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Brother Mark is a pseudonym of The Reverend Dr Robert Jaggs-Fowler, a clergyman, physician, writer and poet. His biography can be found at: www.robertjaggsfowler.com

Sunday, February 12, 2012

An Open Apology to India's Kinsfolk

It is a sad but astonishing fact that a seemingly harmless comment can escalate to something far more than was ever intended. Nonetheless, that is precisely what happened to me this week, with the end result that I have inadvertently offended many people, when I would not have dreamt of deliberately causing offence. It is therefore that I now use this blog to issue an open public apology to anyone sleighted by my comments.

The punishment for me has been the accusation that I am racist, when I am truely nothing of the kind; a statement I am absolutely sure that everyone (of any nationality) who knows me would have no hesitation in supporting, and which other articles of mine would bear testimony to.

Perhaps I may be permitted a few lines to place in perspective and try to explain what I said and meant.

Last week, The Times of India (5th Feb 2012) published an article quoting Mr Pranab Mukherjee as saying in the Rajya Sabha that India did not need British aid, stating that the money was 'peanuts'. This was further reported in the British press as being forced onto India by the UK Government, as the latter was desperate to win a fighter jet contract from India; a contract that has, of course, since gone to France.

Understandably, there are many in the UK who cannot understand why our Government persists in giving such aid, when the Indian Government has rejected it; especially when the UK economy is in a perilous situation, and many of us are being taxed to a very high level in order to assist the UK's recovery. As an example, see today's Sunday Telegraph: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/comment/letters/9075195/India-should-no-longer-qualify-to-receive-British-foreign-aid.html

When I read the comments from Mr Mukherjee, I placed a comment on Twitter which said something along the lines of 'India rejects UK aid. Good. Please now reduce my tax so that I can spend it in the UK'. This was sent by me via Twitter to the Downing Street Twitter site. The thrust of this was not meant as an insult to India, but a call on the UK Government to stop mistakenly spending our tax where it was not needed or wanted, and to allow us to personally start having a little surplus to spend in the UK and assist our own economy.

However, several readers misunderstood my stance and made various comments to which I attempted to reply within the confines of short Twitter messages. The points I tried to make were:

i. That if India didn't require UK aid, then we shouldn't be trying to force that aid onto India. To do so is insulting to India.

ii. That to try and manipulate India by the giving of aid in the hope of acquiring the Tornado contract was in itself offensive, and suggested that the UK government was acting in some 'pseudo-colonial manner'.

iii. I also pointed out that many respected people within India were on public record as saying that the provision of aid was undermining attempts at bringing real reform to attitudes within India amongst the wealthier classes, and that what was really needed is for the wealthier Indians to start suporting the poorer members of Indian society, as happens in other wealthy nations. This is on the back of India becoming an increasingly prosperous country, with a Gross Domestic Product expected to exceed that of the UK within the next few years.

So, what I was trying to do through Twitter was reiterate what was already a view being expressed within the Indian Government and by various Indian people. None of those comments were meant to be offensive to India in any way whatsoever, and it was therefore to my great dismay that they were perceived to be so.

Having realised that my words were being misunderstood, I immediately removed them from my Twitter site, so as not to inadvertently cause more distress. However, it is my understanding that they have since been repeated in Indian blogs. Of course, I have no way of knowing how I am quoted, and whether my comments have been altered. Neither, am I able to directly respond to those sites as I do not know where they are. Hence, I am presenting this article in the hope that those who have felt offended might now better understand the context of what I was saying, and be reassured that I truely did not mean any offence to India or its people.

I have had the pleasure and privilege of travelling in India, and have nothing but admiration for the beauty and history of the country. I also have the pleasure of working on a daily basis with many colleagues who were either born in India or are of Indian descent. They are respected colleagues who I treat as nothing less than equals. I can therefore only repeat now, as clearly as possible, my apology to anyone who I inadvertently caused offence, and hope that they will direct others similarly offended to this article in the hope that they too will understand that I meant no ill.

Yours with respect and in peace.

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