Reflections from #Navadisha16: The Present

This is part two of a three part series on #Navadisha16. Please read part one (The Disclaimer) before reading this post. This is an inward looking post about some of the discussions currently taking place within the South Asian dance sector. My last post will be more outward.

One of my biggest frustrations with the Classical Indian dance world is the lack of debate, discussion and analysis. The Guru Shishya structure is set up to disallow critical thought and the sector stagnates by this archaic construct. Navadisha was a welcome opportunity for discussion, unfortunately many self promoting speeches overran which stifled room for debate. The conference was thought provoking and the organisers did a fantastic job of encouraging a platform for further debate.

I became exasperated at the lack of credibility given to established artists, with “young” used as a blanket term for everyone under 65. Everyone seemed to misinterpret my criticism to validate their own opinions. Some used this as verification that gatekeepers must be sacked, others assumed this was a dig at Gurus. My intention was to give talented, established artists the respect they deserve. We must support and recognise when someone has progressed from “upcoming” to “established.” It’s a label and identity we within the community can give to fellow artists.

With changes to the political landscape (which I will expand in my next post), artist opportunities are diminishing, which has brought with it bitterness and resentment. I believe the structures of South Asian dance, alongside these diminished opportunities has led to trauma for many. Parts of the conference transformed into therapy which diverted from the analysis required to progress.

I heard a lot of people criticise ‘gatekeepers’ for their shortcomings, with little further thought as to why things are stagnating and what we can do to change this. I’m of the belief that the stagnation in the South Asian dance sector is down to a number of different factors, which everyone must address. I don’t think it’s possible for every failure to be the fault of a handful of people, everyone engaged in the sector has a responsibility. There is an impression that gatekeepers sit in an underground lair, next to a shark tank, making decisions which will affect everyone’s lives. This is extraordinarily far from reality.

While I do not know what happens elsewhere, I do know that artistic decisions and choices at Akademi are made via auditions, independent panels, and applications. Mira is not always a part of this process and has occasionally disagreed with their choices, while respecting their autonomy. The gatekeepers do not convene at their Bond villain lair and say “so and so did not touch my feet, let’s all black list them”

I found the aggression towards the ‘gatekeepers’ misguided. The ones who attended the conference have been open minded and engage in discussions. The real anger should have been directed towards the ones who have consistently not listened, to the point where they did not even show up to the conference. The anger, in my opinion, should be at the antiquated Guruji culture which has actively discouraged debate, analysis and has encouraged closed minds. It is the responsibility of “young” artists to challenge these Gurus, and for gatekeepers to open these closed minds.

There is an assumption that these gatekeepers are all-knowing, all-powerful, celestial beings with the power to move mountains. There is an assumption that society and the arts are completely inviting and approachable to diversity. In reality, Mira uses every ounce of her supposed power to sell the virtues of investing in South Asian dance. It is a waste of Mira’s time to use a shred of this “influence” to discuss individuals. The role of a gatekeeper is mostly lobbying and campaigning for a sector, and meticulously balancing budgets to stretch limited resources, to help artists.

The most illuminating discussion at the conference was with Anu Giri from Dance Umbrella. When people cried that gatekeepers are holding them back from leaving the South Asian world, she point-blank said that none of the mainstream venue programmers listen to their recommendations. They make their own minds up about whom to program. Anu told us that the gatekeeper/Guru culture is substantially worse in ballet, and these issues are not reserved to one dance sub community.

Anu told us that she does not believe that in 2016 people are unable to use the internet and google opportunities themselves. This got me thinking. Why were so many people angry that they weren’t getting xyz opportunity without taking the initiative to research themselves? Why were artists waiting for the gate to be unlocked instead of climbing over the fence?

While I do not think that the gatekeepers are immune to criticism, they cannot be responsible for every flaw and stagnation. There were consistent references to Akram Khan as the benchmark for success. There were regular discussions about Producers, with the assumption that a Producer will turn you into Akram Khan. This does not take into consideration Akram’s artistic genius and his relentless hard work, nor the creative input by his Producer.

There is a category of talented artists who have worked hard and have been let down for various reasons. It may due to funding restrictions, a lack of career planning, or just sheer luck. For them, I have genuine sympathy. There is another category of artists who have not put the work in, are unprofessional, and have a sense of entitlement to their success.

As someone raised within the South Asian dance sector who now works in a corporate environment, I have been astounded at what passes for professional in the South Asian dance sector, and the lack of self-awareness. People are habitually late, do not practice, and turn up with horrendous attitudes. In the professional world 9.00am means you are in at 8.50am and logged in, ready to start work at 9. In the South Asian dance sector 9.00am means turn up any time before 9.30am. In the professional world you raise grievances in a calm and collected manner. In the South Asian sector, you are rude to the employer, and turn the whole team against them. In the contemporary dance world people constantly train, and work on their physicality. In the South Asian sector there is an air of arrogance: some people love to claim South Asian is harder than other styles and therefore no cross-disciplinary training is required.

I have seen some artists behave in an unprofessional manner for years, who then complain about their lack of progression and opportunity. In other sectors if you continuously behave unprofessionally, you do not keep your job. I regularly see South Asian artists belittle legal documentation such as Public Liability Insurance and CRB checks. Not breaking the law is a good virtue of professionalism.

Everyone believes that they deserve to be Akram Khan, without recognising the two hours of practice he has done every day since he was a teenager. There is hard work and professionalism behind success and in a competitive environment with limited opportunities, you cannot succeed without putting in the work. These aren’t qualities of every artist I’ve seen, but stagnation cannot be the sole responsibility of a handful of individuals.

The gatekeepers have got their flaws, and I think they are responsible for failing less capable artists. They have been too afraid to sit dancers down and tell them they are not Akram Khan. Some artists are frustrated that they haven’t succeeded and this may be because they are not up to the standard required, and no one has told them that. Or alternatively, they’ve been told and have decided not to listen.

Changing the state of South Asian dance is not a responsibility of a handful of gatekeepers, but a collective responsibility. I feel that stagnation is the diagnosis of many symptoms from training, to unprofessionalism, to attitudes. I do think the gatekeepers deserve criticism, but calling for decapitation without a full analysis of failures is short sighted. Once the head is cut off, another head will grow in its place. If the problem is in the backbone, we should fix that section instead of putting a new head on an unstable torso.

Before we continue with this witch hunt and decapitation attempt, I think everyone needs a moment of reflection. If a gatekeeper won’t unlock your gate, have you tried to use google to find ways to climb the gate? Do you turn up on time to work and foster a positive working environment? A handful of people can’t be responsible for every failure in a sector.

A lot of the discussion at Navadisha was insular and dated. For my last blog (due later this week) I hope to write about the future of South Asian dance.

Reflections from #Navadisha16: My Past

Last month’s Navadisha conference organised by New Dimensions Arts with support from Sampad was a mixed bag of artistic delights, and inward looking group therapy sessions. I’ve been planning to do a write-up since leaving Birmingham, but have been cautious with my words being misinterpreted as those of another. After reading Anita Ratnam’s analysis, I felt it was worth giving my own contributions partially in response to some of Anita’s points, and also in response to many discussions I engaged in at Navadisha. I thought I’d also jump on the therapy bandwagon and write an introduction to give context to my own complex relationship with dance. This is the first post in three separate blogs analysing some of the discussions at Navadisha and some further thoughts.

To start off, I must come clean and admit that I am the daughter of a supposed gatekeeper, Mira Kaushik. She is my mother and I love her, an emotion many people feel towards their mothers. She joined Academy of Indian dance (as it was then known) a year before I was born, while Akademi was on the verge of shutting down. I have an interesting relationship with Akademi, treating it like an older sibling with whom I have fought for attention. Mira worked intensively long hours, my father was living in Mumbai for work, so I grew up in the corridors of South Asian dance. I attended the last Navadisha sixteen years ago. I remember Akram Khan and Mavin Khoo’s duet distracting me from my Harry Potter book. As a hyperactive, perpetually performing nuisance child Mira put me into Bharatanatyam classes (which I left because I couldn’t tolerate aramandi), and into Kathak which I turned out to be very suited for.

I grew up to be a satisfactory Kathak dancer (there are some links available at the bottom of this page.) At one point I decided I wanted to become a dancer as nothing else gave me the joy I felt while dancing. Mira said if I want to do this, I need to understand my weaknesses and work on them. I lost two thirds of my body weight, worked on my fitness, and started to take tabla lessons because I knew my laya was not up to scratch. I took twelve hour overnight buses on a fortnightly basis from Aberdeen to London for training. At university halls I received two formal warnings for the nuisance caused by my footwork practice in the morning. I shifted my riyaaz to the ground floor boys’ toilets as that was the only place I was able to dance without being evicted. I could only use the boys’ toilets three times a week. Mira’s response: Not good enough. If I wanted to be a dancer I needed to practice every day.

At one point I confronted my mother. I said that she was treating me differently because I was related to her. Mira told me that it would be difficult for Akademi to give me a platform because of the impression it would give. She understood the perceptions within the South Asian community, and felt that some people would assume I was performing due to nepotism as opposed to talent. This is an example of the difficult decisions Mira has had to take because of her commitment to fairness within the South Asian dance sector. She encouraged me to make it alone without Akademi’s help. I understood her reasoning. I understood the weight on her shoulders to support the whole industry. I wasn’t pleased, but I was still determined.

I approached other South Asian dance organisations, and the gatekeepers of these organisations did not support me. The reason? I was Mira’s daughter and therefore would eventually become Akademi’s property so their investment would not have a return. Other gatekeepers (Gurus, teachers, other students) locked more doors, (and I have an additional Guru baggage I’m not even going to touch on here). As South Asian artists, we prefer to see people fail and do not support one another. The atmosphere in the South Asian sector is toxic and we do not encourage our peers. We relish one anothers’ failure, bitching about someone missing half a beat in their performance over drinks.

Dance for me creates a never ending emotional rollercoaster. I can be ecstatic at some points while in the moment: uplifted by the music and movement vocabulary. My spirit is pulled down by an unsupportive peer or teacher, and then crashes to rock bottom when I have the realisation that it is unlikely I will progress out of the boys’ toilets. If this is my emotional journey of highs and lows as a junior dancer, I cannot imagine the highs and lows for people who have done this full time for years, and the effect this may have on their mental wellbeing.

This is the baggage I carry as Mira’s daughter. I often shy away from that identity and disown the links I have to Mira in a dance context. I grew up in this sector and understand every corner of its flaws and limitations as someone both let down by multiple gatekeepers, and as Mira’s daughter seeing the hard work and difficult choices she has had to make for the sector.

For the past six years I have lived (mostly) away from Mira. I have stood in the General Election for a parliamentary seat, been on national and international media voicing strong opinions. I have given speeches to large audiences, written for the international press, and now work for a FTSE 100 company. Please do not think that any of my views in these three posts belong to Mira Kaushik. I have achieved enough by myself to deserve to have my own views.

We must encourage debate and have discussions within the South Asian arts sector. Constructive debate: not short sighted calls to shut organisations down. This requires calm and measured readings of critique, and respecting that different people have different opinions.

Part 2 is available here

No, I did not leave the Lib Dems as a smear campaign against Tim Farron/The Illuminati told me to

While I don’t like the idea of a dramatic attention seeking blog to justify my exit, having seen some of the nasty comments out there I feel it’s important to clarify a few things.

I did not leave the party over a Liberal Youth march. I think the march was misguided because of a lack of intersectionality and cultural awareness. I left because of the abuse I got for voicing that opinion.

For context, at Autumn conference I invited Sam Bowman, Executive Director of the right wing think tank Adam Smith Institute, to speak on a panel on diversity. As a liberal I thought the varied views would make an interesting debate on how to improve diversity, a topic extremely close to my heart. What followed was a backlash of abuse against Sam. Yet only one person (a woman) directed this abuse directly to Sam. I received the full brunt of abuse meant for him, as well as for sharing a panel with him (other panelists received nothing). Sam asked people to direct their abuse towards him but no one took his offer up. I had had enough of these double standards and decided to leave the party.

On a regular basis over the last few years, when I have been outspoken, made a stupid joke, or voiced an opinion, I have received abuse. After joining FE this became much worse with people constantly telling me that I should have a different standard of behaviour as a member of FE. I received a call from a senior party figure telling me to watch what I say because I am a senior party activist. My outspoken white male friend on FE regularly speaks his mind and tweets stupid stuff. He has never received a call policing his behaviour or thoughts. He has only once been told that as someone on FE he should have a different standard of behaviour than regular activists. I have also not seen these attitudes towards other outspoken white men on FE. I receive a comment like this on a fortnightly basis.

I feel this double standard is because people do not like outspoken Women of Colour. I have spent many years trying to find an alternative reason but time and time again I’m forced to come to this conclusion. It is acceptable for a white man to voice their opinions, but when I do it I fit the “Angry Black Woman” trope. These days I have transformed an angry brown woman because I’ve had enough of people trying to police my behaviours, or silence my opinions. After I tried to leave in September, someone contacted the press and said things about my personal life which silenced me into staying, despite gendered abuse. (Still to this day I have no idea who this was, or why the press would care.)

When I have raised my concerns with the leadership, and named people who have targeted me with gendered abuse I was told “Oh but that’s just how so and so is” or “Is this is first time he’s upset you? You’re so lucky!” In what shape or form is that an acceptable reaction? I believe people have been “spoken to” about my concerns but the intrinsic culture to treat Women of Colour as “fair game” remains unchallenged. On the other hand, I’ve been told that I’m so reactive and rude on social media that I deserve what I get.
The comments post departure have been bizarre. A group of young men have taken to sending me non stop abusive tweets (so bad that I’ve now had to deactivate all of my social media). They’ve taken a comment I made about “smug white people”, and used it to invalidate any important point made about intersectionality. This is similar to what happens to Dianne Abbott. She makes a serious political point about race, and right wingers use her personality and character to invalidate any of her opinions or speech.
In Facebook forums people have tried to invalidate my views by saying “I’ve been looking for an excuse to leave”. I have wanted to leave because of disproportionate abuse and that’s not something to belittle. What’s worse is left wing members have been rejoicing about my departure because they’ve now got their party back, and right wingers feel my views on race are “absurd lefty nonsense.” The Lib Dems are a party with 8 MPs. Should you really be rejoicing when a young woman of colour leaves due to abuse? If that’s the party you’ve got back then good luck with the #LibDemFightback.
As a child my father told me that as an Asian woman I will always have to work thrice as hard due to inherent discrimination in society. I always believed that these double standards wouldn’t be so ingrained in a liberal party but unfortunately it is. As a white man reading this blog you may find my reasoning petty, but when this such a routine part of your activism it begins to really grate down on your self worth and mental health. For me, finally not being held to a Victorian ideal for women of colour, I feel liberated.
If you are supposedly a supporter of diversity, take a moment to consider your reactions and your views towards women of colour. When a WoC speaks up and says “things can be really shit for Women of Colour sometimes, you know”, don’t react with SHE SAID WHITE PEOPLE ARE SMUG!!! SHE H8S TIM FARRON. THIS IS ALL AN EVIL SMEAR CAMPAIGN BY THE MAINSTREAM MEDIA AND/OR ILLUMINATI. Take a moment to consider, why are spaces in the Lib Dems not safe for women of colour? Why do we hold double standards to their behaviour? And what will you personally do to change this?

Why Intersectionality Should Be At The Heart Of Our Activism

The Liberal Democrat youth wing decided to launch an embassy crawl today of countries with bad human rights records. A lovely idea to represent an internationalist commitment to love? Theoretically, yes. In practise, a group of majority white people getting a photo op outside embassies, some of which were former British colonies. In practise, a group of people stealing voices from LGBT People of Colour.

The struggle for LGBT rights belongs to the LGBT people from those relevant countries who have been persecuted by these laws. Some of these people may outreach to Britain to support their struggle and we stand in solidarity, but for others this is an internal struggle. This is not my struggle as a Person of Colour, nor is it the struggle of British LGBT people. LGBT People of Colour (PoC) have been forced to start their own movement for equality because the mainstream LGBT rights movement has favoured equality for cis white people over People of Colour and Trans people. This is not my struggle to preach about, but it is important to note the scepticism People of Colour hold towards all mainstream liberation movements. Intersectionality is a virtue yet to be discovered by many white equality activists.

My knowledge of LGBT rights is focussed on India and for the purposes of this blog I’ll speak solely about Indian LGBT rights. I cannot speak about the struggles in other countries as I do not know about their context, nor can I speak as an LGBT Indian as I am straight and a British citizen. It’s not great in India. Section 377 of the Indian penal code labels all non-hetero missionary sex as “unnatural”. (FYI This law was imposed by the British during colonial rule.) Recent years have seen a cultural shift with attitudes towards homosexuality, with celebrities speaking in support, and LGBT films having a mainstream release. It’s an uphill struggle but times and attitudes are changing. The Naz Foundation has submitted a petition to revoke Section 377, pending another review.

India’s LGBT community have not been waiting patiently for Britain’s fifth largest political party’s youth wing to suddenly save their lives and open Modi’s eyes to discrimination. The movement has been going along for decades to reverse the attitudes brought into India by British colonial rule. If Liberal Youth, or other British activists, want to help they should do so by assisting existing Indian LGBT organisations with their campaigns. Turning up outside an embassy to demand they change their laws suggests that we as British people have more clout over law making than Indian LGBT citizens. It screams of post colonial white privilege and is damaging and upsetting to People of Colour. Part of the campaign to reverse the criminalisation of “unnatural” sex is to point out the colonial context of the law. Having a group of British people cry about how regressive India is, gives the entirely opposite effect.

For India, there is a more topical and timely situation taking place right now post Facebook’s Free Internet campaign. Zuckerberg et al turned up in India to solve poverty. India ruled that this actually did little to solve poverty and a Facebook director took to the internet to say “anti-colonialism has been economically catastrophic for India.” In this very fresh backdrop of white activism being used to impose post colonial ideals, Indians have a touch of an anti Western stance towards activism at the moment.

The concerning issue internally is the reaction by numerous non People of Colour speaking up on behalf of international LGBT people. I’ve had a day of Twitter whitesplaners telling me why I’m wrong about colonialism, and that I should ignore racial insensitivity if it causes me so much distress. The reactions people have had to ignore intersectionality and racial sensitivity, encompasses why the Liberal Democrats have such a huge race issue. When a person of colour expresses unhappiness towards racial attitudes, the response should be to understand why they are upset, and to attempt to empathise (like Bradley did here). The immediate reaction should never be to shut down already marginalised voices. Claiming “but this BME person thought it was ok!” is the equivalent of “I’ve got a black friend!” One BME person’s voice is not representative of an entire international community (including mine). This should be a moment of reflection for some members about how they respond to underrepresented groups.

The voices which should be heard the loudest are the voices of people who suffer under the rule of these countries. These types of marches should be held with those communities taking the forefront, not hijacked by white well meaning Liberal Democrats.

Where do we go from here? Does this activism and solidarity include working with LGBT organisations based in those countries? Will you suddenly move to rural Madhya Pradesh to work with the marginalised hijra community? Or does the activism begin with a march and end with a photo op to print on a FOCUS leaflet? If this was a fun day out with some mates and you’ve got some cute selfies out of it, perhaps you’ve missed the point. Activism is not meant to be a way to make yourself feel good about the atrocities people suffer abroad. Activism is not a charity act to get votes in the next local by election. Activism must continue and we must all understand the cultural context of our actions.

Who I Am Backing For Leader of the Lib Dems

This is an extremely difficult leadership election with two immensely capable and likable candidates. This is a point where we need a leader who is likable, personable, charismatic and unites everyone in the party. Obviously the only candidate with all of these qualities is me but unfortunately we are limited to choose solely from our MPs, of which we only have 8 men.

With Tim Farron we have someone extremely charismatic, likable, with a proven fan base and public profile. I have known Tim for a few years since meeting him in Kendal. I was amazed to see ten year old kids yell his name in the street and 20-somethings requesting selfies with him in a nightclub. As someone who is politically active, I barely recognise my own local MP. Tim Farron has a real fan base in Kendal and is clearly liked by thousands. His majority displays this beautifully.
Tim has also been brilliant on a personal level. Tim contacted me after I raised concerns about racial equality within the Liberal Democrats and racism on the doorstep. Tim was exceptional at discussing pastoral care of BME members and took my concerns very seriously.
With all of these points in consideration, choosing whom I should support has been extremely difficult. Tim has given some incredibly inspiring speeches and has transcended left/right divisions for years. But for a number of reasons I have recently warmed towards Norman Lamb.
Earlier this year I was invited to speak on a panel at a sixth form. Norman had also been invited to speak and he explained the liberal values towards drugs policy. It was incredible to see Norman inspire this room of young people solely by discussing liberal values. He made the room question so much more than their politics by articulating the crux of liberalism: that punishment is not a motivator. That free speech and free thought allows adults to make their own choices. I had never seen Norman and I was amazed by his ability to inspire not only the room, but me. Norman articulated the values of liberalism and reminded me why I’m a member. During a gruelling election campaign Norman was one of the few inspirational figures who reminded me why I was pounding on the doorsteps.
Since then I have read more about Norman Lamb, about Norman Lamb’s work towards mental health. About his family circumstances and his response to press instrusion. Norman has consistently stood up for freedom, liberalism and choice. Norman represents the liberal values that I believe in. That is why I am supporting Norman Lamb.
I think we haven’t seen enough of Norman. When I saw him in that school I was inspired and I believe if more people see Norman in action they will feel just as inspired as I was.
We are in an extremely privileged position to have two incredible candidates. It is with a lot of personal turmoil that I am not supporting Tim Farron, but if he was to win we would still have a charismatic and likable leader. For this election however, I back Norman Lamb.

Reflections on Devolution

I’ve had a thought about possible devolution solutions for England. As a Londoner I don’t think devolution has been particularly successful in London

Devolved power to local authorities

We definitely need decentralisation of power from Westminster. That’s a no brainer. I believe power should be given to regions. There is so much regional differentiation in England not only with services required, but also in terms of political opinion. I honestly don’t think an English Parliament is a good idea for this reason.

Devolved power to local authorities is the best solution, preferably at a regional level (Yorkshire and the Humber, East Anglia, etc.) The problem is one party will dominate a region and create unaccountable dictatorships. Devolved regional power is only possible if it goes hand in hand with proportional representation. This should provide a balance of powers and increase accountability.

An English Parliament?

As touched upon above, an English parliament is theoretically a great idea, but in practically is a little bizarre. A “First Minister for England” who represents over 80% of the population will have a disproportionate amount of authority at State Minister meetings. You’ll have people from Cornwall voting for decisions in Middlesborough, yet both have different concerns. The Prime Minister/Presidential figure will be a bit redundant next the English Minister. The PM will constantly say they shouldn’t be involved in regional decision making and spend most time attempting to influence foreign and EU policy instead.

Instead of a designated “English Parliament”, I believe devolved regional power with proportional representation is the best idea. An English Parliament is definitely not the solution.

Is there even an appetite for change?

We attempted to increase regional devolution with elected mayor referenda. Most cities rejected the proposal and preferred the status quo. We attempted a fairer voting system. The people of the UK rejected the proposal and preferred the status quo.

Such a drastic constitutional change to the UK requires a referendum for people to decide the future. It is likely that will fail. People who vote in referenda like the status quo. Ironically, people who hate politics and want to change the system are unlikely to bother voting in a referendum. It’s a frustrating circle.

I predict some poorly thought out proposal to “fix” the problem will be thrown together in the next month. It won’t go far enough and it won’t solve the problem. UKIP will then start a scare mongering campaign about how the evil Scots and Welsh who are creating all your decisions. Nothing will change. Sorry.

Why I’m Considering My Membership of the Liberal Democrats

I’ve had enough. I’ve had enough of trying to explain to Lib Dems why I am unhappy. To loosely quote Game of Thrones “Winter is coming and the kingdom is busy with a civil war”. Instead I’m going to write this as if I’m giving a conference speech. This tends to be the only thing politics cares about these days. Conference I am appalled. I have personal anecdotes to tell you about which will make you as appalled as I am and then you will give me a standing ovation and vote for me.

I often joke about various reasons why I became politically active but my secret reason was so that people with my background, young Asian women, could gain equality in a society rife with racial bias and unspoken prejudice. I kept this quiet to not be another token in the party to collect. Today forced marriages became illegal. It is 2014 and today forced marriages became illegal. Why? Because Asian women (who tend to be most affected by forced marriages) are not in positions of power. There is one prominent Asian women in politics and I get told regularly that I look like her, sound like her, that I’m waiting for the party to give me a peerage to become another Baroness Rent-A-Quote on Question Time. I can count the amount of prominent Asian women in the media on my fingers. I have never had political ambitions but in the last few months I have become more enraged with the way in which politicians flaunt immigration policy and the effects it has on people of my background. Recently I’ve wanted to become a parliamentarian to change things but I know my background will always be a barrier.

I have stopped canvassing. I can no longer stand on a stranger’s doorstep to have them look at me with disgust and tell me about the various ways in which they hate people of colour. That too many p***s are in their country and now they have to deal with the influx of dirty Europeans too. I continued being a loyal Lib Dem foot soldier and delivered leaflets but damaged my knees thanks to overzealous local parties who didn’t think a young person deserved a break after 17 hours on a cramped megabus and 7 hours straight walking uphill. In fact, most didn’t bother to say thank you and instead made me hate myself that I wasn’t out on the doorstep taking racist abuse. As if being young and a confident orator is a ticket to racial abuse. The guilt trips were not pleasant and in the Euro elections this year I did nothing. I had no motivation to journey somewhere afar on doorsteps for 8 hours, only to be told all immigrants are scum and not get a thank you at the end of it.

I am member of this party to give a voice to people of my background and make this country a fairer country. But trying to discuss BME voting patterns and diversity in this party at its best demonstrates colour-blinded ignorance, at its worst it radiates vile racism. I have heard more than one member of more than one local party open up their mouth with racism. I have heard countless people say that they won’t select a woman or ethnic minority in a target area because it will hurt their electoral chances. I’ve also heard other people say that I am racist for suggesting that local parties don’t select ethnic minority candidates. I have come to the realisation at the ripe age of 24 that there are parts of our society that will never be able to see past my skin colour and gender. It makes it pretty difficult to digest when you’re constantly told as a child that you can be whatever you want to be.

The irritating thing is that I can’t discuss this with colleagues in the party because they think I’m overreacting when voters tell me “f*** off p***”. Members of our party have no idea what goes on in parts of the country which aren’t their own suburban middle class white havens. There is more hostility in our party towards people who dare to speak up about racism, sexism, homophobia and ableism. People are ready to jump up and say “I have a ___ friend who says this isn’t a problem”. We as a party prefer to stay in our comfort zones and only canvass and recruit other middle class white people. There is no appetite, at least at a local party level, to really change society for the better. I also know it’s the same in other parties. Racial bias and unspoken prejudice is in every pocket of society and every party.

This is the other infuriating part of our party. The thing which really riles up the membership is not societal inequality or prejudice, but it’s which definition of “liberalism” one adheres to. I no longer feel welcome in a party in which people are waiting to cull the “rabid Tories” such as myself who believe in a small state. The amount of abuse Jeremy Browne received for writing a book with his political views was shocking, despite anyone bothering to read the book! I totally empathise that the left/right abuse is on both sides but there is no interest in this party to get together and tackle the real issues of societal inequality.

The vast majority of the Liberal Democrat membership prefers to sit around with other middle class white men and discuss the days of Torbay Liberal conference in 1974 when there were “true liberals”. I’m sorry to say, Britain has changed substantially since 1974. The majority of the population don’t give a shit about what “liberalism” means and which middle class white man we elect as leader. Can we please get together and remember who the real enemies are?

Right now I don’t know whether I should stay in this party or politics at all because it’s hate on the doorstep for having a different skin colour, and hate in the Lib Dems for having different political views. I no longer have patience for either. I no longer know what I’m fighting for because it’s increasingly unlikely that this party will recruit more BME people, let alone elect them. What is honestly the point of politics anymore? It’s not to bring about change. It’s solely philosophical circle jerking reserved for rich white men.

Edit: To clarify I’m not joining elsewhere. The title was mostly click bait. I have no problems with the leadership and the party. I’ve recently become apathetic because I think all political party membership is far too focused on outdated ideologies than 21st century application. As well as our party colliding in civil war. I wanted Lib Dem members to read this and remember that it’s bloody important to eradicate racism. Diversity is a MUCH bigger issue than the definition of liberalism. Hopefully I’ve explained why above.

My BBC News Election Results Interview

I appeared on BBC News this morning doing a live election interview with Matthew Amroliwala and was aggressive to say the least. As I’m normally very calm I wanted to explain what happened and give an insight to political spin and the media.

i turned up 15 minutes earlier than my expected time and waited for my Labour counterpart, Bex Bailey, to arrive for our debate. I’ve done a Sky News debate in the past with a Young Labour type who spent the majority of the time talking over me and I was told afterwards to not be so polite in a political debate as people are ruthless. I put that at the back of my mind as I’d heard of Bex and she seemed like a nice enough person.

She turned up a little late and with an older gentleman. To be honest she looked very young and I thought he was her dad or uncle. A producer I became friendly with told me he was a Blair spin doctor, Matthew Doyle. The producer was just as surprised as I was so I edged a bit closer to hear the conversation. He was briefing her about the lines of Lib dem attack and essentially how to destroy me.

As we got miked up, Amroliwala asked his producer what the name of “the MP who made the Battle of Somme comments” was. When informed of the name he opened up a page in his notebook with the header “12.30 – Liberal Youth”. The page was littered with notes which would have made the interview extremely uncomfortable for me, not Bex, such as “tuition fees” “wipeout” “knife in Blegg’s back” etc. Amroliwala then asked me to stand next to him in the interview and it was very clear that the intention of the interview was less about the youth vote as I assumed and more for me to squirm about how sad everything was.

Realising that Bex Bailey had a very thorough attack strategy from a senior spin doctor in her belt and Amroliwala was intending to focus the interview on how disastrous the Lib Dem results were, in those 20 seconds I worked out a strong enough Labour attack to get the attention off me. It worked, Amroliwala went on the attack too and it became an uncomfortable interview for Bex Bailey instead.

Sorry everyone for being so horrible but I had about 20 seconds to think of an attack line otherwise the professional spin trained Labour member and the senior journalist were pretty much going in for the kill. I promise I’m a nice person really!

The Curious Cake for Change

It’s war. Nick Clegg vs. the world. Frankly, I’m sorry to say it’s a complete waste of time.

I understand the merits of the anti-Clegg argument but personally think it’s UKIP-esque scapegoating that we really should rise above. Yes, some voters dislike Nick Clegg, but stop blaming the lad. The more hate Clegg gets the more sympathy I pour over him and want to send him photographs of kittens.

The truth of the matter is that Nick Clegg had the balls to confront the vile racist rhetoric UKIP were putting out. Clegg said all the right arguments. But Labour, the party who should have exposed Farage’s horns and combat the national rise of xenophobia stayed silent. Instead they progressed with their 4 year long Nick Clegg character assassination which will only continue into the next year. To be honest I would rather direct my anger and attention towards Labour for putting out lies than wasting time being furious at the guy who raised the income tax threshold to £10,000; raised the number of apprenticeships; and introduced same sex marriage.

My home constituency of Hendon has an MP with a terrible LGBT record and a wafer thin majority of 103. Yet Labour are not targeting this constituency, they’re leaving the him to it. This translated in votes as Barnet council is the only blue council amidst a sea of red North London councils. Instead of targeting these councils they’ve gone for the Lib Dem vote and targeted Hornsey and Wood Green and Brent Central. It’s not about what is right or wrong, it is only about the 35% strategy. Dan Hodges expands on this point eloquently here.

It is important to note that Labour’s character assassination in Brent began with Sarah Teather. Even though Teather has said she will not be restanding, Brent Labour has continued the hate campaign against Lib Dem PPC Ibrahim Taguri. The hate campaign continues to pick up on Sarah voting against same sex marriage despite Sarah not being the candidate.

My point is that if this is happening on a local level it is highly unlikely a change of leader will change Labour’s strategy. They are vicious and opportunist and not interested in combatting UKIP’s xenophobia or Conservative comments such as Offord’s. Labour’s 35% strategy requires a decimation of the Lib Dems despite whoever is in the suit at the front.

Right now we should all be working exceptionally hard to get our messaging across in a united front. In fighting and leadership battles are the refuge of the Conservatives and Labour. We are better than this. We need to prove this by just pushing forward and exposing lies altogether.

Finally, our MPs need to be working hard to get themselves back in power. It is frankly irresponsible to dangle leadership challenges in front of people with small majorities. The name of the leader will make no difference to the Labour campaign strategy. Hopefully the loss of seats to UKIP in Rotheram and Sunderland will wake up Labour and get them to grow some principles instead of partisan fighting. But I’m not placing any bets on change there.

Feel free to contact me on Twitter or by Email to discuss this further.


Edit: The title is a typo. But I’m keeping it because it’s topical with the cake vs. clegg debate

Gender Equality (or lack of it) in Classical Indian dance

A few months ago I came across this article which hoped men dancers won’t be subject to “reverse discrimination”. Before I go on, a disclaimer: firstly there are many incredibly talented men dancers. They deserve every bit of attention they receive because they are brilliant. Secondly, not all men dancers get an easy ride. Attractive, tall, fair skinned boys get an advantage. Thirdly, I am aware that men have to put up with a lot of crap and sexually inappropriate Gurus (both male and female). I know I am making generalisations and the scenarios below are not always the case. Nevertheless these things do happen in varying scales across the dance world.

My first example of sexism was at the age of sixteen when I was a happy and optimistic kid who enjoyed learning Kathak. I had spent a year saving up money to attend a summer dance school and felt ready to take up the advanced class. My teacher had instructed me to join the intermediate class and to attend advanced only when the Gurus believed I was ready. When the moment came and I was upgraded to the advanced class, the Guru said the class was too full because a boy with hardly any Kathak training was occupying the last place. The Guru chose the boy over me solely based on appearance and gender, not dance ability. I wasted a week unchallenged, unhappy and after that experience stopped dancing for a year.

After a lot of hard work I decided I wanted to be a dancer. I polished my laya, reduced a third of my body weight, and took fortnightly 15 hour overnight buses to attend dance classes. My dedication and drive was off the charts but once again I was pushed aside for a less experienced bloke. My biggest flaw was a lack of stage experience. During ten years of training I had danced on stage a handful of times and did not even own my own costume. I had no idea how to dress or perform. Boys with 3 months of training are thrown onto stage because there is always a shortage of men dancers. Not only are they allowed to perform before they can clap teentaal, they are also allowed to be messy and uncoordinated solely because “that’s how men dance”

Kathak is a career path taken up predominately by women, yet it is dominated by Pandit Birju Maharaj, a bloke. There are hordes of talented women dancers who are hidden in dance institutes around the world. Many women who succeed are gharanadaars or have rich parents. When women choose to take up dance, pockets of society still believe they are tawaifs (fun anecdote for another day about a North London taxi driver who asked me which bar I dance at). Men face homophobic and transphobic discrimination if they choose to take up dance, another symptom of the warped gender bias in the Classical Indian dance industry. Of course, men dancers are a better long term investment as they aren’t privy to changes in their figure after childbirth.

Raising gender inequality with dance elders tends to always get a bit of a shrug and a “well that’s how things go”. That’s exactly the type of attitude which allows discrimination to prevail. The status quo needs to be challenged, particularly in an industry which is seeped in (occasionally backward) traditions. Many men dancers are a part of “dancing duos” and one may see that as a symptom of “reverse discrimination”. I see this more as a symptom of a patriarchal society in which audiences expect to see beautiful women perform. In a perfect gender equal society audiences would judge performers for their dancing merit. Not their gender, parental background, or ethnicity.

There are many talented men dancers around. But Veejay Sai’s claim that they are subject to “reverse discrimination” is very one sided. Men dancers get far more stage experience and get away with sub standard dancing. Gender equality must be addressed to make dance a welcoming platform for all genders. Men and women are subject to different hoops to judge and different barriers to cross. Levelling the playing field by ensuring equality is imperative to the growth of Classical Indian dance.

Ok, with that I think I’ve written too much about dance. Will stick to politics and the Lib Dems in future posts seeing as no one is interested in dance anyway. Maybe throw some more satire out there. I suppose when an art form requires so much emotional investment to learn, I get a bit emotional at the things which irritate me. Feel free to email or tweet me to discuss this further or to hear why dance makes me so bitter. The answer isn’t “sour grapes” as some have been suggesting after my last post.