A British farm vet with an Asian background who’s suffered racist abuse has called for the agricultural and veterinary professions to attract more people from ethnic minorities.

Royal Agricultural University lecturer, Navaratnam Partheeban has responded both in the light of his own experiences and after receiving hate mail following an article published in Farmers Weekly. His column highlighted a number of surprising and negative outcomes involving ethnic diversity in and around the veterinary and agricultural professions.

Honest Journalism

Navaratnam Partheeban

In his piece the Senior Lecturer in Livestock Production also known as ‘Theeb’ pointed out: “After meeting someone for the first time, as part of the initial conversation, the question “Where are you from?” often pops up. My answer is usually “Scotland”, although sometimes I say “the UK” when abroad. This is usually enough for most people, but then I sometimes get: “But where are you really from?”

“The main difference between me and 86 per cent of the UK is my skin colour. So the assumption of the questioner is that I must be from somewhere else because of how I look. I was born in Scotland, have a British passport and have lived here all my life, so why am I suddenly from somewhere else?

Negative Experiences

“My experiences include having had a farmer refuse to have me on farm based on my skin colour, hearing a student describe people from another ethnicity in a defamatory way, and hearing qualified vets use racist terminology in conversation. Excuses such as “but I have a black friend” or “but I have been to India” have been used as justifications for certain people’s attitudes.

“A majority of farmers live in rural communities and so do not always have the opportunity to meet and talk to people from Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (Bame) backgrounds. Some views and opinions are therefore obtained from the media, or listening to people with outdated views. I understand this, but we have to try and break down these barriers and ideas.

“The UK is a small place with a rich mix of people. With labour leaving the farming community, we need to encourage people of all backgrounds to see farming as a viable option for employment. The only way to do this is to make farming a career that is both welcoming and understanding. This will not happen overnight, but needs to start somewhere.”

Hateful Response

The article prompted a hateful response in the mail from an anonymous writer police are still trying to trace under the malicious communications act.

The abhorrent letter said: ‘Re: your article in Farmers Weekly. This country is full of you moronic bastards. If you don’t like it, go back to your parents’ world.

“You may think you are British but there never has been a black Englishman and there never will be. ‘If a dog is born in a stable it does not mean it becomes a horse. You’re black. Get over it!’

Key Support

His treatment was highlighted on BBC Radio 4’s early morning farming slot and the Asian Network drawing support from a number of key areas. Labour MP for West Bromwich East Tom Watson commented on twitter: “I don’t know him but I’d like to meet him one day and learn about farming from him. And I’d really like people to show him solidarity.”

Important Facts

Asian Sunday has learned There are 3,947 vets practices employing more than 20,000 vets  in the UK according to figures released in 2017. A total of five per cent of British vets have an Asian background.

A 2017 Policy Exchange Forum Poll in the Independent revealed, farming is 98.6 per cent white, while a survey of the veterinary profession undertaken by the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons four years ago, found only three per cent identified themselves as from an ethnic minority.

Lack Of Diversity

Royal Veterinary College Student Union President, Gorprit Singh told me: “I think part of the issue for the lack of diversity is the difference in the value of the vet career (and degree) in different cultures. I can’t speak for the entire Asian community obviously, but generally speaking in my community, the value of a doctor is much higher than that of a vet.

“As there are very few vets from the Afghan-Indian Sikh Community, students really struggle to find someone to talk to from the field who is from a similar cultural background.

“I personally have not experienced racism during my training, nor have I heard any stories to say otherwise. Being elected SU President for this year gives me hope that diversity will surely only improve in the industry.”

Campaign Support

Professor Joanna Price, Vice-Chancellor of the Royal Agricultural University added: “We are proud of our senior lecturer Navaratnam Partheeban’s campaigning work against prejudice in all its forms and he has our complete support. The abhorrent views in the letter he courageously shared highlight the need for universities, colleges, schools, industry, policy-makers and other organisations to work together to fight ignorance and prejudice with education and to promote diversity and tolerance.”