Racist slur against Cirencester vet triggers Twitter protests

A storm of protest has erupted on Twitter in response to an obscene racist slur aimed at a lecturer and practising vet from the Royal Agricultural University (RAU), Cirencester.

Navaratnam Partheeban recently wrote a Talking Point column for Farmers Weekly calling for the breakdown of the remaining ethnic barriers in agriculture.

See also: Read the original Talking Point article

In his column, Mr Partheeban explained he had been born in Scotland, had lived in the UK all his life, had a British passport and had dedicated his life to British agriculture.

In his work as a dairy vet and senior lecturer at the RAU, the vast majority of people in the industry had treated him with “warmth, friendship and respect”.

But there had been some unsavoury incidents related to his skin colour, including one farmer who refused him on to his farm because of it.

This was at the extreme end of spectrum, wrote Mr Partheeban, but he added there was still an undercurrent of prejudice in parts of the farming industry and this needed to be tackled through better education.

Anonymous letter

The Talking Point piece was well received by most who read it.

But then Mr Partheeban received an anonymous letter in the post, originating from Yorkshire, describing him as “a moaning bastard” and urging him to “go back to your parents [sic] world”.

The letter writer claimed there “has never been a black Englishman” and urged Mr Partheeban to “get over it”. “If a dog is born in a stable, it does not become a horse,” the letter said.

Mr Partheeban posted the letter on Twitter to expose this extreme racism, and has received overwhelming support from within the farming industry, and beyond.

Professor Joanna Price, vice-chancellor of the RAU, said: “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.”

Twitter reaction

NFU president, Minette Batters, described the letter as “abhorrent” and praised Mr Partheeban for exposing it. “We will always stand with you,” she wrote.

George Dunn, chief executive of the Tenant Farmers Association, described the letter as “simply repugnant and completely unacceptable”, while AHDB Beef & Lamb chairman, Adam Quinney, urged Mr Partheeban to “chuck it in the bin where it belongs”.

Meanwhile, Leicestershire farmer, Julia Hawley, insisted not all farmers were “bigoted racists” and urged Farmers Weekly to “highlight this disgusting letter”, while Nottinghamshire egg producer Patrick Lynn, described the author of the letter as “cowardly and pathetic” for not even signing it.

Beyond agriculture, Labour Party deputy leader Tom Watson urged people to “show solidarity” with Mr Partheeban, while Ian Dowie – a lecturer in medical law at the University of South Wales – suggested the letter should be “shoved up [the originator’s] rear end, James Herriot style”.

In total, the original tweet has so far been retweeted 1,900 times, with 2,300 comments.

‘Tip of the iceberg’

Talking to Farmers Weekly, Navaratnam Partheeban said the letter he had received was positive in it raised the profile of the issue. But he also feared it was “just the tip of the iceberg”.

“The letter itself is shocking, and the vast majority of people believe that it is wrong, which is reassuring,” he said.

“But there is a lot more stuff beneath the surface which I have to deal with on a day-to-day basis, which is much more taxing on my life.

“The message I want to get out there is that there is still prejudice within agriculture which goes unseen. People need to recognise that.”

Mr Partheeban says dealing with this “subconscious racism” requires further education, to make people aware that a problem exists and that people should never be judged on the basis of skin colour.

“I absolutely love the farming industry and want things to improve,” he said. “I have children and, if as I hope, they want to come into this industry, I don’t want them to have to endure the prejudice I have experienced.”

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