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- Brexit campaigners are trying to persuade minorities to support their campaigns
- Whilst there is free movement for EU citizens, some British Asians are particularly unhappy at visa rules that apply to non-EU migrants
- 14 percent of people in England and Wales identified themselves as non-white in the 2011 census
At a limestone North London temple under the image of the Hindu god Krishna, a British Asian minister is striving to persuade ethnic minorities to support leaving the European Union with a message of ‘fair’ immigration and stronger ties to the Commonwealth. Britain is set to vote on Brexit Thursday, June 23.
Despite polls showing Black and Asian Britons are more pro-EU than the rest of the population, prominent Brexit campaigner Priti Patel has led the charge to win over the fastest growing section of the electorate ahead of Thursday’s referendum.
Leave campaigners have used worries about migration from the EU to tell millions of voters whose families hail from former British colonies that a Brexit could make it easier for people to come to Britain from places where their family roots lie.
Whilst there is free movement for EU citizens, some British Asians are particularly unhappy at visa rules that apply to non-EU migrants, making it difficult to bring over relatives for social functions or staff for restaurants.
“This is about having an immigration policy that brings fairness back and takes discrimination off our Commonwealth countries and off communities like the Indian community, the Pakistani community,” Patel told Reuters, as a dozen praying women in colourful traditional dress chanted at the temple.
There is no official definition of an ethnic minority but 14 percent of people in England and Wales identified themselves as non-white in the 2011 census, and nearly 20 percent said they were not white British, a sizeable group that could sway the outcome of a vote which polls show is too close to call.
But the murder of British lawmaker Jo Cox, who had backed refugee causes, has raised concerns about the tone of the debate on immigration and could make some minority voters think twice about backing the Brexit campaign, experts and voters said.
A poster bearing the message: “Breaking Point: The EU has failed us all” against a drop of a long line of refugees, unveiled by the leader of the anti-EU UK Independence Party, Nigel Farage, also damaged support among minorities.
At the East London Mosque, one of the largest Muslim places of worship in Europe, one voter said she had been leaning “70 percent” towards backing Brexit until Cox’s murder, which helped tip her in favour of continued membership.
“It made me think that if she is someone who is saying that we should stay in, someone of her character then that’s the right decision to go with,” said 33-year-old Zinia Khan, who works in the voluntary sector.
“You’ve got people like Nigel Farage with that poster and then you’re thinking: What are they going to change? How are they going to make things more difficult for people from black and ethnic minorities… and you feel safer if you’re in.”
Farage, who apologised for any offence caused but not for the content of the poster, has repeatedly denied accusations that UKIP is racist. “It was the truth,” he said on Wednesday.
“NOT ENOUGH INFORMATION”
Black and Asian voters tend to back the pro-EU opposition Labour Party, and the little available polling data and previous voting habits suggest the Brexit campaign has faced a difficult battle to win over minority support.
Whilst polls show Britons evenly split on the eve of the vote, four surveys which provided a breakdown by ethnicity showed that half or more of minorities want to remain in the EU compared to between a quarter and a third who back Brexit.
Only around 20 percent back Brexit according to the most recent nationwide findings from the British Election Study (BES) conducted between April 14 and May 4, similar to the 28 percent who supported an exit in a May 2015 Survation poll.
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A YouGov poll taken this month in London, the most diverse part of Britain, showed 52 percent of non-white Londoners backed EU membership, compared to 46 percent of white respondents.
Maria Sobolewska, a specialist in ethnic minority public opinion at Manchester University, said while many minorities backed tougher rules on immigration, they did not trust some of the leading campaign figures such as Farage.
“They don’t like the messengers,” she told Reuters.
“They do have to worry about what it means to hand these people a win and whether it would lead to more isolationist policies but they certainly think: these people are not friendly to minorities.”
While many minority voters share concerns felt by some white Britons about the impact of immigration on the National Health Service (NHS) and housing, polling shows they are less worried about the cultural impact.
“What we know in election studies is that the main difference on issue preferences, which are very similar – jobs, the economy, the NHS – is that immigration ranks lower,” said Sunder Katwala, director of non-partisan think-tank British Future, which focuses on migration and identity.
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Demographic factors could also help explain higher support for EU membership among ethnic minority communities which the Brexit campaign could find difficult to overcome.
Britain’s black and ethnic minorities are younger on average than the white British population, with younger voters among the most pro-EU regardless of background.
There are also distinct differences between Britain’s ethnic communities, many of whom hail from disparate Commonwealth nations in Africa and Asia, according to both the British Election Study and the Survation poll.
Only 42 percent of Bangladeshi Britons want to stay in the EU compared with 63 percent of those from a black African background and 65 percent of Chinese voters, according to BES.
British Indians, the country’s biggest ethnic minority group numbering some 1.4 million people, are marginally more pro-European than the wider population but half said they would either back Brexit or had yet to make up their minds.
“I think the Asian community is divided in the sense that they haven’t got enough information,” said Conservative Councillor Manji Kara, outside the Shri Vallabh Nidhi Mandir temple near Wembley Stadium during Patel’s visit.
A supporter of Brexit, he said his scientist son wanted to stay in the EU and that many others in the Asian community were leaning to remaining in the EU without all the facts.
“Quite a few of the people think they should vote for ‘In’ without actually realizing what’s in it for them if they stay in or what are the benefits of getting out,” Kara said.
-prepared by Saurabh Bodas (with inputs from Reuters), an intern at NewsGram. Twitter Handle: @saurabhbodas96
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Tenali Ramakrishna, or Tenali Raman as he is more popularly known is Birbal's equivalent in South India. A court jester and a scholar exuding great wisdom, Tenali Raman was known as one of the greatest courtiers in King Krishnadevaraya's court.
The Vijayanagar Empire ruled a large part of South India between 1336 and 1646. In the 16th century, the kingdom rose to prominence under the eminent leadership of King Krishnadevaraya. His continuous victories against his enemies ensured a successful and peaceful reign for his subjects. As a patron of art and literature, many crafts and cultural assets thrived in the empire.
Krishnadevaraya's beloved courtier, Tenali Raman is the finest example of the splendour of the Vijayanagar empire. He was born in Tenali, a town in Andhra Pradesh. He lived here until he lost his father, after which his mother brought him to Vijayanagar. He was discovered for his excellent wit and wisdom, and appointed in the court. He was one of the king's ashtadiggajas (collective name for the eight poets and scholars).
A statue of Tenali Ramakrishna near a Municipal Office in Andhra Pradesh Image source: wikimedia commons
Tenali Raman as a scholar, published great texts of wisdom, which have now become artefacts of the Kingdom of Vijayanagara. But his fame does not lie in these achievements. He is known for the mischievous jester that mythical folklore portrays him to be. Through stories, many writers have used jokes to impart wisdom and morals to many generations of people. The stories of Tenali Raman are almost legendary in the Southern peninsula.
Textbooks have been written with his moral stories in mind, and these days, many self-help book are also incorporating his wisdom. His most popular stories are, 'Mother Tongue', 'Cursed Face', 'Saluting the Donkeys' and many more. Through these stories, Tenali Raman, in some way, brought about social justice. Perhaps this is why he is most beloved by many people even today.
Keywords: Tenali Raman, Vijayanagar empire, Krishnadevaraya, Jester, Wisdom
It must be noted that different religions and societies in Southeast Asia have alternative narratives of Ramayana, one of the greatest epic.
Here are some of the versions of Ramayana!
Dasaratha Jakarta: The Buddhist Version
Interestingly, this version of Ramayana does not mention Ravana at all and in fact, there’s no mention of Sita’s abduction, too. In this version, Dasaratha is the king of Benaras and not Ayodhya. Also, Rama and Sita leaves kingdom and go to the Himalayas and not forests. Then, after twelve years, Rama and Sita return back to Benaras and get married.
Paumachariya: The Jaina Version
In this version, Lakshamana is the killer of Ravana and not Rama. Here, Rama is an ardent follower of Jainism, and so he cannot be the killer of Ravana. Also, this version states an army of warrior and not monkeys, as stated in Valmiki’s Ramayana. Another interesting feature of this version is that Ramayana is not shown as a villain, rather a magnanimous king and follower of Jainism.
Gond Ramayani: The Gond Version
Gond is an adivasi clan belonging from Madhya Pradesh in India. Interestingly, in this version, the story begins from where Valmiki’s Ramayana ended; when Sita is rescued from captivity. Also, Bhima, one of the Pandavas from the epic of Mahabharata, is mentioned in this version. Unlike Valmiki’s Ramayana, Rama is not the protagonist in this version.
Ramakien: The Thai Version
This is considered as Thailand's national epic, and is still taught in some schools in the country. In this version, Ravana is shown as a learned scholar and a noble king in this version. Also, Ravana’s pursuit for Sita is depicted as true love. There are a lot of similarities between this version of Ramayana and Valmiki’s version, but this version lays a lot of emphasis on Hanuman.
When a baby is born in an Indian household-they invite hijra to shower the newborn with their blessings for their blessings confer fertility, prosperity, and long life on the child. But when that child grows up we teach them to avert their eyes when a group of hijras passes by, we pass on the behaviour of treating hijras as lesser humans to our children. Whenever a child raises a question related to gender identity or sexuality they are shushed down. We're taught to believe that anything "deviant" and outside of traditional cis-heteronormativity is something to be ashamed of. This mentality raises anxious, scared queer adults who're ashamed of their own identity, and adults who bully people for "queer behaviour".
Hijras are a community of people who include eunuchs, intersex, and transgender people. They worship the Hindu goddess of chastity and fertility, Bahuchara Mata. Most hijras, but not all, choose to undergo a castration ceremony known as "nirvana" in which they remove their male genitalia as an offering to their goddess. The whole community is vibrant with hundreds of people with hundreds of ways of expression, the true identity of a hijra is complex and unique to each individual. In India, hijras prefer to refer to themselves as Kinner/Kinnar as it means the mythological beings who excel at singing and dancing.
Hijras worship the Hindu goddess of chastity and fertility, Bahuchara Mata.homegrown.co.in
The hijra community works systematically, the community separates itself from the outside world and teaches lessons to the young ones in secret. Each community has a guru and the other hijras are their disciples or chela. The "hijra ways of life" are taught to the disciples in a secluded environment where they leave their families and live with other hijras in the community. More often than not hijras are thought of as nothing different from transgender and often referred to as transgender; however, scientifically these two terms denote a different class of people. Hijras are a part of the whole community of people with various identities and of spiritual and cultural values meanwhile, transgender merely refers to those people whose gender identity differs from the sex assigned to them at birth, they are a part of the community and do not represent the whole community.
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Historically and culturally the community has existed in the Indian subcontinent as long as the civilization has existed. There are mentions of hijra in The Mahabharata, a holy book of Hindus. Shikhandi who was neither male nor female is a mythological legend. In another version of Mahabharata Arjuna, one of the Pandavas was cursed to be the third gender by Urvashi, when he refused to be sexually involved with her. In a story by Padma Purana, it is seen that Arjuna transforms into a woman to take part in Krishna's mystical dance which only women can take part in. The Hijra figures are prominent in Indian Mughal History as well, referred to as Khwaja Siras and known for their loyalty to the ruler, they worked as the sexless watchdogs of the Mughal harems. They held important positions in court and various facets of administration during Mughal-era India, from the 16th to 19th century. The Hijra community is a testament to the sexual diversity that is integral yet often forgotten in Indian culture.
If the whole hijra community was looked upon with enamor and respect in our history, what happened that when we come across the community we look at them with contempt and are filled with a mixture of negative, fear, laughter, and odd emotions. It's owing to the fact that under British Raj, the Criminal tribes Act 1871 hijras were criminalized and the law was made to eradicate the whole community. However, these acts were abolished by the Indian government after independence, and by 2014, India, Nepal, and Bangladesh all had officially recognized third gender people as citizens deserving of equal rights where the third gender means individuals categorizing themselves as neither male nor female. Even though the progress is slow but in 2015 Madhu Kinnar became the first hijra mayor in India was elected in the city of Raigarh.
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Although the hijra community was revered by society and is invited to births and weddings for religious and spiritual ceremonies, they still become victims of abuse and discrimination. Violence and hate crimes against the community have become common. They are deprived of education, job opportunities, seating in restaurants, etc. leading them to live in poor conditions barely surviving. They often have to resort to begging and prostitution to earn a daily living. The government has tried to address this issue by introducing bills for the protection of the hijra community, with prison terms and other punishments for those offending them, but there is little to no less effect on the social stigma against the community.
In India, the hijra community comes under the umbrella term LGBTQ+ and we notice that they lack voice and representation when it comes to LGBTQ+ rights. We need to understand that when we fight for LGBTQ+ rights we fight for the whole community, we fight for hijras who have been victims of violence, hate crimes, and disrespect from none other than the people of our society. And although hijras are a part of the LGBTQ+ community as a whole, they have an independent subculture of their own. It is worth every effort to know about them, to study about them, to befriend them, and to smile at them for they are every bit of human as we are and they have nothing but blessings in their heart.