New Internationalist

Rooting out hate

cup of tea
Tea: an English tradition with beginnings overseas Gordon Joly, under a CC License

Tea and sympathy is a tried and tested therapy, a highly honoured ritual in India as well as in Britain. But I must say, the success of the York mosque group in getting the English Defence League (EDL) supporters to ‘come in for a cuppa’, takes the cake. I just loved it. Which goes to show anything is possible. And stereotyping people is a pastime we, in general, and I in particular, should avoid like the plague.

Thinking outside of the box is a rare gift. Most folk just don’t have the imagination to do this. I know I don’t. I tried to imagine how I, as a minority, would deal with a not very friendly visit from a probably hostile, definitely angry, mob. I’d be as scared as hell I’m sure. So whoever thought of handing out tea and custard creams with the suggestion of a game of football after, is to me, a positive genius.

I also read an article which featured some wise York Muslim leader saying something like, I paraphrase not quote: ‘Tea is the most traditional English custom one can think of. Yet it came to you from China!’ That, though it’s a common, well-known fact, left me gobsmacked. And gives us all pause for thought.

The Indian middle classes are addicted to their afternoon, four o’ clock cuppa, their equally loved chai. We definitely picked that up somewhere during those two hundred years of the British Raj. Yet while Anglophiles stick to a biscuit or piece of cake with that desperately needed four o’ clock chai, most average Indians are happier pairing their brew with a hot samosa, a couple of bujjis (please note pronunciation, bhaaji for the uninitiated, is merely a vegetable curry, not the crispy snack!) or a hot vada in South India.

The comforting qualities of chai aside, there are definitely lessons to be learnt for all of us. In the aftermath of the Mumbai Hindu-Muslim riots in 1993, many NGOs and peace groups forged alliances between Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, Christians, Parsis, Buddhists and Jains. They marched from house to house, neighbourhood to neighbourhood with the slogan ‘Never Again’ . They asked people, ‘Do you want your children and future generations to witness another bloodbath? Or to live in peace?’ Their commitment communicated itself. Their passion was palpable. Helen Joseph, a well loved social work professor, recalled the hard work that went into the movement for communal harmony.

She and her students worked out campaigns, slogans, posters, plays. They went from slum to slum in the most terribly affected areas of Mumbai and fought for peace. They did so while a simultaneous campaign of hate was being unleashed all over India, urging Hindus to purge minorities out of Mumbai, out of India. Proponents of Hindutva were saying send Muslims back to Pakistan and Christians to Rome. The same groups attacked south Indian slum dwellers in the sixties, and targetted Biharis more recently. They spew venomous abuse against ‘the other’. Yet Hinduism has been a far more tolerant religion than Christianity or Islam.

So another lesson to be learnt is that minorities should also respect the feelings of the majority. I plan to expand on this theme for an Indian newspaper. But for Britain, I would say, it’s wonderful that peaceful groups were out to prevent hate crimes last Saturday. But the same groups should keep an equally watchful eye on places where minority leaders are infecting young people with hate and glorifying violence as the will of God. It’s time for everyone, including Muslims, to root out the terrorists and hate-mongers in their midst. This will work more than words to convince the majority.and to make the world a safer place for their children.

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  1. #1 Sabita Banerji 03 Jun 13

    Many people were very moved by the courage and creativity of the mosques that responded to hatred with tea and understanding. I think it is particularly fitting that a drink with deep roots in British and Asian culture should have been the oil that was poured on these troubled waters. I was more impressed with this than with the anti-fascist groups that marched against EDL by screaming 'racist scum' at them and jabbing their fingers in the air. How is this supposed to bring about peace and understanding? It just gives those who are members of the EDL and other extremist groups an excuse to become more extreme. And many of them may only have joined because of the terror that acts like the Woolwich killing created in them. Unpalatable though the EDL's message of hate is, if we don't acknowledge the fear that underlies it, we will only make it stronger. www.sabitaisabel.wordpress.com

  2. #2 Rebecca Cowden 03 Jun 13

    I have tried all my life as a mother, high school and university professor of cultural anthropology, to advocate knowledge of and respect for different cultures and religions. By far the hardest group to ’sell’ to my students and my children has been the Muslims. Before 9/11 and up to the Boston marathon bombings, my children and my students have more questions and reservations about Muslims than other groups or religions. It appears to many of my students that the Muslims are actively, currently committing acts of terrorism and are themselves intolerant and mean spirited to put it mildly. My students and my own children are well aware of Christian and American atrocities from the Crusades to the Native American genocide and enslavement of Africans to the Holocaust to napalm in South East Asia. These historical bloodbaths are worse in a body count sense, but, being in the past it is hard to do much about them besides learn and resolve. The current unapologetic hatred, intolerance and terrorist acts of (a minority) Muslims is hard to wrestle with because it is unrelenting and current. My students don't struggle with the five pillars of Islam or pilgrimages to Mecca. The contributions of Muslim culture are real and valuable; but the classroom questions are about intolerant extremists who blow 4 year olds apart. It would really, really help out if more Muslims and Muslim leaders on all levels would speak out with condemnation and repudiation of the twisted, sickening murders done as ’holy’ and ’religious’ acts. A few months ago a Muslim father on the East coast murdered his two teenage daughters and his court defense was based in his ideas of Muslim ’honor killings’. This just doesn't go over well to my children or my students as reasons to strive for multicultural respect.
    I really agree with the statement, ’It’s time for everyone, including Muslims, to root out the terrorists and hate-mongers in their midst’.

  3. #3 sujatha rangaswami 04 Jun 13

    thank you marie !i missed the tea and sympathy initiative completely and am happy you brought it to my attention. But Brava ! Cheers ! and thank you for keeping a fine balance throughout the article between hope and action. I am left with a feeling of optimism - i can ..we all can do something because there are others who are dong something by building a new path that bypasses our old one filled with prejudices! And yes we all have to remove the beam from our own eyes before seeing the mote in that of the other person /community

    I address this to Rebecca Cowden - Thank you for your work...i too can and should be doing my bit as you are. Re the father killing his daughters in the name of honour - you may be aware of this in all likelihood and pardon me if i am stating a known fact - it is a practise that is not based in religion i think ....since Sikhs Hindus and Muslims have reported killing of women who dishonour the family in India in the recent past . It is a cultural mindset which prompts not just women but men too who transgress community rules in areas of sexual/marital choice to be treated as symbols of family/comunity dishonour for which the only solution is wiping away of the symbol - execution if u will call it that ? or murder .

  4. #4 Ludwig Pesch 04 Jun 13

    Pleasant social and culinary customs, esp. in tense situations, go a long way in peace building. And will be remembered for life. Just ask anybody who was taken to India at an impressionable age - that humble cup or snack or tender coconut shared spontaneously has done more for international relations than scholarships and grand Festivals of India combined! No exaggeration here, it's true for many of my friends and their kids, most met in India to start with and never become indifferent to what concerns common people there. (Here in Holland we have seen top down ’cohesion’ schemes that failed in spite of best intentions.)
    Conversely the clever populist schemes have been effective in sowing the distrust that fosters violence or condoning it in the name of this or that creed or ideology. Interestingly these are wholly interchangeable in space, time. Just consider the alleged collective identity or ’evil’ intentions of the ’other’ where you live, and how it is being labelled for convenience or worse. Once risen on the social ladder, the next round of condecension or exploitation is justified by way of trading one's own group's former victimisation as if it was a package of stock market shares.
    Only good early education and role models, flanked by impartial judiciary and press will help youth to move on beyond the ’eye for an eye’ mentality Gandhiji warned against for it would render everybody blind.

  5. #5 Ludwig Pesch 04 Jun 13

    Pleasant social and culinary customs, esp. in tense situations, go a long way in peace building. And will be remembered for life. Just ask anybody who was taken to India at an impressionable age - that humble cup or snack or tender coconut shared spontaneously has done more for international relations than scholarships and grand Festivals of India combined! No exaggeration here, it's true for many of my friends and their kids, most met in India to start with and never become indifferent to what concerns common people there. (Here in Holland we have seen top down ’cohesion’ schemes that failed in spite of best intentions.)
    Conversely the clever populist schemes have been effective in sowing the distrust that fosters violence or condoning it in the name of this or that creed or ideology. Interestingly these are wholly interchangeable in space, time. Just consider the alleged collective identity or ’evil’ intentions of the ’other’ where you live, and how it is being labelled for convenience or worse. Once risen on the social ladder, the next round of condecension or exploitation is justified by way of trading one's own group's former victimisation as if it was a package of stock market shares.
    Only good early education and role models, flanked by impartial judiciary and press will help youth to move on beyond the ’eye for an eye’ mentality Gandhiji warned against for it would render everybody blind.

  6. #6 john dsouza 05 Jun 13

    ’respect the feelings of the majority’ is a much abused sentiment in the name of which many people particularly artists have been targeted. It is an excuse to whip up those feelings. Perhaps what you are talking about is respect for the culture and social systems of the majority.
    I am speaking as a city person, and I know that the reality is different in different kinds of rural areas. The problem today is that a very bastardised form of some of these cultural and social artifacts are being used for political mobilisation. Each of the political groups, have been seeking to expand the influence of the local ’cadres’ read as goons, who then distribute favours like for running services in the locality. They become the centres of abuse of such culture. Only those who submit to this distribution and use these services, are spared.. either in the name of religion or caste or even building v/s building.

  7. #7 mari 05 Jun 13

    Thanks John for taking the trouble to write.

    I meant, some sensitivity could go a long way. Such as Christians and Muslims having revolting beef shops in full view of the general public in India. I felt terrible that Hussain couldnt come back to India, and died in Dubai. But why on earth use Hindu goddesses to offend majority Hindu sentiments. Would he dare paint the Koran or Prophet in a way which would offend Muslims? Likewise in America artists are scared shitless about offending Islam. But they have free reign to be offensive to Christians or Jews. Thats not merely asking for trouble, they are gutless when they could be crucified for using ’difficult’ religious minorities in their offensive art.

    Over to you John.

  8. #8 Tony Horitz 06 Jun 13

    A very good point, Mari, and well made. The response from the York Mosque group was indeed successful because it was so imaginative. I've seen videos of anti- English Defence League campaigners going into EDL areas in London to distribute leaflets and being subjected to verbal abuse. They were shocked. But to me this seemed inevitable - you have to make some kind of space for real inter-action if you want to create any sort of change. Confrontation based on the ’We're right - you are just mindless thugs’ approach will never work - it just entrenches the sense of low self-esteem under educated people experienced at school. It encourages the reactive response - ’OK if that's our label, fine, we'll stick with that and celebrate it. We may be dumb but we can fight’.

    So yes, more tea parties, more stories and more plays - especially inter-active ones!

  9. #9 david cohen 14 Jun 13

    As I read Mari Marcel Thekaekara's posting memories flashed across for me.
    I was especially struck by her ending that the minorities should respect the
    majority's culture. Her comments on Christianity and Islam apply to fundamentalist
    Judaism as they do toall fundamentalist excesses of action (not belief) that violate
    other people's rights.

    As an American--a USAer to be exact-- and Jewsih I am a passionate devotee of
    pluralism and respect for all religious beliefs including those I argue against in
    my Jewish community.

    At the same time I participate fully in the American polity bringing Jewish social
    justice and ethical values to the American mix as we try to respect and improve
    the lives of our diverse population. I am joyously American and joyously Jewish.

    Reading Mari's moving blog I came away that one challenge in her part of the
    world is how to be joyously Hindu or Muslim or Sikh or Jain or or Christian or
    secular or something else and be joyously Indian.

    David Cohen
    Washington, DC
    June 13, 2013

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About the author

Mari Marcel Thekaekara a New Internationalist contributor

Mari is a writer based in Gudalur, in the Nilgiri hills of Tamil Nadu. She writes on human rights issues with a focus on dalits, adivasis, women, children, the environment, and poverty. Mari's book Endless Filth, published in 1999, on balmikis, is to be followed by a second book on campaigns within India to abolish manual scavenging work. She co-founded Accord in 1985 to work with Adivasi people. Mari has been a contributor to New Internationalist since 1991.

About the blog I travel around India a lot, covering dalit and adivasi issues. I often find myself really moved by stories that never make it to the mainstream media. My son Tarsh suggested I start blogging. And the New Internationalist collective are the nicest bunch of editors I’ve worked with. So here goes.

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