What makes migrants such an asset, rather than a liability

What makes migrants such an asset, rather than a liability

When a community migrates, there is great risk. One of the biggest challenges is the preservation of language, culture and identity. The migrant has to fit in to the new country to assimilate and get a job and qualifications to match. It is a must that they learn the new local language and customs and dress and socialise appropriately too. In the case of migration to Britain there is an extra dimension of power and inferiority – we are coming to the headquarters of our proud colonial masters who saw us as ‘heathens’ who needed to be civilised.

Last week, I was fortunate to be a guest of the BAPS Swaminarayan Sanstha who were celebrating a 10-day Festival of Inspiration in memory of their visionary and ambitious Guru the late Pramukh Swami Maharaj.

Over 2,000 young British born Indian volunteers designed and delivered their own creative programmes which conveyed messages of peace and family unity in very vibrant and innovative ways. This Mandir is a vast cultural magnet in Britain and dubbed as one of the greatest additions to British architecture. The entire festival was free and open to all Britons at a time when children and families are on vacation.

The BAPS Hindu migration story originated from Uganda in East Africa where the followers were highly successful and talented entrepreneurs. Unfortunately, Idi Amin threw them out, and instead of crying over their losses they soon re-established themselves because they had the most important asset needed by any migrant community – deep culture, faithful resilience and a vast bank of trust, relationships and social capital nurtured in Uganda. In an era obsessed by sustainability, the simple fact that culture is a critical thread is forgotten by scientists and net zero fundamentalists.

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There have been other similar stories of ‘twice’ migrants to Britain via East Africa like the Oshwal Jains of whom I am a cultural and intellectual ‘soldier’. Research has shown how these migrants have not only succeeded in retaining and reinterpreting their Dharmic culture and values, but they have given it a new creativity and vibrancy which is truly unique and based on open mindedness and sharing ethical values through community festivals and events. Twice migrants can also mean double the experience of migration and assimilation.

The Young Jains, a movement I founded in 1988 has now gone global and even launched in India with a democratic spirit of curiosity and questioning which were the basis of its birth in London. The Young Jains of America have embraced challenges of identity and community in new and refreshing ways such that when visitors from India come, they begin to appreciate the depth and beauty of their own Dharmic science in a new way.

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Thousands of miles away from the motherland, Indians all over the world continue to protect and invigorate their Dharma in new inclusive ways. The National Hindu Students Forum is yet another highly distinguished University Campus example of how our students carry and reinterpret their identity and faith in a scientific arena. Ours has never been a battle for rights and demands for acceptance but one of quiet resilience and inclusivity, for which the BAPS are a shining example. Dharmic wisdom should be celebrated at a time when the world is desperate to build peace with nature and humanity. It’s a vast reservoir of both knowledge AND spirit. Migrants bring it with them etched in their soul and share it with one and all. What’s not to like about that?

Professor Atul 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.

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