How to Tackle Racial Discrimination in the UK

Murari Sharma

Recently, four white teenagers threw pebbles at Asian passengers in front rows from the back seats on the upper deck of Bus 207. When a victim protested, the boys jeered at him. But they went downstairs when they realized that all other passengers were angry too. In another incident, as soon as a brown-skinned man sat next to a white middle-aged woman, the woman left the seat on the District Line Tube in London. Such things don’t happen every day — few things do – but I see them happen with uncertain regularity.

Let us face it: we are all closet racists. However, some of us try to be more nuanced by not wearing the sin on our sleeves. Others are not so subtle, out of ignorance or simple malice. British society is no different. Most British are polite and respectful to minorities. Many of them understand their country’s compulsion – declining birthrate among whites and aging population — to welcome immigrants to keep the economy growing and have learned to enjoy the diversity of faces, dresses, festivals and cuisines.

But a small misinformed and prejudiced minority hold immigrants, new and old, responsible for their woes. They might have heard bad things about aliens. They don’t realize that their government allowed foreigners in and that their employers fired them to grapple with their own financial difficulties or to save money by hiring minorities who would work for less. A handful may even hate minorities simply out of ill will. 

Consequently, every year, thousands of minority people face insult, abuse and violence. Official statistics pick some of them. For example, 41,318 race and religion related hate crimes were reported in 2010 and 37,623 (86 percent of 43,748) in 2011/12. Since the death of Stephen Lawrence killed in 1993, says the Institute of Race Relations, 96 people have been killed in race related attacks.

But most incidents go unreported, for victims do not report for a variety of reasons: language barrier, lack of information, lack of recorded evidence, lack of trust in the police, fear, etc. Anecdotal evidence suggest that racism has increased since the Great Recession of 2008 due to anti-immigrant rhetoric of politicians, openly racist government programs like the Go Home vans, and anger of the furloughed people. But statistics show a decline in such incidents, which means underreporting.

For instance, the statistics don’t capture the prejudice I witness every other day in public transports and public places, including the ones I have mentioned. Neither do they include the case of the British girl of Indian ancestry who applied to 2,500 vacancies but was never invited for an interview, until the story came out in the media or the fact that only one minority doctor gets promotion for every three white British doctors.

Although non-reporting has lulled policy-makers into complacency, the lack of reporting, and thus of catharsis, deepens the sense of injustice and resentment that sometimes explodes, as it did during the London riots. If unchecked, it may trigger a much bigger clash of civilizations, to borrow Samuel Huntington’s phrase, on the British Isles.    

The British government has made laws and rules prohibiting racial discrimination, but they have become paper tigers due to lax execution. You need consistent action for good results. The Institute of Race Relations reports, “The main parties are in denial about the extent and severity of racial violence, and interested in right-wing extremism only when it challenges them electorally.”    

For far too long, British policy-makers have lived in the bubble of whiteness while 45 percent of Londoners come from minority groups and still counting. If they continue bashing immigrants for the country’s woes, the UK could be a battlefield for racial war. To avoid such outcome, Britain must grab the bull of racism by the horns with a four-pronged strategy: Stricter law enforcement, education, job creation and quota.

Better enforcement calls for easier procedure to file racism complaints and cases and swift justice, not obstacles and delays; sensitive officials dealing with such cases; prompt compensation for victims and punishment for perpetrators, when the case is proved.  Education is key to inform people that racism is wrong and tolerance is right. It should cover homes, schools and workplaces and could be a joint endeavor of government and civil society.   

Home is the first school where unemployed and misinformed parents transfer prejudice to children. Britain has no public information program against racism. Schools are teaching children about religions, but the course is rudimentary. My son took the subject and I found that it does not cover the nuances, subtleties, and multiple interpretations that are integral to every religion.

Workplaces are the Potemkin’s village. Employers don’t adequately inform employees about their right to equality and when complaints are filed, they brush them under the carpet. I know of an incident where the entire staff of a department in a multinational hotel complained about their manager’s racist behavior, but senior managers didn’t see it. If our own mothers, wives, sisters and daughter are not getting justice, minorities can hardly hope for it.

Racism tends to rise when people lose job and become angry. To keep racism at bay, we need the job creating investment, a growing economy that absorbs the workforce, and smart immigration controls, which open the door for immigrants only in skills shortage areas and sectors and don’t displace British workers.

After living many years in the United States and United Kingdom I have concluded that America is much less racist than its once colonizer across the Atlantic, for two reasons. First, Americans are more open to picking up meritorious minority candidates for vacancies than the British. Second, the minority quota in education, government and businesses has helped the US narrow the gap between races. The proof: the United States has already produced the first black occupant of the White House and several Asian CEOs of large companies. Where does the UK stand?

Unfortunately, racial quota has remained taboo in the UK so far. But it is time to introduce it at least for a few years. Otherwise, Great Britain will have a permanent underclass of minorities — like the  British youth of Pakistani and African origins, whose unemployment rate is over 50 percent even when so many people are having two jobs – that could be a perennial source of instability.

There is a strong case for racial equality not just in law but beyond. For the faithful, all human beings are children of the same god. For evolutionists, the entire humanity evolved in Africa, spread across the world, and acquired different colors and features to adjust to the local climate.  Either way, discrimination and injustice against our own brothers and sisters with slightly different appearances and beliefs is morally and politically wrong.

Do we want to prevent a clash of civilizations in Great Britain? Then let us enforce the law better, promote education, retrain people, create jobs, calibrate immigration controls and introduce the quota system for minorities. There is no short cut.


Festivals and Elections Bring Joy and Hope in a Poor Country Like Nepal

Murari Sharma

In the beginning of October 2013, more than a million people left Kathmandu, the capital city of Nepal, for their ancestral homes in the hills and the plains for autumn festivals. Tens of thousands of diaspora Nepalese also returned home. This year, a record number made the trip because the festivals will be followed by the general elections scheduled for November. Many of these people will stay put until the polls.

The Nepalese celebrate festivals and elections with gusto. Festivals and elections make them forget for a moment the constant trials and tribulations for survival.

Nepal is one of the poorest countries in the world. According to the Oxford Multidimensional Poverty Index, 44.2 percent people lived in poverty in 2011. Youth unemployment and underemployment remains close to 50 percent, though more than 2 million people have left for the Middle East, Korea, Malaysia and Western countries in search of jobs.

People live in extreme hardship. Take the capital city, Kathmandu. Life in the city is onerous for the poor and not easy even for the middle class. The shortage of necessities is acute. Electricity is supplied by rotation leaving much of the city in dark. Water too is rationed and comes at odd hours. The cooking gas and petrol frequently vanish from the market.

Roads are in a terrible condition. They have potholes beyond count. They become muddy in rain and dusty when dry from the haphazard demolition of houses to widen the city roads. The government has budget to demolish roadside houses but not to rebuild them to standards. Piles of rubbish go uncollected for days. Consequently, respiratory and other communicable diseases have increased several folds in the last two years.

Besides, crimes and congestion have increased. Frequent shut-downs called by political parties make life miserable round the year. It is a pleasure for outsiders to leave Kathmandu for a while for festivals and elections. It also makes life a little less chaotic for those who stay.  

Life in rural areas is even more miserable. The shortage of necessities is more acute and poverty more rampant. Education and health services are worse. Only children and old live in villages, for others have left for cities or foreign countries in search of employment.

Most of those who go abroad have a precarious life. As The Guardian reported recently, many of them working in Qatar are dying due to poor working conditions and heat related complications. They do not get what was promised in Nepal, cheated by agents, intermediaries and employers . With their meagre income, many of them cannot pay back the loan they had taken to pay commission to agents and buy tickets. 

Still the Nepalese enjoy every festival and election, and their average life satisfaction is above the midpoint of five.  What makes them so? Festivals, elections, and a bit of fatalism.

Nepal has festivals round the year. Autumn has the biggest two of them: Durga Puja and Dipawali.  In Durga Puja, people worship the warrior goddess, wear new clothes, eat good food, sing, dance, play swings, and seek blessings from elders. In Dipawali, they illuminate their houses to invite the goddess of wealth, ask for treats at night playing traditional songs, and worship brothers and sisters.

This year, these festivals are followed immediately by the elections to the second constituent assembly on 19 November 2013. For the desperately poor people, election means politicians promising the sky to make life better and some cash spent by bribe voters. Many people do not trust that the next assembly will write a new constitution. But they do think that polls are necessary to keep democracy intact.

The first assembly was dissolved without writing a new constitution due to big differences among political parties, mainly on the issue of federalism, which remains contentious.  Minority groups support ethnic federalism and majority groups geographical one. Yet elections are welcome not only as an exercise in democracy also as an opportunity to renew patron-client relationship.

Elections are great occasions for people to build bridges with politicians to land jobs and other favors in Nepal. Nepalese society is so politicized that you cannot get a job or a project without the blessings of one of the major parties and influential leaders. Being in the good book of a senior politician makes a difference between miserable poverty and reasonably good life.Young people expecting such favors have to work for the election of their leaders.

 So this year, many more people have gone back to their ancestral homes for the festivals than before. Many have come back from foreign countries, too, including the United Kingdom and the United States.  

Unfortunately, however, not everyone is on the same page regarding the polls. The non-political election government and the big four parties overseeing it are eager to go to the vote quickly. But 33 parties, led by the breakaway faction of the Maoists, have opposed the elections, as proposed. They say they want change in government and in the polls date for their participation and have vowed to disrupt the vote if held without their participation.  

 Actually, the breakaway Maoists have been preventing the election campaign and harassing the candidates. If they continue doing so, the polls will be far from peaceful, credible and legitimate. It is, therefore, wrong not to try to accommodate the demands – the reasonable ones, at least – of these parties to pave the way for peaceful elections. Otherwise, the joy and hope brought in by the festivals and the elections will at best be fleeting and sterile.