Comment: Do you want to pass the Tebbit test?


The cricket world cup is well underway in England - and so far, no British politician has questioned the loyalty (to Britain) of the masses of immigrant fans who are supporting the Indian, Pakistani and Bangladeshi sides.

Whereas a few years back, Norman Tebbit, a leading light in the Thatcher years, asked a question which became known as the "Tebbit Test" to determine if Asian and Caribbean immigrants felt truly British: If England was playing another side, which team would the immigrants support? The answer, if the current world cup is anything to go by, is glaringly obvious: virtually all immigrants would happily fail the Tebbit Test. You only have to look at the huge amount of support the sub-continental teams are getting.

On the face of it, Tebbit's Test seems a reasonable one. If you acquire the nationality of a different country, it only seems fair that you also be loyal to it. But as we all know, life is not that simple.

In the build-up to the world cup, the reporter of a newspaper asked a British Indian here in London which team he would support. His answer was immediate: If India was playing, he would support India. If England was playing against a team other than India, he would support England. He added that just because he was British, that did not eliminate his Indian identity.

But why was he so keen to hang on to his Indian identity? After all, he had grown up in the UK and had only visited India a couple of times. He wasn't even an NRI who had strong links with India. So where did this sense of attachment come from?

His answer was revealing: since he had never been totally accepted in society as British and would always remain a foreigner, there was no need for him to be excessively loyal to Britain. And since no one could question his Indian roots, he took great comfort from that. In a sense, he was asking the Tebbit test the other way around: How accepting was Britain of its immigrants? The answer to that would determine his loyalties.

India has a similar "problem" with those Muslims who regularly support Pakistan when it comes to cricket. It is easy to criticise these Muslims for their "betrayal" - especially given that Muslims have lived in India for hundreds of years, as opposed to Indian immigration to the West, a phenomenon by and large confined to this century.

However, the problem stems not from the Muslims simply wanting to betray India out of some misguided sense of loyalty towards Pakistan. The reality is more uncomfortable than that. Just like our British Indian friend, the Indian Muslim will support Pakistan as long as he feels alienated living in India. Luckily, those Indians who live in non-cricket playing countries - the US, Canada and so on, will rarely have the "opportunity" to have their loyalties questioned in such fashion. Nonetheless, the inner debate rages on. But should it?

In today's world of jet travel and speed-of-light communication, we are bound to bump into questions about identity. People often move countries - and it is not just Indians who do so - the Chinese, Americans, Australians, New Zealanders..virtually every nationality has people who go and live elsewhere. But no one expects them to change their loyalties. Why do NRIs feel forced to choose? And more importantly, should they?

The answer is no. There is nothing wrong in having loyalties to more than one country, or even favouring one country over another. After all, is there anything wrong in having more than one friend, or liking one friend more than another? It simply is a matter of personal attachment. Most NRIs work very hard, and in doing so contribute greatly to the countries they live in - and in some ways, give far more than some of the more loyal native citizens.

As NRIs, we only need to be aware of the boundary between healthy patriotism and unthinking fanaticism towards towards India. Patriotism, yes. Fanatacism, no. It is up to us to distinguish between the two.

Our British Indian relates a story that illustrates this perfectly. In a test match in the early 1990s, India was playing against England at the Oval. He was sitting with a bunch of Indian fans, who made the usual noises and chants in support of the Indian team. They then waited expectantly for the English supporters to chant in support of England, so that they [the Indians] could respond, and the cycle could begin once again - a kind of good-natured game in itself.

However, after waiting in vain for a response from the English supporters, the Indian fans got bored. So they split themselves up into two groups - one singing in support for the English team, and the other for the Indians.

- Chetan Dhruve in London

The views of this column are the author's own, and do not necessarily represent the views of NRI Online.

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