I have always believed that I have been brought up in a cosmopolitan world. I wanted to move out of my country, experience the world – that I read about in the newspapers. I knew that there were many others like me out there who were eager to meet me, experience my experiences, share theirs.
When I was 19, I first moved out of my country to visit Singapore. It was a short, 3 week stay, which ended up being more of a tourism visit, than a living experience. In that short span of time, I liked the people I met, loved the food I ate, cherished the memories I received.
But life is more than just tourism. It’s when you live in a country for more than a month, that you realize that cosmopolitanism is much more complicated than it appears.
I moved to London to pursue further education, harbouring dreams of befriending people from all over the world. And I did – the richness of cosmopolitanism in London is unparalleled. I have met people from within the European Union and outside. We all study at the same institution and receive the same facilities. I think this reduces the barrier between people, once resources are equally distributed.
But when I move beyond University, it’s a different story. For some strange reason, there is a fear in people – A fear of losing something. When I walk on the streets, I feel the fear. I appear harmless, but something about me scares people around me. For a while I thought this was racism. But then I realized it’s not.
While applying for my visa, I was asked zillions of questions. Why I chose London, what I want to study in London, why I chose a particular institution – it seemed like normal protocol for the person administering, but it wasn’t normal for me. For a student like me – providing revenue to a foreign country, so many entry regulations seemed insane. I have always been loved by the people around me, attributed a (much controversial and highly debatable) ‘good girl’ status by everyone – then why is the world suddenly scared to let me see it? Why is it turning against me?
I faced this fear again when I went to the French embassy to apply for the Schengen visa. There was again some fear which scared the people sitting in front of me, looking at my documents. One of the authorities even questioned my nationality, when she saw my first language was Bengali. She assumed I was Bangladeshi, and I had a hard time explaining to her the partition of Bengal and how the Hindu Bengalis moved to India, and were Indians, not Bangladeshis. But while explaining, I suddenly stopped. I realized – why am I explaining the “difference” to her? Every human being is the same – I don’t become less “dangerous” if I am from India.
My world was shattered when I realized that this fear arose out of the fear of religion. The world wasn’t racist- the world was just scared of ‘religion’ in any form that led people to commit crimes.
I will attribute this fear to the 9/11 attacks. I understand the attack was unprecedented and led to many deaths – but the country that was attacked was the United States, and Americans love their country too much to ever let it be attacked again. But did their sudden attack of Iraq and now current occupation of Afghanistan actually lead to any world benefit? The world just took USA as an example and started evoking fear amongst its “citizens”.
I am a Hindu Indian, and I am subjected to questions like, “Isn’t your Prime Minister a Hindutva propagandist?”, “doesn’t India believe in kicking out it’s Muslims?”. I don’t know how much of this is true, but I know this much that in India, I have never been the cause of fear. When a fellow Muslim friend of mine wants to travel anywhere inside India, they are not subjected to hundreds of questions and not forced to justify every answer they give.
I am not trying to project India as a great nation. No, never. India is a good nation with many problems, like every other country in the world. No country is a ‘first world’ country unless it eradicates all it’s problems, I believe. A country that manages to achieve this feat, becomes a nation. And we have no nations in the world, because the concept of nation is screwed up – it is associated with identity.
In college, I read about the need for multiculturalism and how countries like France and England were wrong in trying to suppress their minorities and project a uniform “English” or “French” identity. But when I went to France recently, I met Africans, Chinese, Arabs- people who were second, third generation French citizens who were perfectly integrated into France. I realized that learning French and integrating themselves into the French identity actually helped people of different race and colour cross the barrier of being labelled an “immigrant”. In England, I noticed that even if one spoke English with a British accent, one couldn’t become ‘British’. But in France, if one learnt the language, learnt the culture, they became French – it didn’t matter how they looked.
I have relatives and friends who are brought up in the USA and consider themselves ‘Americans’. But I feel it is unfortunate that maybe the English language doesn’t really help in integration. To be American, you still need to be white. Otherwise you will be ‘Indian American’, or ‘Chinese American’. You will never be an ‘American’. Sad truth, but it is true. Americans might claim otherwise, but at least from what I have learnt, fear is something that always rests with your identity- and the English language doesn’t help us in escaping from our ‘original’ identity.
I really wish this was a world without borders. Poverty is a reason for a lot of problems, but it is sad that poor countries where a particular religion is dominant keep getting picked on for being ‘different’. If we start treating every religion as the same, as we try and every year celebrate an international Human rights day, then maybe we will not make certain populations feel left out. There is need to move beyond what a person ascribes to – try and move away from what Governments feed you. Because a government always has to flex it’s muscles to get its way around – you, as an individual, don’t have to.