INDIA-born Nirmal Sagoo and his family are afraid to spend the night in their own house in London's Romford area. Over the last eight years, human excrement and fire bombs have been pushed through their letter box in the middle of the night, concrete slabs have been hurled into their living room and their car splashed with white paint. The assailants, who signed themselves off on the Sagoos' car as 'C 18', are a little-known ultra-right group which launches targeted attacks.
'Combat 18' draws its inspiration from Adolf Hitler. One stands for the first letter of the alphabet 'A', eight for the eighth letter, 'H'.
In another part of London, Pakistan-born Mal Hussain's shop has been petrol-bombed, stoned and burgled. Typical examples of abuse hurled at him include: 'Mal is black b*****d', 'Burn the Paki Shop'. While the Sagoo family, afraid to spend the night at home, are trying to sell their property, Hussain has converted his house into a mini fortress with security cameras, razor wire and steel shutters.
In the Islington area of Central London, William Henry and his family received death threats, hate mail and excrement in their letter boxes. And, as reports go, the local council has promised the Black family alternative accommodation.
Over the last few years, incidents of race-related abuse and vandalism seem to be on the increase. The Home Office figures show that against 10,997 incidents reported in 1994-95, the figure for the period ending March 1996 had gone up to 11,878. The British Crime Survey, which is based on interviews with victims, suggests that the problem is far more serious. It estimates 1,30,000 racially motivated incidents, including graffiti and verbal abuse, every year. London accounts for the highest number of racial incidents followed by Greater Manchester.
These statistics, when translated in real life, mean that Sagoo has to get up at the crack of dawn at his brother's house, drive down to his house with the children to get them ready for school and spend the day in negotiations with estate agents to find a buyer for his property—the real estate business is not doing particularly well.
William Henry, a college lecturer, is driven 'utterly mad' upon receiving threats that 'niggers will be burnt'. And an exasperated Hussain finds life a 'living hell'. "Enough is enough, I've been put in fear of my life because of the colour of my skin."
But, for all the legitimate fear and insecurity of the victims, the widely prevalent perception among the Black and Asian ethnic minorities is that the police and prosecution service is loaded against them. However, the operations and strength of ultra-right racist groups that targeted Sagoo and Hussain should not be overestimated either. 'Combat 18', for instance, is a fringe racist group.
Duncan Lestig Pren of the National Council for Civil Liberties says that such extreme behaviour of the C-18 forces even the most prominent of right-wing groupings such as the British National Party to publicly distance itself from them. As for the British National Party, their winning a solitary seat in a local council election (equivalent to a municipal ward election in India) in an East London borough sparked off a national outcry earlier on.
Racial violence is there. One even discerns hostility against the ethnic minorities coming across clearly in some of the tabloids. But, the mainstream media, be it print or radio and television, and any number of civil liberties groups, anti-fascism organisations and the government-sponsored Commission for Racial Equality, too, have a strong voice.
The very fact that explicit race-related violence and abuse make for a news story, the unusual in life, is a sign that such forms of racism have over the decades come to be strongly condemned. The British society and the campaigners against racism are now having to contend with a much more subtle form of racism—manifest in the lack of equal opportunities for the ethnic minorities in jobs in the government, the defence forces, police, judicial services and white collar professions.
The Commission for Racial Equality can just about look into any aspect of British life on issues related to racial discrimination. One measure of public support and sanction for its work is the prominence given to the Council's activities. For example, a report that the Commission is considering launching an investigation into the Crown Prosecution Service over its poor record in dealing with racial violence and alleged discrimination against Black employees makes for a prominently displayed news item. Just about every advertisement put in by government bodies—and some industries in the private sector—underscore that they are 'equal opportunity' employers.
Among the ethnic minorities, the younger generation—which has been educated here—finds that much of the talk of equal opportunities does not mean much and it is just an attempt to be politically correct. The older generation finds that the more explicit and cruder form of racism has declined. All in all, the attitudes of British society on the question of race are changing, albeit far too slowly, from the standpoint of ethnic minorities.