How Indians can avoid getting attacked in the UK
Aruni has lived in the United Kingdom for 11 years, spending the first seven as a student and since 2007 working as a Chartered Accountant and a Chartered Tax Adviser. He lives with his wife in London.
Anuj Bidve was with his friends and co-students from Lancaster University when he was brutally executed in Ordsall Lane in Salford. I use the word 'executed' because according to the Greater Manchester Police, it does not appear that this was a mugging episode that went wrong. Following a "short conversation", the 17-year-old youth who shot Anuj produced a gun and shot him at close range before fleeing the scene with a companion.
The press has already speculated that this was a racist attack. Indeed, if mugging was not the motive, and the victim was unknown to the perpetrators of this heinous crime, this seems like a plausible position to take. The randomness of the attack, together with the fact that it focussed on a group of foreign students, also suggests that bigotry and alcohol combined together to form a deadly concoction that is likely to weave nightmares for Anuj's family and friends for the rest of their lives.
The only silver lining (and you need to really want to see it amidst the shock and horror) is that the police have acted swiftly and appear to have detained a suspect within 24 hours of the crime taking place. It is also encouraging to hear that the police received helpful snippets of information from the local community, suggesting that the people of Salford were equally appalled by the incident.
For us Indians living in the United Kingdom, the attack has left an uncomfortable taste in our mouths. Most of us travel to our universities or offices, and the daily commute often involves returning home late at night. Who is to guarantee that we won't be the next victim of some insidious race attack, or get caught up in the middle of a drunken brawl outside a local pub which have a tendency to pick a coloured bogeyman for bludgeoning?
Last month, ethnic minorities (and hopefully some people in the majority community) were mulling over the implications of the racist rant by a woman on a London tram. Despite the widespread condemnation of the 'beliefs' espoused by the bigoted (and drunk) woman in the press, some people no doubt felt that such twisted views (e.g. only whites can be truly British) are held by a significant proportion of the white underclass. No wonder the British National Party (a far right often racist outfit) claims that '[They're] saying what [people] are thinking'.
Although the woman captured on the YouTube video for her rant on the tram was later arrested and charged with inciting racial hatred, her rant must have made a lot of people twist uncomfortably in their seats. Anuj's murder has incited similar feelings in me, and I am sure in many other people. Is the proud multicultural tradition held by this country at a risk? What, if anything, can we Indians do to better protect ourselves from becoming targets?
It is rather easy to be simplistic in our analysis of the situation, and declare that Britain is no longer a desirable place to study, work or live in. This is not true. The one thing that people need to realise is that Anuj's murder will be thoroughly and swiftly investigated, and the people involved will be brought to justice. What is frustrating, however, is that the justice system often tends to let criminals off before they have served their full sentence, on the grounds of co-operation or good behaviour whilst in custody. My view is that if someone has committed a crime serious enough to be remanded in jail 'for life', then s/he should spend the rest of her/his days behind bars. Period.
As a rule the UK remains tolerant of diversity (certainly more than some of the countries on the European continent), and the British pride themselves on the rule of law and fairness as fundamental principles of life. However, the strained economic times are putting a lot of pressure on the less privileged in society ('the underclass' I referred to above), and this is the strata of society that typically produces people such as those who murdered Anuj.
Such people usually lack a job (and the skills to get one), make ends meet with government handouts (which are often spent on alcohol and drugs), do not have stable families and live in social housing (with other such people). They have a tendency to blame others (usually foreigners) for all their perceived ills. To an extent, there is nothing we as Indians in the UK can do on an individual basis to prevent such bigotry from flourishing. This should be something for the government to do, by helping improve the economic circumstances of such people.
However, I feel there are a few things we can do help ourselves avoid potential flashpoints.
When we visit a new city, we should bear in mind that we don't live there, and as such are not familiar with the rougher parts of town. You find out such things only after living in the community for a few months, if not years. It is therefore prudent to ensure that we return to our hotel, hostel, etc. within a reasonable hour of night. Of course, staying out late in Soho, London or New Street, Birmingham should not normally be dangerous with throngs of people everywhere. The real danger lurks in quiet city centres in smaller towns, where it is quite easy to stagger down dark alleyways or lanes where crimes often take place, as appears to be the case with Anuj and his friends.
Small practical things such as using public transport or a taxi to go home when late (as opposed to walking) sound obvious but are often ignored. The other thing I normally do is find out a little about the city I am about to visit through tourist websites where I can read about other travellers' past experiences. This helps me not only to figure out what to do, where to stay and what to see in the city, but assists me with things such as whether the town has a history of violence, if there have been any flashpoints recently, areas not to visit at night, etc.
Another thing to always bear in mind is that we are, in essence, guests in someone else's country. This probably does not apply to Indians born and brought up in the UK who feel that this is as much their country as anyone else's. But for us Indians who have come to this country from India, this certainly holds true. I feel that it would therefore help acknowledge this and as such respect some of the traditions of this country on a day-to-day basis to demonstrate our respect. A well integrated ethnic minority community has much less chances of being attacked than a peripheral and inward-looking one. And even small, supposedly insignificant things, can help in this process.
For instance, we should avoid screaming down the phone in Hindi, Bengali, Gujarati, Punjabi, etc. on public transport. I have observed many Indian people doing it and have noted the visible irritation and resentment on other commuters' faces. Talking loudly in public places is frowned upon in this country, and speaking in another language just makes the whole thing that much more unbearable and rude for people.
When I was a student I noted how Indians only made friends with other Indians, and found it difficult to spot Indians within a mixed-race friend circle. On a wider scale, such behaviour over a course of a number of decades leads to ethnic ghettos like the ones in Bradford or Southall. I often ask myself whether we do enough to try and mingle with other communities, learn about their traditions, share our own traditions with them, and help foster a friendly environment where everyone just gets along. How many Indians wear the poppy on their jackets on Remembrance Day, I wonder? I don't, but I am about to start from next year.
It may be natural to stick with other people from your community in the early days after arriving in this country. However, as time goes on and people feel more comfortable with life here, I think there is an argument to be made for taking an extra step, going outside of our comfort zone and reaching out to some people who we normally would not make friends with. Aside from making new friends and learning new things about life, it helps us as a community to have friends across a number of communities. As Indians we have an advantage over some of the other foreigners in this country -- we typically speak good English. We should use this to widen our networks.
There are other such little things that in time may help too. I am not sure we display good manners when interacting with people on a daily basis. Wishing people 'good morning', saying 'thank you', 'please', etc., holding open doors, queuing properly, giving up one's seat for the elderly, etc. are things that us Indians (including me) regard as peripheral to the human interaction process. However, these things are considered massively important in this part of the world. In fairness, they don't require too much effort, so why don't we do it? Perhaps it doesn't come naturally to us and we do not feel the need to make the additional effort. However, I for one think that if Indians as a community took the extra step, it would go a massive way towards improving how we are perceived in this country.
It is important to reiterate that none of these things would have stopped the attack on Anuj. Thugs will always exist and so will racists, and we cannot live our lives cowering under the shadow of fear that spreads from distasteful attacks such as this. However, I feel that if we do some of the things that I have suggested above, over time Indians in the UK as a community will be liked and respected by a greater number of people than they currently are. And the improvement in how we are perceived can only help.
Image: Anuj Bidve in UK