Why some South Asians are resisting identity politics

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Pradip Rodrigues

Multiculturalism and diversity is touted by all politicians as Canada’s strength, it is in the news so often that most people believe that slogan to be true. I don’t. Last week I spent a few hours with a group of Sikhs who had all come to the conclusion that multiculturalism has been misused by the political class to play identity-based politics which has been detrimental. Over time, this has resulted in divisions within South Asians.

Everyone in the group decided upon a plan of action by first creating a platform where South Asians of all ethnicities and religious backgrounds get together and discuss issues of common interest.
Politicians have wilfully encouraged identity politics in the name of multiculturalism so much so that today issues dominating the headlines in South Asian countries resonate here in the community.

Indian politics for example dominates the conversation of hundreds of thousands of Indian immigrants. I have met such immigrants who were so well-versed with all things happening in India while they knew next to nothing about issues dominating the headlines right here in Canada. No politicians will dare encourage ethnic Canadians to focus on Canadian politics and all things Canadian because well, that suits them just fine.

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The group of Sikhs at the meeting I attended were of the view that dwelling excessively on foreign issues takes the focus away from local issues that affect the lives of all Canadians, as also those of their children. This enables the politicians and elected governments to sweep these important issues under the rug; as long as a large section of the population is occupied in advancing foreign causes, local governments can avoid accountability for their mediocre performance.

Regardless of difference in political ideology, one point of unity among all Canadians is that everyone wants to secure the best future for themselves, their children and the country. The differences are only in terms of how to reach that goal. The objective, therefore, of this initiative is to achieve unity as Canadians, so that the ill effects of the divisions caused by identity politics can be diminished or entirely eliminated.

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In the months to come, this group is expected to announce its plans and hold events where all South Asians will be invited to discuss issues pertinent to Canada and not the land they left behind.
The problem noted by some of these concerned citizens was that the term South Asian that is commonly used is a generic one denoting a single ethnic group, there are many distinct sub-ethnic groupings within the broader category of ‘South Asian’. The one that mainstream Canadians are most familiar with is the Sikh community – often wrongly termed as the Punjabi community. What is lost is the fact that Punjabis can be Sikh, Hindu, Muslim or Christian. All of these sub-groups are present in sizable numbers in Canada and particularly in the GTA. In addition, there are ethnic groups such as Gujarati, Tamil, UP-ite, Marathi, Goan, Bengali and Sinhalese etc also, each with a significant population, all of these groups come from the Indian sub-continent.

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But because South Asians have been divided to such an extent, even politicians of South Asian descent end up pandering to their own communities and are typically surrounded by members of their group. It can also be said that these elected MP’s and MPP’s lack the maturity to see the need of reaching out beyond their original support base. This behaviour on their part has the effect of making the other ethnic or religious groups feel politically orphaned. This feeling then feeds into the divide that, by that point, is well-entrenched in the broader South Asian community.

As long as South Asians continue to dwell on the politics of their homelands, they will be seen as outsiders or Canadian in name, just like actor Akshay Kumar who is a so-called Canadian citizen. -CINEWS

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