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#COMMENT: The first generation migrant struggle – Intolerance vs Integration.

DeepanairI was a keen observer of the recent media avalanche in response to Bollywood star Aamir Khan’s comments on “intolerance” in India.

Speaking, intriguingly enough, during a journalism awards ceremony in Mumbai, Khan spoke about his family’s fears of living in India. The significance of his comments was driven home for me personally by my five-year-old.

My son was thrilled at being selected to sing in his school’s Christmas choir, but had a question for me: “Mommy, we are going to be singing at a church, is it still ok for me to sing songs praising another God?!”

When I had recovered from the question, I unequivocally told him it was absolutely fine to do so but this got me thinking: ‘I need to teach my kids the right balance between being religious and being tolerant, because unfortunately in today’s world they could be perceived as not being synonymous.’

This is a predicament that will face most first generation immigrants in UK and elsewhere, because we want our children to enjoy Diwali and Onam just as much as Christmas and Halloween; enjoy Katrina Kaif and Katy Perry with equal fervour and speak or at least understand one or more of our many regional languages in addition to English.

To have a successful life anywhere in the world our kids have to learn to integrate into the cosmopolitan fabric of modern life and feel comfortable in the colour of their skin and the name of their God in the process.

So what do we do differently to promote tolerance and integration?

To begin with, we need to break down the invisible barriers that we as ‘Non Resident Indians’ sometimes set ourselves.

We always prefer to fraternise within our community, choose to stay in residential areas with a predominantly Indian population etc.

Whilst we do so because we feel comfortable with our own and want to feel closer to our roots, we must explore the longer term limiting impact this could have on our children.

There is a reason that, as first generation immigrants, we view and are viewed differently to the BBCDs and ABCDs in our midst (British/American Born Confused Desis for the uninitiated).

Are we repeating the same pattern followed by their parents in the 1970s and creating another generation of confused Desis in the process?

London is one of the most accepting, tolerant and multi-cultural cities in the world so there is often no excuse for not feeling integrated here.

Secondly, as a community there needs to be more awareness of all religious festivals and practises.

I loved the fact that I was asked to talk about Diwali at my son’s’ school and was happy to see that they have similar celebrations for Eid and other festivals as well.

Every year I have invited my non-Asian friends to Diwali celebrations at our home, and they always enjoy the diya painting, the sparklers and the food.

Being tolerant does not mean being religiously sterile, a practise I see creeping increasingly when offices send out bland ‘Happy Holidays’ greeting cards in December, instead of ‘Merry Christmas’. We need to take pride in our festivals and customs and share it with the wider non-Indian community – that is the only way our society will be truly tolerant.

Lastly, and perhaps most importantly we all need to accept that our religion, or any religion for that matter, is not perfect. All religions have tolerance and goodness of character at its core, albeit manifested in different ways.

Add in the myriad different human interpretations from a religion’s’ multi-millennial existence and it becomes difficult to see the wood for the trees.

Having blind faith in one’s’ religion and being supremacist about it is a recipe for an intolerant society.

Only if we attempt to answer questions about our religious beliefs in a dispassionate way can we truly integrate with other religions and have a tolerant and integrated society.

So the next time your child asks you a difficult question about the Ramayana or the Mahabharata, don’t shut it down, instead engage in a conversation even if it is to say that you don’t know the answer; you are sowing the seeds for spokespersons of a truly integrated and tolerant society where all religions and cultural beliefs have a parity of esteem.

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