With Donald Trump on the ascendant, one can only find his acolytes in the news — and now after a terrible racist rant that occurred in a first class compartment on the way to Glasgow one wonders if far too many “Trump-ets” existed around us and we never really noticed, or paid much attention. Alexander “AJ” MacKinnon (who could typically be described as a white, male in his late 40s) was filmed hurling racist abuse at Sanaa Shahid, who had her four-year-old son, Zayn, with her. Among other things, Mr Mackinnon wondered why Sanaa, who is a lawyer, did not go back to her own country. He was fined £1,154 — but the fact remains that after Brexit and the rise of Mr Trump — racism is far more apparent than before. One wonders if this can be controlled because the UK had, in fact, become very inclusive over the years, and I have not seen any overt racism in all the years that I have lived here. It is (or was) a truly multicultural society — and a leading example. And now? One will have to find out if these are just stray incidents or manifestations of something deeper.
Meanwhile — talking about divisions. I was totally surprised when someone from the BBC Asia Network called me up to join a discussion about Khalistan last week. I was astonished as I thought the issue was dead and gone. But according to her it is still a “controversial” topic and that she even had a pro-Khalistani speaker on her show. Really? I am surprised — is this the kind of agenda the recent elections in Punjab have thrown up? Surely we should be talking about development and one hopes that we do not find the supporters of Khalistan suddenly in the limelight again. I was asked if I had a “neutral” stand on Khalistan. But is that even possible? As we are setting up the museum on the Partition of India in Amritsar — we have documented the human suffering of these artificial divisions. How could I ever be neutral about another blood-stained divide? Harriet Harman is our local MP and was deputy leader of the Labour Party to Ed Miliband.
She led the party after the loss in 2015 till Jeremy Corbyn was elected as leader. She has been in Parliament for 34 years. Now she has written her memoirs A Woman’s Work. You realise as you read her how far women have come to be considered as capable in their own right. She recounts how her tutor at York University offered to raise her grade in return for sex. That sort of manipulation was usual then, but is much reduced though not quite eliminated. Ms Harman has been fighting for the women’s cause (her detractors called her Harriet Harperson) and will no doubt go on doing so. However, the outrage over her memoirs continues — and now she herself has come under attack for having accused a senior member of the Labour Party, as well as a lawyer she had worked with also of “groping” her horribly, and she had felt powerless to say anything at the time. The backlash against her is inexplicable because one knows only too well that these things have happened in the past and still continue.
The only way these will stop is if women speak up and “name and shame”. However, far too few do it — and that has been the reason, perhaps that men have felt they were easy game. Instead of trying to get Ms Harman to shut up, people should encourage women like her to speak up. One way in which things have improved for women is that now there are creches and facilities for bringing in young children, making things easier for women MPs. There are nowadays many young women in Parliament who are also young mothers. Chloe Smith, a Conservative MP for Norwich North, just did something extraordinary. She was on maternity leave having given birth to a boy. There was a crucial vote in the House of Commons on Brexit. This was to allow Theresa May to be able to open negotiations with the EU. The courts had ruled that she had to get support of Parliament. Ms May needed every vote from her party. So Ms Smith took a break from her maternity leave and carried her four-month-old son Alistair into the chamber and through the lobbies as she voted.
What was more she ended up on the winning side: Ms May got a large majority for her bill. The Royal Botanical Gardens at Kew are an amazing place to visit. This year it is celebrating the 70th year of India’s Independence. India is famous for its orchids as well as the profusion of flowers, fruits and vegetables. There is an Indian flag made up of chrysanthemums. There are stalls for Indian delicacies and workshops for crafts and yoga classes. But hurry — because the festival ends in March. It was during the Golden Jubilee of Indian Independence in 1997 that the world received the shocking news of Princess Diana’s sudden death in a car crash in Paris. The shock was great and many people converged on London to mourn. A fountain was opened in her memory in the Kensington Palace Gardens near her residence. But now her two sons Princes William and Harry, who were teenagers then and have said very little about their sorrow, have come forward with their tribute to their mother. They will unveil a statue of Diana in the Kensington Palace grounds.