Attacking India’s home in Britain, as witnessed with Khalistani extremists vandalising the Indian High Commission in London, is simply abhorrent.
By coincidence, this weekend, I attended a fascinating conference organised by a non-profit NGO, Insight UK, which brought a number of scholars and researchers to show how mis-represented India often is in the western media. This reminded me of my self-organised 1,500-mile Masala Tour of India conducted in 2010, whose aim was to educate British media about the vast positive contribution of Indians to British economy, society and wellbeing. It was born out of both frustration and a desire to educate rather than argue.
Fortunately, I managed to persuade the BBC then to cover it widely, and the ‘Guardian’ also did a full-page profile on it. The aim was to showcase the active building of peace and communities, which is often so misunderstood by a commercial and anxiety-prone attention seeking media. Every Indian anywhere in the World is directly hurt by this misrepresentation.
Hardly had the ink dried from my Insight conference when we heard news of a major criminal attack led by Sikh Khalistanis at the India House in London, which included damage to the Indian flag. This has been widely condemned by senior politicians and leaders, including many Sikh leaders. For believers and practitioners of peace and social and community cohesion, such terrorism is deeply disturbing.
Building harmony through our work, business and good neighbourliness takes years, decades and even centuries. However, its disruption can be very easy, but deserves the strongest condemnation. And this should be actively reported not undermined or subverted in the western press, in their search for attention-grabbing headlines and active chaos.
Readers of my weekly column would know that I am very concerned about the misunderstanding of Dharma and its vast ocean of scientific and cultural wisdom. A secular ignorant media often sees any act of religiosity as fanaticism. This is so far from the truth, especially when they know how deeply disturbed Britain is by its mental health crisis, economic inequality, misogyny and high sexual paranoia. All over the country, there are unique Indian monuments to community building, whether it is in schools, community centres, temples and gurudwaras or Yoga centres. The Nishkam Sikh Centre headquartered in Handsworth, Birmingham and led by Bhai Mohinder Singh is a unique role model of this pro-active peace building. It is welcoming to one and all.
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All of these spaces are built and funded by local communities, without a penny of taxpayer money, and have armies of selfless volunteers who believe in sewa and service as an active way of practising their Dharma. The economic, social and cultural impact of these is immeasurable. Furthermore, our professional ethics and leadership in hospitals, health surgeries, accounting firms, businesses and trade bodies, the legal profession, are all ways in which we actively build a harmonious workplace, though this is rarely acknowledged in the media as uniquely Indian. How quickly we moved from running corner shops to managing large global businesses, becoming senior professionals, creating hundreds of thousands of jobs, and bringing much needed trade relationships to boost our economies, is again rarely celebrated.
Given our vast sustainability and existential crisis, the media really need to reflect deeply on its own ethics and purpose. Journalists need to be sent into communities to understand how open-minded Dharma is, and how not only does it include respect for other humans, but animals and nature too. They need time and space to soak in Dharma, and melt their suspicions and scepticisms from the evidence of personal observation, experience and interviews of local people.
Journalists need to have responsible ethics and purpose as a guiding principle. This is long before they write a single report or column. Editors in particular should go on field trips and get out of their offices, something they so rarely do today. I would be happy to provide such guided tours and have done so in the past.
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Let us find the honest words to say what is unacceptable and abhorrent for all our better futures.
Professor Atul K. Shah [@atulkshah] teaches and writes about Indian wisdom on business, culture and community at various UK universities and is a renowned international author, speaker and broadcaster.