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.