Immigration

Why is Radio 4 so cavalier about racism?

ImageFor those of you unfamiliar to the extensive and fascinating world of South Asian deep-fried treats, a Jalleby is a saffron-tinted cake batter, piped into hot oil in a pretzel shape and doused in a sugar syrup flecked with cardamom. Jalebi is how it’s typically spelled in English, but I think that lends itself to mispronunciation, and if you’ve not heard it spoken before, just know it rhymes with wallaby, not whale-by.

But this is no recipe blog; why am I prattling on about sweetmeats? Well, it was this morning when I listened to a Radio 4 programme (first broadcast in 2009) called Jallebies and Tea. It gives us a glimpse into the lives of Asha and Ajay (played by Nina Wadia and Ajay Chabra respectively), a Keralan couple adapting to life in the UK. Ajay goes off to work each morning, kissing his wife goodbye and asking for a different curry. Asha occupies herself at home, making Jallebies and trying to get to know the neighbours who look away when she smiles at them.

She gets bored. She turns on the radio, and picks up the frequency of a Bollywood song. She sings along for about six words before a thumping sound and a male neighbour shouts through the walls.

“Shut up, you mad paki. Disgusting curry smells coming through the walls. Makes me sick! Where do you think you are? Sod off back home and stink your own country up I don’t want to hear ya flipping paki music, alright? I’ll come in and rip your radio out of its socket if I hear it again”

Asha lets out a meek “I’m from Kerala, actually”. The word paki is heard two or three times more throughout the programme. Some other stuff happens throughout the programme. Mahatma Ghandi and the Hindu gods Shiva and Parvati visit Asha. They eat some Jallebies, drink some tea and Asha gets a little loopy, straining her relationship with Ajay. Ajay makes some Jallebies and they kiss and make up.

I’ve no objection to the word paki being used on the radio. I think it appropriate to demonstrate that newly-arrived families do face hostility in Britain. But it was seriously made light of in Jallebies and Tea.

Asha told no one, not her husband, not her friend, not even Ghandi that an ethnic slur was thrown at her. It bothered her. It made her want to go back home. It made her guilty of how proud her mother was to hear Asha was moving to London. None of the heavenly visitors offered Asha advice on what to do about her neighbour.

The message was clear: ignore the racist, turn down the music and make a prawn curry.

And the South-Asian community wouldn’t care, perhaps since Radio 4 doesn’t have so many listeners of that ilk.

That says something: If the n-word, a word which can’t (by reflexive moral standards) be written literally or spoken aloud but signified quickly and painlessly with one letter, were to be used on Radio 4 at 11:30am with no character retorting to it… well, it’s inconceivable. The term “p-word” holds no meaning. Unless hurled at you, paki causes no reaction.

Why is that? The whole Indian subcontinent was under the rule of The Crown after 1858 and for over a century before was monopolised by the East India Company, acting by appointment to The Crown. Millions were killed, most were taxed to starvation and an unknown number perished in famine and war. The British Raj and creation of the largest democratic state on earth is not present in the National Curriculum, so I include these details to add some context.

Then the British left India quickly, cutting it into two and yet more died in the fight to get to their religious state. But some sixty-seven years later, people celebrate that time. I think that jubilation in a won India gives descendants some succour in the face of simply ignorant British language, like that used by Asha’s neighbour. The disarmed Indian can think to herself “Well, we won in the end so it doesn’t matter really”.

But it does matter. Racism is alive, and sometimes fatal. India is a horrible and disturbing reality you have to see to believe, but I’ll save that for another post.

Jallebies and Tea is available until February 8th on the BBC iPlayer Radio website.

This post was written by Shiven Limbachia. For more information, follow him on Twitter @ShivenLimbachia or contact him here
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State of the Union 2014: Obama is voicing his limits

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A matter of hours ago, President Obama gave his annual address on the State of the Union. It marked the end of one phase of his presidency and the start of another. Gone is the shining vision of the second term we hoped for. Gone is the gifted orator who campaigned on change. In his stead is a leader well aware of the scope of his control.

Looking out over a chamber full of military personnel, disobliging Democrats and obdurate Republicans (not to mention a television audience in the tens of millions, and #SOTU being tweeted about by most people in most places), Obama delivered a safe speech full of themes of continuity, perseverance, and the promise of prosperity, albeit slight, around the corner.

Even with a dreadful 2013 which saw his legislative plan stymied and his approval ratings slump to a historic low, the President decided not to chart a new route. Instead he outlined plans to clear his to-do list before an already spiritless administration prepares for another election.

The largely domestic, fiscal-based speech was scattered with well-worn ideas and economic policy, which Obama has relied on time and again, without actually making them happen. Though the focus on economic disparity and a call for better upward mobility does echo that wave of populism piercing through the Democrats, and it’s uncommon to see that from a party in government.

The hike in minimum wage, which will only affect half a million Americans, (from $7 to $10.10) does follow his rhetoric on needing to strengthen the middle classes, but it was disappointing that he didn’t go near the pressing issues, like gun control or Syria.  There was only one newly-issued concrete number: this Presidency’s immigration reform (which can’t begin without the consent of congress) would cut the deficit by $1 trillion over twenty years. It sounds like a lot before you consider Obama’s adding $1 trillion to the deficit every four years.

But the soberest theme across the entire address exuded optimism and an approaching directness. With or without congress, you the people are with me. Everyone knows my relationship with the House is not good, but we can do it together. I will get it done “with my pen and phone”.

And yet the opposition won’t go away. After Obama’s first year, with a fast burst of dramatic legislative accomplishments ushered though during a brief phase of one-party Democratic rule in DC, the Republicans have set their eyes on precluding the President. That is why we all feel so underwhelmed in Obama’s actions now. They’re slowed.

Doubly bad because it hasn’t come off well for the opposition either. The government showdown/shutdown of 2013 has meant the Republicans and the Tea Party members have had to go back to their states and explain to their constituents why they let the US government be threatened, and haven’t come up with a decent excuse.  So congress might let Obama have this one, since congress doesn’t always make the best decisions.

But has the President made the best decisions, considering his first promise in the job was to close Guantanamo Bay prison, and it still hasn’t happened? He said, hours ago, that 2014 would be the year in which Gitmo would be gone. What’s been stopping him these past four years?

The full text of the State of the Union address is available here.

Spousal Immigration: an ignored homewrecker

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Theresa May has said the right to family life was “not an absolute right”

A friend of mine is in love. I recently found out she’s engaged to the man she met years ago, and they are to hold their wedding this year. But here’s the twist: the man in her life wasn’t born in the UK, where my infatuated friend was born, and lives. This means that their love has had conditions placed upon it. Not by her, and not by him but by the UK Border Agency.

Their relationship is ransomed at £18,600 per annum.

Ostensibly, this requirement of salary is designed to stop my friend’s beloved from sponging off the state, though government statistics show migrants to be less than half as likely to claim benefits than those born in Britain (whilst paying the same taxes of course).

Theresa May has said this move was not about numbers. She’s right, of course; it was about winning favourable headlines, about scapegoating, about blaming the monetary and healthcare and employment shortcomings of the British state on people who can’t repudiate any of these measures because they’re in a land far away.

This move also came into force in July 2012, but it has largely been ignored since then and it is still forcing families apart. My friend’s recent engagement brought back home that this is an issue, and will continue to be.

The manifesto commitment of the Conservative party could hardly have been clearer. Britain will be the most family-friendly country in Europe.

“Strong families are the bedrock of a strong society. Britain’s families will get our full backing across all our policies. We need good, strong families to help our society work well. We will support families to stay together.”

And yet the Home Secretary has boasted of her intention to split up thousands of families each year. But only the poor ones. And those with a foreigner in their midst.

Have ministers not considered the inimicality, implications and incredulity of this move though?

  • It’s not only heartless to force an estimated 15,000 families a year to emigrate or live apart, it gives lie to their manifesto claims of supporting family, a pillar of society.
  • It brings back that old worry that you’re only relevant to the Conservatives if you’re rich enough.
  • UK-born sponsors are claiming benefit which would not be claimed if their foreign-born spouse was able to join them in the UK and take care of the children involved.
  • British children are spending years away from one parent. The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (enshrined into UK law in the Children Act 2004) play no part on Home Office decision making.
  • Those born in the UK, even if they have a wealthy partner and don’t need to work can’t live together. An Australian man who is a CEO of a multi-national company in Dubai earning £250,000 a year and has a £3.5m property in London is unable to live with his wife and children as she, his sponsor, does not work and his earnings and assets do not count.
  • Other countries allow British citizens to join their spouses in their home countries relatively easily. In the western world, only Norway has a higher financial requirement than the UK and most other countries have no requirement, a requirement that is not fixed or a requirement between £5000-12,000.

I’ve read the case studies by the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants, and I’m simply upset. These people are in love and have had their lives forced apart whilst trying their best to make a good life for their children. The JCWI calls them United by Love and Divided by Law; that’s exactly how it is.

On a more pleasant note, my besotted friend is a chemist, so earns enough, and will be joined by the love of her life next year. I know they’ll be very happy together.