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'Asians arrive globally'

After one year of writing on Asians, I'll make one point - we've arrived globally, writes Nabanita Sircar.

india Updated: Jan 24, 2004 20:20 IST

It was just another cold January morning, but I was faced with the mammoth task of writing newsworthy stories about Asians in the UK for Hindustan Times, UK Edition. I bravely dared to take the path, but wondered how it would be possible to find Asians making news everyday of the year.

Despite being a professional hack for years, the prospect seemed daunting. But now, exactly a year since the UK Edition was launched, I can say with utter confidence that Asians have arrived! There has not been a single day when some Asian, in some part of this country, however remote, has not made it into a news item.

The Asian family tradition, its business acumen and academic prowess has made Asians a vibrant part of the British multi-cultural society. Even Prime Minister Tony Blair has often praised the Asians' value for family traditions.

Family brings to mind the case of Trupti Patel who was taken to court accused of murdering her three babies. She, like Sally Clark and Angela Cannings, was cleared of all charges. But her high profile case has been a blessing to many women in a similar predicament. It led to Professor Sir Roy Meadows, facing a professional conduct committee, announced by the General Medical Council. It has brought to focus Sir Meadows professional misconduct. He is the doctor at the centre of a number of high profile cases against women accused of killing their children, including Patel. Reporting Trupti's trial was an extremely emotional experience. The news about her attracted several inquiries from India.

Looking back at the year gone by, the focus has definitely been on the war in Iraq and the war on terrorism, but as an Indian, I could not overlook the mini war going in the UK against the outsourcing of jobs to India. Unions have been running long campaigns against the exodus of jobs to India, but not to much avail. Telecoms giant BT blazed the trail, followed by financial giants like HSBC, Norwich Union, Lloyds TSB and now Barclays, to name a few. While following each event closely, I have found that the competence of young Indians is an accepted fact now and Britain understands that it needs to raise its standards to compete with the service and competence available there and that too at much cheaper cost.

Amid all the criticism, young Indian graduates have been constantly praised for their educational qualifications, keenness to learn and fluency of the English language. Not only has the Indian IT industry established its supremacy, but the Indian economy is being keenly monitored with predictions of it becoming one of the strongest in years to come.

Indians in the UK have continually made their mark in various walks of life. Ghulam K Noon was knighted, LN Mittal has flourished, despite efforts to tarnish his image with the controversy that Blair favoured him for his Romanian project. Karan Bilimoria's Cobra beer has become one of the fastest growing beers in a highly competitive British market. His success was crowned with him being awarded the Asian Entrepreneur of the Year and becoming the first Asian to head the IBP on the British side.

Asian women are not far behind either. Monica Ali's highly acclaimed Brick Lane was the hottest favourite for the Booker Prize. Meena Pathak of Pathak's, has, this year entered the British Who's Who 2004.

Another noticeable change, I have seen over the year, is the cooling of the animosity between Indians and Pakistanis that had been raging for years in Britain. Gone are the days of huge demonstrations by anti-India Pakistani lobbies outside India House at every Indian national event. Instead, now, Indians and Pakistanis are mixing more freely, be they young university students or adults at work. Hopefully, with Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee's latest initiative at peace, this year will see less hostile relations between the two communities - the kind of hostility which led to a seven-year jail sentence of Mohammad Arshad, a Pakistani who tried to hire a contract killer to murder his son-in-law who though a Muslim, happened to be an Indian. Shockingly, Arshad, a highly respected member of the Dundee Mosque was also a founder member of Tayside Racial Equality Council and had served as a Justice of the Peace.

As an Indian in the UK, I could not ignore the overwhelming presence of Indian doctors. Be it my own GP or the head of Cromwell hospital, Indian doctors' contribution to the British health system is undeniably crucial. Now with many GPs who came to the UK in the sixties, reaching retirement age, another crisis for doctors is looming large and Britain is once again looking to India for help. Indian nurses and teachers are already making it into the UK at a steady pace.

Yet, amidst the good lies the bad. There has been a rise in racism which has affected Indians much less than Pakistanis and Bangladeshis. A BBC documentary revealing racism within the police has not only raised the issue of institutional racism but has also tarnished the image of the police. The burning issue of asylum seekers has not helped the situation and neither has the disturbing fear of an imminent terrorist attack in Britain. Having long been known as a haven for terrorists, British police is now on a hunt for Islamic terrorist cells. In its crackdown the police has already made many arrests and more are expected.

On a more pleasant note, how could I even dare to ignore Bollywood! While Amitabh Bachchan found a place in Madame Tussaud's, from where the wax replica of even Indira Gandhi has been recently removed. Liz Hurley, now famous in India for her affair with Arun Nair, has made a careful career move and has ventured into Bollywood, co-starring with Om Puri. Even as Bollywood has become a regular theme for ad campaigns, Indian actor Dalip Tahil, now a popular character in the TV serial Eastenders, is facing the boot to return to India. His case has gone to Parliament requesting Home Secretary David Blunkett's intervention, a la Bollywood style!

I could go on endlessly, recounting the coverage of Asians in news, in the past one year. But I will finally make one point - we have arrived, globally! And warn those Indians, thankfully very few of the un-reformed variety are left now, who look down on their Indian cousins and curl up their noses at anything Indian. It's time to don a lehnga-choli, or pajama-kurta and shake a leg to the bhangra beat!

It is proud to be Indian! And it has been great to write and talk about them.

First Published: Jan 24, 2004 20:20 IST