To be an 'Indian' in the UK

In this edition of London Diary: navigating South Asian and gender identities, humour and hangovers

A school group visit the Neasden Mandir, aka BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Hindu Temple, in Southall (photo courtesy @LEHSchool/X)
A school group visit the Neasden Mandir, aka BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Hindu Temple, in Southall (photo courtesy @LEHSchool/X)
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Hasan Suroor

What it’s like to be an Indian immigrant in the UK? Or, for that matter, a Pakistani, a Bangladeshi or a Sri Lankan?

Not very nice—if you want your separate national and cultural identity to be acknowledged and not treated as something which has just been “through a meat grinder, all mashed up into a lump”, as a friend likes to joke.

At the moment, all are labelled ‘British Asians’, and then further clubbed with other non-white groups under the ridiculous acronym, BAME (Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic). The umbrella label is a daily reminder of their ‘outsider’ status, and they have a long history of voicing grievances at being misrepresented as a monolithic entity rather than as culturally distinct communities.

A few years ago, Indian expats strongly objected to being lumped with their Pakistani, Bangladeshi and Sri Lankan peers under the generic term ‘British Asians’.

Such a broad categorisation, they argued, ignored crucial social and economic factors that distinguished them from their other contemporaries of Asian origin.

A new study by the think tank Changing Europe shows how such an approach has led to a skewed understanding of the ‘values’ and political behaviour of British Hindus and Muslims.

The study knocks down many pet theories that have shaped British perceptions of the two communities. Its central finding is that ‘across the country, the identity, beliefs and voting habits of minorities are more fractured than many realise’.

It's not only the food they eat or the shops they patronise (representative image shows Southall eateries with a decorative); British Hindus and Muslims even vote (photo courtesy @VisitSouthall/Britain)
It's not only the food they eat or the shops they patronise (representative image shows Southall eateries with a decorative); British Hindus and Muslims even vote (photo courtesy @VisitSouthall/Britain)
@VisitSouthall/Britain

According to James Kanagasooriam, co-author of the report, contrary to the popular view that the Asian community is one big brotherhood—sharing, among other things, the same political behaviour—‘our data shows a dramatic voting intention difference between Hindus and Muslims at the last (2019) election’.

In last year’s mayoral election in Leicester, Hindus opted disproportionately for the Conservatives, whereas Muslims voted overwhelmingly for Labour. This ‘divergence of values and votes’ among Britain’s non-white citizens is not confined to Leicester alone.

‘Non-white Britain is more diverse than ever’, says the report, going on to ask whether, in the light of its findings, ‘it makes any sense at all in modern Britain to think of non-white citizens as a group’. 

The report will resonate in India, vis-à-vis our own views of other communities—particularly the non-Muslim's perception of Muslims.

A visit to the gurudwara for schoolchildren in London's Southall district (photo courtesy @LEHSchool/X)
A visit to the gurudwara for schoolchildren in London's Southall district (photo courtesy @LEHSchool/X)
@LEHSchool/X

Sikhs against Sunak

More bad news for Rishi Sunak: Britain’s Sikh community has turned against him, as he struggles to hang on to his premiership in the face of increasing unpopularity both inside his party and outside, ahead of a general election that his Conservative party looks all set to lose, judging by the polls. 

An annual survey of British Sikhs has found that only 20 per cent plan to vote for the Conservatives as against 43 per cent for Labour.

Besides, only 21 per cent feel ‘very proud’ of Sunak despite his Punjabi heritage. As many as 72 per cent believe that more Hindus would benefit from his premiership. Only 1 per cent said Sikhs would benefit.

Well, well. 


What’s so funny? Gender stereotypes

Those who enjoyed the bestseller Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus might be entertained by new findings on the differences between the sexes when it comes to humour.

Research by the University of Oxford has found that men are more likely to be tickled by loud slapstick comedy while women tend to react to subtler forms of humour. The study looked at how more than 3,300 adults responded to cartoons that appeared in newspapers and magazines from the 1930s down to the modern day.

The results revealed that men were attracted to cartoons that involved physical action, unexpected incidents and pratfalls. Women preferred cartoons that were about relationships, society or politics and had a larger verbal component. Apparently, these reveal deep-rooted differences in how the genders navigate the world and build social bonds.

It concludes that women engage with the world more ‘reflectively’ and men do so in a ‘more superficial, humour-based way’.

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It’s a dog’s life for pets

The cost of living crisis is triggering more and more Britons to dump their dogs. At the same time, the rising price of dog food, pet insurance and vet care is shrinking the pool of those likely to adopt abandoned dogs, making it much harder to find homes for them.

Britain’s biggest dog rehoming and rescue charity, Dogs Trust, has said it is experiencing “unprecedented demand”, with the cost of looking after a pet rising at more than twice the rate of inflation. A record number of owners want to give up their pooches, keeping their kennels overflowing. 

“The demand for us to take in dogs is outstripping our ability to meet it at the moment, so we have waiting lists. There is a direct correlation between people struggling to afford to have their dogs and the numbers wanting to give them up”, said Owen Sharp, chief executive of the charity.

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And finally, the new buzzword is ‘hangxiety’: waking up with a hangover plus the anxiety that you might’ve done something silly the night before.

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