On 22 July 2019, The South Asian Heritage Month launch in the Houses of Parliament aimed to change this rhetoric, through its unashamed celebration and acknowledgment of the culture, history and lives of South Asians living in the United Kingdom today.
With 1 in every 20 people living in the UK being of South Asian heritage, this concept has been launched in order to provide a positive platform and a united voice for the British South Asian community. Some may ask why this community should be united under one banner as South Asians encompass a variety of cultures and faiths, including Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs. However, this event emphasised the need for a united voice, reminding us of South Asians’ shared history of empire, imperialism, migration and racism.
Powered by Faiths Forum for London, ‘The Grand Trunk Project’ was founded in 2017 by Jasvir Singh OBE, in order to open a much-needed dialogue surrounding British South Asians’ shared history and experiences.
The launch of #SouthAsianHeritageMonth confronted histories of oppression such as the Partition. Dr Binita Kane, a lung doctor from Manchester featured in Anita Rani’s award winning BBC1 documentary ‘My Family, Partition and Me’, in which British South Asians were taken back to South Asia to explore their family stories during the time of Partition.
After filming the programme, she explained to us all how she has since been inspired to launch the ‘Partition Commemoration Project’, campaigning for the history of Partition to be taught comprehensively in schools. This is not just valuable to students of South Asian heritage, but it is also vital for all British citizens to truly understand, acknowledge and confront our history.
Despite education through the subject of ‘history’ appearing to play a potentially important role in changing attitudes and encouraging greater understanding of South Asian heritage, fewer students are choosing history, especially those from BAME backgrounds.
Dr. Priya Atwal explained this is a worrying trend and one which needs to be reversed if we are to understand and confront our shared history. Pran Patel also emphasised the importance of recognising and understanding the contribution of South Asians to all areas of our life. As a physics undergraduate in university, he explained how he often felt inferior to his white counterparts due to the apparent lack of South Asian contribution to scientific discoveries.
This event taught us to promote a more truthful and balanced perspective of all our origins.
As well as the event including a plethora of speakers including historians, journalists, teachers and politicians, this launch event also celebrated British South Asian culture. We were treated to some contemporary and thought-provoking poetry from Shareefa Energy, a spoken-word artist challenging notions of dual identity, social injustice and discrimination in the modern day.
Fahad Khalid, an award winning South Asian instrumentalist concluded our evening by playing a beautiful set on his sitar. In his music, there is a beautiful balance of classical eastern and modern western music, so this was a perfect conclusion to an event celebrating not only all our shared histories, but also our shared present and our undoubtedly shared futures.
We would like to thank all the speakers, performers and guests who all contributed in making this event such an insightful, educational and celebratory evening of South Asian heritage.
A special thanks to Naz Shah MP, Anita Rani, The Dastan Project, Aya Bdaiwi and of course to our speakers: Jasvir Singh OBE, Dr Binita Kane, Hardip Begol, Patrick Vernon OBE, Kavita Puri, Dr Priya Atwal and Pran Patel.
We would also like to thank Rooful Ali, Remona Aly and Esme Ward at Manchester Museum.
However, perhaps our greatest thanks should be directed towards CBBC Newsround’s very own Summayah Mohammed. At only 12 years old, she motivated the whole room to understand the importance of understanding our shared colonial histories.
Speaking about her journey back to South Asia to learn about her personal history of Partition, she gave us all hope that the next generation of leaders and academics are ready to acknowledge and confront our shared histories and champion our shared cultures.
Written by John Lewis