As South Asian Heritage Month celebrates its 3rd year, the theme for 2022 is ‘Journeys of Empire’. The theme reflects on major anniversaries taking place this year: 75th anniversary of the independence of India, Partition, the creation of Pakistan and the 50th anniversary of the expulsion of Ugandan Asians by Idi Amin. As the South Asian communities in the UK celebrated their heritage, history and culture, Asian Voice reached out to a few members from the community to celebrate their stories.
Representing his roots through his art: Vik Kainth
Vik Kainth, a Punjabi- Hindu illustration artist with roots in India, feels that, “Heritage itself is an important thing to consider, where we come from and how it moulds our future.” According to him his art plays a major role in all that he has learned about his culture and heritage, “I feel like I had to learn a lot about my heritage and culture, so being that I learnt a lot of it through my art and research for the pieces I made!” Vik’s work majorly includes modernized traditional Indian art. When asked the importance of inculcating his heritage into his art, he said, “I believe I am able to represent our people in a majestic way, with respect and by telling the truest untold stories using visual imagery. Females in our community are a big part to that, and I hope that is evident in my work where a lot of it revolves around the female maharani aesthetic.” For Vik, whose roots felt confusing as he was growing up, he had to learn a lot on his own through his art. He started out with illustrating a lot of Hindu gods and goddesses and Sikh guru ji artworks, going into celebrity portraits etc. He grew more into himself as he went into doing royal style maharaja, maharani portraits and is now at a point of doing more original works. Having worked with Marvel on Ms. Marvel is one of Vik’s recent achievements and what made the commission engrossing for him was the show not losing the true feeling of the culture and religious contexts throughout. His excitement was not limited to working with Marvel. According to Vik, “Most artists, choreographers and musicians who worked on the show were South Asian and that was amazing to know, we are all part of something so huge today.”
The art of giving: Manny Kang
Maninder “Manny” Kang, a diehard Wolverhampton Wanderers supporter has shown unmatched dedication in raising funds for Dementia. While he has cycled for miles, and organized sleepouts and participated in various other activities in order to raise funds, it was his unique idea of ‘Samosa Saturday’ that caught people’s undivided attention. According to Manny, his faith has been a major driving factor for his work. Sharing is a key pillar of the Sikh faith, “This isn’t just about giving money, but time, words and actions too which create positive consequences”, explains Manny. He considers himself to be fortunate enough to be blessed all the basic needs and a healthy body and wants to help those who do not have the access to the same necessities. Talking about ‘Samosa Saturday’, Manny says, “The biggest fundraising event I’ve held is Samosa Saturday, which invites Wolverhampton Wanderers FC supporters to donate to Dementia UK in exchange for a samosa. We’ve served 35,000 samosas to date, prepared by my family at home, and have raised around £40,000.” The idea for the event was to give something back to the wonderful people who step up to contribute their hard- earned savings to help. The Samosa— "We call it our “humble little triangle”, he explained. The money raised by Manny goes towards the posts of more specialist dementia nurses, from different backgrounds. Admiral Nurses provide life-changing support to families living with dementia from Black, Asian, and minority ethnic communities. Explaining the importance of Admiral nurses, Manny said, “They help families manage complex needs by getting to know the person with dementia, their needs, background, and culture, as well as building relationships with their close family members to give them the best possible care.” Manny feels humbled to have come across people from various communities, including the South Asian Community, who have lent a helping hand for his cause. Today, dementia is the leading cause of death in the UK. By 2025, more than one million people in the UK will be living with this devastating condition. According to Manny, “We shouldn’t have to wait until we are touched by dementia personally to get involved with raising awareness and funds for charity– it is everybody’s responsibility.” He also emphasizes the importance of bringing attention to the support available for families with dementia from the South Asian community, due to the lack of culturally appropriate resources available to them.
Voice of the community: Radio Sangam
Radio Sangam is the UK's most followed Asian music station and an important pillar in the connectivity of the South Asian community. The station has been organizing ‘Sangam festival’ for the past two years, coinciding with the South Asian heritage month. Asian Voice got in touch with Qaisar Mahmood, Festival Director of Sangam Festival and CEO of Radio Sangam to understand the part ‘Sangam Festival’ and the station play in bringing the community together. According to Qaisar, “Sangam Festival attracts people from across the UK to West Yorkshire to celebrate South Asian heritage arts and culture and promote community cohesion during South Asian Heritage Month.” The biggest event, this year, at Greenhead Park, had almost 7,00 people enjoying live music, food and entertainment. Elaborating further, he said, “Festival participants also enjoyed eco craft workshops, heritage storytelling walks, Bhangra, Dhol and Qawwali, along with an extensive school and online programme.” Since its launch, Radio Sangam has connected with the South Asian community in the UK and in 52 countries worldwide by promoting local and international artists. The station keeps the language of South Asia alive, broadcasting in Urdu, Punjabi, Pushto and regional dialects of India and Pakistan. In addition to broadcasting, the station runs musical and cultural events and work closely with local theatres to broaden and expand culture.
A healthcare hero: Dr Bal Sidhu
Dr Bal Sidhu was born in a small farming village in a rural area of Punjab, India where he lived a simple and enjoyed a humble, happy and carefree childhood. He lived in his own bubble and did not know much about the rest of the world. For him, things started changing when he moved to England. Dr Bal moved to England on 25 February, 1968. Describing his journey, he said, “At the age of 12, I was very excited to be flying on a plane and travelling to a big city. But it was also very frightening, especially as I was leaving my parents, brothers and sister and there was a fear of the unknown.” Talking about his early living experiences in West Bromwich, he recalls being a part of one of the two Asian families in the locality and as someone who didn’t speak, read or write English, he was thrown in at the deep end. He had no choice but to learn English quickly and found a friend in a Punjabi speaking boy who helped him get by. When asked about his inspiration to study medicine, he said, “A couple of boys that I looked up to went onto study Medicine, so I decided that could also be the career path for me. I went Swansea University to study Biochemistry and three years later, I was more educated, academically minded and making wiser decisions.” He began working as a GP in Warwickshire in 1988 and has been there ever since. He recalls working at NHS being much easier, with less pressure and workload. Commenting on how things have changed, he feels that, “Technology, diagnostics and equipment have all changed vastly over the years, but this means the actual cost of care has spiralled in what we know as a free healthcare service.” Dr Bal is particularly proud of his sons who have followed in his footsteps. While his elder son has studied Medicine at Oxford and set up his own pharmaceutical company, his younger son has just completed his Masters in Immunology. Dr Bal has been involved in charity work and has funded concerts to advocate the youth to stay away from drugs. His way of promoting South Asian culture is through music and he has written over 80 songs including “Rail Gaddi” which featured in the Bend it Like Beckham soundtrack. The advice Dr Bal has for the South Asian community is a perfect doctor’s advice- “It’s my duty to promote ‘prevention is better than cure’. It’s important we all attend our routine screening appointments, as picking something up early saves lives. We can all live longer and have fewer problems if we take responsibility for our own health.”
A legacy in healthcare: Dr Nisar-Ul-Haque and Dr Uzma Haque
For Dr Nisar, childhood was a time filled with happiness and surrounded by family and friends. He moved to England at the age of 27 after qualifying for Medicine. He was curious about what England had to offer. While, he enjoyed his time in the country, he missed his family and couldn’t visit them as often as he wanted. On his inspiration to pursue Medicine, he says, “My father was my role model as he was also a doctor. I used to spend my holidays with him, visiting and working in deprived villages around the inner Sindh districts which I really enjoyed. So, from a very young age, I had made up my mind to study Medicine.” While his father inspired his career in Medicine, it was Dr Nisar who inspired that of his daughter, Dr Uzma Haque. Talking about her father’s influence on her career, Dr Uzma said, “He has always encouraged me and if it wasn’t for his insistence, I probably wouldn’t have realised my potential. I love the way he is so proud when he hears what I’m involved with at work.” She promoted safety practices during COVID and attended several roadshows in town centres and religious sites, as well as made TV appearances and was interviewed on radio programmes.
A bitter- sweet journey to the West: Dr Asad Khan
Recently, Dr Asad Kahan shared his South Asian heritage story on Twitter and it was one bitter- sweet tale. Dr Asad talked about his father’s arrival in UK with £3 in his pocket and his family’s journey in the country over the years. The highlight of the thread is the side- by- side picture of his father holding him as a new born and Dr Asad holding his new born son, 35 years later. He talks about both his grandfathers’ death and how he couldn’t know either of them and goes on to tell the story of his parents dream to, “Get the best specialist medical training possible so that they could return to India & serve the poor & need.” He followed in their footstep, only he ended up staying in the UK. Dr Asad has family in all three countries: India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. His family, divided by borders, I another tragic legacy of partition. Currently, due to the political unrest among the countries, his wife and daughter are unable to get visas and Dr Asad fears that his family might not be able to reunite with his frail parent again.
Although the migration of South Asians to the UK goes back many centuries, numbers grew significantly during the 50s, 60s and 70s. Many travelled here directly from South Asia, whilst others (known as ‘twice migrants’) came through countries that they had settled in throughout Africa. Whilst some families made their own choice to move to the UK, some had no other alternative but to leave the country they knew as home. This included almost 60,000 Asians who were expelled from Uganda in 1972 and had to rebuild their lives in the UK.