw the data in front of their eyes, and in absence of critically analysing the information or the lack of time for it, a different and alternative image of the refugees starts to build in the eyes of the working class of the country. Refugees are demonised to let the political parties and their cronies in the high echelon of the society continue to carry out more sinister plots to rob the poor.
There are more to blame than just the media and the politicians. The working-class people in any country tend to show a tendency of prejudices — be it racial, sexual, cultural or lingual. It is the prejudice of the common people of a country — people the refugees are most likely to interact with — that makes the integration of the immigrants into the society much difficult. And here, the difference between a migrant and a refugee becomes starkly visible. Migrants often possess skills to offer to the host country, and with an income source, although social ostracism couldn’t be avoided, they can ignore it and lead a normal life. On the other hand, refugees — although depending on the crisis they can be from any class in the society — consist of mainly the working class to the unskilled class of the population. They are expected to re-educate, retrain and all at the same time whilst they try to resettle in a completely alien land and culture. Remembering tales heard from my dad, to the story of a Hungarian cleaner in London or story of the first Romanian arriving in Britain or the harrowing mistreatment a of the Syrian refugees in Eastern Europe — they all spell the same story of mistrust, vilification and discrimination of the migrant/refugees by the common people in the host country. Apart from being discriminated for being different from the country’s indigenous population, there is also a pressure on the refugees to become like one of the model citizens of the adoptive country — prove their allegiance to the host country at every instant. This is why a Muslim is expected in the western world to constantly denounce and castigate any acts of Muslim extremism, whereas no one heard a similar plea from every Christian during the Anders Breivik massacre. Likewise, all migrants are expected to don a poppy on Remembrance Day, a Bangladeshi refugee in India is expected to say jal instead of paani for water, a Romanian migrant has to declare to the camera that he is there to work and not to live on benefits.
Also, there is another dimension in this conundrum regarding the refugee crisis, which is the racial bias of people — direct or subconscious. The sad and cruel demise of little Aylan Kurdi can never be included for a political justification, but the arrival of Syrian refugees in the doorstep of Europe posed another challenge for the local authorities. In one side there was religion, where communities that are not coherent with people from different religion and cultural background. On the other side, there is a preference for race. This is why Syrian refugees have received a much warmer welcome than the ones still waiting in Calais. One would not fail to notice that despite the threat of extremism, Syrians lack a stereotype image, as opposed to the black African migrants from war-torn East Africa. The fact, that the refugees in Calais have been waiting for asylum much longer in inhabitable living conditions, has been completely overlooked by the populist media and politicians alike, due to stereotyping and character profiling of African immigrants. A similar approach was observed during the last Indian general election when the would-be prime minister Modi proclaimed that the Hindus in neighbouring Bangladesh are more than welcome to rehabilitate in India if they faced communal violence, but the Muslims won’t be allowed in, despite India being a republic. Even in Europe, the discrimination against Roma tribes are well observed and the lack of media/social uproar exemplifies that the media only broadcasts sensationalist news. The undercurrent of racism against migrants became blatantly obvious during shameful veto in EU by the Eastern European countries, during the discussion of the quota of refugees each member state will need to take. Statements coming from Slovak prime minister that they (Muslims) won’t be welcome in Slovakia because there are no mosques or the Hungarian right-wing photographer kicking and trying to trip a Syrian refugee, to Daily Mail likening the refugees to rats as did the Nazi campaigns in 1939, to David Cameron referring refugees to swarms — the hostility of the recipient nations became clear either through action or the choice of words in the context.
There is a counter-argument by various countries against immigration. Why would a country accept refugees? A country has limited resource, living space and social infrastructure that cannot be widely altered within a short period. Based on the resource constraints, a country cannot take more refugees beyond a sustainable number. However, this needs to be measured as a direct difference between the people arriving in the country and the citizens emigrating — not the net value of the immigration. “We are full, there is no more space” may be a compelling argument for the UK for the limited habitable landmass, but certainly not for the US or mainland Europe or the subcontinent. But answering why a country should provide refuge to the immigrants, the focus cannot be based on just geography and economy. The first question to be asked is whether any recipient country is directly or indirectly responsible for causing or aggravating the situation. If the answer is yes then it becomes a direct responsibility of that country to help out the refugees sacrificing their entire life. For example, it becomes a direct responsibility of the US to support the Palestine refugees caused by Israel, empowered by a divisive US foreign policy. Or in the case of Syria, although Turkey is involved indirectly, they are also the home for the biggest refugees with the numbers surpassing 1.5 million. However, beyond such examples, all countries should reach out to helping the refugees on humanitarian grounds alone. Without being directly involved, Germany will accept close to a million refugees being a responsible member of the EU to stop innocent people die. Sweden’s pledge to receive hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees also demonstrates that despite the dismal turn of events the refugees went through, thanks to countries like Germany, Sweden, Turkey or Jordan, a large number of displaced immigrants have found rehabilitation and a new beginning to regain the rhythm of life back. On the contrary, the gross ignorance of the governments of the UK and Eastern Europe, as well as the mistreatments by the authorities in Greece and Hungary, paints a dire picture, where countries either not taking up the responsibility or totally indifferent to the trauma and persecutions faced by these refugees.
However, as mentioned above, there are silver linings in this dreary situation, by looking at the positive message portrayed by the actions of various countries. Apart from Germany and Scandinavia, whilst the government reaction was otherwise abysmal, general public welcomed the Syrian refugees with a lot more generosity. Despite a large part of the population in every country being sceptical about migrants, a considerably large part of the population in every country in Western Europe welcomed the refugees with open arms and went to great lengths to help them. Starting from a welcome message of solidarity across football stadiums to people sending necessity goods to the refugees in their van driving a thousand kilometres — the extent of help received was spellbinding. Apart from the general public, the charities and non-profit organisations have been tirelessly working to provide basic necessities such as water, tents, warm clothes, medicines. In the UK, wherever the right-wing groups attempted to convene a rally opposing the intake of refugees, their malicious voices were doused by considerably large contingents of the liberal members of the society, the #refugeeswelcome movement filled in the entire Trafalgar square with equal spontaneity as it did in the social media. Whilst Western Europe is still ignorant on other refugees waiting for months, even years, in the camps in Calais, the aids extended to the Syrian refugees will certainly provide more impetus on other countries around the world. Despite being in a much weaker economic situation, a parallel could be observed in the subcontinent during past few decades, where the Bengali society in the Indian part of Bengal has long been supporting all the refugees coming from eastern part presently known as Bangladesh. As I witnessed throughout my life, despite the cultural dissimilarities, the members of the society created a space common to all, making everyone equally welcome.
So, what will happen to the millions of refugees, uprooting themselves from the land of their origin, setting off to a far-flung place? Will our ever-expanding horizon of knowledge and humanity eradicate the utterly unfair marginalisation of the unfortunate refugees? Will the precursors to the forced human movement across the globe be eliminated, so the existential migration become an antiquated phenomenon? Part of the answer is held in history. Looking back in history, it paints the most optimistic picture of the crisis. History is the greatest leveller. In essence, it proved the Darwinian theory of survival of the fittest, whilst creating a human race superior to the previous generations. The human race, since time immemorial, has fought many battles for survival and it became stronger with every conquest. Old civilizations perish away whilst the new ones flourish. The melting pot of the Syrian refugee crisis — the Middle-East, has once been the prosperous place where the entire western and Indic population originated from – Assyria, Persia, Mesopotamia, Sumer – these places have been decimated to rubbles. The past glory of Roman and Greek empire faded away over thousands of years. Now, Greece is a state asking for handouts from the IMF whilst Italy is not far behind. On the other hand, the rise of the East in the recent past was phenomenal, after a long hiatus. And during all these periods, human civilisation never stalled, and it survived. There is already a tendency for the skilled workforce to be emigrating to the East from the western world, contrary to the trend observed previously. Although this is not overwhelming, the movement is palpable. As for the refugees, who are forced to migrate influenced by other determinants, the biggest obstacle amongst their way is religion and illiteracy. And the lack of wealth. Even in the 21st century, we are divided as we have been 2000 years ago. Unless the UN plays a big part in bringing all countries under one umbrella and have a holistic plan on how to tackle the problems globally, the situation will take a long time to stabilise. The UN motion in recent past to eradicate ISIL was a landmark step forward to reinstate some balance and equilibrium in the Middle-East and North Africa, the source of the biggest refugee crisis. The answer lies with us, the rest of the world. If we play a role of mere spectators, this will take decades if not centuries to stabilise and elevate the living standards of millions of refugees. Those who survived the perilous passage to a safe abode, their life has just begun after passing through the numerous barbed wire fences we call borders, overcoming the threats of sea, deserts and mountains. Their new life perhaps consists of a suitcase full of clothes and a heart full of hope — hope to make a new beginning.
Human migration is a tour de force, an unavoidable phenomenon. This is how the world is shaped to the world we live in — a connected entity from pockets of civilisations sprouting at different corners of the earth since prehistoric times. Migration has taught us to be resilient against all adversities — natural or human. It taught us to be adaptive, to innovate and evolve. We pushed our boundaries with every voyage made, every new land found, every civilisation formed. Remembering a documentary about the Sentinelese people, bolstered the fact that if the first humans did not migrate, we would still be living in Stone Age— being hunter-gatherers. Not blinkered by countries or religions – these tales of eternal explorative nature of the human race makes us proud of our lineage. Although the persecutions suffered by the refugees are inhuman, their stories are not short of a modern-day version of the fairy tales, exemplifying their grit and sacrifice, their courage under fire. As much as their sufferings make us angry, and helpless, their tales rekindle our hope on humanity. It reinforced a belief that the humans will progress, eradicating all evils. Like Huns or Nazis, ISIL will be history, intolerance will be history, boundaries will be history, as will our language and religion — following the path of human development. We will not witness any more lifeless Aylan Kurdi’s floating ashore. This fills us with hope for a better tomorrow, for we are the perpetual nomads. We can stand together for the refugees, as we are the migrants ourselves. Ignoring this would be tantamount to abnegating our human existence.
Post Script: If one ever wonders how they could support refugees in their locality or remotely, the options are limitless. Perhaps the short list below would provide some ideas on how they can be helped and showed solidarity and compassion.
They need essential supplies – food, clothes, sanitation. Send money or buy items they require.
Preferably use charities or non-profit organisations for sending money, and GiftAid it to make the contributions bigger.
Send used clothes through charities.
If possible, do volunteering work in shelters.
Donate books for children, and toys.
Share the spare room to house a refugee until they are offered asylum.
Sign petitions for the governments to act on them and spread awareness on social media.
The last but not the least, if you cannot do any of the above, at least show solidarity towards the refugees as fellow human beings. They might not be aware of cultures and custom of your country yet, and with the trauma of being uprooted, it takes a long time to acclimatise. Be courteous to them at social surroundings when you come across the refugees, and be patient. A smile can make a massive difference in how welcome they feel to your society.