- DC Area
- Jersey Area
- Los Angeles
- New York
- SF Bay Area
- Earlier editions
- Cricket New!
- New To US
- India News
- US News
- Rediff Chat
- Rediff Bol
- Rediff Mail
- Home Pages
Sanjay Suri in London
After almost 40 years in Britain, Sohan Singh Sidhu, 80, finds himself in the middle of a human rights battle.
A British home office minister has proposed that migrants to Britain should
be made to learn English -- which puts thousands like Sohan Singh, who have
never bothered to do so, in trouble.
First generation migrants from Punjab and Gujarat have spent most of their
lives in England without bothering to learn English. The British government
and local councils have had to provide services to them in their language.
Sohan Singh can find instructions in Punjabi in all local offices and interpreters are provided in courts, hospitals etc.
But the minister, Lord Rooker, has now made the controversial suggestion
that migrants must learn to speak English.
The proposal by Rooker came at the end of an interview given to the dotcom company ePolitix. He backed a demand by MP Ann Cryer last month that people becoming British citizens should learn English.
"It is a real problem that she has identified," he said. "There are situations, and this has got nothing to do with asylum seekers, where people are not encouraged or persuaded to learn English by their family. I don't accept that."
But the proposal immediately provoked outrage among civil liberty groups.
"You cannot force a language down anybody's throat," a spokeswoman for the
group Liberty told Indo-Asian News Service. "Learning English can be encouraged, but it cannot be made mandatory," she said.
Many new asylum seekers come to Britain in a state of great distress, she
said. "Coming to settle in Britain should not present them with new pressures to conform to a certain way of life."
A spokeswoman for the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants called the proposal "linguistic colonialism".
Rooker said the proposal would not kill diversity. "People must maintain their culture and religion and live in peace and tranquillity, but they must not be denied an opportunity to participate properly, particularly in the employment market," he said.
Last month Ann Cryer had said in the wake of the Bradford riots: "A great
deal of poverty among the Asian communities in Bradford and Keighley is because of the fact that many of them do not speak English."
A minimal level of knowledge of English has been already introduced for anyone applying for British citizenship.
Even as the debate rages though, Sohan Singh might just be waiting for
someone to tell him what the fuss is all about -- in Punjabi!
Indo-Asian News Service
Back to top
Tell us what you think of this report