British Asians: The Changing Face – Part 2


Mukulika Banerjee, Sathnam Sanghera and Yasmin Khan in conversation with PatrickFrench

By Sangeeta Bhagawati

Official JLF at Southbank Blogger


The notion of diaspora in current times not only signifies ideas of hybridity (intermixing) and heterogeneity (plurality), it also makes possible the visualisation of a space within which various identities intersect and render them all unstable, hence freeing them of colonial dichotomies (such as East/West, colonial/colonised).

The Panel, comprising of four British, Asian and British-Asian authors and educationists, discussed in depth the evolution of one such diaspora space: the British Asian community within Britain. Migrations from South Asian countries to Europe since the Second World War to the present time have produced multiple diasporas (ex-pat communities), each bearing both compounded and scattered definitions of identity.

Yasmin Khan and Mukulika Banerjee pointed out that these migrations themselves had their origin in the complex colonial history of the British Empire: a fact seldom mentioned in the education system of Britain. In fact, they suggested thatmost history about the British Raj and the Empire’s involvement with the Second World War gets glossed over in the educational curriculum. The panellists unanimously spoke for the need to emphasise that the history of British India is also about Britain and not solely about India, as a necessary step to prevent historical amnesia.

A lively discussion with the audience followed, where ideas of the changing face of the British Asian community were explored. The very classification of British-Asian was interrogated, and Mukulika pointed out how the seemingly homogenous identity of ‘British-Asian’ actually allowed unprecedented interaction between different Asian communities within that identity,a phenomenon not always possible within the Indian sub-continent.

Questions of race and identity emerged, with SathnamSanghera remembering the era of his childhood when Africans and Asians were clubbed together in one category. The panellists agreed that similar clichés persist in the present time, yet also observed that the multi-racial approach of London today means that the current British Asian generation is much more able to assert its primary identity as British, side-stepping many racial implications.

It was observed that in contrast, people from diverse, evolving communities across the Indian sub-continent often found that their diasporic counterparts were more zealous about enforcing social and cultural norms that no longer applied in modern day urban milieus in India, in an attempt to hold on to an identity through their change in circumstances.



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