Why we don't celebrate South Asian Heritage Month as encapsulated by 5 quotes from The Good Immigrant
This piece was written by our Founder and CEO, Ishita Ranjan. You can find out more about Ishita here.
As South Asian History month unfolds this year, I approach it with mixed feelings.
I am a big believer in the power of connecting with your heritage and identity; learning about my Grandparents' story during partition unlocked something in me, and I never looked back. I am sure I wouldn't be who I am today, doing the work I do, if it hadn’t been for my curiosity about my roots. The fact that this year, many in the diaspora will be celebrating 75 years of independence is notable. For me, this 75 year milestone has prompted a lot of introspection and provoked thought; how far have we come? How much further do we have to go?
I was born and lived in India during my childhood, moving to the UK when I was young. I have always felt rooted in two cultures, two worlds and two lives and I have mostly loved this. Over the past few years though, I have found myself despairing at the political climate in India, and the persecution faced by some people. I see what’s happening in Kashmir, I witnessed the Farmer’s protests, I see the LGBTQ+ community, I see violence towards Muslims and people of “lower” castes and it truly makes my heart hurt, and I bore witness to the horror of the Covid-19 crisis. There are things I deeply believe in and hold to be true; mostly that we should be free and safe to be who we are, and that we all have basic human rights that need to be protected. The despair I feel towards politics and systemic oppression of people experiencing marginalisation in India, also comes home with me to the UK.
At Spark & Co. we believe in transparency and accountability. We work closely with racialised communities to ensure that we are inclusive. We believe there is beauty, love and joy in the complexity and vastness of the South Asian diaspora. We also believe that it's important to recognise the roots of a movement, especially when it involves communities who are experiencing marginalisation (this article by The Rights Collective in particular captures many of our thoughts on South Asian History Month specifically). In addition to this, we don't subscribe to the good immigrant rhetoric because anyone regardless of class has the right to be treated with dignity and respect. This is why we have chosen not to celebrate South Asian Heritage Month; because we recognise the movement excludes many South Asians, because our community is at the heart of everything we do, and because we see all of you.
Instead we wanted to share 5 quotes from The Good Immigrant by Nikesh Shukla that capture the beauty, joy and complexity found in the South Asian diaspora.
- There is no inclusion without intersectionality
You can be South Asian and many, many other things and we never want to lose sight of that. We never want to lose sight of the fact that people from different backgrounds within the South Asian diaspora have very different realities, opportunities and challenges.
The Colour of Money by the Runnymede trust for example highlights that poverty rates vary significantly by ethnicity; all racialised groups are more likely to be living in poverty but for Indians the rate is 22% whereas this is more than double for Bangladeshis (45%) and Pakistanis (46%).
“Racism in society often works through a divide and conquer strategy, more often than not it is also intertwined with classism as well as other forms of oppression. Structural racism can divide a community that would be stronger together, by keeping individual groups entrenched in their own class —in this case, caste discrimination.”
- There are a thousand ways to be South Asian
As a South Asian woman, a wife, a daughter, a Founder, and an entrepreneur there is no shortage of the number of labels people use to categorise and define me. Labels can sometimes be helpful; they can help us to understand, empathise and relate.
But we also have to see beyond the label; don’t let labels distract you from the truth (for example, the first South Asian running for Prime Minister is a great label, but do you know their stance on policies?)
“As a minority, no sooner do you learn to polish and cherish one chip on your shoulder, it’s taken off you and swapped out for another. The jewellery of your struggles is forever on loan, like the Koh-i-Noor. You are intermittently handed this necklace of labels to hang around your neck.”
- Appropriation is not over
South Asian culture remains one of the most appropriated cultures in the world. This could be whole piece in it’s own right, but for now I’ll leave you with this:
“There is no ‘Aum’ without Indian dharmas, as there is no ‘Allah’ without Islam, nor ‘Pull-up!’ without UK Garage, or two hands coming together to form a W without Wu Tang. That is to say: You cannot have meaning without knowledge of the environment from which it stems.”
- The notion of home is complex
I’ve felt this one a lot these past few years. The notion of home is complex for so many, bringing up a variety of emotions. For me, it’s certainly manifested some insecurity namely: too British for India, too Indian for Britain.
Ultimately, I found belonging within myself, within the community and by embracing my duality.
“To be an immigrant, good or bad, is about straddling two homes, whilst knowing you don't really belong to either.”
- We are for community - 365 days a year
We love and celebrate our community all year round, including our South Asian members. We recognise the different individuals, identities, faiths, genders, beliefs, orientations, abilities, complexities, joys, challenges and opinions that make up a big beautiful community.
“I had long since realised that if there was greatness in Britain, then it lay in its everyday citizens, and not in its institutions.”