It's not brown man's burden

Posted on June 7, 2010 | Author: Sudeshna Sen | View 907 | Comment : 1

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It's like those invisible mosquito bites, the ones you ignore — until they give you malaria. Slowly, invisibly, the level of xenophobia, and more specifically Indophobia — yes, there is such a concept, says Wiki — is rising, in inverse correlation to the respective economic indicators of the developed and emerging markets.

Since I’m not Chinese, I can’t speak for them, but increasingly, Indians working in the professional and business communities in the UK, and I hear in Europe as well, are getting the feeling we’re living and working in hostile territory.
Minor irritants in isolation, but it’s building up. It’s the one thing I’ve always appreciated about Britain, despite everything else that’s falling apart. It’s not racist, and it used to be the most welcoming and tolerant of foreigners in the EU.

We’re used to being asked if we speak Indian. We’re used to being slightly patronised. After all, we’re strangers in a strange land. But it’s becoming a bit of a strain to be the ‘front-office’ face of the accidental victor in this shift of economic power from west to east thing.

We didn’t invent the global financial crisis. We didn’t decide that European employers should go belly up and sell out to Indian owners. We’re not to blame that we still have jobs, savings and, well, a reasonable lifestyle, while the locals don’t.
I’ve been asking around — the anecdotal evidence, as market researchers say, is mounting, unfortunately; most of which I can’t even mention. When job cuts are being discussed at the office lunch, Indians will be told, ‘but you can always go back and get a great job in India’. Or an acquaintance tells me, “Ever since we bought the BMW, our neighbours on the street stopped talking to us.”
At least three rather anguished Indian businessmen types have asked me why, for instance, the British press is getting so negative about India; “Why do they keep trying to find fault, unnecessarily?” Maybe because it’s human nature to be resentful or sceptical when you keep reeling off double-digit numbers, and they’re usually working in percentage points? I dunno. Ask them or the PRs.
Others ask me why, when they’re FDI investors, setting up companies, hiring locals, creating jobs and growth, paying chunky taxes, and contributing to the UK economy, they face resentment.

Maybe because, unlike India, this has never been a capital-starved country till now, so they don’t still see you as some kind of economic saviour? I’m just guessing here. I just know I pop a lot more BP pills these days while I’m out and about to avoid busting a gut from periodic attacks of indignation.
It’s definitely not racism, because the hostility is quite as much, if not more, from British Asians. It’s not post-colonial stress syndrome either. No young Briton gives a hang about empire; that’s only among the WWII generation.

If you talk to the Brits, they’ll insist it’s just the anti-immigrant xenophobia sweeping what they call Middle England and working classes — the UK aam aadmi — an issue that dominated recent elections.

Nothing to worry, Britain’s really, really open for business. Okay, but how do we go about transacting that business? The buyer-seller, employer-employee, owner-tenant, supplicant-donor, Alpha male equations are changing, at the micro level.

It creates for a lot of friction. While all that talk about economic power moving east sounds terribly nice in talking head conferences, nobody seems to be writing any management books on how to manage the transition at ground zero.
The kind of people I trust for cross-border insights tell me I’m picking up signals of this socio-economic shift. There’s a generation of Europeans and Brits (and Americans) who never dreamt of living with economic insecurity — and are suddenly faced with it.

Nobody wants to lie down and meekly surrender power to the other side of the world. The angst and envy ascribed to the underprivileged is becoming socially-upwardly mobile.

That argument I can buy — after all, I rarely have to interact with a typical Sun reader, the kind who’s being blamed by the local establishment for all this xenophobia, in the course of my professional life.
On the Indian side, while most Indian-Indians are used to blatant gender, community, caste or class biases — rampant all over Indian workplaces — what they don’t understand is being pilloried for success. We worship success; the Brits don’t.
Besides, in the last five years, a new class of Indians has migrated out to Europe following the globalisation trail of India Inc. They won’t stay in desighettos, they insist on having nice homes in nice neighbourhoods, reading their Kindles and iPhones in the tube, sending kids to private schools, driving around in swish cars.

They’re seen splashing out at restaurants and shopping malls. If they’re doing business or working here, they’re doing it on their own terms; many have come with wider global experience. They don’t exactly see why they should defer to their juniors or suppliers, not their bosses.
As an aside, though, trust me, there’s very little conspicuous consumption — not even a fraction of the level common in India now; it just isn’t done in this culture, and the habit of understatement rubs off. Meanwhile, I think I should ask for a hardship allowance now, like expats in India do.

Why should heat and dust be any different from living with Indophobia? Or being in the frontlines of the next big socio-economic warfront be any different from other kinds of political risk?

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Comments (1)

  • That is a part of life.

    Posted by santosh , Executive at Nippon Audiotronix Ltd | 08 Jun, 2010

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