Kenya Indians Hail Kenya’s 50 Independence Anniversary

Letter from New Delhi

It’s been a tempestuous half a century for Kenya Indians as the nation celebrates her 50th anniversary of ndependence on 12 December. Kenya’s political developments have directly affected the Indians called Asians.

They have always worried about their future in Kenya, worked hard as they prospered.

Indians, called Muhindis or Hindis, have been trading with Kenyan coastal towns since Biblical times. The British government recruited hundreds of Indians to build the Kenya Uganda Railway in late 19th century. Once the railway was running just before the century ended, many Gujaratis started ‘dukas’ or shops and came to be known as ‘dukawallas’. The Punjabis worked as craftsmen called ‘fundis’ and laboured hard. Everyone prospered and helped to build most urban towns.

During the Mau Mau freedom violent struggle in the 1950s, the British rulers declared an Emergency. Asians had a tough time being loyal to the British rulers and quietly helping the African freedom fighters. In 1960, when the Emergency ended, Asians, who had been fighting for freedom and one-man-one vote in the Legislative Council, became more vocal for human rights.

“What is our future in a free Kenya?” was the question on everyone’s lips as Kenya celebrated independence in 1963 with Jomo Kenyatta as its first president and father of the nation. A Goan lawyer, Dr. Fitz De Souza became the Deputy Speaker of the first Parliament and another lawyer Chanan Singh was soon appointed a judge.

In 1964, a two-year period was announced for all non-citizens to become Kenyan citizens. To conserve Kenyan currency being sent abroad by Indians and others, the Exchange Control Act was passed in 1965. A year later, Kenyatta warned Non Africans to become citizens or leave the country.

More panic for Asians

In 1967, all Non-Citizens must have a work permit. Since the Indians mostly held British passports, Britain was worried about their huge influx and decided to pass a bill by February 1968. This triggered the Asian Exodus of thousands from Kenya who wanted to beat the deadline. The Exodus made world news as Indians who came to Nairobi airport to bid goodbye to their relatives, scrambled on the next flight to Britain. This gave Britain the corner shop owner from Kenya who changed its retail trade. About 1,400 came to India as well. In their hundreds, Asians left Kenya to settle in the UK, USA, Canada, and Australia.

The next challenge came in 1969. Quit Notices were issued to Asian shopkeepers in Kenya to promote the locals. This Africanisation of trade went on until 1977 as many Asians started small factories. In 1972, Idi Amin surfaced in Uganda and ordered all Asians to leave. This had a ripple effect in Kenya as some Kenya African openly supported Amin. Again, hundreds left.

President Kenyatta died in 1978 and his Vice President Daniel arap Moi took his reins. Asians continued to flourish in business and the professions. In the next general elections in 1979, an Asian lawyer, Krishan Gautama won a parliamentary seat. When all tribal organisations were banned in 1980, hundreds of Asian only clubs were renamed.

Kenya enjoys cordial relations with India highlighted with the visit of India’s President Sanjiva Reddy and Prime Minister Indira Gandhi within a few months of each other in 1981. In aborted coup by the Air Force, hundreds of Asian shops were looted and again some left the country.

Justice C. Madan, who was appointed as the Chief Justice in 1985, had the courage to rule against President Moi in a case. Global terror came to Kenya in 1998 when the American embassy was bombed in Nairobi, killing hundreds. In 2002, Moi’s 24-year rule ended as Mwai Kibaki became the president. The next elections five years later triggered tribal violence in which hundreds died. Asians were scared but unharmed.

Recent attacks by Somail terrorists have injured Asians that culminated in the Westgate mall attack which claimed some Asian lives and huge losses to all Asian shops in this mall.

The Asians population dwindled from around 350,000 in the Sixties to around half by the Seventies. Today, it is estimated at less than 100,000. Despite these dramatic political events, Kenya has remained stable in the 50 years of independence and has developed in all sectors. The Asians have contributed in their full measure to this growth. During these 50 independence celebrations, the Muhindis happily shout, ‘Kenya Juu!’ or Kenya tops and they mean it.

Kul Bhushan worked as a newspaper editor in Kenya for over 22 years.

* * *

Indian English has Real Flavour

There is a conspiracy afoot to get us to speak perfect English

There is an astonishing number of advertisements in the papers for English language training to correct our voice and diction, get our grammar straightened out, to make our sentences march in neat little lines like soldiers.

Basically to take the Indian out of our English.

Please stop them, someone. Indian English has masala – not found in any other English in the world. I am lobbying to let it take its place as another kind of legitimate English, not as an incorrect version of real English. Like Indian food, Indian English has real flavour. Where else would they say things such as:

* Don’t stand in front of my back.

* A cow gives milk which we drink. Therefore it is our mother.

* Who took the breeze out of my cykill?

* Will you have some tea-shee? Biscuit-viscuit?

* Why aren’t you kneel-downing?

* Hurry-upping ma’am.

* Open the windows and let the atmosphere come in.

* Open the windows and let the Air Force come in.

Or the gentleman on the flight who told the stewardess: “I am vegetable but my wife is not and I will drink a Walking Johnny.”

Or my yoga teacher who guides us into shavasana by saying: “Now be relax. Loose your body, loose your arms, loose your face. Let the breathe come in from the nostril and look at your breathe.”

Or the nosey but well-meaning Punjabi couple, who within minutes, wanted to know everything about my life: “Pinky, are you married? Any issues? What does your husband do? What salary is he making? Where do you live? We live in Patel Nagar, right above Bhasin tailors, please come over. Do you like pickle? You can be having mine.”

Or the school Principal who gave this speech: “The school is like a garden. You are the seeds, school is the soil. We will bury you in this soil, pour water of knowledge on your heads and one day you will become great phools.”


* Published in print edition on 20 December 2013

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