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I feel like both an Indian and a Dane, says church minister
Not all interviews with politicians have to be deeply serious. This proved true when our Community pages caught up with Manu Sareen, the Danish minister for gender equality and churches, to find out more about his Indian heritage and what he thinks about his adopted country’s future.
How did you become interested in politics?
The roots are there in my own family. My grandmother was active in the INC (Indian National Congress). I also had the honour of meeting Mrs Indira Gandhi (the former prime minister of India), both in Denmark and in India. Due to my family’s background, it was quite natural for me to choose that path.
What do you have to say about your Indian roots?
I am from India, and I look Indian. However, I’ve spent most of my life in Denmark. I feel like both an Indian and a Dane. When I’m giving an interview, I represent two countries: India and Denmark. I am enormously proud of my Indian heritage, and when I’m in Denmark, I’m an ambassador for India. I feel honoured to represent both Denmark and India.
In a professional sense, how has being Indian affected you?
I’m not sure I can answer that directly, but I can tell you how my Indian parents brought me up. There were two important things my father taught me that still mean a lot to me today: firstly, behave properly. Wherever you go, you must always conduct yourself appropriately. And secondly, work hard. My parents told me you must always work hard. Your parents work hard to give you a better education, so you must work hard in return. Also, it may be coincidental, but all the Indians I know have been good at adjusting to being in a new environment.
You’ve worked a lot with issues related to children. How are children’s lives different from when you were a child?
Change is happening rapidly in today’s world. I was on holiday in India two years ago, and I met up with my cousin. I went into his children’s room to chat, and saw how similar it was to a typical teenager’s room in Europe: they had an iPod and a computer logged on to Facebook. Basically, kids are using the same gadgets and social media everywhere. That’s one of the biggest changes that has occurred since my childhood. Kids and young people are using internet in a natural way that I did not. My own children are using the internet as their third hand – it’s so intuitive to them.
Today’s youth seem to be losing faith in their leaders. What are your feelings about that?
I’m not sure that’s something new. People always place their hopes in a new leader, and they often become disappointed later when they realise that politicians are just normal people. I think that’s happened with Barack Obama, although I’m still a big fan!
You also write children’s books that focus on children with immigrant backgrounds. What gave you the idea, while also having a successful career as both a consultant and a politician?
A variety of things. I’m quite lucky that the books have proven to be such a success in Denmark. I’m particularly interested in writing books about minorities. I think a lot of Danish literature focuses on very Danish things. So I decided to write a book about those of us who don’t have a traditional Danish background, which gives Danish kids the opportunity to read about people who are a little different, to give them a bit of diversity.
You have been a consultant on ethnic matters for many years. In your opinion, what problems do foreign residents in Denmark encounter?
A lot of things have changed for the better, but prejudice is still around. I think it often stems from people being afraid of the unknown, and seeing that another person thinks or acts in a different way from them. There is still a lot of room for improvement in this area.
Ankit Khandelwal is a Youth Goodwill Ambassador Denmark. He interviewed the minister on behalf of The Copenhagen Post and the Times of India, which published their version last weekend on Friday.