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South Asian Heritage Month: Celebrate and educate

By Priya Radia

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South Asian Heritage Month in the UK runs from 18 July to 17 August. Beginning in 2020, it aims to provide a space for individuals to celebrate South Asian heritage and history, and to help others understand what this means in the 21st century.  

The histories of Britain and South Asian countries have been closely intertwined over the last few centuries; 1947 was a key turning point for the demographic picture of modern-day Britain, and South Asians are now one of the country’s biggest ethnic minority groups.  Many arrived with British passports in hand from living in what used to be British colonies across Africa, others moved for economic opportunities, to escape war, or to join family members. The stories are vast and varied. In the present day, South Asian influences can be seen in various dimensions of British culture from its national curry dish to music, fashion, and even scientific research. For many British South Asians however, inclusion has been a difficult journey.  

For example, representation of South Asian individuals in the media has been extremely minimal. South Asian ethnic backgrounds were found to be approximately  50% less prevalent on screen than in the UK population. Where screen time is allocated, roles are often portrayed as nothing more than a stereotype – 2D characters with limited references to the LGBTQ+ community, mental health or other significant overlapping issues. How many times have you seen an Indian character reduced to a socially awkward sidekick, added to the plot with no other purpose than to be laughed at? Or a Muslim character in a film portrayed as a terrorist? The list goes on.  

Most South Asians are also frequently grouped into one category, with no acknowledgement that this term encompasses a range of different countries, each with its own rich culture.  Such portrayals fuel a lack of awareness on what it means to be South Asian, and can often contribute to microaggressions, racism and Islamophobia.

Where do we go from here? How can you be more inclusive? 

1.       Get into the detail 

When it comes to inclusion, look beyond generic terms such as “BAME” and try to understand your demographic data in more detail.  

2.       Listen to other’s stories and experiences, actively engage with South Asian content 

South Asian content creators still lack the same opportunities for their voices to be heard. Mindy Kaling’s recent Netflix series Never Have I Ever is one example of a story that has been praised for embracing a complex South Asian main character – one that many young people can actually relate to.  

3.       Check your bias 

What comes into your mind when you hear a particular accent? What assumptions do you make about an individual from the colour of their skin?  

South Asian Heritage Month is a step towards not only acknowledging the past, but also finding ways to tackle the issues still prevalent in the community today. We’ll leave you with this video from comedian Ali Shahalom, on what it means to be British Bangladeshi.  

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