By Nadeem Badshah
NEARLY 90 per cent of British Asians believe that people from different backgrounds get on well in their local area, a higher percentage than other groups, research has revealed.
Community leaders have welcomed the results of the government study, which found 86 per of people of south Asian heritage had a positive view of their neighbourhood, compared to 81 per cent of white people and 84 per cent of those from a black background.
The figure dropped to 75 per cent for individuals from other backgrounds, according to the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport data.
The proportion among British Asians who thought there was community cohesion in the year ending March 2020 increased by two per cent from 2017-2018.
Experts believe the figure could be even higher next year with different communities uniting more during lockdown to help the elderly who are self-isolating with food and medicine drop-offs.
Jasvir Singh OBE, a social activist and director of the City Sikhs Network, told Eastern Eye: “It’s very heartening to see how Asians in the UK consider their local communities to be well integrated, and with people of different backgrounds all getting along.
“The data only goes as far as the end of March 2020, and given what we have seen during the national response to Covid-19, I’m sure that this sense of community togetherness has only increased over the last few months.
“This is particularly the case with many people of Asian backgrounds volunteering with groups looking out for everyone in their areas, regardless of differences.”
A total of 10,060 people aged 16 and over were quizzed for the annual Community Life Survey which tracks volunteering and charitable giving, community cohesion, civic engagement, social action and wellbeing.
Harmander Singh is spokesman for the Sikhs in England think-tank and has set up groups including The Faiths Forum for London.
He told Eastern Eye: “It doesn’t surprise me. Many Asians take people at face value despite the institutional barriers put in our way.
“Sikhs in England carried out research in the Midlands, the North and London around 2005. We found that within the Asian community, people who were older had more trust with each other than people who were younger and there was more integration in London. Because we have a shared history of living and working together in India, many still hold those values true.”
Singh added: “Some people don’t know much about other faith communities. There is a difference between integration and assimiliation – like perceptions about how you dress. Just ask the black barrister Alexandra Wilson, who was mistaken for a defendant three times in the same court.
“Social media can play a big part in promoting integration and positive messages.”
It comes after a study found that more than half the population said they felt a sense of belonging to their community, and more than two-thirds believed people “are doing more to help others since the coronavirus outbreak”.
A similar proportion said they could rely on community support.
In the second week of the lockdown in April – the period covered by the Office of National Statistics (ONS) survey – more than half of people had checked on their neighbours at least once, while almost a third had done a task for someone who lived nearby, like shopping or walking a dog.
It also found that bringing neighbours together was just one way in which the coronavirus pandemic was impacting people’s lives. Previous surveys had shown that community cohesion was on the decline and only 38 percent of people would exchange favours with neighbours.
Ruhul Tarafder, who owns a merchandise firm and Jhal Chilli takeaway in Kent, carries out community and charity work.
He said: “[Some] English people think Asians are not integrating, but our community do their best.
“I am friends with English people at my gym. They had misconceptions about Muslims before I introduced them to my friends.
“In restaurants, your regular English customers become your best friends. From the Asian side there is a culture of getting to know other people.
“With lockdown, mosques have tried to offer support to other communities. The media and negative news play a big part. London is diverse but people are a bit insular, whereas in Maidstone and other outer areas, I say hello to the other parents and people say hi and smile.
“The government’s English test has benefited us and given confidence to people to speak to other communities and learn about the UK. You can have multiple identities and be comfortable with that.”
Kamran Uddin, a writer and mosque volunteer, said: “It’s heartening to see information that shows diversity and multiculturalism does work and is a positive force for good.
“I’m sure that many far-right activists will be nodding their heads in disapproval.
“The reality is most people just want to get on in life and creating mischief and division in their communities is the last thing on their minds.”