In the wake of the Rochdale grooming convictions, it's time to stop lumping Muslims, Sikhs and Hindus together as 'Asians', argues Hardeep Singh.
Is it time to stop using the word "Asian"? In recent weeks Britain's Sikh and Hindu communities have complained angrily about the use of the misleading term in reporting of the Rochdale grooming convictions of men of Muslim Pakistani descent. Headlines like “Asian grooming – why we need to talk about sex crime”, “Child sex grooming: the Asian question”, and “Grooming offences committed mostly by Asian men, says ex-Barnardo's chief” show the problem.
Obviously Sikhs and Hindus and other "Asian" non-Muslims, including Jains, Zoroastrians, Christians and Buddhists, don’t want to be associated with sexual grooming of vulnerable white girls. The vast majority of Muslims don’t want to either. The girls targeted in Rochdale, Derby and now in Luton are all non-Muslim. This is nothing new for British Hindus and Sikhs, who have complained about targeting of their girls for decades; Indians refer to the practice as "love-jihad".
Judge Gerald Clifton, who sentenced the men in Rochdale, indicated they thought the victims were “worthless” and “beyond any respect”. He asserted that one of the motivations behind this was “they were not part of your community or religion”. This is not the first time that this has been suggested: at a Hindu Forum conference in 2007, the then Metropolitan Police commissioner, Sir Ian Blair, revealed how the police were working to clamp down on “aggressive conversions” of vulnerable girls. The following year, a blog site called "Sikh4aweek" which called on Muslim "soldiers" to "hunt" down Sikh university students during freshers week was forced to close following complaints to the police and Google. The common denominator: targeting of non-Muslim girls.
It is for the Muslim community and its leaders to decide what is behind the trend, and what to do about it; but it is time for politicians and the press to bear in mind that in the context of these sex crimes, as with violent extremism, female genital mutilation, forced marriage and honour killings, the vague term "Asian" serves no purpose. Worse, it besmirches entire swathes of Britons with roots in the Indian subcontinent. It’s encouraging to hear some brave voices filtering through the political minefield: Baroness Warsi recently hit out at the “small minority” of Pakistani men who see white girls as “fair game”; last year, Jack Straw braved criticism for his claim that some Pakistani men see white girls as “easy meat.” But the problem continues: commentators are unwilling to label the perpetrators "Muslim", opting instead to hide behind the fudge of "Asian".
Lessons can be learned from Britain's own colonial history. The Empire's attitudes towards natives may have been problematic from a modern perspective, but it was careful to distinguish between the different inhabitants of the subcontinent. In Charles Allen’s book Soldier Sahibs: The Men who made the North West Frontier, the Indian-born historian quotes the soldier Herbert Edwardes, who was dispatched to a distant corner of the Sikh Empire in the mid-18th century. He describes four main groups in a mountainous district called Banu:
"The mongrel and vicious Bunnoochee peasantry, ill-ruled by Mullicks, and ill-righted by factions; the greedy Syuds and other religious mendicants, sucking the blood of the superstitious people; the mean Hindoo traders, enduring a life of degradation, that they may cheat their Muhommudan employers; and the Vizeree [Waziri] interlopers, half pastoral, half agricultural, wholly without law, but neither destitute of honour or virtue."
As Edwardes discovered, people of the Indian subcontinent have various cultural, traditional and religious affiliations: identities are both convoluted and complex. They shouldn’t be oversimplified for the sake of political expediency. Of course we have to be careful not to label all Muslims sex offenders: but it is simple cowardice to pretend that grooming is not a problem for the Muslim community, but Asians in general.