Tuesday, Nov 29, 2022

Hello, the yobs speak no Yurok

Bobby Jindal, child of Indian immigrants to the US, once ran for the office of governor of Louisiana. Though he lost a close election, he wa...

Bobby Jindal, child of Indian immigrants to the US, once ran for the office of governor of Louisiana. Though he lost a close election, he was a credible candidate; and to the extent that elections in the USA are funded with public money, that money flowed to candidate Jindal. My point? That he was treated as just another American running for a state’s highest elected office.

Should he not have been? Should he instead have been greeted, when he decided to run, with a statement of government policy saying “we expect that immigrants will not expect the US to accommodate their aspirations to political power; therefore, they and their progeny cannot run for political office”? Or take Kalpana Chawla, herself an emigrant from Haryana to the US. When she began on the American education that turned her into an accomplished scientist and astronaut, should she have been stymied by another policy that said “immigrants must not expect the US to accommodate their intellectual needs”? Of course not. There is something absurd about even concocting these hypothetical policy statements.Jindal is a citizen of his democratic country, as was Chawla, and that’s all that matters. And that spirit should be all that matters, too, when it comes to deciding what books are available in the libraries of another democracy.

Yet Jerry Rao, a good friend and one of our most dynamic entrepreneurs, is astonished (‘Fog of Political Correctness’, IE, May 13) that British taxes pay for public libraries to stock books in Indian languages. He wishes the British government would announce: “We will expect that once (immigrants) are here, they will blend into our culture and not expect Britain to accommodate their cultural needs.”

If cultural needs must run into such hostility, why not political and intellectual needs? Here’s what Jerry Rao misses. The presence of Tamil and Bengali books in Britain’s public libraries is hardly the result of multiculturalism gone haywire, or of pandering to those suave scoundrels, the entitlement-seekers. Instead, it embodies a simple truth: when people immigrate into a democracy, a time will come when those immigrants’ character and needs express themselves: culturally, politically, intellectually and — who knows? — even gastronomically and horticulturally.

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It doesn’t happen with the first immigrant. Indian books did not appear on British library shelves with the earliest Yashpal Sinhas and Srinivas Muralidharans who moved there. In the same way, multiculturalists and entitlement-seekers notwithstanding, I suspect British libraries don’t have books in Yurok, the language spoken only by a few remaining native Americans in northern California. (The irony is that California public libraries stock books in the immigrant tongue, English, and not Yurok).

But by now, enough Indians have come to live in Britain that when they express their needs, that expression — by British citizens — is respected. And that’s as it should be. Democracies, by definition, respect the views of their minorities. In fact, the essence of a democracy is that its minority voices are heard, and majority rule emerges from that sensitivity.

Considered this way, Bobby Jindal’s political ambitions are no different from British libraries’ collections of Hindi books. For that matter, neither phenomenon is different from the way pizza has become more American than Italian; or from the way Kalpana Chawla became a NASA astronaut; or from how Parsis practice their own religion in India. Countries built on immigration are like that. That is exactly how immigrants enrich their chosen homes by bringing with them their own history, experience and culture.


And why just other countries? The same reasoning applies within nations. The Indian state supports TV channels in multiple Indian languages. State supported universities offer programmes in various languages: why, they even offer French, which offering could hardly have been dictated by floods of Francophones immigrating into India. Instead, it answers the desire of Indians, few though they are, who value French.

There will always be, as Rao observes, a “hard-core of racist yobs”, intolerant of immigration and its implications. But you don’t fight yobs by caving in to their pet peeve: that the parasite immigrant is forcing the honest tax-payer into unnecessary contortions in the name of multiculturalism. The truth is simple, maybe too simple for yobs: immigrants are taxpayers, too, citizens just as much as yobs themselves.

And a reasonable British government, responding to resentment over British library spending on Urdu books, would make just one point. Stocking books in other languages is no different from stocking books in the first place, from setting up a library in the first place. You want a library, and you’re in a country where various languages are spoken? You’re going to have books in those languages.

Put that in your resentful pipes, you yobs!

First published on: 30-06-2005 at 12:00:00 am
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