4 Things British Asians should know about UKIP

Political issues series: 'Euro-sceptic' concept, with EU letteri

It’s fair to say there are not many who would simply dismiss UKIP as just “fruitcakes and loonies” any more as David Cameron once put it. They are a serious political threat to the three main established parties. With their anti-immigration policies and perceived dislike of foreigners, their policies are also of concern for Black and minority ethnic communities.

Here are some things to consider about the rise and rise of UKIP.

  1. They are going for the popularist vote

An overburdened NHS, more jobs for British people, student grants, even keeping GP surgeries open for longer, UKIP have simply identified the things that get us all riled up- and built a shopping list of policies around them.

Though they are yet to fully form the platform on which they will fight next year’s general election, in the past they were really known for a few key political issues, including seeing Britain withdraw from the EU and an end to “mass uncontrolled immigration.” The rest of their policies now seem to be simply picking up on our discontent over a range of socio-economic issues. This is partly why they have been criticised by the main political parties as having no real policies. And interestingly whilst they position themselves as returning to right wing policies, their stance on student grants is a typical left wing policy, showing that they swing from the political right to left to suit public opinion.

 

  1. Some immigrants support them

It’s completely counter-intuitive for someone who has benefited from the UK’s immigration laws to support a party who seeks to seriously curb immigration. And yet those supporters do exist.

UKIP wants all immigrants trying to enter the UK to be able to speak English, have NHS approved, private healthcare in place, and must have a job already in place. It would seem that they are looking to put as many restrictions in place as possible for foreigners to enter the UK. So why would ethnic minorities support their immigration policies?

One theory put forward is that new immigrants entering the UK would threaten the employment prospects of the existing migrant community. Another is the ‘little islander’ mentality: once you’re in, you want to keep others out who would tarnish the reputation of all immigrant communities as well as take jobs and housing and so on. Whatever the reason, don’t be fooled into thinking that UKIP supporters are all Tory, BNP and EDL defectors or any other right wing British people. It seems that UKIP supporters do come in all colours.

 

  1. They could usher in a whole new language

Do you remember in the 80’s when it was acceptable to call disabled people ‘spastics’? There were playground jokes about them, there was even a bona fide charity called the Spastics Society. (They have since changed their name to Scope). The term was discarded in the late 90’s as it was seen as unkind and not politically correct.

UKIP don’t believe in political correctness, arguing that it hinders freedom of speech. They are appealing to those who feel political correctness has gone mad. What does this mean for race relations? What language and terminology around Black and Asian people, women, the disabled, the gay community to name just a few minority groups will once again be acceptable under a UKIP government?

 

  1. The bigger threat is the growing number of UKIP supporters

While their policies are worrying, infuriating, perhaps even offensive to some, the bigger worry I believe is the growing amount of support that UKIP has garnered. I find it hard to believe that there are people I come into contact with every day that would support UKIP. But there are. The party’s appeal is growing, and aside from their grassroots supporters, many of these people are those who have either been swept up by their popularist approach to politics or a dissatisfaction with the main political parties. Whatever we might say about their shopping list of policies there’s no doubt that they’ve tapped into public feeling in our midst- and that worries me more than UKIP itself.

The 5 People You Need to Know  

5 people

 

Do you remember at high school when you had one group of friends that you hung out with- constantly? You did everything together, went everywhere together, dressed the same, used the same lingo. They were your whole world and defined so much about who you were.

Much as I love those friends (who are still in my life) my horizons have broadened since those days! We all pick up friends along the way don’t we? Former work colleagues, school mums, neighbours, gym buddies, friends of our other halves…

But one thing I’ve found with these different friends and even different groups, is that lately they each seem to meet a different need in my life. Whether its professional support or girly chats, here are the five women that we should all have in our lives to help us become well-rounded individuals:

1. The Mum- Figure

This might actually be your mum, or someone else who fills a maternal role in your life. She’s the person who you go to when life is all a bit too much.  She gets your world view and most importantly knows you really well. She’ll make you a cup of tea, bring you tissues and helps you re-focus and see the bigger picture once again. Yes sometimes her advice might cut to the bone, but…..in the end she’s usually right!

2. The Career Mentor

I’m a big believer in mentors both having one and being one.  She will usually be someone from your industry who gets your vision and sees your potential to achieve it. Her industry knowledge and experience are ahead of yours so she can steer you in the right direction when making career decisions. She won’t be a shoulder to cry on- this is a purely professional relationship, but she will be sympathetic to your life challenges and how they hinder you reaching your professional goals. Think of her as the sixth form careers advisor but for real life!

3. The Intellectual Equal

Different from your career mentor, this is a friend who is on an intellectual and academic par with you, and usually shares the same interests and passions. Your coffee dates are made up of sharing new ideas, perhaps specific to your sector or area of interest and you bounce ideas off of each other. The phrase “iron sharpens iron” comes to mind here as she is the one who challenges you on your new ideas and gets you to refine them.

4. The Listener

The next time you’re in a public place, just observe (discreetly!) how effectively people listen to each other, even in a one- on- one scenario. You’ll notice that they don’t. We interrupt each other constantly: to state our opinion or our response, or come in with another line of thinking. In short, we’re talking but not being heard. We all need someone who will not only listen, but hear where we’re coming from-without interrupting you and crucially, without making it about them. This is where the old adage “ a problem shared is a problem halved “ comes into its own here, as The Listener allows you to unburden yourself. She does share some crossover with The Mum-Figure and perhaps will give you some advice too, but really she is someone who will listen to you without judgement.

5. The Girlfriend

This is the friend, or group who you really laugh with. I mean belly laugh, gonna- be- sick, might- wet- yourself laugh with.  What’s most important about them is that they help you connect with a part of yourself that is completely outside of your day to day roles of responsibility. With these women you’re no longer a mum, a wife, a teacher, a recruitment officer….you’re just you. They allow you to let your hair down and just be who you are- without having to play a role or meet any expectations. They’re you’re best friends, sisters, shopping buddy, partners in crime. Enjoy them, hang on to them and invest in them as they’re the friends who will be with you when a relationship ends or someone in the family is diagnosed with cancer. They are your bridesmaids and the first ones to visit you in hospital when you gave birth.They’re the ones who knew you when you had bad eyebrows and bad hair but love you anyway!

***

 Don’t make the mistake of confusing these friends. You can’t go to your Intellectual Equal and expect to let your hair down. Chances are they’re not going to make you laugh or get your sense of fun the way your girlfriends do. Likewise, your Girlfriend isn’t necessarily going to give you the best professional advice in the world, but she’ll meet your need to kick back and have fun.

Of course friendships are not passive- you can’t simply be on the receiving end of these qualities all the time- it’s vital to give back and play these roles yourself.

Have I forgotten anyone in this list? Who are the women that shape your life? 

 

 

When did you realise you were Asian?

 

When did you realise you were Asian?

What do you think of when you hear the word “gorah”? Or “chav”? All labels, however crude or unkind have been defined by society. We all eventually accept our personal label: Asian; British Asian; Black Person; White Person and so on-and all the baggage it comes with. Being Asian isn’t just a case of circumstances: the family you were born into, your country of origin; and we aren’t born with an awareness of it. At some point in our lives we come to a realisation of our racial difference.

I was 7 when it hit me. We had recently moved to an all- white neighbourhood. I started school mid-way through the year so everyone else knew each other and had little friendship groups. If that wasn’t bad enough, after a couple of days of my being there some of the boys started to call me “chocolate face”. At that young age I realised they were saying this because I looked different to everyone else. They singled me out for my race because I was different to anyone they had seen before and they didn’t know what to do with that. I was mortified. And I never forgot it. I went home and realised too that my mum was different- she dressed differently to all the other mums at pick-up time. Over that year I gradually started seeing that I was different. We ate different food. My parents spoke another language. And so it began: all the ways that you see and experience racial difference.

It’s heart breaking and confusing and disappointing. You realise that inequality is all around you. And it’s not just defined by skin colour but cultural practices. Not eating a roast dinner on a Sunday. Not being allowed to go to sleepovers or the school disco or have a boyfriend.

Being different is not easy.

But then as an adult, I learnt another word to describe all this: diversity. And that’s a good word!

It’s also a buzzword that people like to band around to sound inclusive and fair minded. There are diversity awards, diversity programmes, diversity initiatives, diversity policies….

You know when you say a word over and over it loses all meaning? That.

We need to reclaim diversity so it has some meaning to us, as individuals- where it’s more than just a programme or initiative of some HR manager. Growing up, I was acutely, painfully aware that I was different to everyone else and I tried desperately to hide my racial difference- I would make up stories to sound the same as the other kids, like what we had for our Christmas dinner- as if! I know all kids just want to fit in, but I wish someone had told me it was ok to have brown skin and have parents from a different country. Because difference can be exciting and fun; and what’s more, being different is what makes us individuals rather than a herd of sheep.

And FYI, if you have a child or teenager that denies their racial heritage or identity, like I did, give them time. There will come a point when hopefully they will stop wanting to just blend in but understand a bit more about their background and their heritage. Cue you, the parent, to answer their questions and share your experiences.

So how do we reclaim diversity? Well can I suggest that ‘owning’ your racial identity is one way- rather than trying to hide it like I did. Be an individual! It’s ok to be different from the culture that surrounds you, it’s ok to even be different from other Asians.

And wear your difference with pride. Look at Pardeep Bahra Singh, founder of the fashion blog Singh Street Style- who does that quite literally. He celebrates the fact that he wears a turban through his photography. By doing so, he normalises his sense of style which is different to mainstream fashion. He makes his culture accessible to others by saying: “this is who I am and how I dress and I’m not ashamed of it.”

People of colour spend a lot of time talking about the negatives of racial difference. We focus on our negative experiences too much. It is good to share these types of stories because there’s a sense of unity that comes from that. But we must also talk about our racial differences with pride. It’s the racists and the ignorant who want us to just curl up and go away. Their vision is for a country with no multiculturalism, no diversity, they want to deny that racial difference is a reality of 21st century life. It’s up to us to reclaim it, not just to silence the bigots but to silence that inner voice that screams “you’re different, you don’t fit in, you don’t belong….”

 Share your stories of when you first realised you were Asian- and then a positive one on what you love about being Asian.

It’s time to stop being suspicious of all British Muslims

Islamophobia

This weekend, Muslim families around the world will be celebrating Eid Al Adha. There’ll be prayers, celebratory meals, presents, visiting of friends and family. Sounds pretty normal doesn’t it?

Newsflash: the Muslim community is pretty normal. Despite the talk of extremism, ISIS and air strikes, amidst the climate of suspicion and fear around them, Muslim life goes on. People go to work, raise children, go to the gym, send texts messages, check Facebook- all the things that everyone else does. Isn’t time we start remembering that? Every discussion, every headline around the Muslim community has the word “extremism” in it. Every US cop show from 24 to Blue Bloods has at one time included a story line on Al Queda and Islamic extremists. There are many who would say “there’s a reason for that”, the whole no fire without smoke thing. But all the while, Muslims all over the place are screaming at the top of their lungs “we are not all terrorists”.

The backlash to this from the Muslim community has of course been seen on Twitter and elsewhere. The #notinmyname hashtag sought to disassociate the Muslim community from terrorism and extremism, while #makingastand saw British Muslim mums doing just that against “bedroom radicalisation” of sons and daughters and “jihadi wives”. Many British Muslim teenage girls are upset over their ‘Muslim sisters’ being sucked into extremism saying they’re “sick to death of it”. Moreover, according to an article in the Telegraph, there are those who even question the mindset behind their actions: why give up the freedoms and opportunities of the West to live as an appendage to a Jihadist, they ask.

And it’s that mindset that is exactly the point. Many in the Muslim community don’t even identify with the desire to become radicalised, let alone wanting to follow in their footsteps.

Isn’t it time we start seeing British Muslims without all the suspicion? Clearly no one denies the existence of radical and militant Islamist groups like ISIS, Al Quaeda and Boko Haram. We can’t be naiive about them and simply say they are just a select minority, because they do seem to be having an impact on the wider community, with girls as young as 15 and 16 being drawn into become jihadi brides, and countless young Muslim men and boys signing up.

But for all those who are travelling to Syria and Pakistan and elsewhere to join the extremist movement, there are tens of thousands of other Muslims who live everyday normal lives like you and I.

And truth be told, it’s not just the West who view Muslims with suspicion and even contempt. There’s inter-racism within the South Asian community too. I’m not talking just about historic conflicts. Post 9/11 has been a difficult time for all Asians, with various sections of our community at one time or another being targets for ignorant racists- those idiots who think any brown skinned person carrying a backpack or wearing a long coat must be concealing a bomb. But we have to get over our prejudice and stand united as a community, as far as we can, because otherwise are simply isolating the Muslim community even further.

So this weekend, greet your Muslim neighbour, colleague, friend and say Eid Mubarak to them. Shake their hands, accept their gifts and remember that we live in a volatile world, in difficult times. It would be refreshing for just one day to forget our differences and remember that we are all human.

Sikh chic and hijab style: when fashion meets faith

Vogue called him “all brooding good looks” while the Guardian noted that he “aims to put Sikh chic on the map”. Photographer, blogger, now model Pardeep Singh Bahra has been causing a bit of a stir.

Bahra’s photography blog “Singh Street Style” started life simply capturing Sikh men who combine a unique fashion sense- tailored jackets, skinny jeans, printed t-shirts, coloured socks with that iconic Sikh symbol ,the turban. Since the blog’s launch last year, Bahra’s photography and keen eye for men’s fashion has got him noticed by mainstream fashion and national press. Impressive indeed. But not as impressive as his latest feat: becoming the face of Samsung’s Galaxy Alpha ad campaign. This latest achievement has earned him billboards including the front of the IMAX cinema in London and the front cover of the Metro.

Image Source: Samsung

Image Source: Samsung

We’re used to seeing Asian women fronting high profile global ad campaigns- such as Aishwarya Rai Bachchan for Omega watches (amongst other brands) and Frieda Pinto and Katrina Kaif as the faces of L’Oreal. We applaud seeing a non-white face in glossy magazines and outdoor billboards because we feel like we Asians are finally being represented. But with Bahra, it’s not the brown face that is of note, but the turban.

Is it just a clever marketing move on the part of Samsung? After all, it’s no secret that most Asians like their gadgets, so making a Singh the face of their latest campaign seems to make good sense. But by targeting their new product at such a niche audience, do Samsung run the risk of alienating other potential customers?

And what’s more, and perhaps more crucial, does Bahra risk offending those who see the turban as more than just a statement of fashion, or at best of Sikh pride, but as something sacred and deeply personal?  When Jean Paul Gaultier put brightly coloured turbans on his male models for his Spring/Summer 2013 collection, many Sikhs criticised him saying he was exploiting the turban for the sake of providing a bit of ‘exotic flair’ to his latest collection.

Can religious symbols therefore ever be used as a fashion statement without ticking off the deeply religious? Pardeep and his models all wear their turbans with tightly fitting clothes such as tailored jackets and skinny jeans- contrary to the loose clothing you’d see on religious Sikhs. The same goes for hijab fashion. Devout Muslims are dismissive of women who combine a stylishly wrapped hijab with figure hugging clothing which is contrary to the Muslim dress code. And yet you only have to type in “hijab style” on Pinterest to see models wearing outfits that are nipped in at the waist and show a clearly defined bust- covering up while still revealing a lot, albeit through the silhouette the outfit creates.

Religious symbols are supposed to be worn with pride to identify oneself with your faith. In an age where wearing them at all has become such a source of contention, even legal dispute, these young British Asians are displaying their faith as part of their dress sense to make a statement. “I am Singh, hear me roar” is photo exhibition of Sikh men taking place later this year in London. The exhibition will showcase both the wearing of their turbans and the beard, another symbol of male Sikhism. And you certainly can hear them roar. Far from shying away from religious identity by leaving turbans, hijabs, karas at home and not upset the tolerance police or secularists, this new generation of faith-filled yet fashion savvy British Asians are reclaiming their symbols with pride. They’re wearing them to positively identify themselves with their faith. And by making them a part of their ensemble- more than just an accessory but a crucial part of the overall look, they are making a statement of identity.

Yes they are likely to offend a section of their community, usually the older generation who hold onto tradition and conventional ways of doing things particularly when it comes to religion. But for now, it’ll be interesting to watch the rise and rise of those like Pardeep Singh Bahra and see where they take this new wave of fashion meets faith.

 

Does anyone care about caste anymore?

Burning candles in the Indian temple.

For those celebrating Navarati over the next few days, and soon Diwali, it’s a great time of community. It’s a time to celebrate your heritage, your family, your religion. There’s a wonderful sense of family pride and community spirit that come from such religious occasions. For many British Asians who spend most of their time immersed in British life and society it’s great opportunity to pause, and touch base once again with their Asian roots.

Sadly though this year, there have been many news stories that have reminded us of the dark side of our community. For Muslims, the stories of extremism and militant Islam just continue to roll. For Hindus and Sikhs, inter-caste discrimination has once again been debated after events such as the horrific rape and hanging of two cousins in Uttar Pradesh earlier this year, where the father of one of the girls said they were attacked because they were Dalits.

How can caste still be such a divisive issue amongst Asians? We all know that there have been literally hundreds of years of conflict that have stemmed from caste, but in this day and age of political correctness, tolerance, and diversity, how are we still having this debate?

Caste is mentioned in some early Hindu manuscripts, but isn’t necessarily tied to spirituality. The early models for the caste system were there to fulfil various job functions in society. Teachers, priests, warriors, merchants & businessmen, craftspeople, farmers, labourers and servants: it seems a simple enough structure designed to ensure the smooth running of society.

Many young British Asians will fervently tell you that caste doesn’t matter to them, that it is an outdated and irrelevant system.  But for many more, the reality is that caste is still important to their parents. They feel compelled to marry within their caste to honour their parents’ wishes despite that it’s not really a priority of their own. For the older generation on the other hand, caste is still about the honour of an inherited family status and name. In practice, caste is very much a matter of identity for most Hindus and Sikhs.

But with stories like the Uttar Pradesh rape case once again showing that caste simply divides people and perhaps even cause damage and heartache, we are left wondering what place caste should actually have anymore, and what its future should be.

Perhaps one answer to this is intermarriage. The intermarrying of castes is becoming more common and more acceptable amongst young Asians. Many are choosing to marry for love; either the parents learn to accept this or the young couple live with being ostracised simply because they love each other. The result is that the caste system is becoming diluted. One young Asian woman I spoke to said this about inter-caste marriage:

“In 20 years’ time you’ll have a father who is Punjabi, a mother who is Pakistani, a son who is half Jatt, half Dhakan…. our kids will become more and more multicultural and caste won’t matter anymore, in fact it will be irrelevant. Inter-caste marriage is good, because it will eventually do-away with the caste system.”

Whether or not inter-caste marriage will actually eradicate the caste system remains to be seen- but you can see the logic in it.

And if caste started out as a practical way to organise society, it clearly isn’t about that today because modern society- even in India, doesn’t run like that anymore. I mean, how many Jatts do you know today who are actually farmers?! With this aspect of the system no longer viable, perhaps caste is becoming obsolete.

With all the heartache the caste system brings are we better off dismantling it?

#WhyIstayed in a love-less arranged marriage

Last weekend the hashtag #WhyIstayed dominated Twitter. It was a response to the awful footage of American football player Ray Rice punching his then fiancé, now wife Janay. Instead of sympathising with Janay, the press asked why she stayed with him and went on to marry him. Victim-blaming in action. As a response, those who understood that there are often very complex reasons as to why a person stays in an abusive, love-less marriage tweeted.

I feel I have to add my voice to this powerful collective testimony. While it’s not news that countless South Asian women stay in unhappy marriages, it doesn’t get talked about enough. Women all over the world in Asian communities simply ‘get on with it’ because that’s what they have to do.

Once the hue of being a newly-wed has dimmed: the bridal mehndi has long faded, the many wedding outfits packed away and the community moves onto the next wedding hoopla, the new Asian bride starts to feel it. They don’t talk that much- there isn’t actually that much in common. Sex becomes more duty than passion. They sleep with their backs to each other. Children kind of glue things together a bit, while the ever-present in-laws often drive them further apart. They start to become cold towards each other, distant. He seems to resent her. He starts to yell at her, humiliates her in front of their children, their friends. He calls her names and talks to her like she’s a child.

And because she’s moved away from her community or country she’s desperately lonely and isolated, away from her people. She has no one to talk to so she calls her sisters. She cries down the phone and they tell her, “You have to just work things out. This is it now, you’re married. That’s what married life is about.”

When I was about 11, I remember my mum saying she was going to leave, go back to her country, back to her mother and sisters. “I have a house there you know” she used to say to me. Ironically, it’s the house that was given as part of her dowry.

But of course she never left- which I am eternally grateful for.

Why did she stay? Yes for her children but also because that’s what you do when you have an arranged marriage. It was all arranged for you. Packaged. The right guy, from the right profession, in the right family. Oh yes on paper you are so right for each other. But in real life….

The sad thing is I know there are other British Asian women reading this right now and thinking uneasily that it was written about them. Well it was, because so many, too many women stay.

And there’s always the fear that one day he’ll get so angry that he’ll hit her.

Thousands of South Asian women live with domestic abuse. Some sections of our community condone it. Consider the ruling in the UAE about three or four years ago that said it was ok if a man hit his wife, as long as “he didn’t leave a mark.”

WHY doesn’t she leave? She has to be fool for staying! She’s got a brain, she can think for herself, of course she can just leave. Besides, today there a loads of organisations that actually help Asian women, they even offer language services if she can’t speak English. So there’s no excuse. It’s her own fault for staying.

She stays because of what the family would say if she left. Turned up on their doorstep with her children. And what then- live there forever? Who in the Asian community would want her and her children now?

She stays because….

If she leaves she will be considered damaged goods by her own community.

If she leaves she risks being ostracised for the rest of her life.

If she leaves she’ll be the one that everyone talks about at the mosque, gurdwara or wherever.

If she leaves she’ll be branded as having ‘Western’ ideas and being selfish.

If she leaves they’ll say “who’ll want her now?”

So before we judge her for not leaving, perhaps we should check our own attitudes. It’s often because of us that she stays- her community and the shame and victim blaming that we will heap on her. So next time, before you say “why did she stay?” ask yourself first what will your reaction be to her, when you know she left.

If you are in an abusive or unhappy marriage, please please seek help. If you cannot speak to your family, please call one of the numbers below, if only to have someone else to talk to.

And remember, emotional blackmail and mental torment of any kind is NOT acceptable and NOT your fault. You deserve to be treated with respect, even if you don’t love each other. Please reach out to someone- you are not weak for doing so.

editor@britishasianwoman.com

 

The Sharan Project

http://www.sharan.org.uk/

info@sharan.org.uk

UK only: 0844 504 3231

The SHARAN Project aims to support vulnerable women who have had to leave home either forcefully or voluntarily. Run by South Asian experts they provide assistance on key life skills as well as information and advice on a range of issues including health, housing, employment, education, and financial, legal and personal development.

Karma Nirvana

http://www.karmanirvana.org.uk/

Karma Nirvana
PO Box 148
Leeds

LS13 9DB

Honour Network Helpline: UK Only: 0800 5999 247

Supporting victims of honour crimes and forced marriages. They provide three key areas of service:  a telephone helpline for those in danger; advocacy work; education & training for victims, and partners seeking to work in this area. They have also recently worked with Cosmopolitan magazine petitioning for a day to remember victims of honour killings called “Who are Britain’s Lost Women?”

Asian Family Counselling

http://www.asianfamilycounselling.org

London Office

Suite 51, Windmill Place

2-4 Windmill Lane

Southall
Middlesex
UB2 4NJ

Tel  020 8571 3933 or 020 8813 9714

Gopi Aswani (Senior Counsellor): gopiaswani@asianfamilycounselling.org

A confidential counselling service for individuals, couples and families of Asian communities. All counsellors are fully trained and supervised. Counsellors are recruited from the Muslim, Hindu, Sikh communities, and provide counselling with a full understanding of the different cultural customs and religions.