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Rishi Sunak, One British Lesson That India Should Heed

Britain has a new prime minister of Indian origin, Rishi Sunak. In India, Muslims are regularly stigmatized and excluded from public life. Sunak taking the UK's top job is a proud moment, but it should also be a moment for introspection.

Rishi Sunak, One British Lesson That India Should Heed

Rishi Sunak has become the UK's first British Prime Minister of Asian descent

Siddharth Varadarajan


NEW DELHI — I lived in London from 1979 to 1986 — as a student rather than as a migrant — but saw enough of British life then to appreciate exactly how far the country has travelled in the 36 years since I left its shores.

I was 14 when my father was posted to London, and 21 when I moved to New York. In those seven years, I completed my ‘O’ and ‘A’ levels from a comprehensive school in a South London working class neighborhood and went on to read economics at the London School of Economics.

Margaret Thatcher was prime minister throughout this time, casual racist violence by fascist thugs from the National Front and British National Party was a fairly routine occurrence and the racism of the police — especially towards young people from the Black community — was a fact of life.

I never encountered any physical abuse and little by way of racial taunts either. During a lunch break football game in my first or second week at school, a white British kid on my side shouted to me, "pass the ball, Stan." When the game ended, I told him my name wasn’t Stan. His reply cracked me up: “Oh, I meant Stan as in Pakistan.”

The beginning of diversity in politics

As I recall, he said this in the least offensive way — without emphasis on the "Paki" part of the word. He and his friends asked me my name and said if it was OK if they called me "Sid."

This is my own little backstory to the remarkable rise of an Indian-origin politician

From that day on, I never had any problem at the (overwhelmingly white) school. But it was clear that British society had a problem with racism, fueled by overblown demographic fears (stoked by right-wing politicians) and unfounded questions about the "loyalty" to Britain of immigrants and their descendants.

Blacks and South Asians were not very visible in public life when I arrived, but things were beginning to change by the time I left. There hadn’t been a South Asian or Black in the House of Commons since Shahpurji Saklatvala, the Indian-origin communist, lost the Battersea seat in 1929. But in 1987, Diane Abbott, Paul Boateng and Keith Vaz got elected and soon others followed.

A moment to look within

This is my own little backstory to the remarkable rise of an Indian-origin politician to the post of British prime minister.

Sure, Rishi Sunak’s life experiences may not be representative of those of most immigrant families but then neither have the life experiences of the other men and women — all white — who have been PM. In the UK, if there is one aspect of life that has not changed in decades, it is that class trumps race. But that’s a question for another day.

Indians in India have greeted the news of Sunak’s elevation with a feeling of awe and pride. For Sunak, this is a remarkable personal achievement. Most of all, it is the British people as a whole who have a right to feel proud about this profoundly symbolic moment. They have embraced and celebrated their diversity in a remarkable fashion and they are not the only European countries to have done so.

Ireland and Portugal have both had prime ministers of Indian origin. But instead of feeling happy for themselves, Indians in India sorely need to ask themselves what has happened not just to the religious diversity and cultural pluralism that has been a part and parcel of Indian life for thousands of years, but to India’s own history of real and even symbolic exclusion of entire communities on the basis of caste.

An artist puts the finishing touches to the painting of Rishi Sunak at the Gurukul school of art in Mumbai

Ashish Vaishnav/SOPA Images/ZUMA

A polarized India

When Sunak was among the top contenders for the job (in a run that proved unsuccessful that time around), Kancha Ilaiah drew attention to the lesson in tolerance that "Christian" Britain was now offering what he called "Hindu" India:

"Britain bestrode a Christian colonial empire. Yet that Britain now allows Sunak to compete for the top job. No British opposition leader or even his party’s own competitors for prime minister have raised the question of his religion. His wealth, yes. His attitude toward the working class, yes. And his wife’s tax avoidance, yes. All very good questions in a democracy. (These questions, by the way, are rarely asked in India.)"

India’s minorities, and especially Muslims, find themselves under attack on virtually every front

Compare the situation to that of India, where the government does not have a single Muslim minister and where the Bharatiya Janata Party and Sangh parivar have made it their mission to polarize India on the question of religion, especially Islam. Party leaders don’t think twice about vilifying Muslims and proclaiming their Hindu credentials. Unlike Britain, the question of religion has become paramount in the political discourse of the ruling establishment.

India's ugly modern reality

Even Prime Minister Narendra Modi has engaged in this politics. Witness the farewell speech he made for Vice President Hamid Ansari where he reduced a diplomat and statesman of great accomplishment to an individual whose career had been confined to a "circle" of postings linked to Islam.

Or his reference to the Muslim protesters against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, which excludes Muslim immigrants from claiming citizenship, as people who could be recognized from the clothes they wear. In a speech delivered in the midst of the 2019 general election, Modi mocked Congress leader Rahul Gandhi for standing from Wayanad, a constituency where "the minority is the majority."

Other BJP leaders like Yogi Adityanath tend to be more brazen in their speeches, as was Modi too, during the early years of his chief ministership. But the broad picture is such that India’s minorities, and especially Muslims, find themselves under attack on virtually every front — their sense of belonging in India assailed in the very same way that racists in Britain tried to do to Blacks and Asians for decades.

"Muslim-sounding" names of towns, localities, trains etc are being changed, school textbooks are being edited to reduce the salience of Muslims and Islam in India, Muslims accused of an unlawful act can have their home demolished as pre-trial punishment without the courts batting an eyelid.

Far from being able to aspire to the top job in India, Muslims everywhere see prudence in remaining invisible. Signs of diversity are considered best left hidden else they can and will be penalized. This is modern India’s ugly reality and the sooner we recognize this and start working to change it, the better.

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Anti-Gay Law Leaves Nowhere To Turn For Uganda’s LGBTQ+

Disowned by their families, evicted by their landlords, and persecuted by the state, LGBTQ Ugandans have fewer and fewer places to turn.

image of LGBTQ members

Members of the Talented Youth Community Fellowship, a Christian LGBTQ group in Uganda

Nakisanze Segawa & Beatrice Lamwaka

Welcome to Worldcrunch’s LGBTQ+ International. We bring you up-to-speed each week on the latest on everything LGBTQ+ — from all corners of the planet. This week, we feature an article by Nakisanze Segawa for Global Press Journal on how Uganda’s LGBTQ+ community is living in fear under the country’s recent anti-homosexuality law. But first, the latest news…

✉️ You can receive our LGBTQ+ International roundup every week directly in your inbox. Subscribe here.

TW: This content may address topics and include references to violence that some may find distressing

🌐 5 things to know right now

• European court slams Russia in two cases of homophobic violence: On Sept. 12, the European Court of Human Rights found Russia guilty of two cases of homophobic police violence. In one case, a man was kidnapped in 2017 by authorities and beaten while in custody. In the second case, the court sided with 11 Russians who said they had been unlawfully arrested during LGBTQ+ protests from 2011 to 2012. Russia was ordered to pay each of the victims up to €52,000 ($56,000) in damages.

• Kenyan upholds LGBTQ+ NGO registration: Kenya’s Supreme Court rejected the government’s bid to overturn a ruling ordering it to recognize the National Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission as an NGO. The appeal came from MP Peter Kaluma, who claimed the NGO would support the “promotion” of homosexuality. The court scolded Kaluma, writing that, as a member of parliament, he “ought to have known that this application was misconceived.”

Elle Hungary cover features gay fathers: The Hungarian edition of Elle Magazine put two gay fathers and their baby on the cover, under the headline “Born From Love”. Elle editors said that they wanted to “contribute to the acceptance of rainbow families” as the Hungarian government continues to introduce more anti-LGBTQ+ policies.

• Andorra’s prime minister comes out as gay: Xavier Espot Zamora, Prime Minister of the tiny European country of Andorra, revealed that he is gay during an interview with the nation’s public broadcaster. He said that he’s “never hid it,” and added that his orientation has no bearing on his politics. He said he hopes that his coming out might help young people see that “regardless of their condition or sexual orientation, (they) can prosper in this country.”

• Almost half of Grindr’s staff resign: Dating app Grindr lost 45% of its employees after announcing a strict return-to-the-office policy – shortly after a majority of staff announced they planned to unionize. The new schedule would require workers to be in the office two days a week, and would force many employees to relocate. The Communications Workers of America union has filed a labor complaint against the company.

Anti-Gay Law Leaves Nowhere To Turn For Uganda’s LGBTQ+

KAMPALA — Just two days after the Ugandan Parliament passed the Anti-Homosexuality Act in March, Sam received a call. Her landlord asked her to leave the house she had been renting for almost two years in Kyebando-Kanyanya village, about 4 miles from Kampala.

When Sam, a lesbian who prefers to be identified by one name for fear of stigmatization, asked why she was being evicted, her landlord asked to meet her the following day in the presence of the local chairman (a village leader). She declined, asking for a one-on-one meeting. At the meeting, Sam’s landlord told her that her son, a human rights lawyer, warned her the new law would punish landlords who rent rooms to “homosexuals.”

“‘I don’t want to be arrested on accusations of promoting homosexuality because you are my tenant,’” Sam says the landlord told her.

The landlord told her she — and the community — knew she was in a sexual relationship with another woman. At the time, Sam’s partner had not been living in the country for months, but with the probability of the president signing the Anti-Homosexuality Act into law, the witch hunt was already on to identify those who should be reported.

Sam didn’t deny or confirm her sexual identity to the landlord but immediately vacated the premises.President Yoweri Museveni’s recent signing of the Anti-Homosexuality Act into law threatens to make the lives of community members who identify as LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or queer) even more difficult, as landlords will face consequences for renting property to them.

According to reports published in April and May by the Human Rights Awareness and Promotion Forum, a local nongovernmental organization that provides legal aid, there was increased violence, including evictions of LGBTQ persons in Uganda, after Parliament passed the bill but before the president signed it.

In the two-month period from March 21, when Parliament passed the bill, to May 29, the last day before the law came into force, HRAPF handled 141 cases involving LGBTQ or suspected LGBTQ persons. This is twice as many incidents than were reported in all of 2021.

Of these cases, 65% involved violence or violations that targeted individuals purely or partly on the basis of their presumed sexuality and gender identity, and affected a total of 159 persons. Twenty-eight of these cases were evictions, affecting 66 persons.

In the 21-day period after the law came into force, from May 30 to June 20, HRAPF handled a further 43 cases involving LGBTQ persons, of which eight cases were evictions that affected nine individuals. The evictions were mostly carried out by property owners, though local council leaders were also involved in some. The evictions in these three weeks are almost three times as many as were reported in all of 2021 and only slightly higher than those recorded in the second half of 2020.

Sam believes the bill has ruined the relationship between landlords — many of whom were previously tolerant of members of the LGBTQ community — and tenants.

A statement issued by Anita Among, speaker of Uganda’s Parliament, after the presidential signing of the bill, reads, “I now encourage the duty bearers under the law to execute the mandate bestowed upon them in the Anti-Homosexuality Act. The people of Uganda have spoken, and it is your duty to now enforce the law in a fair, steadfast and firm manner.”

The law is explicit on the risks to those thought to be housing members of the community. The main section dealing with tenancy is titled “Brothels,” but it could easily be construed as anyone renting property to someone from the community. Clause B of section 12 reads, “A person being the owner or occupier of premises or having or acting or assisting in the management or control of the premises, induces or knowingly causes any man or woman to resort to or be upon such premises for the purpose of being unlawfully and carnally known by any man or woman of the same sex whether such carnal knowledge is intended to be with any particular man or woman, commits an offence and is liable, on conviction, to imprisonment for one year.”

But John Musila, member of Parliament for the Bubulo East constituency, says, “Those claiming to be evicted are artificial homosexuals promoting homosexuality for monetary gains. No landlord will come to look through your door to see who you are sleeping with. Then how can they be punished for housing people they have not caught in the act of sex?”

The lawmaker, who voted for the Anti-Homosexuality Act, adds, “The law is very clear. It doesn’t discriminate or punish someone for being gay or a lesbian because we know that in our African communities, we have always had these people.” Speaking about a 75-year-old bisexual woman in his village, whom the community knows about and who has never been attacked, he says, “The law only punishes those who are caught in the homosexual act: a man having sex with a man, an individual raping a minor, a woman having sex with a woman. It also punishes those who promote it.”

Musila also says that the HRAPF reports on evictions and violence against the community are a ploy to get donor funding and “not an actual reflection of events where homosexuals were caught having sex, therefore breaking the law.”

Musila’s statements reflect the confusing language of the Anti-Homosexuality Act, which lists one of its primary principles as “prohibiting any form of sexual relations between persons of the same sex and the promotion or recognition of sexual relations between persons of the same sex.”

Those being evicted could be suffering an unintended consequence of the law. Eron Kiiza, a human rights lawyer, says landlords are required by the law to terminate the tenancy of those they discover “engaged in homosexuality.” Not knowing that their tenant is a member of the LGBTQ community is a legal defense, but one that is difficult for landlords to prove. If members of the community are found living in a certain premise, the landlord could still be subjected to criminal proceedings which are traumatizing and can lead to stigmatization of the landlord even if they eventually get acquitted. Kiiza also adds that prior to the law, there were already landlords who were hostile to the community due to religious or cultural reasons. The new law not only empowers them to evict LGBTQ individuals but also obligates them to do so as soon as they discover their sexuality.

Read the full story, translated by Worldcrunch here.

— Nakisanze Segawa & Beatrice Lamwaka / Global Press Journal

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