BBC Radio 4 - Thought for the Day
17th August 2001
The question of how Britain can cope with the influx of asylum seekers seems to exercise some parts of the printed media - perhaps inordinately in the light of other current events.
It is, of course, an important issue for any society to consider. After all, the influx of new-comers suggests competition for jobs and resources and an inevitable altering of the background culture forever? We may think we have enough trouble dealing with all sorts of existing interest groups without the addition of more communities with their specific needs. But, perhaps this is all part of the on-going responsibility in managing our society and its evolution.
Many Hindus fled to Britain for refuge in the early 70s. Despite successes in business and education, the community has not had the easiest time establishing itself culturally. For many years, I was at the heart of a major conflict involving worship at a temple in Hertfordshire. Last weekend, I was back there to celebrate Janmashtami – the annual festival commemorating the descent of God as Lord Krishna 5000 years ago.
But, for over 20 years the temple and these festivals were the focus of dispute as worshippers, neighbours and the authorities wrestled with the conflicting issues of religious practice and local amenity.
The matter was finally concluded with a common-sense idea and some give-and-take all round. So, for the past five years the festivals create minimal disturbance and have become a cheerful part of the local scene.
The whole episode added to my belief that issues can best be resolved by building upon on mutual respect, understanding and compromise and then formulating a win-win solution.
Many centuries ago, a community of Parsees arrived in western India hoping for asylum from the persecution it had suffered in Persia. The King of Gujarat was initially cautious of their plea and asked their leader, “My country is fully populated, why should I let your people in. What will you do for us? How will you fit in to a different way of life?” The Parsee spokesman asked for a cup brimming with milk. He sprinkled some sugar into the cup and gently stirred it. Only then did he reply, “we will be like the sugar.”
Fitting in is a two-way process – it requires the newcomer to adopt the subtlety of the sugar and for the host to be as accommodating as the milk.
Unexpected guests have a special status in Hindu culture and are referred to in Sanskrit as “atithi-bhagavan” – literally translated as “God who comes to us without an appointment”. The idea is that they are to be welcomed and treated with grace.
© BBC This script was commissioned by the BBC for broadcast as “Thought for the Day” on the Today programme Radio 4.