Questions about Racism, Immigration

By shirishag75

I can’t believe it’s been almost a year since I wrote the blog post about Racism . While that one was in response to Russel’s post about a year back, this one is about the cowardly attack on the 50 odd and rising people died in the racist attack in New Zealand few days back. While I knew things were and charged with Trump and the right or/and alt right is rising in Europe as well but didn’t know that the fire had spread through Australia and New Zealand as well. And before people point fingers, it isn’t as if India is any better in the current circumstances. I came to know of the news on twitter where a gentleman named Khaled Beydoun broke the story . I had not been well the day before hence after work had just slept and woke mid-afternoon. I usually freshen myself but that day either due to laziness or whatever, I opened and was shocked when I read the news on twitter. My eyes, brain must have not properly woken up as I urged Khaled, along with many others to share the stories of the victims so people might know about them. In India, it has been more or less characterised as something to celebrate with slogans like ’50 would-be terrorists slain’ and such nonsense, I did feel it was part of some larger scheme as then also heard that the shooter had a webcam and live-streamed the whole thing on Facebook. Around the same time or a little later, also came to know about Senator Fraser Anning who talked about ‘White Australia’ . The idea behind ‘White Australia’ has been mirrored by the Right in Poland today/yesterday.

Immigration

The idea is similar in many ways to what Brexiteers told to people living in Britain. In essence we see the following characteristics –

a. Immigrants are the problem of all problems – While time and again has shown that Immigrants have been the source of growth in all developed countries, they are still able to get that particular message across. We had movies like Pathemari from South and fortunately or unfortunately many more movies on the same subject pursued in Hollywood. Some of the movies which I have enjoyed and have also found challenging are Moscow on the Hudson, (one of the best performances given by Robin Williams, The Immigrant , Man Push Cart, The Namesake (the Novel first and then the Movie) , Brooklyn , Sugar and many more. To distill down, all the movies, it comes to a singular fact, we love the place where we are born. We learn the taste, the smell, the culture and are assimilated by it long before we know it. It is only when people go to a different place whether to visit or to live as an immigrant that a dissonance is created and people spend their whole lives trying to fix the dissonance somehow.

In fact, I know at least 10-15 friends and family personally who have been forced into being Economic migrants for life, many of them into IT or Information Technology or business. While I may have shared this pattern before, just a few months back, (without taking names), a friend of mine wound up going back to States. He had made good money in States, is and was at a high post, had made enough money to buy a bungalow in Pune. He sent resumes from United States to Indian companies in and around Pune where they promised him comparative earnings, But when he was back in the excuse of being with the family i.e. father, mother, sister et al he found that they were promising him now half or 1/3rd of what they had promised him before. And this is without any of the benefits which he was enjoying in States. His wife is also from Pune, India and a working professional. In the end, he had to sell his bungalow and say a tearful bye to his parents and sister. This is the case in almost all of Kothrud. I may have shared about Kothrud before. This is a place around 5-6 kms. from my place, where thousands of parents are living a good life as their children are abroad. They feel good that the children are earning good, but many or most of them miss the human touch, the love and care that children can give. There are now non-profits and even the police who do try to care of the old and the aged but there is only so much they can do.

Why people leave, the Brain Drain and Politics in India

Just to share some facts about the Indian Industry, the Indian Government has several plans and schemes on paper, but most of them are unworkable in real life. They have fallen flat as Startup India and ‘Make in India‘ which have been reduced to being mere logos within India. In fact, almost all economic indicators are at a record low. While except for mobiles, most electronic products are stalling, even Cars and Bikes sales which are known as bell-weathers of how the Indian Economy is doing tells the story well. In fact, the current stats. of unemployment should raise a cause of concern. The story does have political colors as now it has come to light that RBI had advised against demonetisation before it was announced and now we are fully into election mode. There is and was China-bashing without realizing we need them as we have no alternatives and even no plan. There have been accusations being made against Pandit Nehru for giving the UNSC seat without understanding the politics behind it. While I of course, need to read more of history, it does point to the fact that if Pandit Nehru had taken the seat, then India would have had war with China in 1955 rather than 1962 when it did. The reason I shared the above is at least most of the problems in India are of its own making, or at the very least, its leaders, the same I fear could possibly be said of many countries.

A hypothesis

There are couple of other painful truths which I feel we don’t want to face, we are all migrants if we believe and support the hypothesis and observation that anthropologists have made about Homosapiens, to the extent as to where they were found and how migration happened over generations. By the same coin, an argument can be made that all of us have our hands bloody. Either in the recent or waaay in the past, the history we don’t know, we either wilfully or tacitly killed whatever was native to each land, whether it was humans or nature itself.

Reasoning for fear of Immigration

b. Nationalism will solve all the problems – There is this wide-spread belief that either ultra-nationalism, or being ultra-whatever will solve all problems. It took more than 200 years for the separation between the church and the State if you read the article on Wikipedia and look up some of the links they have mentioned therein and less than 5 years with help of technology to try to have them together. The idea of one race, one thought has been peddled before and it has resulted into untold destruction. and there is no evidence to point that it will be anything different today.

c. The main crux though of the matter though is probably Immigration and jobs, security – This is where the actual fight is. Most people believe that the natural-born should have some sort of entitlement, more than the Immigrants and that Immigrants get favors which from at least my reading has not been true at all. One point though, I am talking about Economic Migrants here and NOT migrants who end up elsewhere from where they are due to war, famine, natural calamities. For such people who are the unluckiest because they are not in charge of their fates I have no clue as it is much more complex than Economic migrants. Any solutions should have humanitarian focus but is easily pulled into politics as has been seen in India and potentially is the same for other countries as well. It is very much possible that at some future date, we may find India culpable in Rohingya genocide if that becomes the case. This reminds me very much of the Komagata Maru incident in which Indians died and the Canadian PM later apologized.

There was only one advertisement from some European freezing country (climate-wise) which said they will provide or give a house to whoever migrates there (have forgotten the name of the country) but in most countries Immigrants have quite a number of issues. Last year when trying to understand about Taiwan, came to know about immigration issues within Taiwan, much of which is espoused quite nicely in the recent issue of thediplomat. I would venture other countries would have similar issues. I had shared before when I visited Qatar and came to know that in almost all Middle-east countries Indians and people from the sub-continent have a work visa and in many ways they are bonded labourers. Only last year they have made some changes. After coming back to India, Pune I was able to ask and know from many people both in Pune and elsewhere and all of them had similar stories to share. I remember reading some article about immigration laws to Australia in which it was said that if a doctor trained in India were to migrate to Australia, he would have to go through the residency period all over again. That would add another 5-7 years for learning medicine again when s(he) could have been helping. This was shared not just in the article but also shared by personal experiences of few friends and people I met, casually had a chat and so on.

Why not Ban Immigration At all

If Immigration is such an issue why not ban it ? The New Scientist ran a series of articles on the same topic couple of years ago. While I would recommend to read them all, the best one which resounded within me was this one . I had a coincidence to meet quite a few doctors, nurses etc. during my travels, also when I was ill in the hospital. My landlord too was a Doctor who served all his life in UK in NHS . While we have somewhat of a quarrel-some relationship due to renter and rentee, he has shared lot about NHS in Britain. Interestingly, lot of his colleagues were from India, apparently close to 30-40% of the doctors and nurses are from India. The same I have heard about Gulf Countries as well. There are also articles by Rukhsana Khan, I especially liked the article in which she shares about immigration in Canada which I found to be quite interesting. The comments much more so as it tells how much as a species we have yet to grow.

The Positives

While the cost has been high, there has been a net positive as far as inclusiveness for New Zealand is concerned. Jacinda Ardern, the world’s youngest female leader, as shared by Economist had been forthright, critical and called it a terrorist attack. This must have been really difficult for Jacinda to do politically especially when you see her background as shared by Economist, the reasons people chose her. But this is what leaders are expected to do, to lead and not be predictable. This is something our great leader has not been able to. The whole world has commended her for the way she has managed to lead, both with grace and empathy. While I did see some people commenting on her need to use the hijab, most people have complimented her for the way she communicated and foremore, bringing restriction to gun ownership esp. in automated rifles . This is something that United States has failed to do despite so many killings which have taken place 😦

While the post has turned to be long there are still many feelings yet to be expressed, the first one is from a person of whose work I am a fan of and make no bones about it –

TL;DR: The effects of the rise of right wing populism are not dramatic and visible. Often they just involve an excruciating micronegotiation of your body and its place in geographies of suspicion. Do you know what happens when you wear skin and body of suspicion? In a country that overnight feels hostile because of an abhorrent act of terrorism, and an election that exercised the democratic will of bringing into power a fundamental extremist political party, you scan your everyday modes of being. The routines and ruts of habitual living suddenly become unfamiliar, suspect, alien. You take on the double weight of the loss and grief of the victims and the shame and repentance of the perpetrator. You inherit pity and terror of the tragedy with no catharsis. And you see yourself change. Instantaneously.

1. You find yourself smiling more. Whenever you are in public, you make an extra effort to smile at strangers, to convince them that the bag on your shoulders only has your laptop and no other weapon.

2. When you see the increased security, you try to look small, wrapped up in a shrug, to convince the scrutinizing gaze that you are not a menace.

3. When you sit on the train you realise that you sit differently. Not taking as much space, Keeping all your limbs to yourself, breathing in self-defence.

4. Your phone vibrates while you are sitting in the train. It is your mom. You wonder if you should take the call, and speak in your heathen tongue, and if it will offend or alarm people around you.

5. You hear the couple sitting next to you, peering over a train time-table and trying to figure out where they should change trains. You pause for a long moment before you give them advice in a language that you only speak brokenly.

6. You pretend not to notice the raised eyebrows when you betray your outsider status by speaking the local language clumsily, and accept the reluctant thanks before trying to hide behind your phone.

7. You are hungry. There is a lunch box in your bagpack. It is the left-over curry from dinner last night. You hesitate opening it lest the smells of your food bring forth a reaction that you might not be able to digest.

8. As you walk to the building where you have a meeting, you see a group of people drinking beer and being loud, and you instinctively scan to see if there is another entrance into the building that you can detour to.

9. You find solidarity in the people who are angry and in shock at this changed electoral and cultural trend in their country. They lament about how things are going bad. You don’t join them and instead spend all your effort in assuring them that you do not blame them, that you are happy to have them as friends and colleagues; you swallow your feeling of vague dread and spend time consoling them about the fate of things to come.

10. You meet a friend. You sit in a café and talk. You see a small group of people in their older whateveragebrackets pointedly looking at you and looking away when you catch their eye. When you see it happening more than once, you talk your friend into going somewhere else. When asked why, you say, ‘this is just so loud’.

11. You sit through an academic discussion. People are talking about vulnerability and safety. Care and creativity show up. The smart, insightful, and inspiring conversations develop, surrounded by plenty and privilege. You drone out because you remember the 5 refugees that you are counselling, who have sent you messages that given the current political climate, they want to drop out of their education development programme. Now is not a good time to be visible, one 19 year old has said.

12. You enter the central station and realise that you are going to have to sprint to the train. You are used to this. But today you walk measured footsteps even though you are going to miss the train. You don’t want to be running in your body, on a late evening train station. You miss the train and wait in the cold wind plucking at your cheeks, for the next one that takes you home.

13. On the ride back, you compose your face in rehearsed pleasantness. You wear your Asian niceness on your cheeks. The tiredness of the day has no place on your face. You are good, you are not a threat, you are acceptable.

14. You put on your headphones and are going to switch to the usual Bollywood mix that you listen to when you walk home. Before you do that, you remove the headphones and play the music. You are checking to see if the music is too loud, and seeping out of the headphones, betraying its ethnicity in its foreign cadences. You lower the volume and decide to play an American pop mix anyway.

15. You walk home on routine routes when you see three people walking behind you. It is a public space. It is your everyday route home. There are people around. You slow down to let them pass. You find comfort in the bagpack snuggling your back, like an armour.

16. You are fumbling for your keys at the entrance of the building. Somebody walks out of the door at the same time. You are happy not to be fishing for keys, so you ask them to hold the door and scurry up inside. The person asks where you want to go. You tell them you live here. You have never seen each other. You nod, wanting to get home. You get out of the slow elevator and from around the corner you see the person from downstairs looking at you. She has taken the stairs to see you safe home.

17. You enter home and even before you have taken off the bag, or the double layers of coats on your shoulder, you feel a weight come off your shoulders. You stretch to your full height. You breathe deeply. In the solace of solitude, you feel the layers of the day strip off. You head into a warm shower and wash all the gazes that have scorched your body. You step out. While drying in front of the misty mirror., you realise that if this continues, it will soon become habit. When your body is a question, you live like an apology. And these are the experiences of a life that is well shielded, protected, and supported by privilege, mobility, work, health, communities of love and trust, and money. So for anybody who is more precarious this must be amplified multiple times. If you know somebody who feels that they are bodies and skins of suspicion, now you know the cruel algebra of life that they are constantly solving. If somebody tells you they are worried, anxious, feeling afraid because of what this populist verdict has delivered, don’t downplay their dread. It is theirs. Let them work through it. You cannot change it by merely offering your love and care. It helps, but this is not a personal question of feelings – it is a structural problem of survival. Their experience is not an accusation towards you. It is merely an apology for themselves. You might not have voted for this to happen. But you are still a part of the system, and the only way out of this is for us to challenge the normalization of hatred and violence.

https://nishantshah.online/ , Nishant Shah , Academic, Educator, Researcher and Annotator, Netherlands.

As shared by Nishant, while I have not met him, have had the privilege to have read many of the articles penned by him many a times in Indian Express and other places. We also have managed to near-miss each other even though I have been to Bangalore quite a number of times to CIS when he was part of CIS . Also this is not just about what he experienced and what many other people who are foreigners or migrants feel, it is also to shed a light to all those who think of migration as the geese which lays the golden goose but forget the cost.

The other is one of my favorite lyricist, poet, writer who made many marriages happen and also likely to bear the cross for the same (from either husbands or wives) Miyan Javed Akhtar Sahab –

To speak of that which everyone is fearful, of that you must write
The night was never so dark ever before, write!

Throw away the pens with which you wrote the odes
In praise of the true pen dipped in the heart’s blood, write!

The narrow circles that confine you, break all of them
Come under the open skies now, of a new creation, write!

That which finds no place in the daily newspapers
That incident which happens everywhere every day, write!

That which has happened finds mentions
But of those that should have happened, write!

If you wish to see spring return to this garden
Call out from every branch and on every leaf, write!

Written by Miyan Javed Akhtar Sahab, translated by Rakshanda Jalil for scroll.in where it first appeared digitally to my knowledge.