The UK’s South Asian community has made big strides in its contributions to the country, remaining a backbone of cultural connectivity between the sub-continent and the United Kingdom.
In order to honour and recognise this bond, the four weeks from 18 July to 17 August are being celebrated as South Asian Heritage Month.
The month has significant historical significance in South Asia and is closely tied to Britain’s influence in the region.
On July 18, 1947, the Indian Independence Act received royal assent from King George VI, marking a pivotal moment in India’s journey towards independence. Conversely, on August 17 of the same year, the Radcliffe Line was published, establishing the borders between India, West Pakistan, and East Pakistan (now Bangladesh).
These dates reflect the profound impact Britain had on shaping South Asia over past centuries. The dates also align with the South Asian month of Saravan/Sawan, which coincides with the monsoon season – a time of renewal for the region’s ecosystem.
By encompassing both July and August in this significant period, it coincides with the traditions of South Asian calendars. Moreover, it features several independence days celebrated by various South Asian countries, further highlighting the historical connections and shared experiences of the region.
The theme of the fourth edition of South Asian Heritage Month is Stories to Tell, with the simple aim of celebrating little stories that represent the diverse South Asian community.
Speaking exclusively to Asian Standard, co-founder of South Asian Heritage Month, Jasvir Singh, said: “The theme for this year is ‘stories to tell’. The purpose of this is to allow everyone to be a part of South Asian Heritage Month itself.
“We all have fascinating stories, be it of ourselves or our families, how we came to the UK, how we view our history and heritage, art and culture, food, and music. There are so many ways to tell our stories. The aim is that people should have a better understanding and awareness about South Asian identity within the UK.”
South Asian Heritage Month, which began in 2020, has had a “profound impact” on how the South Asian community is perceived in the UK, said Jasvir.
“You have to look at how many people now talk about being a South Asian rather than just being a British Indian, British Pakistani, or British Bangladeshi.
“The month has allowed us to talk about our collective identity, as brown people, as someone who has a connection to South Asia. It has allowed us to find that, even within a single community, there are differences and diversity, so if we just use a single label, then we are doing [ourselves] a disservice.”
When asked how important it is to recognise the contributions of South Asians in the UK, Jasvir said: “The South Asian community has been in the UK for the last 400 years, and endless contributions have been made over that period of time.
“South Asians make up around six to eight percent of the British population. The contributions made cannot be underestimated, because the South Asian story is a story if Britain, by talking about South Asian, we are also talking about British identity, British art, culture, and heritage.
“You look at Freddie Mercury; he was South Asian. Our current Prime Minister is South Asian. The crown jewel [the Koh-i-Noor diamond] is South Asian. You look at every single aspect of the British, you will find something South Asian. That’s how embedded South Asian identity is within Britain”.
Speaking further about the significance of the festival, Jasvir said: “The aim of South Asian Heritage Month is to say there are so many different types of intersections that make the South Asian identity in the UK, and that’s what we focus on.
“Being South Asian is all about knowing about our history and heritage, and knowing about the period of history where South Asians have been subject to atrocities. The fact it runs from 18 July to 17 August means that we are underpinned by the events of 1947: the partition of Punjab and Bengal, the independence of India, the creation of Pakistan. That period provides a date from which we start. We also focus on the celebratory aspect of being South Asian.”
He added: “We look with confidence to the future, we look at how the things have changed with time, and how things continue to change; we look at how the youth culture finds itself enriched by South Asian identity in the UK.
“There are so many ways in which we are trying to ensure that South Asian identity is not lost. We claim it for ourselves, we reframe our narrative, and we talk about who we are with authenticity.”
Read more about South Asian Heritage Month here: South Asian Heritage Month