. 5
( 7)


and Philadelphia, Multilingual Matters Ltd., 1990) which draws on research in the Birm-
ingham conurbation. Anti-Muslim prejudice in particular, rooted in a growing Islamo-
phobia in the later twentieth century, is discussed in a paper published by the Runnymede
Trust, Islamophobia: A Challenge for Us All (London, 1997). The Trust was established in
1968 to promote a multi-ethnic Britain: see its website which also lists its range of useful
publications on ethnic issues, www.runnymedetrust.org.
8 The Times, 26 August 2004.
9 J. Baines and S. Johal, Corner Flags and Corner Shops. The Asian Football Experience
(London, Victor Gollancz, 1998).
124 Global South Asians

be considered in the next section. It remains true that discrimination and
varieties of exclusion occur mainly where ethnic difference, region and
class reinforce each other. So the bright South Asian university student,
lawyer, doctor or IT professional is far less likely to move in a social
and work milieu where he or she experiences overt discrimination than a
school leaver with no professional quali¬cations or likelihood of employ-
ment, who lives in a northern city where job opportunities are scarce,
and where class, ethnicity and long-standing senses of regional belonging
reinforce majority senses of who belongs to Britain and who does not.

2 Citizenship and participation
We now turn from a consideration of the varied experiences of diasporic
South Asians in the interface between ethnicity and national identity in
their new homelands, to their experiences in the public arenas of the
countries where they came to live. We look at what could be called the
realities of citizenship, both in active public participation in the polity
and in sometimes ambiguous relations with public provisions and expec-
Patterns of South Asian political participation in their new homes have
evolved somewhat differently, re¬‚ecting the timing and nature of partic-
ular strands in the diaspora. In former colonial territories South Asians
have tended to engage in speci¬cally ethnic politics, organising as ethnic
groups, rather than round ideologies or socio-economic interests. This
tendency stemmed from an earlier history of the poor position of many
of the earliest migrants, the nature of imperial rule, imperial understand-
ings of distinctive groups within local societies, and often provisions in
the emerging constitutions which encouraged ethnic groups to act as
political unities. It was also for many South Asians a defensive mecha-
nism for dealing with emergent majority nationalisms and pressure on
ethnic minorities. Although this is broadly true, it is also evident that
almost everywhere South Asians never acted politically as one homo-
geneous party, but were often splintered, re¬‚ecting the fact that they
were never single communities, but divided by language, religion and
increasingly class. In Malaysia, for example, the emergence of an overtly
Malay nationalism and the changing nature of the regime increasingly
marginalised Indians in politics, and weakened the trade unions which
had once been an Indian political base. Indian politicians also lost their
earlier in¬‚uence via multi-ethnic opposition parties and the Malay Indian
Congress became their major voice and vehicle. However, religious differ-
ences split the South Asian political endeavour as Indian Muslims began
to organise separately. In Fiji Indians had organised their own party, the
Relating to the new homeland 125

Federation Party (later the National Federation Party, or NFP) before
independence, while ethnic Fijians similarly organised themselves in a
predominantly Fijian party. At independence politics were racialised still
further by the provision of communal, i.e. ethnic, representation, despite
the NFP™s wish for a common electoral role. The coups of 1987 indi-
cated that even when the Indian political party came lawfully to power in
a multi-ethnic coalition, this could be overturned by force on the part of
the ethnic majority. It was not surprising that so many Indians decided to
leave, convinced that democracy was a poor system for their protection,
despite their numerical strength as voters. In Trinidad appeals to eth-
nicity developed with the advent of universal suffrage in 1946, and since
independence politics have continued to be organised on ethnic lines,
with the dominant People™s National Movement, founded in 1955, iden-
ti¬ed as a ˜black™ party representing the interests of Afro-Trinidadians.
However, clear ethnic divisions in post-colonial polities have not always
led to ethnic political con¬‚ict. In Mauritius Hindus are just a majority in
the population and had a slightly larger percentage of the seats in the leg-
islature in the late 1990s. But politicians know that in order to retain their
positions they have to attract the support of many kinds of people, and
cannot just rely on support from one ethnic group. Moreover, each ethnic
group is split “ in the Hindu case between Tamils, Telugus, Marathas and
North Indians “ further con¬rming the need for multi-ethnic alliances.10
By contrast later migrants from the subcontinent settled in well-
established democracies in which existing political parties were organised
on ideological issues, and drew support from many different regional, reli-
gious and socio-economic groups. South Asians did not settle in suf¬cient
numbers to overturn this pattern, nor did they feel the need to do so. In
Britain, the western democracy with the largest number of South Asian
residents, all three main parties had realised towards the end of the twen-
tieth century the potential of the South Asian ethnic vote, particularly in
those constituencies where they were sizeable or critical local minorities,
and began to take their views seriously and attempt to incorporate them
into party activity. Because of the particular clustered pattern of South
Asian settlement, South Asian voters could form minorities of between
10 and 20 per cent in certain parliamentary constituencies, and were

10 On Mauritius see A. Nave, ˜Nested identities: ethnicity, community and the nature of
group con¬‚ict in Mauritius™ in chapter 3 of C. Bates (ed.), Community, Empire and Migra-
tion. South Asians in Diaspora (Basingstoke, Palgrave, 2001). In contrast, the political
experience of Indians in Malaysia is examined in C. Muzaffar, ˜Political marginalization
in Malaysia™, and R. A. Brown, ˜The Indian political elite in Malaysia™, chapters 8 and
9 of K. S. Sandhu and A. Mani (eds.), Indian Communities in Southeast Asia (Singapore,
Times Academic Press, 1993).
126 Global South Asians

actual majorities in some wards in local elections in urban areas such as
London, Birmingham and Leicester. However, the actual participation
of South Asian citizens in the political process has been slow, despite their
South Asians living in Britain have always been able to vote in British
elections. This is so even when they do not take British citizenship, as
all citizens of Commonwealth countries can vote alongside those who
have British citizenship “ a provision which harks back to the vision of
a British and Commonwealth citizenship of the 1950s. However, South
Asian voters were initially often not registered, and even at the end of the
century they are still under-registered compared with the white popula-
tion. In 1990 15 per cent of Asians were not registered, compared with
only 6 per cent of the white voting population. Asian turnout, however,
is higher than that of white and other voters. Even in the 1979 general
election, which was early in the diaspora experience and well before any
British-born South Asians could have voted, one study of three key con-
stituencies in the north-west where Pakistanis were heavily clustered and
formed 42 per cent of the electorate, showed that Asian turnout was 73.1
per cent while non-Asian turnout was 56.5 per cent.11 South Asians do
not, however, turn out uniformly at election time. In the 1997 general
election over 80 per cent of Indians voted alongside 79 per cent of white
voters. In comparison only 76 per cent of Pakistanis voters and 74 per
cent of Bangladeshi voters turned out.12 (In India in the run of elections
since independence voter turn-out has steadily increased and is high com-
pared with western democracies where voting is not compulsory.) Broadly
speaking Asian voters have tended to vote for the Labour Party in greater
numbers, in part because so many belong to the urban and less privi-
leged working groups which have traditionally voted Labour. However,
the Conservative Party has begun to make a pitch for Asian (and par-
ticularly Indian) voters on the lines of shared family values, conservative
moral standards and the position of the self-employed. It is also a signi¬-
cant development that, although Asians do not vote as an ethnic bloc, the
Muslim Council of Britain during the 2005 general election distributed
to British Muslims (of whom nearly 70 per cent are South Asian) a voter
card with ten questions to ask of all candidates. These included queries

11 M. Anwar, ˜The participation of Asians in the British political system™, chapter 13 of
Clarke, Peach and Vertovec (eds.), South Asians Overseas; M. Anwar, Between Cultures.
Continuity and Change in the Lives of Young Asians (London and New York, Routledge,
1998), pp. 164, 165; M. Anwar, ˜Ethnic minorities™ representation. Voting and electoral
politics in Britain, and the role of leaders™, chapter 1 of P. Werbner and M. Anwar (eds.),
Black and Ethnic Leadership in Britain. The Cultural Dimensions of Political Action (London
and New York, Routledge, 1991).
12 H. Ansari, ˜The In¬del Within™. Muslims in Britain since 1800 (London, Hurst, 2004),
chapter 8.
Relating to the new homeland 127

about support for various pieces of legislation designed to protect Islam
in Britain, about a just foreign policy (in part re¬‚ecting the contemporary
situation in Iraq after the Iraq war in which Britain had been the major
partner of the USA), support for the withdrawal of British troops from
Iraq, state funding for Muslim schools, and allowing religious views on
such issues as abortion and euthanasia to be fully heard. Other umbrella
Muslim organisations such as the Muslim Association of Britain and the
Imams and Mosques Council (UK) also urged the duty of exercising
the vote on Muslims.13 Although South Asians are an increasing force in
national political life through the exercise of the franchise, very few reach
Parliament. In 2005 after the election there were eight South Asian MPs,
all of them Labour. There were also 16 South Asian Peers, nominated
to the House of Lords, mainly Labour or sitting on the cross-benches.
The Peers, being senior in their particular professions and occupations,
were mainly born in South Asia, but those who reach the Commons are
increasingly likely to have been born and educated in Britain.14
In local politics South Asians are also becoming increasingly partic-
ipant as voters. From among them are also emerging aspirant leaders
and spokesmen of various kinds, using the opportunities provided by the
political system and by the needs of local authorities of various kinds
to ¬nd community workers and spokesmen for ethnic minorities whom
they believe to be in some way representative, and with whom they can
deal in the increasingly complex world of minority rights and provisions.
This has opened the way for younger political activists who can work the
political system, in contrast to more traditional leaders or business peo-
ple of an older generation of migrants. But despite a political rhetoric of
ethnicity, local ethnic groups are almost always so internally divided that
even at the local level they do not speak with one ethnic voice or support
one ethnic candidate.15 From the perspective of the early twenty-¬rst
century, ¬fty years after the start of considerable South Asian migration
into Britain, it becomes clear that former immigrants and their children
have increasingly learnt the ways of politics in Britain, have become part

13 The Times, 20 April 2005.
14 See the lists of MPs and Peers and their biographies on the Parliamentary website,
15 See J. Eade, ˜Bangladeshi community organization and leadership in Tower Hamlets,
East London,™ chapter 14 of Clarke, Peach and Vertovec (eds.), South Asians Overseas; J.
Eade, The Politics of Community. The Bangladeshi Community in East London (Aldershot,
Avebury, 1989); J. Eade, ˜The political construction of class and community. Bangladeshi
political leadership in Tower Hamlets, East London™, chapter 3 of Werbner and Anwar
(eds.), Black and Ethnic Leadership in Britain; P. Werbner, ˜The ¬ction of unity in ethnic
politics. Aspects of representation and the state among British Pakistanis™, chapter 4 of
the same volume. On struggles to become ˜ethnic leaders™ among Pakistanis in Oxford,
see A. Shaw, Kinship and Continuity. Pakistani Families in Britain (Amsterdam, Harwood
Academic Publishers, 2000), chapter 9.
128 Global South Asians

of the broader political community, and are increasingly adept at working
it to their advantage in a growing culture of of¬cial concern for provision
for minorities.
Evidence from the USA also indicates that South Asians there, coming
mainly from India at a time when the post-independence constitution and
the practice of democracy had become ¬rmly embedded in public life,
and being ¬‚uent in English from the point of arrival, have also been adept
at learning the particular ways of the polity where they have become cit-
izens. None have reached the level in the national political system which
South Asians have in the UK, but they are a signi¬cant force in some
areas in local politics and have learned the art of lobbying and mobilis-
ing money and numbers to pursue issues signi¬cant to them. Like their
UK counterparts they have also learned that it pays to set up umbrella
organisations to enable different, and often rival, groups to seize on and
exploit ethnicity as a political resource, and to claim to represent a signif-
icant ethnic minority, in an environment when it is politically correct to
nurture ethnic diversity.16 One sign of the clout Indians are hoping and
beginning to wield in political life was the creation of a Congressional
Caucus on India and Indian Americans in 1993, with the aim of being
˜a vehicle to effectuate change through the lens of the Indian-American
community™. In 2005 it comprised 105 Democrats and 68 Republicans.
In 2004 a similar caucus was created in the Senate, the ˜Friends of India™.
In Canada an overt policy of multiculturalism has also helped to legitimise
ethnic organisation and assertion, and claims for protection of cultural
and religious difference. There, too, South Asians are learning the ways
of local and national politics. In British Columbia the younger generation
of Sikhs in particular is becoming more prominent in the public and pro-
fessional life of the province, and is producing new politicians who work
within the framework of established political parties.
The issue of public provision for ethnic minorities leads to the broader
question of whether South Asians in the diaspora can take advantage of
their status as citizens in a broader sense than just voting, and actually take
hold of provisions and bene¬ts available to citizens of a modern state pred-
icated on the idea of care for citizens in return for ful¬lment of citizens™
obligations, including the payment of taxes. Or do migrants and their
children remain disadvantaged in key areas, unable to make citizenship
a reality in material terms? There is a very wide spectrum of experience
throughout the diaspora. At one end would be that of South Asians in
the USA who are of a socio-economic status to know what is available to
them and to be able to pay for provision where the state does not provide

16 See P. Kurien, ˜Religion, ethnicity and politics: Hindu and Muslim Indian immigrants in
the United States™, Ethnic and Racial Studies, Vol. 24, No. 2 (March 2001), pp. 263“293.
Relating to the new homeland 129

adequate facilities, as in the case of health care. At the other end would be
those in parts of South East Asia where they are often still inhabitants of
squatter camps on the edges of towns, with little access to state provision
of housing, health or education. As in the case of political organisation
and electoral practice there is much evidence from the UK, partly because
of the size of the South Asian population in the country, but also because
of the practice of monitoring public provision consequent upon legisla-
tion prohibiting discrimination on grounds of ethnicity. The UK is also
a good case in which to test out this issue because, unlike the diaspora
in the USA, so many South Asians were initially deeply disadvantaged
groups at the base of society. The areas of health care and education are
particularly signi¬cant as indicators of well-being in the broadest sense
and mobility in the new homeland. There is comprehensive provision of
health care and education to the age of 18, free at the point of delivery,
for all citizens. So here, if anywhere, it might be expected that South
Asians would have experienced considerable improvement over time in
their health and education.
The evidence suggests that British South Asians have considerable
health problems. These include diabetes, which is six times more com-
mon among South Asians than the general population, and heart dis-
ease where the incidence is 46 per cent higher for men and 51 per cent
higher for women of South Asian origin than for the general population.
They also have a higher incidence of TB, which had been virtually wiped
out among the white population with the provision of vaccination for
school children; while Pakistani women have particular problems associ-
ated with childbirth. Some of these problems re¬‚ect genetic tendencies,
and/or diet and attitudes to exercise. TB is a particular problem for peo-
ple who regularly visit areas such as South Asia where it is still endemic,
so South Asians who make regular visits to kin, often in rural areas, are at
risk compared with holiday-makers or businessmen who are protected by
their standards of travel and hotel accommodation. It also re¬‚ects poor
housing and crowding, just as it did among the white population before
the rise in living standards and health care after the Second World War. In
general poverty and poor health are intimately linked, whatever the vari-
ations in ethnicity among the population. So it is hardly surprising that
many poorer South Asians suffer ill-health in greater proportion than the
white population. We have already seen that for various cultural and eco-
nomic reasons Pakistanis and Indians have preferred to own their houses
rather than wait for ˜council housing™, and in some places this has meant
living in very poor housing, particularly for Pakistanis in northern cities.
Those with the worst living standards are Bangladeshis, who have the
poorest housing, the largest families and the most crowded conditions of
all South Asians.
130 Global South Asians

A further dimension of the problems associated with health care for
South Asians is that of communication. Where older adults and often
still some young women do not speak ¬‚uent English it may be very dif¬-
cult for health professionals in primary care practices and in hospitals to
communicate with their patients and clients, to explain the nature of their
problem, the choices of treatment, and the ways they can help themselves.
Gender issues are also a potential barrier to clear communication as
Muslim women are often reluctant to consult male professionals. More-
over, poor knowledge of biology also prevents some from understanding
their problems, particularly in areas relating to reproduction. Muslim girls
do not get good information on their own bodies from older women, and
often do not attend sex education classes in school, as we see below. I
myself witnessed a situation where a recently-married Pakistani woman
who had not been in England for a year, and was expecting her ¬rst
child in a major university hospital, could ¬nd no one to explain what
was happening to her in Urdu until the Indian wife of a doctor arrived
to have her own baby and was able to communicate to her in the basic
Hindustani which both Urdu and Hindi-speakers can understand. In kin
groups which practise close cousin marriage there is also the danger of
congenital abnormalities, which is again a problem of the utmost delicacy
and cultural sensitivity. The death of family members in hospital can also
cause great cultural misunderstandings and leave South Asian families
deeply unhappy as their conventions and needs are not understood. Per-
haps even more demanding is the issue of mental health and the provision
of care for those of South Asian background who suffer in this way. Here
again there are great barriers for less educated South Asians in under-
standing mental health in the same terms as those who might diagnose
and treat them, and cultural gaps between patient and professional in
an area where empathy and good communication is perhaps even more
vital than in the case of physical illness. The National Health Service is
well aware of many of the particular health problems of South Asians, of
cultural and linguistic issues in communication, and of real problems in
delivering health care to many ethnic minority citizens, but it struggles
to address these when it is already under great pressure.17
Education is another area in Britain where there is free provision for all
children up to the age of 18, when examinations are taken which are the
17 It is signi¬cant that among health professionals and in their journals there is much
discussion about the delivery of health care to minorities. An internet search on various
aspects of health among South Asians in the UK demonstrates both the range of concern
and research and the self-help initiatives within the diaspora. Some scholars are making
a study of particular problems experienced by South Asians in relation to health and
health care: for example, Dr Alison Shaw on the consequences of close cousin marriage
among Pakistanis, and Dr Shirley Firth on issues relating to death.
Relating to the new homeland 131

entry point for university. There is also a small private sector, but only
a few of the wealthiest Indian professionals can afford the fees for their
children, and in general South Asians are high users of the public sys-
tem because of their socio-economic levels and their comparatively large
families. There are two main areas of concern in judging whether South
Asians are using the system in a way which enhances the life chances of
the younger generations, and whether they feel they are treated as citizens
in relation to it. The ¬rst issue is that speci¬cally relating to Muslims and
their expectations from the educational system, because as early as the
1970s Muslims began to feel that the state system was failing their child-
ren in many ways.18 In broad terms Muslims have campaigned for school-
ing which re¬‚ects their idea of appropriate behaviour for and treatment
of girls. They prefer single-sex schooling after puberty but often this is
impossible as comprehensive schools which deliver secondary education
are virtually all co-educational. They have asked for and mostly received
special provision for single-sex physical education, for girls to wear
trousers/salwar kameez rather than skirts, and there have been no major
con¬‚icts over the wearing of the Muslim headscarf in school as this is
deemed acceptable in Britain compared with France, where it has become
a major issue and the headscarf has been banned as undermining France™s
public secularism. (Wearing trousers does not now mark out Muslim girls
at British schools as more and more girls in the wider population are opt-
ing for trousers in line with wider changes in daily women™s wear: accord-
ing to one major supplier, in 2005 the sale of school trousers overtook
skirts for the ¬rst time.) More generally issues relating to religious edu-
cation in state schools became less acute in the UK as public provision
of education became more overtly multi-cultural from the later 1970s,
compared with an earlier period when daily and speci¬cally Christian
assembly was observed and where Religious Studies was Christian in
emphasis and orientation. Muslim pupils can also be withdrawn from
sex education lessons, have time off for festivals or Friday prayers, and
are given halal meat. However, in recent decades Muslims have organ-
ised not just on issues within state schools but to provide independent
Muslim schools and to demand state aid for them in the same way that
many church and Jewish schools are what is known as ˜voluntary-aided™.
By 2002 there were 77 independent Muslim schools in the UK, and
four with voluntary-aided status after the new Labour government cau-
tiously accepted the idea after it came to power in 1997. Debate over
Muslim schools has often been heated, and many in the wider society
feel that they go against the ethos of British public life, or that they are

18 See chapter 10 on British Muslims and education in Ansari, The In¬del Within.
132 Global South Asians

divisive rather than encouraging the integration of young people from
different backgrounds. Here the experience of the divisive impact of
Protestant and Catholic schools in Northern Ireland has made many
wary of encouraging further development of religious schools on the
More generally it is clear that among South Asians some groups of
students are performing poorly compared with others and with the wider
white society. Pupils who do not go on to take the higher level examina-
tions can leave school at 16 and the public examination at that stage is
the General Certi¬cate of Secondary Education. Figures for 2003 indi-
cate the discrepancies in performance between different ethnic groups.
The national average of pupils in the state sector achieving ¬ve satis-
factory passes (i.e. from A— to C) is 46 per cent for boys and 56 per
cent for girls. The white students™ performance was almost identical with
the national average. Indian students performed far better, with 60 per
cent of Indian boys and 70 per cent of Indian girls achieving this level.
Pakistanis and Bangladeshis were both considerably behind, and in both
groups girls did much better than boys. For Pakistanis the ¬gures were
36 per cent for boys and 48 per cent for girls, and among Bangladeshis
the ¬gures were 39 per cent for boys and 53 per cent for girls. There is
much discussion about why this lower performance for Pakistanis and
Bangladeshis should be so. Clearly parental levels of education play a
signi¬cant part, as they do in any ethnic community; so does the lan-
guage spoken at home and the degree to which children integrate socially
with their peer group in the wider society and learn to be at ease in pub-
lic institutions and public space. Teacher expectations and role models
are also signi¬cant. But a key factor (as in health) is social deprivation.
Of Pakistani and Bangladeshi households, 65 per cent are classi¬ed as
˜low income™ compared with 18 per cent of white households. Further
evidence is that 44 per cent of Bangladeshi children in primary school
and 33 per cent of Pakistani children are eligible for free school meals,
compared with 16 per cent of white children and only 12 per cent of
Indian children at the same stage.19 It is not surprising that among the
different ethnic groups, according to ¬gures for 1991, more Indians go
on to achieve higher quali¬cations (15 per cent) than white young people
(13.4 per cent), while just over 7 per cent of Pakistanis and 5 per cent of
Bangladeshis do. At the level of elite education the differentials are very
clear. Oxford University™s 2005 entry statistics showed that of just over
19 Ethnicity and Education: The Evidence on Minority Ethnic Pupils (report of January 2005
published by the Department for Education and Skills, and to be found on their website,
www.dfes.org.uk). The Runnymede Trust (London) published in 1997 a paper, Black
and Ethnic Minority Young People and Educational Disadvantage.
Relating to the new homeland 133

10,000 home applicants (i.e. from the UK) 3.5 per cent were Indian,
1.2 per cent were Pakistani and only 0.4 per cent were Bangladeshi. The
success rates among the last two groups were 10.5 per cent and 14.6
per cent respectively; while 21.6 per cent of Indian applicants succeeded,
nearer to the 29.7 per cent success rate of those classi¬ed as ˜white™.
The barrier occurs principally at school level rather than at the point of
university entrance.20 Clearly despite improvements in educational levels
of South Asians over the decades, and in contrast to the actual levels of
achievement many migrants brought with them, ˜being British™ still has
not enabled many whose families originate in Pakistan and Bangladesh to
overcome this initial handicap. A comparatively low level of educational
achievement in relation to the wider society and in relation to Indians still
remains. This also has immense implications for the life opportunities for
young people (and males in particular) whose families came from these
two countries, as they face an adult future in the diaspora where employ-
ment and all the ˜goods™ that ¬‚ow from a regular income are dependent
on the possession of educational quali¬cations and skills. The fact that
they are also Muslim and are the largest group of British Muslims also
has signi¬cant implications for Britain as a country coming to terms with
religious pluralism.21
It is also important to note the issue of South Asian immigrants and
the law. In most places law has evolved through a mixture of legislation
and cases to re¬‚ect the norms, assumptions and aspirations of the local
society. Laws can change of course, and re¬‚ect changing aspirations or
ideas, for example, in Britain in relation to such emotive issues as the
death penalty and abortion, or in the case of minorities to the prohibition
of discrimination. But they do in general re¬‚ect dominant cultural norms.
What happens when people migrate and bring with them rather different
cultural patterns and assumptions about what is right and wrong, and
¬nd themselves living under laws which have evolved in very different
societies and cultures? This is a signi¬cant issue and very little research
has been done on the South Asian experience in different strands of the
diaspora. Earlier discussion here has touched on one aspect of the broader
question, the campaigns in some places to achieve proper legal recogni-
tion for South Asian marriages which were not celebrated according to

20 See Undergraduate Admissions Statistics 2005 Entry (Oxford, Oxford University, 2005);
also M. Anwar, British Pakistanis: Demographic, Social and Economic Position (Centre for
Research in Ethnic Relations, University of Warwick, 1996).
21 Of Muslim males in the UK, 31 per cent have no educational quali¬cations at all com-
pared with an average of 16 per cent, and 14 per cent of Muslims are unemployed
compared with 5 per cent among the wider population. These ¬gures relate to all British
Muslims, however, not just those from the subcontinent; The Times, 20 April 2005.
134 Global South Asians

Christian rites.22 South Asians come from a background where people
have lived under personal law applicable to the religious group to which
they belong “ a feature of law on the subcontinent which emerged as
British imperial rulers in the nineteenth century were reluctant to tram-
ple on what they saw as indigenous customs and laws. So such issues as
marriage, divorce, inheritance and adoption were all subject to ˜Hindu
law™, ˜Muslim law™, and ˜Christian law™, for example. In India today
there is still not a common personal law and this is a cause of concern
for many feminists, for example, and others who feel that there should
be one secular law for all who live in the country. In terms of criminal
law, however, there was one penal code for all people under British rule.
Where South Asians have become citizens of modern societies they ¬nd
themselves living where there is not only a common criminal law but also
a law common to all citizens, which can be seen as intrusive on personal
behaviour in a way which is culturally unacceptable, particularly if it is at
variance with deeply held religious beliefs and cultural ideals. There are
many issues where there is a potential for con¬‚ict “ for example, the age
of marriage, the treatment of women and girls within the domestic envi-
ronment, wearing of clothes which are cultural and religious signi¬ers,
or the way animals are slaughtered for food.
Britain had some experience of legal issues arising out of religious
pluralism before the arrival of signi¬cant numbers of South Asians, par-
ticularly in the requirements of the Jewish population. But the arrival of
South Asian Hindus, Sikhs and Muslims led to a considerable amount
of adjustment both in the law and in administrative regulation to accom-
modate the sensitivities and needs of new ethnic minorities. In general
legal protections have been given and exceptions made in relation to
social practices which are both cultural and religious, where these are
seen as not undermining core values and norms of British society, and
where adaptation is conducive to peaceful pluralism. So the butchering
of meat in the halal manner is permitted, as it had been in the case of
kosher meat for Jews, despite complaints from animal welfare and rights
campaigners. As already noted, Muslim women and girls may wear the
hijab in the work place or at school. Sikhs fought battles with bus compa-
nies in England in the 1960s for the right of Sikh men to wear their
turbans in place of bus conductors™ caps; and in 1982 the House of

22 There is also an interesting discussion of how Hindus in Britain have managed to bring
together their own cultural needs in relation to the celebration of a marriage and the
state™s legal requirements for registration; W. Menski, ˜Legal pluralism in the Hindu
marriage™ chapter 10 of R. Burghart (ed.), Hinduism in Great Britain. The Perpetuation
of Religion in an Alien Cultural Millieu (London and New York, Tavistock Publications,
Relating to the new homeland 135

Lords ruled that Sikhs were an ethnic minority, and therefore effectively
enabled to wear turbans at all times. Some Muslims have in fact sug-
gested that British Muslims should have a separate system of family law,
but this has received little support either among Muslims or the wider
However, it is in the area of family relations, the treatment of women
and marriage, that there has been a clash between the law of the British
state and some of the more conservative norms of South Asians in the
diaspora. As we noted in the previous chapter, some South Asians now
in Britain, particularly Muslims from Pakistan and Bangladesh, came
from conservative rural sections of their own societies and had not
been exposed to forces of social change as had those who came from
urban backgrounds or had already moved outside the subcontinent. They
brought with them clear understandings about the place of women in the
patriarchal family and the way women™s behaviour sustains or under-
mines family honour, and also conventions of arranged marriages often
with close kin. Where these cultural norms clash with the expectations
of young women brought up in the diaspora there is the potential for
intra-family con¬‚ict and violence against daughters and sisters, and con-
travention of state law and support for human rights. The issue which
has caused the most concern for the British authorities has been forced
marriage. This must not be confused with arranged marriage, which,
as we have seen, is still common throughout the diaspora but has been
undergoing subtle modi¬cations, as it has on the subcontinent itself.
More often than not, young South Asians have been able to negotiate
with their parents new ways in which they can make their feelings known
in the business of ¬nding an appropriate spouse, and often have the right
of veto. Forced marriage occurs when young women (and sometimes
young men) are pressurised into an arranged marriage to which they
have not given their consent. The most common way this is achieved is
by taking a young woman apparently for a holiday to Pakistan, for exam-
ple, and while in a rural environment where she is often a stranger and
unsupported by her peer group, she will be effectively imprisoned, and
her British passport removed, until she gives her ˜consent™. This practice
came to light as a second generation of South Asians in Britain came
to physical maturity. Often the ¬rst sign was an adolescent Muslim girl
being removed from school and staying away for a long time. At other
times the girls themselves or their friends in the UK have approached
the UK police or the British diplomatic authorities abroad and alerted
them to the fact that a young British citizen is being socially manipulated
and even physically threatened into an unwanted marriage. After con-
siderable reluctance to be drawn into sensitive domestic issues relating
136 Global South Asians

to diaspora groups (and thereby risk accusations of discrimination or
cultural imperialism) the British government launched an extensive con-
sultation, the upshot of which was a 2000 report by a working group on
the issue entitled ˜A Choice by Right™, and ultimately the launch of a
Forced Marriage Unit in January 2005 jointly between the Home Of¬ce
and the Foreign and Commonwealth Of¬ce. Its role is to consider policy
in this area, to launch projects and give practical advice to young people
at risk. It draws a clear distinction between arranged and forced mar-
riage and declares that the latter is one where one or both people are
coerced into a marriage against their will. ˜Duress includes both physical
and emotional pressure. Forced marriage is an abuse of human rights
and cannot be justi¬ed on any religious or cultural basis . . . Government
takes forced marriage very seriously. It is a form of domestic violence and
an abuse of the human rights. Victims can suffer many forms of physical
and emotional damage including being held unlawfully captive, assaulted
and repeatedly raped.™ The Home Of¬ce website gives clear guidance and
phone and e-mail contacts for people who fear that they themselves or
someone they know is in danger and assures readers that they will even
go to the lengths of launching a rescue mission overseas in conjunction
with the local authorities. The new Unit runs a very user-friendly web-
site for young people (www.missdorothy.com) and issues guidelines for
the police, the education services and social services. Immigration for
marriage is also now controlled with an eye to possible forced marriage
and is only permitted where the incoming intended spouse is 18 or over
rather than 16, and this is an attempt to give young people time to mature
and resist family pressure. The fact that an extra immigration of¬ce is
envisaged at Islamabad indicates that the problem lies mainly, but not
only, in Pakistan.23 There have been instances when girls have indeed
been ˜rescued™ while abroad. But clearly the authorities prefer that the
dangers of forced marriage should be tackled by education and persua-
sion rather than by bringing older family members to court. The police
are also being educated in the culture in which forced marriages might
take place; and in 2005 three British police of¬cers of Indian origin vis-
ited Punjab, Haryana and Delhi to investigate this question. In this case
they were particularly concerned with the problem of local Indian girls
who might be tricked into marriage with unscrupulous Indian men from
Britain who had their eyes on a handsome dowry, but had no intention
of remaining married to their wives, who would then be left stranded “
and probably un-marriageable.24

23 See the link to ˜forced marriage™ on the Home Of¬ce website, www.homeof¬ce.gov.uk.
24 The Times of India, 1 April 2005.
Relating to the new homeland 137

The British courts are, however, prepared to treat under criminal law
abuses against young people relating to forced marriage. In April 2005,
for example, a Sikh woman in London who preyed on young South Asian
women in trouble (mostly through drug addiction and student debt) with
the offer of modelling bridal wear in India, was discovered to be forcing
them into sham marriages with men who wanted entry into the UK as
spouses, then abandoned their ˜brides™. Often this trickery was reinforced
by rape if the girls attempted to refuse to agree to marriage. She was
caught when she began ˜arranging™ marriages in the UK itself to illegal
South Asian immigrants and was jailed for ten years. Police believed
she had made nearly £1 million through this sham marriage factory
run from a private home in Hillingdon, north London.25 A further but
rare problem when minority cultural norms clash with state law is that
known as ˜honour killing™. This is where family members go to the length
of killing a daughter/sister/cousin if she has entered into a marriage, or
more often an extra-marital sexual relationship, with a man of whom
her family disapproves, and where this constitutes a perceived threat to
family honour. It is a problem on the South Asian subcontinent itself
and its importation into the UK re¬‚ects some of the most conservative
norms still prevailing there. For decades the British police were ignorant
of the phenomenon and the culture surrounding it, and it was only early
in the new millennium that they began to recognise its existence and to
look at a range of earlier deaths to discover whether these, too, could
be murders in the name of honour. It should be emphasised that this
is very rare indeed. Even in conservative families parents are becoming
far more aware of their daughters™ aspirations and rights, and murder in
the name of honour is a sign that there has been a total breakdown in a
family™s capacity to talk and negotiate. But of course the publicity involved
in such cases can in¬‚uence majority attitudes to all South Asians in the
UK, con¬rming a pre-existing mixture of ignorance and prejudice in the
wider society.

3 Religious pluralism
A further theme of considerable signi¬cance in the evolving relationship
of South Asians in the diaspora to their new homelands is that of religious
pluralism. To many observers in the mid-twentieth century it seemed that
in many societies throughout the world the prevailing trend was towards
increasing secularisation of public life and the relegation of religion to
private choice and observance. In this situation diasporic communities

25 This case was reported in The Times, 26 April 2005.
138 Global South Asians

would easily be able to ¬t into very different host societies, as their reli-
gious traditions became part of a mosaic of private observance. Indeed
this did seem to be the case. Where South Asians had migrated in the
later nineteenth century in any numbers they settled in societies which
were undergoing considerable change and where there was often existing
religious pluralism. In few places was there opposition to the incomers
on grounds of their religion, or hostility between religious groups. In the
mid-twentieth century South Asians took their religious traditions to the
increasingly secular societies of the western world, and were able to cre-
ate sacred space with comparative ease, acquiring or building places for
worship, reconstituting domestic observances and creating umbrella reli-
gious organisations to represent their interests, as we saw in the previous
However in the later twentieth and early twenty-¬rst centuries it has
become clear that this pattern of accommodation leading to the creation
of new religious pluralisms is being threatened by a variety of forces.
Among them has been the resurgence of radical and often fundamentalist
strands within many religious traditions, including Christianity, Islam and
Hinduism. This in itself militates against easy co-existence as each tradi-
tion produces vocal and active adherents who preach their own vision of
their tradition as the only way to salvation, or the only authentic religious
truth. In places this has produced unlikely alliances as the proponents of
different fundamentalisms join forces to push for conservative and anti-
secular social policies. (We noted earlier British Muslim calls at election
time in 2005 for aspiring candidates to heed religious and moral oppo-
sition to such things as abortion and euthanasia, a view which would be
shared by many Roman Catholics and Evangelical Protestant Christians.)
The development of the mass media has played an important role as news
of such radicalism and opposition to other traditions is widely reported,
from the slaughter of Muslims in Gujarat, India, in 2002, to the murder
of Christians in Pakistan, or the prolonged Serbian attack on Bosnian
Muslims. Worldwide news, now in graphic television pictures as much
as in print, brings people increasingly into a global community of per-
ception and misconception. But most particularly religion and politics
have become deeply entangled in parts of the Middle East, and Muslims
worldwide have become convinced that their religion is under threat.
They are particularly incensed by the problems faced by Palestinians and
their inability to achieve statehood against the might of American-backed
Israel. Here at least three radical/fundamentalist versions of great world
monotheisms are involved “ Islam, Judaism in its Zionist manifestation,
and American Protestantism of the far right. The repercussions of these
developments on the relationship of South Asian Muslims to their host
Relating to the new homeland 139

societies have been particularly apparent in Britain, not least because
Muslims constitute a far larger proportion of the diaspora there than in
north America, Australia or New Zealand, and because Britain is evi-
dently a close ally of the USA.
If we turn to the British case we can see a number of trends which
are replicated to some degree in other parts of the world where South
Asians have settled, but which are most obvious in Britain because of the
size of the diaspora and its religious composition. At one level there has
been the continuing trend of overt religious pluralism, as Hindu, Muslim,
Sikh, and Parsi religious sites and institutions have become established in
increasing numbers to service the growing diasporic population. The state
has responded to this with of¬cial protection for minority religions and a
conscious commitment to pluralism, for example in the way religion has
been taught in schools since the 1970s. Christianity now takes its place
as one of a number of world religions in ˜religious studies™ curricula, and
it is expected that all school children will receive some instruction in the
beliefs and observances of religious traditions other than Christianity.
This raises very interesting questions about how South Asian religious
traditions, for example, are presented to school children and to the wider
society. Normally this is done through the presentation of a package of
core beliefs and practices, including public festivals, thus simplifying the
traditions often beyond recognition to insiders who can be quite bemused
at what their own children tell them about what is taught in school about
their own tradition. Hinduism is thus presented as ˜a religion™, though as
we noted in the previous chapter Hinduism is an umbrella term given to a
vast range of traditions and beliefs, and there is certainly no single Hindu
faith or pattern of observance in South Asia or in the diaspora. Islam, too
is presented as a homogeneous monotheism with little understanding
of the sectarian differences within it, or the internal struggles among
Muslims in many places as they seek to understand how to be good
Muslims in a rapidly changing world. However, despite its inevitably
crude over-simpli¬cations, the teaching of religious studies has opened
the eyes of younger British people to the religious diversity around them
in an accepting way, which is very different from prevailing attitudes even
¬fty years ago.
The Christian churches in Britain and elsewhere have also responded to
the new religious pluralism at home by gradually embarking on processes
of conversation which enable adherents of different traditions to gain
some understanding of each other™s beliefs and practices. This Christian
response to pluralism can be seen at several levels. At the level of theology
there has been a serious consideration of the nature of revelation and of
religious truth, and a recognition that these can be found outside the
140 Global South Asians

Christian fold. This has caused immense controversy inside Christianity
and considerable heart-searching. But in general the dismissive and often
condemnatory attitudes towards other traditions generally prevalent until
the middle of the century have been modi¬ed, except among those who
adhere to a very strict interpretation of scripture. Most theologians now
take very seriously the religious insights of other religious traditions. At
the level of institutional religion there has been a mushrooming of of¬cial
mechanisms for inter-religious ˜dialogue™, as it is often called.26 It is also
signi¬cant that at important national occasions, traditionally celebrated
in one of the great Anglican London churches, the representatives of
non-Christian traditions are invited to be present and participant. Such
representatives are also present of¬cially at that peculiarly British and
highly emotive annual remembrance of those who died in war for the
nation at the Cenotaph in London on the Sunday nearest 11 November,
the day the First World War ended. Implicitly and visually South Asians
are seen to be part of the nation, in its imperial past and its plural present.
Despite such manifestations of inter-religious dialogue and the of¬cial
acceptance of a religious pluralism as an evident aspect of British life,
there have also been occasions which can only be described as explo-
sive, which indicate that at times some elements among Britain™s reli-
gious minorities have felt that their tradition is endangered in British
public space. This has in turn produced an incredulous and condem-
natory response from secular and liberal members of the wider society
who are as shocked at these manifestations in contemporary Britain as
are the protestors horri¬ed at what they see as insults to their beliefs con-
doned in the public space of their homeland. One such was the notorious
˜Rushdie Affair™ in 1989, when many British Muslims complained bit-
terly about Salman Rushdie™s recent book, The Satanic Verses, which they
claimed was insulting to the Koran and to the founder of Islam himself.
(Rushdie himself vigorously denied that this was in any way his inten-
tion.) Street demonstrations were held, the book itself was publicly burnt
in Bradford, and many British South Asian Muslims supported the fatwa
issued by the Ayatolla Khomeni in Iran sentencing Rushdie to death for
apostasy. Public campaigns persisted for some time, and Muslims lob-
bied MPs and the government in an attempt to get the book withdrawn
from circulation. They did not succeed, though the author had to go into
hiding for his own safety. The whole issue was highly emotive and hurt-
ful for many young Muslims, even though most of them probably never
26 An interesting indicator of the changes within Christian circles by the later twentieth
century is R. Hooker and J. Sargant (eds.), Belonging to Britain: Christian Perspectives on
Religion and Identity in a Plural Society (London, Council of Churches for Britain and
Ireland (CCBI) Publications, c. 1991).
Relating to the new homeland 141

read the novel; but it was symbolic of their fear for Islam in the diaspora
and their sense of being a minority excluded from the mainstream of
British life. Rather similar though much shorter lived was the outcry over
a play entitled Behzti (dishonour) late in 2004. Written by a Sikh woman
author, it included scenes of sexual abuse and murder in a gurudwara.
It was due to be performed in Birmingham, where there is a sizeable
Sikh population, but public demonstrations by some hundreds made it
impossible to hold performances and the play was eventually cancelled
on grounds of safety. Many local Sikhs professed themselves satis¬ed at
the outcome, though there was considerable condemnation in the wider
society that a minority could by violent demonstration effectively cause
artistic censorship. But one thoughtful Sikh academic and author argued
courageously that Sikhs themselves were the losers in reverting to a mil-
itant stance which focussed on narrow communal interests. In so doing
they were undermining the position they had built up in British society,
and also failing to give serious leadership on the real concerns of young
Sikhs growing up in Britain. He also noted how of¬cial multiculturalism
encouraged people who stood forward to ˜represent™ Sikhs and Sikhism
in the public sphere, thus collaborating with of¬cials and their needs; but
this overlooked the serious contest going on within minority groups on
crucial issues, including the often violent treatment of women.27
The same themes of increasing public militancy in response to per-
ceived affronts and attacks on religion, of profound internal contestations
about the meaning of religious tradition, and the failure of a leadership
to connect with younger British-born and educated in the diaspora, are
also present in the relationship of British Muslims to each other and to
the wider society. This was made dramatically and painfully clear in July
2005, when the ¬rst wave of bomb attacks on the London transport sys-
tem was carried out mainly by young, reasonably educated Pakistanis
from Leeds, a large northern British city.28 (Subsequent attacks were
by non-South Asian Muslims, mostly young men born in eastern Africa
but long-settled in the UK as part of asylum-seeking families. This indi-
cates that many of the problems experienced by young Muslims are
not con¬ned to those of South Asian origin.) The predominant reac-
tion in the UK among the wider population was horror combined with
27 Comment by Professor Gurharpal Singh of Birmingham University in The Guardian, 24
December 2004.
28 Of the four bombers who died in their own explosions on the London transport system
three were South Asians from Leeds. They were aged 18, 22 and 30, and all were
reasonably educated. The youngest had left school in 2003 with seven GCSEs, the next
had been a sports science student, and the oldest was a teaching assistant in a primary
school. The fourth bomber was a Jamaican born convert to Islam, aged 19, who had
spent his childhood in Hudders¬eld, not far from Leeds.
142 Global South Asians

incredulity. How could people born and educated in Britain attack their
own homeland? Even the attacks of ˜9/11™ in the USA had been the work
of outsiders. However, July 2005 showed only too clearly how the rise of
radical Islamism had the potential for unleashing religiously motivated
violence in the heart of a western, plural and secular society. Clearly
this phenomenon had its roots in complex international situations, from
the murderous civil strife which followed the break-up of Yugoslavia in
the Balkans, to the unresolved Palestinian con¬‚ict with the Israeli state,
and the American-led attempts to end particular Muslim regimes in
Afghanistan and Iraq. Many British Muslims, along with Muslims in
many other countries, interpreted this as a concerted latter-day crusade
against Islam; and the British state was seen as particularly complicit in
this. The possible connections with this international phenomenon and
Britain™s own society and politics were being discerned by scholars and
writers of ¬ction long before 2005. Hanif Kureishi published a short story
in 1993, later to become a ¬lm, My Son The Fanatic, which described the
gulf which opened up between a British Pakistani taxi-driving father and
his far better educated son who turns to radical Islam and a vision of
jihad against western society. Monica Ali™s 2003 novel, Brick Lane, also
described the controversy between two London Bangladeshi men about
the rectitude of suicide bombing in defence of Islam: it was the Lon-
doner who supported jihad as the result of living in Britain™s plural and
secular society, rather than the ¬rst-generation migrant who was anxious
to lay hold on what London could offer him in work and upward social
However, in the wake of the 7 July bombings in London it has become
clearer why Britain, despite its attempts to accommodate its own Muslim
population and consciously to assist the emergence of a religiously plural
society, should have become the target of violence by insiders. Of all the
western societies where South Asian Muslims have settled permanently
Britain has by far the largest population. Moreover, their origins on the
subcontinent were among social groups which had been little touched by
the sophisticated discussions within South Asian Islam, that had devel-
oped since the mid-nineteenth century on such issues as the nature of
religious authority and the interpretation of scripture, the grounds for
social reform (particularly in relation to the treatment of women), or the
ways in which Muslims should relate to modern secular state structures
and authorities. Further, as South Asian Muslims settled in Britain and
29 One of the most profound accounts of South Asian Islam in Britain, which portrayed
the often anguished world of young Muslims, was published in 1994; P. Lewis, Islamic
Britain. Religion, Politics and Identity among British Muslims: Bradford in the 1990s (London
and New York, Tauris, 1994).
Relating to the new homeland 143

established mosques for worship and other patterns of Islamic obser-
vance, they had no leadership which could give them serious religious
guidance on how to live in a very different society, or which could
relate to younger British-born Muslims and engage with them on urgent
political and social matters. Many Imams who served the Pakistani and
Bangladeshi communities in particular were trained in South Asia, spoke
little or no English, could not understand the dilemmas of younger Mus-
lims, and were not independent of conservative elders, but beholden to
the mosque committees which employed them. It was not until some
months before the 2005 attacks that the government took steps to con-
trol the immigration of ill-educated Imams, by insisting that they must
have some command of English. Nor was there a coherent lay leadership
to guide the thinking of young Muslims; and the umbrella organisations
which attempted to represent South Asian Islam were deeply divided
among themselves and spoke with contrary voices.
It is hardly surprising that young Muslim men in particular should
have become deeply confused about how to live their lives as Muslims
in the modern, secular world, as they were left rudderless and unable to
communicate at any deep level with their parents™ generation at home or
with their supposed religious guides. This was compounded by the pres-
sures of unemployment and a sense of exclusion from British society, as
well as the frustrations and hurts generated by international news. Some
have despaired of ¬nding meaning to their lives; and it is these young
men who have found their way into drugs, crime and prison. Others,
often the most educated and thoughtful, have listened to the preaching
of radical Islamist Imams and other propagandists, and have pondered
in front of their computers the meaning of a range of Islamist websites. It
is understandable why radical Islam should be so appealing in a diaspora
context. It makes far more sense and is more ful¬lling than adhering to
the Pakistan-orientated Islam of their parents™ generation, which is not
only parochial in outlook but accessible only through such languages as
Urdu with which British born South Asians do not feel comfortable. By
contrast radical Islam is accessible in English and is couched in global
terms. Some of those attracted by this vision of Islam have decided to
visit Islamist Madrassahs in Pakistan to learn more about Islam and often
violent ways of defending it in South Asia and in the wider world. Many
more receive their ˜education™ in a radical and violent version of Islam at
home in Britain, contacted by groups who target vulnerable and confused
young men in prisons and colleges.
It has also to be said that the very openness of British society has per-
mitted the operation of preachers and organisations who overtly argue
for a violent response to the problems of Muslims in the contemporary
144 Global South Asians

world; and political leaders from countries in the Middle East and South
Asia which have faced Islamist terror on their own soil have long com-
plained that Britain is a haven for those who preach hatred and violence.
The British authorities are in an unhappy predicament, as the aftermath
of 7 July showed. They need to control by imprisonment or deportation
those who preach religious hatred, and in the process they risk confronta-
tion with groups who champion civil liberties and human rights. Yet they
also have to work hard to convince British Muslims that they are not a
speci¬cally targeted group in society when it comes to immigration con-
trol and anti-terror policing. One of the core problems in the relationship
of South Asian Muslims with the wider society and the state, clearly man-
ifest in the wake of 7 July, is the considerable ignorance on the part of
most Britons and their political leaders about the inner dynamics and
problems of the various British Muslim communities, and the failure of
liberal multiculturalism to enable both meaningful discussion between
groups and the emergence of minority leaders who can really ˜speak for™
the great diversity of British Islam. Again, the low socio-economic status
of so many Muslims, and their encapsulation within their own minority
social worlds, has worked to create profound barriers of misunderstand-
ing between them and society at large.

4 Cultural interactions and contributions
If the new millennium has laid bare some of the deepest tensions felt by
some South Asians in their new homelands, it has also seen a wide range of
cultural interactions which have in¬‚uenced not only migrants and subse-
quent generations of South Asians in the diaspora but the societies where
they have settled. Previous chapters have indicated how South Asians
in the diaspora have taken up new economic roles which have trans-
formed their socio-economic status as well as contributing to aspects of
the economies of their new homelands, how gender roles have begun to
change as a result of women™s education and paid employment outside
the home, how religious observations have been modi¬ed, and how those
born and educated outside the subcontinent have learned to share in the
tastes and recreations of their peer groups in the wider society, whether
in sport, food, music or clothes. This has often occurred alongside a
continuing sense of South Asian cultural inheritance, kept alive by the
in¬‚uence of the family, and the ability to keep in touch with the culture
of the subcontinent in many ways, as we shall see in the next chapter.
For every young South Asian who contemplates violence and rejects the
society into which he or she has been born in the diaspora, there are thou-
sands who grow up in vibrant social worlds where they move between
Relating to the new homeland 145

ethnic enclaves, home environments and the worlds of school, college
and work, and manage in a highly sophisticated manner a whole range
of opportunities and identities now open to them. However, it would be
impossible to conclude this part of our discussion on the experience of
those living in the diaspora without brie¬‚y indicating some of the ways
that their presence in their host societies has in turn enriched and diver-
si¬ed the culture of those societies. This is as signi¬cant a theme in the
diaspora™s relationship with their new homeland as are those which are
more ambiguous and problematic.
Discussions of religious issues have already indicated how the root-
ing of South Asian religious traditions has changed the religious land-
scape of many societies where South Asians have settled. Particularly
in western societies where the prevailing culture has been Christian or
post-Christian, this new religious pluralism has opened up new worlds
for Christian believers and theologians, and also for young people being
educated alongside Hindus, Sikhs and Muslims for the ¬rst time. For
example even half a century ago in Britain the only people of different
faith traditions a school child was likely to encounter were Jews, and then
only in very particular parts of Britain, such as London or Manchester,
where there were Jewish settlements of long standing.
In far more material ways South Asians are making their cultural mark.
The most obvious is in the area of cuisine. South Asian cooking has
of course been part of the domestic culture of diasporic communities
worldwide, although in different areas it could take on a local ¬‚avour
depending on the nature of local ingredients before the easy importa-
tion of South Asian spices and other ingredients. However, where South
Asians have settled in economies which have generated considerable dis-
posable income in the wider society, and with it the incentive to eat out
for recreation and to save domestic time, so particular groups in the
diaspora have seized the opportunity to open up public culinary space.
The ˜Indian™ restaurant and ˜take-away curry™ are now almost worldwide
phenomena; though, as we have already observed, what is served in such
places is often adapted to the local palate and is not at all the same as the
domestic cuisine of diaspora groups. Moreover, until very recently it also
offered monochrome food described as ˜Indian™ which did not re¬‚ect the
immense diversity of cuisines on the subcontinent, drawing on the dif-
ferent ingredients available in different regions, and on the cultural tra-
ditions of different parts of the subcontinent. From the Indian restaurant
as an initial base, versions of South Asian ethnic food have spread into
the provision of ingredients for ethnic food in specialist ethnic shops and
eventually into ordinary supermarkets, and then into ready-made South
Asian food either mass-produced, or cooked as a home-industry by
146 Global South Asians

the women of households which run corner or ethnic shops. A South
Asian-run mini-market in my home shopping parade advertises ˜home-
made samosas™, for example. It is also noteworthy that western cookery
books now often include recipes for varieties of ˜curry™ and other South
Asian dishes, alongside other ethnic dishes which re¬‚ect the growing pat-
tern of foreign travel and holidays to many places with distinctive regional
cuisines. In earlier generations almost the only British people to cook
˜Indian™ food would have been women who returned from living on the
subcontinent in the days of the Empire, who would have replicated Indo-
British dishes, such as curry and rice or kedgeree, cooked for European
consumption in the days of the raj.
Dress is another area in which the in¬‚uence of South Asia has had an
impact on the wider society. Sometimes this comes directly from South
Asia at the hands of South Asian entrepreneurs and exporters; but often
there is a diasporic contribution both in the design and in the economics
of cultural diffusion in this area of material consumption. Fabrics are
often imported from the subcontinent, particularly cotton and silk, with
easily recognisable South Asian designs, perpetuating a long tradition of
cultural export and in¬‚uence emanating from the subcontinent. How-
ever, the actual clothes worn by Indians were in the past a distinctive
cultural marker, both on the subcontinent and in the diaspora, and they
carried profound political signi¬cance for their wearers. Indian national-
ists followed the example of Gandhi in casting off western style clothing
as a sign of aspiring to national independence; while Europeans in India
maintained their own attire even when it was most unsuitable for the
climate, as a signi¬er of racial difference and assumed superiority. In
the diaspora communities South Asian dress has been perpetuated, par-
ticularly among women, as a marker of modesty and respectability, in
contrast to ˜western™ clothes often thought to be immodest and reveal-
ing, although among many young Asian women jeans and tops are now
common as informal wear. Half a century after independence there is
considerable fashion-creep, as South Asian styles of clothing are either
adopted abroad or in¬‚uence the way other ethnic groups wear or modify
their own clothing. For men the so-called Nehru jacket, which in fact
draws on a long established north Indian style of masculine dress, is one
example, as is the collarless shirt. For women the wearing of a tunic over
trousers echoes the comfort and modesty of the salwar kameez worn by
Punjabi women and girls; while the pashmina shawl or the long silk scarf is
a more direct importation and is worn in various ways which often re¬‚ect
how South Asian women have worn shawls and scarves for warmth and
for modesty over centuries. Similarly the in¬‚uence of South Asian styles
of jewellery is widespread, either in motifs adopted in the creation of
Relating to the new homeland 147

expensive jewellery, or at the popular end of the market as South Asian
stall-holders sell cheap imported earrings, bracelets, anklets and rings,
which appeal particularly to younger members of the wider host society
from many different ethnic backgrounds.
There is also a growing South Asian in¬‚uence in the worlds of music
and ¬lm in countries where there is a considerable diaspora. The grow-
ing awareness of the richness of the high South Asian musical tradition
may well owe as much to a more general globalisation of cultural sensi-
tivity and knowledge as to the presence of musically knowledgable South
Asians in the diaspora, just as an appreciation of the work of some of the
most talented Asian ¬lm-makers such as Satyajit Ray would probably have
developed outside the subcontinent, regardless of the modern diaspora.
However, at a more popular level diasporic in¬‚uence is clear. The BBC in
Britain, for example, catering for all those who pay the British licence fee,
has in mind the South Asian diaspora when it puts on ˜Bollywood™ ¬lms or
indeed when it has coverage of such a major Indian religious festival such
as the Kumbh Mela in 2001 in Allahabad, celebrating a Hindu creation
story, to which many British Hindus went or watched from afar through
television. In 1991“1993 it also showed in 94 episodes the acclaimed ver-
sion of the great Hindu scripture, the Mahabharat, which attracted audi-
ences of several million. Entertainment programme series on television
are also the means by which the diaspora becomes part of mainstream
popular culture: examples include the comedy series, Goodness Gracious
Me and The Kumars at No 42. These are only possible on prime time
national television because of the size of the diaspora in Britain, and the
fact that the characters and their situations are recognisable and funny to
the wider society as well as to the ethnic minority. Films about the South
Asian diaspora shown in the cinemas and then often at a later date on
television are as much social commentary for attentive viewers as they
are entertainment. To take just two examples which became hugely pop-
ular, Bhaji on the Beach (1993) about a group of South Asian women on
a day trip to the Blackpool seaside, reveals much about Asian women™s
dilemmas and hopes in Britain; while Bend it like Beckham (2002) which
follows a young Punjabi girl from Hounslow, London, desperate to play
football despite her parents™ horror at such an ˜inappropriate™ sporting
activity for a girl, is socially realistic and deeply touching. It shows not only
inter-generational misunderstandings and con¬‚ict, and suspicion of white
society, but also the way different generations in the diaspora negotiate
difference successfully. A one-off Channel 4 drama screened in January
2005 offered insight into a darker side of the diaspora experience. Yasmin
was the story of a young British South Asian Muslim woman, forced into
a marriage with her goatherd cousin from Pakistan to help him migrate to
148 Global South Asians

Britain, who found her world transformed by the aftermath of the attacks
of ˜9/11™. Outside the formal world of cinema and television the diaspora
in¬‚uence in the world of popular culture is evident in music and dance,
for example in the spread of the Punjabi folk tradition of bhangra, which
originated in Punjabi celebrations of harvest.

This chapter has discussed four key themes in the interaction of South
Asians in the many strands in the diaspora with the societies where they
have become ˜at home™, focussing particularly on their experiences in
public space. We have examined the interaction of ethnicity and national
identity, the realities of being a South Asian citizen in the diaspora,
the implications of religious pluralism, and cultural interactions, in an
attempt to discern how comfortable South Asians are in their new home-
lands, and how they have been seen by their fellow non-South Asian
citizens. What has become clear is that living in the diaspora is an expe-
rience shot through with ambiguity and tension, as well as being a sta-
tus that is freely sought and accepted on a permanent basis. However,
that experience is not static. The changing worlds of international and
national politics can profoundly change the experience of living in the
disaspora, as can the internal dynamics of diaspora communities. What
is also clear is that the accommodations achieved by one generation may
well not serve the next generation. So those who are born outside the
subcontinent (as the majority now are except for those who live in areas
such as north America where large-scale inward migration was compar-
atively late) have to address questions which their parents answered for
their generation, but which now seem very different for those who have no
remembered home on the subcontinent, whose perspective is determined
by experiences in the only homeland they know, and whose aspirations
are fashioned in and by that homeland and its society. However, even
for South Asians born in the diaspora, the subcontinent remains a point
of reference, and often a part of their affective world. We turn in the
¬nal chapter to this piece of the mosaic which constitutes living in the
5 Relating to the old homeland

This chapter investigates some of the main ways in which many South
Asians in the diaspora relate to the subcontinent. The title, ˜Relating to the
old homeland™, is perhaps a misnomer, because for so many living outside
the countries of the subcontinent by the end of the twentieth century it
was not in a real or affective sense a homeland because they had been
born and brought up far away. On visiting South Asia such people are
obviously ˜foreign™ to those locally born, despite their shared enthnicity:
they are distinguished by dress and body language, sometimes hardly able
to speak or understand a South Asian language, and at times confused
by what they ¬nd. Moreover, few who have left the subcontinent have
ever returned permanently to it as their ¬nal home. It was explicable that
indentured labourers rarely wished or were able to return; and decades
later when it was possible, few did, even when, like many East African
Asians, they were evicted from the places they had made their new homes.
An added dimension to the ambiguity of the idea of a former homeland is
the fact that South Asia is itself changing, in many places very rapidly. So
there is no ˜going home™ even for older people born on the subcontinent.
Our ¬rst consideration must be the experience of those who left in pro-
foundly disadvantaged circumstances in the earliest of the modern dias-
poric ¬‚ows, and quickly formed permanent Indian populations abroad
once they were freed from the bonds of indenture or other forms of
contract. They were effectively cut off from the subcontinent for sev-
eral generations by poverty and poor communications. They reconsti-
tuted family and community life from their own demographic resources,
their language diverged considerably from that spoken by their kin at
home and their descendants, and their social organisation and religious
observance re¬‚ected what was possible outside India with only memory
to guide them. Occasionally there would be contact with India, as when
Arya Samaj missionaries arrived in Trinidad and Natal with the intention
of rescuing Hindus overseas from what they saw as degraded practices.
Even so, India remained a point of reference for them, a place of familial,
cultural and religious origin which marked them out as different from

150 Global South Asians

other people in the societies where they settled. In a sense ˜India™ became
a myth of origin rather than a lived reality. Most descendants of inden-
tured labourers had no reason to return there in the twentieth century,
even when they could have done so, having lost contact with family mem-
bers, and often not knowing where their ancestors came from, except in
the most general terms.
Some descendants of indentured labourers did make this journey to
India, often with misgivings and anxiety. V. S. Naipaul was one example.
Born in 1932 to Trinidadian Indian parents, descended from indentured
labourers, he studied at Oxford and was already known as a writer when
he visited India for the ¬rst time in 1962. His subsequent account, An
Area of Darkness (1964) was marked by anger and fear: the cocktail of pro-
found and mixed emotion made him write that it was a journey he should
not have made. Nearly two decades later a Fijian Indian, a professional
historian descended from an indentured Indian grandfather, did make
the journey and has given us a deeply moving account of it.1 Brij Lal™s
grandfather went to Fiji in 1908 and died in 1962 at an age he thought
was nearly 100. He came from Bahraich, an impoverished district in the
United Provinces in northern India, and had continued to correspond
with his relatives there until the 1950s, expecting one day to return. He
never did because he was always in ¬nancial dif¬culty, had his own fam-
ily to bring up, and because his marriage to a woman from another caste
would have brought dishonour to him and his family back ˜home™. Brij
Lal went instead in 1978 as he embarked on academic study of inden-
tured labourers, making the journey, as he wrote, for his grandfather™s
sake as well as his own. The visit to his ancestral village was deeply drain-
ing, emotionally and physically, but he felt profoundly moved at seeing
where his grandfather had come from, and meeting his great-uncle™s son
and grandson: the older of the two relatives sobbed uncontrollably as he
embraced him. However, he recognised that, despite his own emotion,
there would be no ˜going home™, for India was an alien country to him.
Yet the visit had solved many puzzles of his childhood and reopened the
doors to that vanished world in Fiji where older folk had still spoken a
local United Provinces dialect and had danced and sung in ways remem-
bered from India.
By contrast, those who live in countries which are home to later strands
in the South Asian diaspora have a very different experience of relat-
ing to a subcontinent which is a living reality, where they have multiple

1 B. V. Lal, ˜Return to Bahraich™, chapter 2 of his edited volume Chalo Jahaji on a Journey
through Indenture in Fiji (Canberra and Suva, Australian National University and Fiji
Museum, 2000). See the photograph of Brij Lal™s grandparents taken c. 1960, Fig. 1.
Relating to the old homeland 151

connections with the country of family origin. Many of these have been
made possible very recently by technological developments in commu-
nications and travel. For example, South Asian culture at various levels
of sophistication can be kept alive and reinvented right in the diaspora
domestic space through audio and video cassettes and, latterly, via DVDs.
One study of Punjabi homes in Southall, London, at the end of the twen-
tieth century, discovered that most had very large video collections, often
between 50 and 100. Of these nearly 70 per cent were Indian ¬lms, rep-
resenting the pure entertainment end of the spectrum. Others enabled
experience of religious tradition, such as those of the television version of
the Mahabharat, seen earlier in India and Britain. When viewed in Pun-
jabi homes these were often used as a mode of worship, accompanied by
incense and puja, and people refrained from eating while they were being
shown. Such resources supplement what is available in diaspora public
space, particularly in Hindu temples or in the gatherings addressed by
visiting religious leaders and holy persons. This is an important contrast
with the cultural and religious isolation of earlier diaspora strands, and is
particularly important for women who speak little English, and for fami-
lies who watch such resources together and renew their sense of cultural
distinctiveness. However, young people often feel that Hindi ¬lms, for
example, lock the older generation in a fossilised version of ˜India™ rather
than the India which is changing rapidly; and when they view by them-
selves rather than as families they tend to choose programmes made in
England or the USA.2
South Asians abroad have often developed their own print media out-
lets to serve local diaspora communities and keep them in touch with
their regions of origin on the subcontinent. Some of these are in English
and therefore ˜pan-diaspora™ in outreach within each country of diaspora
residence, such as Eastern Eye in the UK or India West and India Abroad
in the USA. Others are in vernaculars, as in the case of the ¬‚ourishing
Punjabi press in north America and the UK. They also use local Asian
radio stations, such as Sunrise Radio in London, to keep them in touch
with news from the subcontinent as well as news about the diaspora in
the UK, and again the older generation like these particularly for their
cultural provision. But for young people, particularly the better edu-
cated and ¬‚uent in English, diaspora internet sites are a new and vibrant
way of keeping in touch with their particular interests as South Asians

2 M. Gillespie, Television, Ethnicity and Cultural Change (London and New York, Routledge,
1995). Another important case study of the way South Asian culture is kept alive in the
diaspora is E. Nesbitt, ˜Celebrating and learning in community: the perpetuation of values
and practices among Hindu Punjabi children in Coventry, UK™, Indo-British Review. A
Journal of History, Vol. 21, No. 1 (not dated), pp. 119“131.
152 Global South Asians

outside the subcontinent, and with news of the subcontinent itself. They
cover a huge range of topics, from news in the country of the diaspora
and the subcontinent, to business issues, ˜Bollywood™ ¬lms, leisure, food,
property, plants and gardens, and horoscopes. They also carry advertise-
ments for travel to the subcontinent, for DVDs, and for Asian jewellery
and clothes. There are also numerous specialised sites for matrimonial
advertisements and online dating. Here the newest technology is taking
on a pattern established with the technology of newsprint: instead of the
matrimonial pages of the Sunday papers in India, for example, people in
the diaspora now reach out via the web and e-mail to search for brides
and grooms around the world. One long-standing Asian marriage bureau
established in Southall, London, in 1972, has also gone online to expand
its range of clientele. As is common, all provide for aspirants or enquirers
to de¬ne themselves by region, caste, religion and language, as well as
offering more personal details. One specially for Sikhs and other Punjabis,
˜1st Place Punjabi Matrimonials™, based in London, gives statistics for its
clients, who numbered almost 3,000 in mid-2005. The number of men
on its books was more than double the number of women, and most of
both sexes were very well educated, having quali¬cations of a BA/BSc
or higher. Most were Sikhs or Hindus, with Sikhs just outnumbering
Hindus. Most were under 30 and had never married; but 29 who had
been widowed were seeking to re-marry, and there were 82 clients who
were 41 or over. It is signi¬cant that the largest single age cohort was
that between 26 and 30, just the age when families would be becoming
concerned if they had failed to see their children successfully married
through the usual social networks.3 Further research in this area would
be very revealing, to understand why the people who use these sites do
so rather than use the more normal familial networks, and also to assess
the longer-term success of marriages arranged in this way.
E-mail is of course another way in which educated South Asians keep
in touch within the diaspora and with family and friends in the subconti-
nent. But even the less well-off will use the telephone on a regular basis,
re¬‚ecting the development of the communications infrastructure on the
subcontinent as well as the desire of kin to stay in touch. (As one scholar in
the USA discovered, international phone calls produce bills which work-
ing class South Asians can ¬nd their most problematic.4 ) Video recorders
have also more recently become popular means of sharing major fam-
ily events across the boundaries of time and space. However, the single
3 www.punjabi-marriage.com.
4 J. Lessinger, ˜Indian immigrants in the United States: the emergence of a transnational
population™, chapter 8 of B. Parekh, G. Singh and S. Vertovec (eds.) Culture and Economy
in the Indian Diaspora (London and New York, Rontledge, 2003).
Relating to the old homeland 153

greatest change in communications over the past half century to have
an impact on the continued connections between the diaspora and the
subcontinent has been the development of rapid and much cheaper air
travel. Most ¬‚ights from the UK to Pakistan or the western part of India
are now non-stop and take around eight hours, shaving several hours off
the time taken in the 1960s and 1970s; connecting ¬‚ights from the USA
through Europe are also quicker. The cost of tickets on major national
carriers has dropped in proportion to personal income levels, and the
opening of ¬‚ight slots to private and low-cost carriers at the start of this
century has further brought down the price while increasing the number
of ¬‚ights. Moreover ¬‚ights are now possible from provincial cities where
there are critical numbers of South Asians, increasingly to airports in the
regions of the subcontinent from which diaspora families originated. In
the UK, for example, it is possible to ¬‚y direct from Manchester to Islam-
abad, thus saving Pakistanis in northern Britain the journey to London
airports; while Sikhs and other Punjabis are well served by a new direct
service between Birmingham, in the Midlands, and Amritsar in the
Punjab. The results of these improved connections are very clear. South
Asians in the diaspora visit their families on a regular basis, to nurture kin-
ship links, to attend weddings and to arrange new marriages. Children are
encouraged to visit the homes remembered by an older generation, and
to make connections with cousins and other kin. Moreover, new kinds
of visits are also made possible. Many South Asians now combine family
visits with tourism and pilgrimage. The tourist industry within India par-
ticularly is developing rapidly, serving a growing internal market as well
as foreign visitors. Indians from overseas used these facilities to attend
the Kumbh Mela, a great and infrequent festival in Allahabad, in 2001.
They also visit, and take the younger generation to visit, the holy sites in
the Himalayas and in the south of the subcontinent, thereby refreshing
both the cultural and religious roots of diaspora families.
When South Asians visit families still living in South Asia they unfail-
ingly take with them a considerable quantity of presents, as signs of affec-
tion but also among some as part of a culture of gift-giving to establish
status and signi¬cant social connections, as was clear in Chapter 3. These
gifts are often much-prized goods which are harder to buy in the poorer
parts of the subcontinent, and bring status to the giver and also to the
recipient in the eyes of local society. They can range from electronic
goods and household appliances to clothes, particularly for babies and
children. Such gifts are part of a far larger pattern of economic returns to
the subcontinent and a key element in the web of connections which ties
the diaspora to the countries from which their families came. It is very
dif¬cult to quantify the amount of money ¬‚owing into South Asia from
154 Global South Asians

the diaspora to the countries on the subcontinent, because of the very
different public and private ¬‚ows involved, and the fact that much of the
money never surfaces in public records. They range from personal and
familial transfers of money, to formal bank deposits and foreign direct
investment. Whatever doubt there is about precise ¬gures, these remit-
tances are highly signi¬cant for individuals, families and the locations
where they spend their foreign money, and also for the national economies
of the three countries of the subcontinent from which members of the
diaspora have come.
In the ¬fty years since independence much of the subcontinent has
remained agricultural, and economic development has been held back
by lack of investment and technological change and by the absence of
an educated workforce. Simultaneously a rapidly rising population of
unprecedented dimensions has put immense strain on all economic and
social resources. Here there has been no parallel to the East Asian ˜mira-
cle™ which produced the vibrant ˜tiger economies™ of that area. The forces
of nature have often worked against development, as monsoons “ so vital
to much agriculture “ fail, and, in low-lying Bangladesh, cyclones produce
severe inundations with consequent loss of life, livestock, property and
crops. India had the most developed economy in 1947, and later the high-
est degree of urbanisation and industrialisation, and considerable agri-
cultural modernisation which despite a swiftly rising population enabled
the country to feed itself. But state policies of strict control of key indus-
tries and of patterns of investment held back industrial and infrastructure
development until the 1990s, when near international bankruptcy in 1991
drove the government down the path of liberalisation.
In such conditions remittances from migrants settled outside the sub-
continent have been crucial to the three national economies. In the early
1980s, for example, remittances from overseas workers to Bangladesh
rose to between $421 million and $628 million. This represented between
42 per cent and 79 per cent of national export earnings, and effectively
paid for between 14 per cent and 41 per cent of imports (varying annu-
ally). By 1992/3 the inward ¬‚ow was of¬cially estimated at $800 million,
and played a very large role in the macro-economic viability of the coun-
try, particularly in bridging the savings/investment and balance of pay-
ments gaps which undermined economic growth.5 In Pakistan, inward
remittances were thought to be running at over $2,500 million in the

5 On the importance of remittances to Bangladesh see B. Knerr, ˜South Asian countries as
competitors on the world labour market, chapter 8 of C. Clarke, C. Peach and S. Vertovec
(eds.), South Asians Overseas. Migration and Ethnicity (Cambridge, Cambridge University
Press, 1990). M. Islam, ˜Bangladeshi migration: an impact study™, in R. Cohen (ed.), The
Cambridge Survey of World Migration (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1995)
pp. 360“366.
Relating to the old homeland 155

early 1980s, this being in some years more than all the money earned
from merchandise exports, and paying for between 40 per cent and 50
per cent of exports. It helped the country begin to liberalise trade policy
and build a more competitive industrial structure. For both Pakistan and
India the remittances sent home by labourers in the Gulf were particularly
signi¬cant in the early years of South Asian migration to that area before
their numbers were overtaken by people recruited from Bangladesh, Sri
Lanka and further east.6 From the mid-1980s remittances to India from
the USA overtook those from the Middle East. The Indian economy
depended less on remittances in the 1980s than did those of other South
Asian countries. Volumes were roughly the same as those coming into
Pakistan, but they were only equivalent to a quarter of earnings from
exports and paid for under 29 per cent of imports. After the ¬scal crisis
of 1991 and the subsequent shift in industrial policy which began to dis-
mantle the economic controls ¬rst set up under Prime Minister Nehru,
the Indian government, and individual state governments, made signi¬-
cant attempts to attract more deposits and direct foreign investments from
those who became known as NRIs “ Non-Resident Indians, with some
success. This strategy was not surprising, given that it is thought that
NRIs worldwide may have from $130 to $200 billion to invest. But the
of¬cial comparison with the Chinese diaspora was misplaced, as Indians
overseas are far fewer in number than overseas Chinese, and have a far


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