Tuesday, December 06, 2016

Why it’s so difficult for some immigrants to assimilate?

I was born in India, spent my teenage and early adulthood there. Now I live in the US.  During my younger days in India, I used to hear a lot asking me to change, telling me how I misfit there. It’s not always to demean or demoralize or insult me. Many people used the same expression to save me from future failures and other more grave miseries that they predicted for me. They thought I ask too many questions, refused to obey religious dictates, declined to bow down to the socio-economic hierarchy, refuse to bribe and accept corruption in our daily lives as many do, who consider it just another issue of ‘practical sense’.

I like to mention one example. One director of a famous research institute in New Delhi once told me how grossly I misfit in both Indian society and research. He suggested me to get out of India and join some famous British university where he can manage some prestigious scholarship or fellowship for me.  He was the selection committee chairman of many such UK bound scholarship and fellowship selection committees. He assured me of my admission there and also great success if I follow his advice. He went one step further by suggesting how I can be greatly benefited by marrying a woman from families like his, who can "put your career and financial success into the right trajectory", as he described during those early days of post-liberalized India of late 1990s. It confused me even more. That big boss of Indian science, who was 'very close' to the ruling party and the greatest political dynasty India ever had, thought that I’m not fit for Indian science and society, yet the same person thought I’m the right candidate not only to succeed but also to marry someone, who he is closed to or related to. All these interactions started when I asked him, what we are supposed to write in the exam for the class, titled “protein structure and function”. That powerful director used to take that class, and we were supposed to appear in an external examination on that subject. Most of the time that director used to be absent due to his frequent foreign tours. And when he was present, he used to arrive in the class about 15-20 minutes late for a 45 min class. Then he used to tell how great German railway, how beautiful autumn in Japan, how awesome Niagara Falls and such exotic stuff. We hardly got much lesson on protein structure and function. I was more interested to know protein structure and function, and was equally worried about the exam we were about to appear. This example has many issues, which cripple Indian society and science alike, embedded in one; like how to get ‘prestigious’ foreign scholarships/fellowships, how to get one’s career on the ‘right track’, how to become 'highly successful’ and, most importantly, how to fit in Indian society and science.


Many times I find myself on the wrong side of people, who use religion to celebrate and demand donations from rest of the society. Most of such celebrations can be too noisy and disruptive for any civilized society. I was not much fond of religion and do not believe in God. But it added an extra layer of anger when you come back from a day’s hard work or when you have a critically ill relative and there is 24x7 loud music, religious sermons, noisy firecrackers to celebrate, public roads are blocked, face local hooligans demanding  donation for ‘cultural’ or religious celebration and so on.  You would end up in a hotter soup if you remind them that you never asked money or caused any discomfort to anyone when you feel like celebrating. These hooligans, often supported by political parties and administration, expect everyone to oblige them. They are convinced that terrorism does work in lawless societies. We all know that the consequences for not obeying them are not good, to say the least. It’s equally useless to ask state or central administration for help. That might make the situation even worse.

Our birth to any specific country, society, religion, race etc. is merely coincidental.  We do not even choose our parents. It’s neither my fault, nor any great virtue that I was born to a specific parent, a specific country, society, race, religion etc. I have no obligation to defend it if that’s not supported by data and logic. In fact, I think it’s better to highlight such issues so that more informed public opinion can be created to address the issue more effectively. I do not feel any special joy by criticizing any country, society, race, religion; particularly which I’m associated with. Yes, that does hurt. It always feels better to be able to highlight positive aspects of our parents, native country and issues associated with us. But supporting anyone or any issue for wrong reason or based on wrong data not only decrease personal credibility but also hurt the efforts to address or reform such issues.

Traditionally, mostly the privileged section of Indian society used to go out of India for higher education and/or job. They are from the so-called 'upper caste' community or the elites, who first time realized the pain of being a minority when they live abroad. The urge to portray India, which is basically ruled by the same people, as a great country is too tempting for them to resist. They do it while interacting with the host society and people, who have no or limited information about India. On the other hand, these are the same people also wrongly portray that living and working abroad itself is a great achievement, recognition for personal and professional excellence. 

Then there is the other class, the so-called ‘lower caste’ or minority section. They hardly had any power and privilege, which the previous class take for granted. These people experience freedom, equality and, even, professional recognition for the first time when they migrated to a developed country. Unfortunately, many of them gradually develop the same urge and refuse to assimilate. Being Indians bring these two classes together, as they find it easier to twist and deform truth to play the same game to two different audiences- one in India and among Indian community, while the other for the host society. It gradually develops a sense of entitlement that we see among the ‘elite’ immigrants and refugees. These immigrants and refugees play the same game, exploiting same ignorance of their audience- but for very different and often totally opposite and contradicting objectives. The same game will again be played, but with totally reversed goal if the same people are either deported or lose job and forced to leave the host country. Then they will loudly sign the patriotic song and spread all sorts of stories to show how bad American or the host society was. For non-Indian audience,  it’s their ignorance about India or the specific religion, culture etc.; while for Indian audience it’s lack of exposure and information about America or the other host society. Very few can maintain a balance.

Then, there are those so-called 'rice christians’. The term was invented to indicate those non-Christian Indians, who convert to Christianity, highlight Christian connections mainly for personal benefits- like, escaping poverty, 
racial abuse by upper caste, getting visa/jobs abroad, fulfilling political ambition, and so on. Now the term is not always associated with converted Christians, but used to indicate a specific trait. These folks almost always blame India and their original religion to get sympathy and also the network of Christian organizations, churches and established Christians abroad. They often forget or conveniently ignore that assimilation does not mean accepting the dominance of Christian fundamentalism or ideology over other religions, or white supremacy.  

My living in a foreign country, my not believing in God, selection of my friends and job are the issues that I personally opted for. Those are my conscious decisions. I left India as I do not feel much associated with that country and culture, in terms of prevailing socio-political condition. At the same time, India is the country that I’m most familiar with. I know that society, its elites and also the people who barely survive with no or false hope that things will be better for them with grace of God or grace of any specific political party or leader.  I do not know any other country so well as I know India- not even USA. I would give similar effort for any other country if I know it so closely.

Many people feel that it’s imperative to live in a country and become part of the system there to have any meaningful impact towards reforming it.  That may be true for many, who have the required ability to navigate such a system, ability to compromise on daily basis yet able to oppose, raise voice against socio-political injustices. I tried that route a couple of times, and, always failed. I felt the limitation of that approach and my inability to adjust there. I realized that some people do not have the ability and/or patience to navigate the system in such a semi-feudal and lawless society.  Many people feel suffocated there as they cannot talk openly and act reasonably freely with decent honesty, which they feel very essential to start any reform effort. I feel it’s more useful to make myself free from those, mostly, corrupt and morally bankrupt socio-political elites and the system they are so determined to maintain.  Now, I can talk 
openly and act with decent honesty. I can have more positive impact on India by staying abroad. It's imperative for me to let underprivileged Indians know, let people know the reality. Then, it’s up to them to decide their own course of actions- whether to exploit the current situation for personal gain, or act to make the situation better. Such immigrants can also help foreign governments, companies, non-profit organizations,   run by decent people, to deal with such foreign governments and operations in such countries  in a more meaningful way to bring desired outcome in terms of socio-economic development. 

I personally do not give much importance to religion and other superstitions in the name of culture and tradition. Truth and science is far more important. At the same time, I do recognize that these are great forces for many, if not most, people in most of the countries in  the world. People can die or kill to uphold such ideology or ‘ways of life’. My only request to them- please do not come to a foreign country and society when you do not accept or believe the ways of lives in such societies. No one is preventing such people to practice  whatever they believe and make their countries/race/religion better, far better than any other, particularly whom they do not like or aggressively oppose. Let them show the rest of the world that their political or religious and cultural faith are compatible with great scientific achievements, compatible with the vision of a peaceful, prosperous developed country and society that dream of.

The first criterion to solve any problem is to acknowledge it. Everything else comes next. All talk of policy and governance would not make much difference if we fail to take that first step. I'm reasonably confident that many Indians like me left India as they associate themselves more closely in more open and secular democracies like USA, without having any hesitation to accept that USA is no way the perfect society or without any racial or religious issue. It would be very counterproductive to support or allow such Indians to try to bring all those issues, which many like me left India for, wishing to impose on it on the host society . They are better off in India to help developing India into a better country, better than USA, than trying to convert USA into India.

I'm sure many well meaning non-resident Indians (NRIs), Indian origin Americans (or citizen of other host countries) and even foreigners would definitely help them in such noble effort- not only because it’s ideologically right and the right thing to do, but also to allow US and such host countries to strengthen/maintain its open society and secular democracy. It’s true for other people too- like those Hindutva forces (which is different from Hinduism that I know), Islamists, Christian fundamentalists and other religious fanatic or so-called patriotic people.  I do not think it’s at all possible to have sharia law, madrasa education and other Islamic rituals and yet build a modern, peaceful and prosperous country. I do not believe that anyone can ban cow slaughter, banning pork or beef eating, imposing public inconveniences due to religious extravaganza, having faith on religious mumbo-jumbo and yet develop a peaceful, prosperous country. If anyone thinks otherwise, then they need to prove that in their native countries than migrating and then tring to impose those practices on few remaining 'civilized' or developed part of the world, which is still livable for many people like me.

It’s for the same reason we are still decades, if not centuries, away from having visa free international travel, open border immigration policy or borderless world. For that we need to understand and accept few core values and definition about truth, justice and democracy.