Majority vs Minority: The great migration debate of our times

Majority vs Minority: The great migration debate of our times

Stratification and division are a fact, in nature and in societies. A single cell divides and splits further, giving rise to life and evolution. Similarly, societies split, merge and reform based on movements of people caused by migration, invasions or trade. As time progressed, these groups of people retained their identities in the regions where they lived and with the advent of modern nation states, led to the majority-minority binary in our times. While this stratification and division is an interesting topic in the syllabus of anthropological studies, in real life, the majority-minority binary could cause complexities and conflict, especially in democracies.

Inbuilt mechanisms

The Jews were a tiny but influential minority in many European countries until the Holocaust dramatically altered their status but led to a Jew majority nation state in Israel. Countries in the Middle East, while ostensibly Muslim by population have their own majorities and minorities in terms of the Shia-Sunni divide or divisions based on ethnicities like the Kurds or Hazaras. In authoritarian regimes, we have often observed minority populations being stifled or oppressed, often leading to genocides.

Democracies, mercifully, have inbuilt safety mechanisms that prevent an outright denial of minority rights and majority hegemony through a strong rule of law and representation in legislatures. The democracies of Europe, Americas, far East Asia and India stand testimony to the efforts made by these societies to provide a level playing field to all sections of society through effective legislation and law enforcement. While gaps always remain in how these measures play out on the ground and equal societies remain a step too far, the direction of these nations is positive towards that goal.

Status quo

I grew up in India and my identity meant I was part of the solid majority of the population. This meant I had no special benefits, reservations or sops. There was also a recognition in my part of society that certain groups had suffered historically and therefore deserved a certain leeway in access to opportunities and state support. Despite this, as I grew up, I observed the narrative staying fixed on the grievances of the minority groups, meant to permanently box them into the “minority”, and hence the perennially oppressed corner. Any attempt at change of status quo in terms of policies or laws meant a significant resistance from these groups and an ever-ready narrative that it was a physical attack by the “majority” on the “minority”.

Situations are never static and societies continuously evolve but because certain discriminatory policies based on real and imagined grievances; create avenues for benefits to special interest groups, which become a capital to be exploited at all times. The term “minorityism”, while not being in the dictionary, has now gained recognition to describe this phenomenon. Every group now looks to call themselves a minority, with injustices they claim to be on the receiving end of, in compensation of which they want certain benefits to accrue to them. In contrast, the majority remains to look at the big picture, think of the greater good and pitch in for maintaining stability and security of the society, accused of insensitivity at best, and intimidating, at worst, towards the minority.

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Vote banks

When I moved over to the UK, I carried that majoritarian instinct with me. That meant I had a stake in the stability and prosperity of the society and nation, was willing to work hard, play by the rules and expected no special treatment for any reason whatsoever. However, my ethnicity and appearance naturally made me a minority here. Britain, being a working democracy, with an ultimate aim to be fair and just, has become indulgent of minorities in these times. To add to that, with slim margins of victories in parliamentary constituencies and tiny majorities of population groupings in quite a few of them, vote bank politics have also meant much more pandering to minority demands than before.

As I looked around, I noticed different groups asking for insignificant things like removing statues to from parks because they offended them, or availability of certain type of meat in shops, or approval to wear certain attires, or not teach what they deemed offensive in schools. This was the same minorityism rampant in India playing itself here. What this also entails is that as the minority groups push such demands, causing a nuisance over these narrow matters; the special interest groups, intelligentsia and most importantly, media make tremendous noise in their favour, the governments and legislators bend over backwards to pander to these noisemakers; while the silent majority looks on, in silence and forced guilt.

Join the system

Therefore, what does a person like me, naturally slotted as a minority based on where he was born, how he looks and what he prays to, but firmly believes in no special favours for himself, do in these circumstances? Do I join in the permanently angry, aggrieved hordes, always pointing the negative, trying to seek inane concessions, making myself heard but rather hoarsely? Alternatively, is there another way out of this construct of letters and acronyms that come to defining me? This conflict kept playing on my mind and exacerbated as the pandemic raged and the dominant narrative became that of me being in special danger because of who I was.

This is when what I saw on TV, playing day in and out, gave me clarity. We saw doctors, scientists, technicians and even politicians of South Asian origin leading from the front on the ground, receiving the recognition, even fronting interviews and briefings, often times calming the public with their knowledge and demeanour.

We had a tough Home Secretary and Chancellor, both from minority backgrounds, battling the pandemic, with their wits and means, in great capacity. When the Chancellor announced the furlough scheme, or the top doctors assured the people with advice or efficacy of vaccines, what we saw was not the tiny minority being visible, but the fact that there is no majority-minority divide anymore.

Why do I say so? Because the minority has really become part of the majority here. This is the alternative model. It is not that the Rishi Sunak or Priti Patel are part of a model or ideal minority. They are really a part of the majority, pillars and instruments of the polity. The other professionals are part of the administrative setup that represent the majority, that silent body of people who uphold the stability, rule of law and order in the society.

I found this answer to my quandary on what is the right way to represent oneself when one is in numerical minority. You do not make noise on tiny matters that make you look ridiculous when you bully people based on them. You do not go around breaking or smearing things because your belief was offended. What you do is that you join the system, thus become part of the majority by affecting their lives, and in a subtle manner, make people respect your beliefs like quietly lighting diyas on your doorstep in full media glare.

That is the right way.

Abhijit Kothiwale is an IT sales consultant working for a large Indian multinational based out of London. He spent his education and early working years in India and after having lived in the US and Singapore, has made his home in the UK for the last 11 years. In this London Desi column, he gives his perspective on topics of interest to the Indian diaspora.

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