10th November 2015
When the Royal British Legion’s Poppy Appeal is launched each year, I go out and get one as soon as I can. I wear my poppy with pride, year after year. But in recent years, the poppy has been seen as a sign of controversy by many ethnic groups who are harangued by the media for not donning poppies themselves.
I am a woman of colour. My parents are both Indian, although my mother moved to the UK when she was a small child. My dad migrated here when he was 20. Every year, we go out as a family and get poppies. Why? It’s simple, really. My parents have instilled a sense of patriotism to Britain in both me and my brother. I am British – I was born and raised here. I love this country. I am proud of this country, despite its many flaws both in the present and the past. The Indian part of me is my heritage, but I am British first, then Asian.
The attitude that I have often leads to arguments with my peers, who ignore the fact that this country has raised them. They pledge allegiance to India or Pakistan, even trivial things like cricket. Neither I nor they can fathom the other’s point of view: they think I’m absurd for unashamedly supporting England in cricket, and everything else under the sun, and I think their position of supporting India/Pakistan irrespective of the fact that they’ve only ever been there on holiday is mind-boggling.
I’m not denying Britain’s colonial rule over what is now India and Pakistan. They did horrific things, and slaughtered and enslaved too many people, and I’m not defending their violence. They did, however, change India for the better. They modernised a civilisation that lacked infrastructure. They stopped the disgusting practice of sati, in which a woman whose husband had died and was being cremated was thrown on top of the fire, to be burned alive.
Every country makes mistakes, but Britain opening its borders to thousands of Asians from the Commonwealth in the 60s and 70s was a step towards making up for it. Our grandparents and parents who came to make a better life for themselves in Britain have achieved that – my father always says that he owes everything in his life to Britain because he was poor and had nothing in India.
What millennials like myself need to understand is that had these brave British soldiers not put their lives on the line in the first and second world wars, our grandparents and parents would never have had the chance to come to Britain and make a better life for themselves and their descendants. At the very least, we owe them, and the current veterans and soldiers, a poppy. Had they not saved Britain in the wars, my family and many others wouldn’t exist, or we would be living in India, poor and without prospects. Britain has given many of us the comfortable lives that we take for granted and had Britain lost either war, we may not have been able to enjoy the luxuries we do today.
We must also not forget that thousands of Muslim, Sikh and Hindu Indians fought in both wars and laid their lives on the line alongside British soldiers. We have a duty to honour them with the poppy as well. Those are the brothers and sisters of our ancestors.
The poppy is controversial, but it needn’t be. People should buy one and wear it with pride, irrespective of ethnicity. One way or another, we are here in Britain, enjoying a life that wouldn’t have ever been possible without these courageous soldiers sacrificing life and limb for all of us.