The New Scots: The Story of Asians in Scotland

Author:   Bashir Maan
Publisher:   John Donald Publishers
Reviewer:   Ashwin Kumar
Designation:   School of Interdisciplinary and Trans-disciplinary Studies, IGNOU, Delhi

 

Maan,Bashir (1992) The New Scots: The Story of Asians in Scotland; John Donald Publishers,   Edinburgh; pages- 216; Price: £ 9.50 in the UK.

 

The Asian population in Scotland, though not a very dominant one in terms of number, have been quite an influential one. Bashir Maan, in his 1992 work, “The New Scots “, attempts to chronicle the arrival and eventual settlement of the Asian community in Scotland. Bashir Maan, of Pakistani origin himself, lays particular emphasis of the Indo-Pakistani community, in the true British sense. The book, including a Foreword by Bruce Millan, the then Member of the Commission of the European Communities, tries to showcase the historical migration of the South Asians into Scotland, their assimilation into Scottish society and with a look into their future.

An introduction of how the author began his research on the Asian Diaspora in Scotland and the various events, which inspired him to take up this topic is given. Maan explains that although there are a number of research on the Asian community in England, there is a great need for similar studies on the Asian community in Scotland, emphasising on the fallacy of clubbing England and Scotland as a monolith. And after giving a brief introduction as to what was to follow in the book, Maan proceeds to the first chapter of the book, which shows the arrival of other Europeans such as the Italians, the Poles, the Lithuanians, the Jews and especially the Irish, who ironically enough, after reading their tumultuous story of survival of Scotland, gave Scotland its name (from Ireland’s ancient name of Scotia). The author’s depiction of these various communities arrival, settlement and after varying degree of easiness, their eventual absorption to become the indigenous  ‘Scots’, sets the platform for a comparison with the later arrival of the Asians from the Indian subcontinent, essentially people of non-white race.

However, before Maan chronicles the immigration of the Indians into Scotland he takes first into colonial India itself, and the arrival of the Scots into India during their tenures with the British Raj. The chapter, titled “The Scots in India” the author retreats back to colonial India and the arrival of the Scots in order to join the rest of the East Indian Company and make a fortune, after which they would come back to Scotland (which was a highly impoverished country at the time) and settle down with their luxuries. The peculiarity of this chapter is the author’s subsequent use of personal stories of various Scots- ranging from bureaucrats, soldiers, and Governor-Generals/ Viceroys (most famous of them being the Lords Dalhousie and Linlithgow) to show the difference between the high handed attitude adopted by the English within the Raj as compared to the more genial Scots, who were more open to adopting Indian customs and even marrying Indian wives, however the author did later mention that attitudes did become similar after the suppression of the 1857 Sepoy Mutiny. The author mentions the various remnants of Scottish influence still present in India and vice versa with Scots having learnt much from their stay in the subcontinent.

The next chapter proceeds with the initial arrival of Indians into Scotland. The chapter deals with the arrival of various categories of Indians, starting from the arrival of the Doms, better known as the Gypsies, to the mostly temporary stays of Indian aristocracy in the country, and the arrival of students into the Scottish centres of tertiary education such as the Universities of Glasgow, Edinburgh and St. Andrew’s and the active role they played with respect to events relating to the Indian struggle for independence back home.  The main protagonists, however of this article are the seamen or lascars, who would eventually form the backbone of the Asian Community in Scotland. The author’s chronicling of their lives- from boarding ships in India to the British isles suffering varying degrees of ill treatment and then eventually jumping ship and peddling for a living in Scotland, starting with Glasgow and then later spreading out to the rest of the Scottish countryside make for some fascinating reading.

The next chapter of the book deals with the affairs of the Asian community in the inter-war period, i.e., the period between 1918 and 1939, which shows the general maltreatment of the community by locals, who had given them great prestige earlier due to the Indian assistance during World War I. The community was now slowly being seen as competitors to the local labour force. Stories like that of the de-shipping of Indian seamen off the British coast in 1919 provide a quite telling example of this. Having put this in the background, the author narrates a few personal accounts fortitude shown by certain immigrants to rise to great prestige amongst not only the Diaspora community but also amongst the local society. Stories like that of the benevolent Dr. Jainti Dass Saggar of Edinburgh and most notably that of Nathoo Mohammed of Glasgow make for interesting reading. Nathoo Mohammed’s case is a particularly intriguing one. The migration of many immigrants in search of a better life from in and around  Nathoo Mohammed’s village of Kot Badal Khan in the erstwhile unified Punjab provides a classic case of chain migration.

 

The chapter Indians after the war deals with the Asian community’s new found dual identities pertaining to being “Indian” or “Pakistani”. The abolition of the Commonwealth Immigrant Act, the Act through which immigrants belonging to the British Commonwealth could enter and leave Britain without any immigration barriers in 1962, saw the migrants already settled in Scotland to bring their families and establish household units. This was thus a period where the South Asian Diaspora in Scotland cemented their place in Scottish society rather than treating their stays in Scotland as sojourns, officially becoming the “New Scots”. The author continues with stories of personal triumph amongst the Asian community, now vocationally diversified from their peddling roots, and also mentioning the arrival of the Chinese and Vietnamese populations that entered into Scotland and other Indians who escaped from the “Africanisation” policies undertaken in Uganda, Malawi and Kenya in the 1970s. The next chapter of the book deals with the various faiths practiced by the Asian immigrants such as Hinduism, Sikhism, Islam, Buddhism and Taoism, showcasing the various cultures which have been assimilated in the Scottish milieu.

Bashir Maan was indubitably in a great position to write this book. This book provides a fascinating insight into the history of the South Asian immigration into Scotland. The book is indeed peppered with interesting factoids and these stories should find its way into Scottish annals. The reader does feel that the author’s  stories of the personal triumphs of various Asian immigrants into Scotland perhaps mirrors his own personal success in the Scottish political sphere (he has held the appointments of Magistrate, Police Judge, District Court Judge and Bailie of the City of Glasgow as well as being the Founder Chairman of the Scottish Pakistani Association). His depiction of these successes, one feels, veer towards the romantic.

However, there is also a mention of racism being a part of society, although not as prevalent as in other parts of Britain. What the reader, having read the book, is forced to think about is how significant events since 1992 like the 9/11 attacks in the USA, and the 7/7 bombings in London closer to home and the growing Islamophobia which has been a consequence of these events, have affected race relations between the local populace and the Asian settlers, most of whom are of Pakistani origin (about 0.63% of the total population according to official records). 

Maan’s call for the Asian community to get more active in the Scottish political sphere to ensure their rights also needs to be reviewed with this in the background. With Britain’s ruling Conservative /Liberal Democratic government and the opposition Labour Party both now calling for restriction and regulation of immigration into Britain, one starts to wonder whether they share the same general optimistic view with which Maan sees the future of “The New Scots”.

Perhaps, Bashir Maan, with his unparalleled experience with race relations in Scotland is in the best position to answer that question himself. 


 

 


 

 

Ashwin Kumar,

School of Interdisciplinary and Trans-disciplinary Studies, IGNOU, Delhi

Email– ashwin@subsmail.com

 

 

 

Publication Date:   Saturday, Sep 15, 2012
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