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Open Features: Coconuts - Brown Outside; White Inside

"Indians settled in Britain are sometimes called 'coconuts' by some of their own social commentators. Brown from outside, e white inside,'' writes Kul Bhushan.

Indians settled in Britain are sometimes called 'coconuts' by some of their own social commentators. Brown from outside, e white inside, thus implying their 'Britishness' in their language, habits and thinking. Of course, the tag is open to a lot of criticism but it does make a point:

'Coconuts' are Indians who have adopted the British way of life all the way and have joined the mainstream of their country's flow.

Most younger generations of nin-resident Indians were born in Britain or in other countries, educated and started to work there and so are totally 'British', American or the country where they live - in their speech, accent, dress, manners and behaviour. Some do stand out due to their religious symbols such as the turban, a beard or the veil. A full-scale controversy on Muslim women wearing a veil in public and at work has generated a stormy debate and court cases. Now Britain wants all newcomers who want to live in Britain to take a "Britishness' test.

The UK Immigration Minister, Liam Byrne, said, "It is essential that migrants wishing to live in the UK permanently recognise that there are responsibilities that go with this. Having a good grasp of English is essential in order for them to play a full role in society and properly integrate into our communities."

The decision came after the Home Office published research by the Centre for Migration Policy and Society at Oxford showing that the degree of public anxiety over immigration is closely linked to jobs and incomes rather than colour. When jobs are scarce, then the poor black and white groups resent newcomers. So it's not about colour but money.

NRIs in Britain have opposed this test but the British Government now insists on it. It boils down melting with the majority of the population. "The British ruled India for 200 years, did they learn Hindustani after they landed here?" argues Avinash Kaushik who has lived abroad for over 45 years. "Even without knowing the English language or learning about Britishness, NRIs in Britain have worked hard, paid their taxes and contributed to the economy. So what is the need for this test?" she adds.

NRIs follow their own religions - mostly Hindu, Sikh or Muslim - and this means not only taking part in religious practices but also most social interaction and that happens entirely with their own community. Thus they have little time or opportunity to move into or with the mainstream. NRIs have been accused of 'keeping aloof' in Africa, the Far East and the Middle East - not just in the developed countries. But in the West, the younger generation that has grown up with the majority of the population make friends easily, mix with them and even marry them.

The United States and many other developed countries have similar tests before granting citizenship but there are no such tests for NRIs in the Middle East, Africa and other countries.

Now - after the terror attacks - Britain has woken up to put into place some measures to integrate immigrants after allowing them in without any language test for over half a century. This resulted in both educated and uneducated men and women from the subcontinent arriving in the UK without speaking the English language who immediately went to live in areas with a majority of their communities and never bothered to learn the language properly or make an effort to know about how most of the British people lived.

Now the newcomers will have to answer 24 multiple-choice questions and get at least 18 right. More than 180,000 people each year who apply to settle in Britain permanently must pass this test. They can sit the test as many times as they need to - but for a fee. People over 65 will be exempt from the tests, and those with poor English can take a "skills for life" and language course rather than doing the test.

A booklet "Life in the UK" covers the material of the test but doubts have been raised if many - if not most - Britons can pass such a test. For example, why did large numbers of Jewish people come to Britain during 1880-1910? When did women first get the vote? How long was Britain at war during the Second World War? The answers are: To escape violence they faced at home, 1918 and six years. Then there are lifestyle questions like what would you do if you spill someone's pint of beer in the pub? Answer: Saying 'Sorry' is not enough; buy him/her another pint.

US prides itself as 'a melting pot' of peoples and cultures while Britain promotes it 'multi-culturalism' but the European nations have no such phrase to describe their immigrant peoples. So how about the label 'coconut'?


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