Integrate or get out

…seems to be a common refrain.

Be it the injured Marathi manoos Raj Thackeray who considers everyone else a threat to the Maharashtrian ‘culture’ and langauge – never mind what they contribute to the state.

Or the French burqa ban earlier in schools. And now objecting to it on the streets.

Or then this new one – foreigners who refuse to integrate will politely be paid to leave Denmark.

I don’t know which side of this argument I am on. In principle I oppose bans of any sort. And yet, I also believe there is something to having your rules and guidelines and expecting citizens to follow them. If you don’t like it, move to the next school or country! After all every community/ school/ country has a right to its rules…or doesn’t it?

Of course there are shades to every one of these arguments and it’s not a simple black and white situation. But is this what globalisation is about? Turning into clones the moment you move somewhere and wiping out all traces of your identity? What exactly is integrating anyway? Is it also applicable to all the foreigners who come to India and look down on us while pushing our rents up and enjoying the maid service?

And where do you draw the line at holding on to your culture and offending your host country? And do you draw the line between school uniforms and cultural identity?

So many questions and I have no answers. What are your thoughts on this?


38 thoughts on “Integrate or get out

  1. I think bans of this kind are ok if they are not motivated by religion based distinction. A uniform is a uniform for a reason right? To transcend the boundaries created by the society. And when a Govt asks the visitor to behave in a certain dignified manner, if fine, until it begins to suffocate the one who visited. Of course then they would say, you’re welcome to leave us alone. So you can’t help but go with what the authorities say. If everyone had the sense to think about both sides of the coin, wouldn’t the world be better already?

  2. That’s a tough one, MM! I know that I couldn’t stand the Indians in the US who refused to integrate in any way, not even talking to ‘foreigners’. But then, when it’s a matter of religion, it gets tricky.

    Holding onto your own culture in a foreign country or a different state in the same country, should be done with some sense of balance. uniforms in schools and office dress codes obviously have some sensible reasoning behind them, and ppl shouldn’t be idiotically holding onto their ‘ethnicity’ like it threatens their identity to blend in just a little bit.

    It’s hypocritical and insulting to go live in a foreign country or non-native state (mainly for the superior education or work opportunities there) and refuse to try learning the language, customs, and to at least adopt the customs and dress to a reasonable extent. I get annoyed here in Blr when people refuse to learn spoken Kannada, even after studying or working here for donkey’s years. I took the trouble to learn it, and use it freely, even if autowallahs and maids fall over laughing at my mistakes!

    Here’s an article on the same lines

  3. “the foreigners who come to India and look down on us while pushing our rents up and enjoying the maid service?”

    I’ve experienced too many of those to pass this line by. Enjoy the bloody maids, underpay them by even Indian standards and then tell me it’s wrong to call them ‘maids’.

    Me: the best is the desis who come home for a little while and go all self-righteous after having grown up in this way of life . hellooo… we dont have your work hours, your roads, your electricity and water, your clean daycares, your dust free environment.. i could go on. but we both know what the other means!

  4. Britain has a better way of dealing with the uniform issue (I think) than other European countries. Schools tend to decide on their own unifrom policy in consultation with the parents. See for example the summary of the Shabina Begum case here:

    I think one has to work these things out on a case by case basis rather than creating blanket bans. A multicultural society is a constant process of negotiation and give and take, and rigidity on either side is not helpful. India has of course been internally diverse for so long, in some ways it has more experience with dealing with these issues than the West.

    I have lots of interesting material on the questions you’ve raised here, case studies, analysis etc but its all too much for a comment-will be willing to mail it to you anytime if you want it, after I return from India!

  5. I do not support any ban of any kind however I do believe in following the rules and regulations of the country/ city/ institute you wish to be a part of.
    Also, I can’t stand people who do nothing but crticise the city which provides them with a livelihood. Be it Delhi or Mumbai, if you do not like the city, please move out. The only reason you are living in the place you so hate is because it is giving you something that your homecity can’t. It is high time you give something back to it.. some respect to start with.

  6. Wow I can’t believe you have servants. What are you, the queen of England? Btw I’m totally going to look down on you, even when I come for a 2 week visit.

  7. I don’t see what the big ‘cultural integration’ issue is. Live by the laws that apply to citizens. But what’s with having to follow customs? And what’s with not being able to live anywhere in India and speak an Indian language (or not an Indian language for that matter, I don’t care as long as you can make yourself understood, and if you can’t, that’s still more your problem than mine)? Since when are you allowed to discriminate against perfectly legal citizens of the same country?

    Me: sometimes the line between culture and laws is a fine one. particularly in a place like india i’d say.

  8. It is a difficult question, MM. From each one’s point of you, it might be correct, but like you said any kind of force is wrong. This can’t be seen as white or black. It is an individual’s choice to abide by the law or get out of the situation.

  9. But again what is a multi-cultural society, if it does not allow its immigrants to live their lives with their beliefs and idiosyncracies? Which means, that the said country / city is not secular.

  10. The Maharashtra issue is fundamentally different from the French or the Dutch examples.

    In the case of the Marathi Manoos thing, the rules are imposed by self proclaimed guardians who decide on their own that not speaking marathi is an insult.

    Maharashtra is a part of India – and a smaller part. Meaning that we’re Indians first and every other local identity comes later. So if we follow Indian laws anywhere in India, it’s ethically, and legally okay.

    And what goes on inside someone’s head is none of anyone else’s business. I can be disrespectful of anything and anyone as long as I don’t publicly slander them. So the whole feeling of “show some respect” is emotionally satisfying but indefensible. After all, one is not forced to associate with those with whom one disagrees.

    Of course we get pissed off with those who diss India while they live in it for example, but that’s what tolerance means right? You don’t have to agree with them. Just leave people alone until they start to harm you…

  11. frequent here, but commenting for the first time –
    i just think everybody needs to be tolerant of others’ cultures…
    most of it is political gimmicks i guess

  12. i guess the marathis should have fought first itself before letting the bollywood take over them.. now its over and they try to fight,its all meaningless.. you can lok at tn for example.. holding their

  13. Laws should exist only to impose a decorum in the society where we don’t end up hurting each other. The rest should be left to the choice of the citizens. If a person does not want to integrate with the locals in any way then I am sure the difficulties involved in day to day transactions for them are a choice they have made. Nothing to fume about.

    Issues like the burqa ban in schools are the ones that come into the gray area. On one hand, uniforms are present to have some kind of decorum which definitely each person wanting to flaunt their religious symbols would nullify. On the other hand, it is your personal belief and a democratic nation should uphold it.

    I would say the best thing is for parents to not impose any religious / cultural ideas on their children. Kids can always adopt a religion when they turn 18. Atleast it solves the school issue heh.

  14. Just wondering what the Indian constitution says about the use of vernacular languages and/or the national language by state govts?

    About schools: I think a well-managed PTA might be very useful in resolving conflicts about dress code etc.

  15. Heres what I feel and I have also written a couple of posts about it on my blog…The other day I was attending a function here and the american anthem was played at the end of it. Most of my friends (Indians) placed their right hand on their chest and started singing the anthem and some of them showed genuine passion while singing it. They were comfortable doing so on the other hand I was not. But out of respect I did stand up and was silent throughout…So would you call them as being romans in rome or me being the essential oddity? On the other hand, there are some who deliberately speak in a fake american accent over here, talk about how India is so crowded, the weather in India yada yada…That irritates me no end…In that case one’s definitely losing their individuality…Its all so very subjective! On the other hand to resort to violence coz of all this is stupidity which is what Raj Thackeray is all about!

  16. Pingback: Assimilate or leave at Blogbharti

  17. Hey MM,
    This one strikes close to the heart. I was an exchange student in Denmark for a year in 97-98. So a little glimpse of the society is needed to understand this rule. The Danes have one of the highest tax rates in the world, which results in one of the best social security systems anywhere! I’ve had Danish friends who’ve sold every single thing they own and travelled the world for a year, confident that they can get back on their feet when they return home thanks to the social security net they have. While I was there, I was covered by the Danish system for all my insurance needs even when I fell ill while travelling in Europe!! Just coz I was a Danish subject for a year!
    Another thing is that historically, unlike India, Denmark has never seen a huge influx of new cultures and people as they are doing now in the 21st century. Hence, they are a uniquely homogenous society. Annoying and interesting at the same time, if you live there!
    Now, they’re trying their best to retain some flavour of their own while welcoming foreign influences. It’s a hard thing to do when an average immigrant/refugee in Denmark usually is less educated than the locals, has no motive to integrate, and gets much more financial aid from the system than an average Dane!
    While I do not agree with this in principle, in Denmark’s case, I think they’re trying to be as fair as possible in saying that most refugees/immigrants have come for a better life, so perhaps we can help them have that in their own homeland.
    I know this is unfair, but as a country with resources this is their way of retaining their culture.
    Anyway, didn’t mean to take up so much space 😀 Hope this helps a little in understanding Denmark.

    Me: I’m so glad you took the time out to do this. And yes, it helps to understand a little better. To their credit, they’re sending you home with money and not being uncouth, beating you up and bashing your taxis in! It’s a bit like a VRS scheme.

  18. As a third generation Bangalorean, while I can think of no specific reason why, I do feel happy when new migrants to the city attempt to speak Kannada..though I can speak Hindi, Tamil, English and smatterings of Malayalam and Telugu. I think it is respectful and sensitive to try and absorb/respect some of the local cultural elements and that will certainly win one more acceptance within that society. Having said that, in today’s globalized world, where even nation states have begun to be thought of as artificial boundaries, hyping different ethnicities within a country seems rather a narrow pov. What I did observe in the US (a classic immigrant nation) was that different nationalities/ethnicities seem to assimilate similar general cultural practices as the generations go by. The Indians in the US have been there fewer generations and still tend to hold on to their separate cultural identity. I have also lived in Norway off and on and I do agree with Nandita about the homogeneity there and disproportionate utilization of their welfare system by the new immigrants. So basically there are two ways of looking at this issue..from your mind or from your heart 🙂 you choose!

  19. Hey MM, you have raised questions that I can identify with. I like the approach of both sides talking it out, negotiating, engaging in dialogue. However, it is indeed difficult to come to a round table with those who take recourse to violence.

    On another note, love the header!

    Best wishes,

  20. I wonder if integration is a problem anywhere here. Looks more like Power-games and divisive politics than integration to me. I know of North Indians who have lived there for generations and speak fluent Marathi, but they are made to feel like outsiders.

    Also this is cheating the people who were, for decades, happily allowed to invest in the state. When they were buying property, and starting businesses nobody said they were required to learn the local language.

  21. Well first thing is respect – respect towards your own culture and towards the culture you choose to adopt as your own (which you do if you are living in the adopted state/country). I lean heavily towards assimilation – I think you bring in your unique flavors into the mix but you must try to blend in (esp in public areas/spaces/sensibility) to the limit that does not overly compromise your religious/personal beliefs.

    Used to hate the desi mentality to finding fault with both American way of doing things and the desi way – no respect for where you come from or where you go to – really no respect for yourself.

    The Maharashtra problem is (very heavily politicized) about the immigrants not showing respect to the locals by calling them ‘ghatti’ (as the article says) or discriminating against them etc. That would annoy the hell out of anyone, I mean to be treated badly in your own ‘homeland’?

    Me: This is a tricky one Poppy. How do you define respect? Even in our interpersonal relationships its so hard to find a definition. To you it might mean folding your hands and saying namaste, to me it might be touching feet and to her it might be a simple and polite Good morning. Respect, culture, integration – all of them are very hard to define which is why rules and bans come into place

    Bangalore faces similar problems, I understand that these are our fellow Indians, and they have every right to settle here – unfortunately a lot of them don’t seem to have the same sensitivity towards the locals, and that does bother the local folks. As Usha says, an outsider who is no longer one would go a long way in showing respect by atleast trying to learn the local language.

    I find the whole Hindi is my national language argument a bit too much to take. Infact isn’t it one of the official languages and not THE official language – it’s just more widely used. Nothing wrong in learning all three State, National and English.

    Not that I approve of MNS methods, but it’s always like this – controversial methods get more attention. Unfortunately.

    It was interesting to read about the Danes – I mean these people clearly do not want to upset the social structure – atleast they’re not saying one thing and doing the other. Plus they’re paying you – I can’t bring myself to find fault with them (although I am against the discrimination on principle)

    Burqa is a religion thing – I strongly denounce the French take – a uniform is one thing but on the streets? That is taking it too far – who’s the French govt to declare what any woman can wear – Muslim or not?

    Me: would that logic extend to other cultural issues like child marriage or dowry?

    • TMM: You can’t define respect – not in as many words but disrespect is very apparent. And here I’m not talking about the lunatic fringe of society who find everything disrespectful (Sania Mirza tying her trainers at a tennis match comes to mind – the backdrop of her shoes was the Indian flag and that was thought to be disrespectful!)

      With respect to Burqa, come on how can that compare to dowry/child marriage? Dowry and Child Marriage are harmful, is the burqa harmful? Infact a lot of muslim women now wear a hijab and not the full burqa, and that’s as good as the scarf some women wear right after delivery. How is that offensive to the French Govt? Why don’t they think that it’s just another fashion statement and leave it at that?

      • those who give dowry and marry their kids young will be able to give you arguments about how it works in their favour, just as those who wear the burqa give arguments for it.

        if you listen to the arguments against it, one of the first is that its never a free choice and always sociali conditioning guided by religious dictats.

        the logic applicable in France is the same that is applicable in countries where hijab is necessary. women follow that rule in those countries dont they, regardless of whether they are muslim or not?

        the truth is, its NOT a fashion statement and by calling it one, we’re doing it a disservice. so how can they let it go if they feel strongly about it? What about nudists – to take the argument further? they might want to call it a fashion statement and roam the streets naked. then? its sure to offend someone na? but its still THEIR belief.

        let me make it clear here though, that i havent clearly picked a side on this argument. i’m just debating to clear my own head and be able to pick a side. because i have great faith in establishment. and in individual rights. and i just dont know when one crosses the other

  22. One must live by the laws of the country or region, it helps create order. But the state should not interfere in the language,food, clothing or relegious choices people make. If an immigrant chooses not to learn the language or culture of the region, it is their loss. Why move to some place you are not interested in anyway?

    The fact is people are moving across regional and international boundaries fluidly.Its is always a two way street. If you dont want non marathi manoos in bombay/ foreigners in Denmark then marathis and danes must stop stepping of their region or country as well. Stop eating their pastas from italy, tea from assam stop using the internet or foreign technology.

    We can debate on the pros and cons of globalisation but fact remains that it is a reality. In this light multiculturism is the only route to take.

  23. I will cut the chase for everyone.

    Burkha ban – good

    Not integrating into Denmark so move out – also good.

    Only Marathi in Maharashtra – not so good.

    For the simple folks there is no clearly defined formula for this. You just have to use your head and in most cases you know what is right or wrong. First the easy one. Not integrating into Denmark. Well the Danish government did not kidnap you and bring you to Denmark. If the Danes want you to be like them you should better be or move out. If they set up this rule/law and you do not follow it, then ship out.

    Onto Burqa. Woman need Burqa and men can wear what they want. This does not make sense. A bad idea covered under the guise of freedom is still a bad idea. If you do not support genital mutilation in women you cannot support burqa.

    Now on to the idiots in Maharashtra. Democracy is expected to be rule of majority. If the law in Maharashtra says only Marathi then follow it or move out. If there is no law then your freedom must be defended as that would be the law. As far as India is concerned the concept of rule of law solves all silly ones like this one.

    Me: ROFL. You’re GOOD at this, dude!

  24. It is perfectly normal to be proud of your heritage/culture whereever one resides. But the moment you start demeaning the country/place you live in, making statements like “My culture is far superior to yours”, you lose all respect. One should assimilate with locals w/o giving up their culture.

  25. On a completely different note, the new header made me realize the brat has changed almost completely!
    As Chandler Bing would have said, could he have BEEN any cuter?

  26. i was going to write a imho a really well thought out comment….and then i saw the header! soo adorable…my heart broke a little with joy =)

  27. That’s not globalisation, that’s homogenisation. You could put it down to a country’s effort to maintain it’s ethnic identity, I suppose.

    Me: and where does the pretty Srin stand on this?

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