Harinder Veriah

Martin Jacques defied the odds to expose racial prejudice and medical negligence in a Hong Kong hospital. Here he tells of his feelings on learning that his 10-year struggle was over

The settlement approved by the Hong Kong high court last Wednesday in the legal action brought by me and my 11-year-old son, Ravi, against the Hospital Authority over the death of Harinder Veriah, my wife and Ravi’s mother, represents a major victory. It has taken 10 years and a huge commitment of emotion, time and resources. We have faced monumental obstacles. From the outset the Hospital Authority denied any responsibility and it has used its limitless funds to try to bludgeon us into submission.

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As the only racial group that never suffers systemic racism, whites are in denial about its impact

I always found race difficult to understand. It was never intuitive. And the reason was simple. Like every other white person, I had never experienced it myself: the meaning of colour was something I had to learn. The turning point was falling in love with my wife, an Indian-Malaysian, and her coming to live in England. Then, over time, I came to see my own country in a completely different way, through her eyes, her background. Colour is something white people never have to think about because for them it is never a handicap, never a source of prejudice or discrimination, but rather the opposite, a source of privilege. However liberal and enlightened I tried to be, I still had a white outlook on the world. My wife was the beginning of my education.

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Five years ago Martin Jacques and his family moved to Hong Kong to start a new life which all too soon ended in tragedy. Finally, an anti-racist law that might have saved his wife’s life is to be introduced

Hong Kong has been shaken over the past few months by a series of crises: the Sars epidemic, continuing economic difficulties and huge opposition to new security legislation. No doubt Tony Blair, during his brief visit last week, will have discussed each of these, together with another, less-publicised affair: the long-running debate about the need for anti-racist legislation.

When my wife Hari and I arrived in Hong Kong on November 2, 1998, accompanied by our little boy Ravi, just nine weeks old, we were borne on a wave of optimism and expectation. We planned to spend three years in Hong Kong: Hari working for her international law firm, me to write a book and make a television series. It was familiar territory to us: our relationship had started there during a whirlwind week back in 1993.

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Martin Jacques was comfortably settled, had a successful career as an editor and political writer, when his whole life was overturned. On holiday in Malaysia, he fell in love, magically, irreversibly, with Hari. Each risked all to be together. How could anything touch their happiness?

It was Saturday, August 21 1993. I was staying on Tioman, a small tropical island off the east coast of Malaysia. The time was 7.30am and I was just returning from a run when I noticed a young dark brown woman walking between the wooden chalets to my left. She smiled. I said hello. Nothing seemed more natural: everyone smiled and said hello on Tioman. But there was something about her that stuck in my mind: to this day, I can’t tell you exactly what it was. That morning, my partner and I had signed up for a jungle trek. People began to gather for the 9am departure, when suddenly I heard this voice: “Didn’t I see you earlier? Weren’t you running through the village?” With barely a pause, she added, “Only a white man would do something as stupid as that.” I was reeling. She was wearing a huge grin and her big brown eyes were full of impish humour. Before I had collected my thoughts, she fired another salvo.

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