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Pride and prejudice: In UK, South Asians as estranged as ever

  • Rohit Mahajan
    Indians and Pakistanis and Bangladeshis have brought their prejudices and centuries-old petty fights over belief and ethnicity and language to the UK. This is an English summer of discontent, marked by fear of terror and a hotly-contested general election. There’s also the Champions Trophy, with four out of eight teams coming from the Indian Subcontinent. The debates and arguments among the immigrants of the three South Asian nations have been enlivened and even embittered by the cricket. The conversations in the stands, outside the grounds or on way to the stadiums show this.
    “Eighty per cent of the Pakistanis of the UK are bad people,” says B Ahmed, a Birmingham resident whose parents migrated from Bangladesh, when it was part of the united Pakistan, in the 1960. That’s a stunning number, and an equally stunning generalisation about a very diverse Pakistani expat population. When challenged, Ahmed sticks to his view. “You just read the reports in the media,” says Ahmed, 50-year-old, who’s dabbled in various professions and currently runs a taxi business. “I’m personally aware of many cases of fraud, swindling, drug-running and benefits-cheating done by Pakistani-origin people. A 65-year-old Birmingham man of Pakistani origin I knew, who seemed very religious, was arrested and sentenced for 18 years for dealing in drugs. Then you must have read about child grooming gangs as well… These Pakistani people are bringing a bad name to Muslims and South Asians in general.”
    He likes Indians. “Most of them are from educated and cultured background, focus on education and are law-abiding people,” says Ahmed.
    80 per cent?
    But come on — 80 per cent of the Pakistani people are bad? Isn’t that a very biased and unfair assessment? Ahmed then talks about the “atrocities” committed by the Pakistani Army in what was East Pakistan, in the 1960s and immediately before what he proudly calls the “War of Independence” of 1971.
    Ahmed is willing to negotiate on the “80 percent” figure. “Maybe it’s 70 percent,” he says, and refuses to revise it.
    We meet another Bangladeshi immigrant, Bilal. He’s a fan of Pakistan and doesn’t like India too much. “India has bad relations with its immediate neighbours,” he says. “There is tension with Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. The Indian government, unfortunately, is more busy trying to protect cows than working on building better relations with Pakistan and Bangladesh.”
    Love from India
    An Indian fan, hearing this, can’t remain quiet. “Most Bangladeshis I know are grateful that India saved their country’s people from the genocide being committed by Pakistani Army,” he says.
    “Yes, I don’t deny that India helped the people of Bangladesh, but India had a vested interest in breaking up Pakistan,” responds Bilal, and then drops the K word: “As for helping Bangladeshis, if India was really so keen about democratic processes, why don’t they allow the democratic process in Kashmir?”
    Then ensues an argument that, it seems, will never be resolved. The Bangladeshi talks about the promise of plebiscite made by Jawaharlal Nehru, the Indian talks about the elections that have taken place in J&K for over six decades. It’s clear the two are never ever going to see eye-to-eye with each other.
    Indian angle
    Ashfaque Islam, a soft-spoken Indian IT engineer in his mid-20s, reveals something very curious. “Many Pakistani Muslims I know prefer to call themselves Indians,” he says.
    Why would they do that? “So many times, terror attacks made in the West are traced back to Pakistan,” says Islam. “They could be done by men from Pakistan, or the perpetrators could have visited Pakistan and got radicalised or trained there.” Incidentally, one of the two terrorists who killed seven persons in the London Bridge attack in the weekend was Khuram Shazad Butt, a Pakistan-born Briton.
    We meet two Indians having a drink and enjoying the horrible end of Pakistan’s innings from a high-priced stand next to the press box at Edgbaston in Birmingham. “Pakistanis? I know many who are very nice, but a large number of them are unwilling to assimilate here,” says Neeraj. “Many of them are radicalised and hate the Western culture and values.”
    His companion, Bal, adds snidely, with reference to a large number of Pakistani-owned taxi businesses in the UK: “They’re good only to drive us home after the game!” That’s a very uncharitable comment and reeks of bigotry, but bigotry is a significant part of the South Asian experience in the UK.

About Jatin Kamboj