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Scratching the surface: learning about South Asian heritage and becoming aware of our own ignorance

Kadie Hodges, Head of Comms Strategy at Penna/Stafford Long

After watching a great conversation between two of my Penna colleagues – Dawar Hashmi and Pete John - discussing South Asian heritage and the month-long celebration, I was struck by my own ignorance on the topic and wanted to find out more. Here are some of the things I learnt and reflected on.

South Asian Heritage Month seeks to commemorate, mark, and celebrate South Asian cultures, histories, and communities. It showcases the significant impact South Asian culture has had on Britain but also crucially aims to shine a light on the history and interconnectivity of the two.

South Asia is made up of: Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, The Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. The history of each of these countries has been greatly affected by their relationship with Britain, particularly the British Empire. The timing of the month represents this influence over the last few centuries, beginning on the 18th July, the date that the Indian Independence Act 1947 gained royal assent, and ending on the 17th August, the date that the ‘Radcliffe Line’ was published which would set out where the border between India, West Pakistan and East Pakistan (now Bangladesh).

This year's theme is ‘stories to tell’ – encouraging people to share their experiences, passions and foster connections across the community. Whilst researching online, I stumbled across a blog written by Haseeb Iqbal, who spoke about their own experiences growing up. Highlighting the lack of representation of South Asian culture in mainstream media throughout their upbringing, they wrote:

“Much of the culture that has presented itself to me across my life has been a product of either white or Black heritage. For some reason, Brown culture has always been harder to find and less excitingly received by those around me”.

As representation has been a continual issue for non-white communities, Haseeb’s thoughts are both unsurprising and saddening. People of South Asian heritage make up a significant part of the British population, with about one in every twenty people in the country being of South Asian heritage. The lack of representation just isn’t acceptable.

In trying to learn more about South Asian heritage, I quickly realised the depth of experience that is encapsulated within it. Having just scratched the surface, it’s clear there’s an abundance and richness of different cultures and heritage that is easy for those who do not belong to the community to overlook. It wouldn’t be the first-time society, particularly Western society, defaults to flattening communities and cultures into one monolith.

One of the key messages I think the month emphasises is this breadth of culture. It helps to educate and negate the perpetuation of painting South Asian culture with one brush, when in fact there is a wealth of culture, religion, experience, and stories.

I came across a quote from Yung Singh, a South Asian artist, which I thought encapsulated this notion aptly:

“So in recognising the fact that South Asians are no one thing….we exist in the diversity of many people, and different likes and tastes.”

I love the fact that this year's theme is focused on storytelling. It’s such a powerful tool and one that, in recruitment, can help create resonance, empathy and understanding. At Penna and Stafford Long, we challenge clients to authentically represent their workforce and those they want to connect with. Begin by taking the time to listen to other people’s perspectives, as only then can we truly go some way to understanding them. In order to move beyond stereotypical portrayals of South Asian heritage that lazily overgeneralise and compress the richness of experience and identities that exist, this simple act of listening cannot be overstated.

So, I implore everyone to go and listen to the stories that are being shared. As stories can reach places within us most things cannot.

If you would like to find out more about representation, and how Penna and Stafford Long can help your organisation, get in touch with us at

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