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Indians in Britain: Aspiring and achieving against all odds with integrity

by Krishan Ralleigh

One of the legacies of the British Empire has been the presence of almost 3million people from the Indian sub-continent who have made Britain their home. A vast majority of them did not enter the country either as asylum seekers or illegal immigrants. As a member of the British Commonwealth of Nations, they were entitled to come to Britain for further studies or starting their business if they were rich enough. In the sixties and early seventies, the immigration to Britain was mainly for economic reasons. Britain needed cheap labour for its post-war developing economy; and young graduates in India and Pakistan facing underemployment at home due to stagnant economy and turmoil of the partition of their country, were keen to explore new opportunitiesin a new world in Europe and the USA. Britain, because of its recent historic association, was naturally the first port of call.

It was, by no means, an easy transition. The young Indians did not realize the depth of racial prejudice among common British people. Imperial arrogance within the British Establishment and academia was too (icily) ingrained to melt away within a couple of decades of decolonisation. Such attitudes of the host community played havoc with the psyche and self esteem of many Indian graduates who in stead of landing jobs in their chosen profession had to work at the bottom level in factories, post offices, railways or wherever there was shortage of labour. Some ventured into small businesses of corner shops, market stallholders or buying low cost properties for letting to new immigrants at exorbitant rates.

These early settlers from the sub-continent could now be acclaimed as pioneers. They were resourceful, patient and extremely hard working. They held their jobs while studying to get British qualifications or took over ailing businesses of their retiring employers. A few ventured in local and national politics.

Almost thirty years on, their aspirations and hard work have resulted in personal achievements which have also contributed to enrichment of various aspects of British life. The Indo-Brit today is brimming with self-confidence, financially secure, proud of his heritage and his achievement as a British citizen. Living in a vibrant democracy, the integrated Indians participate with enthusiasm in local and national political process, raise funds for charitable causes in Britain and help their own country of origin while ensuring that they give best start in life to their children.

The recent elevation of two industrious Indo-Brits to the House of Lords, Karan Bilimoria from London and Sandip Verma from Leicester, has given further impetus to this sense of achievement among the Indian community. The unpleasant and racial outbursts encountered by Shilpa Shetty, the Indian actor and participant in the ‘Big Brother’, a reality programme on channel four, culminated in the victory of good over evil. The message is clear. The Indian community in Britain will not tolerate any discrimination based on race or religion.

High aspirations, either in an individual or a community, are the fount of ensuing fulfilment in life and are worth achieving. Accumulating billions without contributing to the community and the country where you belong is sheer greed. Achieving power, and not using that power to make society fair and equitable is ego gone astray. Aspiring to achieve with integrity, in whatever field, is the sine quo non of any worthy achievement. Indians have been imbibed with this message by their cultural heritage; and which Mahatma Gandhi supported and acted upon. in his own way. It is the means that justify the ends and not the vice versa.

Sadly, real life circumstances are often more complicated than that. Today’s India is pulsating with new confidence and sense of imminent success. Economic prosperity is within her reach. It is about time that we start realising the importance of integrity, honesty and incorruptibility. Starting with individual and family and leading to the nation, inequity and corruption should never be taken as an inevitable part of life; but as an obstacle in the way of achieving a fair and just society with economic prosperity for all.

Such an achievement will bring closer the Indians in India and the Indians in Britain. Mutual respect will bring economic benefits and social cohesion. The dilemma of dual nationality will be resolved. Thousands of Indo-Brits will be having second homes in India. Businesses will flow both ways, strengthening both the economies. The second generation of Indo-Brits will be proudly holidaying and exploring different parts of that vast country which their parents and grand parents had left a long while ago. Already the trend can be seen in Gujarat and Punjab, the two forward-looking states of India which Indo-Brits are frequently visiting and making an impact on the local economy and social mores and local traditions of the people there. The process must spread to other states as well in due course. West Bengal is in a quagmire. Uttar Pradesh and Bihar have become the laughing stock among politically conscious Indo-Brits.

The haemorrhage that is being inflicted on Sri Lanka by her own people is a matter of sadness and dismay. Indian government does not seem to have any policy towards resolving this emaciating dispute in the neighbouring territory.

Political process in Pakistan is in shambles. Bangladesh is again under military rule. All these matters are of great concern to Indo-Brits because we, from a distance, can see the vulnerability of the Indian democracy threatened by the feeble and unstable neighbouring States. India has to work out an effective ways of supporting democratic forces in these countries. India’s economic prosperity and democratic stability will remain fragile unless Pakistan and Bangladesh also share that prosperity and stability.

Such are our aspirations. We will continue to work in order to achieve them with integrity.

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