& occasionally about other things, too...

Sunday, November 03, 2019

Suketu Mehta interview - 2

Mayank: Immigration is relatively new in the West. But that is not the case in India. Indians have immigrated to Africa, to Fiji, to the Southeast Asia and other parts of the world long before the process of formal immigration began in the west.

Suketu: Immigration is also not new to the West. Every single western country has witnessed mass migration. We have been taught that Europe is where nationalism was born. Where geographical boundaries defined national identities. We were told to be like the British and the French. They were all united. But then it turned out that the French had their separatists, so did the Spanish and the English and all the rest of them. The notion that we have one identity – that we are Indian, or Canadian, or American is hogwash.

Mayank: Let me rephrase the question slightly. Would be correct to state that the West has an issue with non-white immigration. So, in essence, the problem is not immigration. It’s racism.

Suketu: It is both. America had the alien exclusion act where in the 1920s when they excluded Chinese immigrants. Non-white immigrants, particularly Asians, have traditionally faced difficulties in North America – both in America and in Canada. Australia had an only white immigration policy.

That has changed. Now, we are seen as good immigrants. Everyone wants Indians and Chinese because they are nice techies and doctors and they don’t make trouble. We are the ideal immigrants.

What is new is that the anti-immigrant prejudice is global. I recently went to India and gave a speech at the India Today Conclave. It’s gone viral, it has a quarter million views and counting.  They thought I will talk about global migration, and I began with that, but then I turned my attention to the NRC; it is horrific what India is doing. The NRC is basically an anti-Muslim policy.

We have seen that kind of a situation in Bombay with the Shiv Sena. I have known Bal Thackeray and I have interviewed him. I wrote in the New York Times comparing Trump to Bal Thackeray, and how both are gifted story tellers. Remember Thackeray’s Dushera rally?

Gavin: I wonder about Brexit. The worse own goal in British history. That is the example of anti-immigration not only having a race element but also anti other Europeans. The Poles are strong presence in Britain, and the Brits and the people in the countryside don’t want Polish people around them. This is a backlash of white against whites.

Suketu: Yes, in Britain absolutely. Yes, they don’t want Romanians, they don’t want Poles. They want to retreat into old England. All the sins of colonialism are being visited upon them, and it stems from an incredibly stupid fear of migrants. This fear is doing more damage to country after country. All the goals of the fascists are re-emerging – Hungary, Poland, Austria, Germany are being driven by fear of migrants.

And the fact is that this fear is based on illusion and an unwillingness to understand their realities. These societies are not producing enough babies and people there are growing old. They need young people to work and pay their pensions, and as they aren’t making enough of their own babies, they need to import.

They will be screwed without migrants. Look at Japan. It is stagnating under 4 percent because they have kept migrants out, and now they are desperate.

Gavin: This is so interesting because I am a real mongrel. My mother is from East Africa, my father is Anglo-Indian, and we almost moved to Japan in the 1970s when my dad was in the merchant navy.  He wanted us to live there because he loved the place, but we were not allowed to live there. I have a question – we look at the US and India because we are familiar with these societies, and we exclaim, “Oh! My God!” but are there are other flash points that we should be watching with even more fear and caution because the world’s eyes are not on them. As Indians abroad, we are always watching India, and the world watches the US.

Suketu: I don’t think that the focus on India is adequate. The subject of my talk in India was that Indian Muslims are being systematically being ‘othersied’ which I have never seen in my life. The situation is changing. When I was in Bombay last, a Muslim man came up to me and told me about his predicament. He went to Cathedral. He went to Stanford. He came back and joined a private equity firm. He is part of the elite of Bombay. It is just that he is a Muslim. He has always been glad that he is an Indian and not a Pakistani.

After Mr. Modi gets re-elected, this man’s Hindu friends tell him not to worry in case the private equity market tanks, “Aap kyun fikr karte hain? Aap ka toh ek tang Pakistan mein hain! (Why should you worry about market collapse. Your other leg is in Pakistan).

To say such a thing to a person like that is unimaginable. He was truly shocked. He has never felt like this in his entire life. He is around 50. Even during the riots, he didn’t feel like this. He realised that there was a fringe that was indulging in rioting. Now, the rot is throughout the Indian society.

I for one am truly scared about the Indian situation. What we are witnessing is a change in basic humanity and values. My grandfather had a jewelry shop in Calcutta. He was a member of the RSS. But when a Muslim man ran into his shop, he protected him and told the mob that chased him to his shop that he would shoot all of them if they so much as even touched him. That man was now his guest and it was his obligation to protect him. Such values are fast disappearing from India, I think.

Among this generation there is no knowledge of this past because history is so badly taught. There is an absence of intimate knowledge of the other. My grandfather, despite his RSS allegiance was deeply appreciative of the Persian language, which, he said, was the purest of languages.

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