Image source from: https://www.theguardian.com
- Chayya Syal
This week’s blog is one which I have been wanting to write for a number of months now. It’s an issue I feel so strongly about, but am painfully aware of the consequences it may have, which is why I so often kept telling myself to not write it.
As a writer, and a journalist, I am bound by something innate to talk about difficult issues and share stories which may unsettle people. I’ve even received death threats and threats to my loved ones for doing this. The reason why I don’t stop, is because it highlights a need for change. If I stop, they win and we don’t see/hear the stories of those who so desperately need to be heard.
It is never easy to criticise one’s culture; especially if you are of South Asian descent as I am. It’s not in our collective mindset to challenge elders, religious leaders, scholars or theology: it’s viewed as a sign of disrespect and those who don’t conform get shamed or ostracised.
I care about the culture that I come from; it’s the fertile soil which has allowed me to thrive in a nation where I am miles away from where my ancestry began.
I care about the culture which runs through my veins, so much so, that I am prepared to write a blog which could piss a lot of people off. But what I see happening across the quilt of South Asian communities concerns me enough to feel unsettled.
Today’s bunch of South Asians across the world are louder, prouder and browner than ever before.
In comparison to older generations, today’s bunch of South Asians across the world are louder, prouder and browner than ever before. But it is naive to think that such gains have not come without a cost. And it’s a cost which none of us have really foreseen.
We are now seeing levels of extremism pop up in the most unlikeliest of communites. I guess I can describe as a quiet hum which is eventually getting louder, as more and more voices join it.
For example, a self-defense programme has been set up in Uttar Pradesh, India by Hindu nationalist group Bajrang Dal for Hindus to participate in. I’m all for self-defense and being able to protect yourself, but when a group states that the purpose of this camp is to ward off ‘the enemy,’ without clearly stating who that enemy is, then we have to start asking questions.
Similarly, the debate which Mehdi Hasan challenged Ram Nadhav (former spokesman for the RSS) about the rise of neo-fascism in India is cause for concern in Diasporic Asians. You can watch it here – it’s from last year, which proves that this discussion is very much needed today.
Some readers may pause and think: “Why has she picked on Hindus? Everyone always picks on Hindus! She must be a Hindu-hater and hate her Indian heritage!” Do you see how we can’t even comment on our cultures and religions without being damned?
During my uni days, I was once called a Sikh-killer in broad daylight by a British Sikh man, because he believed that my non-Sikh family were responsible for the events of 1984. Despite the fact that my entire family have been in East Africa for the last three-four generations!
It broke my heart. To actually experience Asians turning against each other in a heartbeat
The reason why a wave of extremism and right-wing thinking in Diasporic South Asian communities (across all faiths) deeply concerns me, is because we’ve got a shared history where being united has allowed us to thrive and survive in the UK.
There are people out there, who will have you believe that there is greater freedom in being divided. I wish I was joking, but I’m not, because this way of thinking has more or less seeped into many pockets of the wider societies and countries that we live in.
When it comes to addressing extremism in South Asian communities, the first one that we all point to are Muslims. It’s the most obvious point of call and living in a post-9/11 world which is racked with austerity, it’s not a complete surprise to see South Asians keen to separate themselves from the Muslim community and Islamophobic attacks.
The irony here, of course, is that we all are still targeted because of our physical appearances: brown skin, dark hair and ‘funny’ sounding names. Therefore this deliberate act of separation is a waste of time and collective energy. Yet there are still so many South Asians across the Diaspora who partake in this type of behaviour.
Post-Brexit, social media has been flooded with the number of Asians who have been racially abused and attacked. Considering how divided we currently are, I can’t see the former unity and solidarity that Asians showed to one another in the 1970s,80s and 90s making an appearance.
For most Diasporic Asians, we’ve acted like sponges and simply absorbed ways of thinking which do not seek to help us evolve and progress. We have become individualistic and now operate in social silos, without realising that we are all inter-connected. If someone falls, we all tumble down too.
If we are unable to talk about the good, the bad and the ugly in ALL of our cultures, our societies and the state of the countries that we live in, then we have truly failed as human beings. And I’m not one to lose faith or hope so easily in us.
This post first appeared on Chayya Syal’s blog ‘Avid Scribbler’.