Unzela Khan reflects on the need for the Grand Trunk Project, and to find common ground amongst Sikh, Muslim and Hindu communities in the UK.
2017 will mark 70 years since the independence of India and the creation of Pakistan. For many this will be a chance to celebrate their beloved nations – yet for us (the South Asian community) this is a chance to celebrate our common history and culture.
Since the partition, we have seen a consolidation of many divides across languages, religions, cultures and laws of the land. In Britain, we are accustomed to our sectioning as the Sikhs, Muslims, Hindus, Pakistanis, Indians, Punjabis or Bangladeshis. Some of you may relate to typical conversations like: “Are you Indian?” “No, I’m from Pakistan.” “Isn’t that the same thing?” “No, it’s not.”
An automatic sense of pride seeps in as you attempt to clarify the diversity. It pops up even when when you find yourself filling out a job application, ethnic diversity screams at you demanding to know; are you British Pakistani? British Asian? British Indian? Asian Bangladeshi? Asian Indian? Asian Pakistani?
In the last 70 years, the rise of nationalism has encouraged many to hold on to their history, their food and their culture – yet so much is ours; with so many aspects of our cultures and backgrounds sharing commonalities, the unity needs to be explored and accepted further.
When you think about it, we have many reasons to come together, from shared history to music, films, fashion, cricket, foods like *gol gappe, *gola ganda [ice in flavoured syrup], biriyani, salwar kameez and sarees; the list goes on.
Most prominently, common values are prevalent throughout families. Indians, Pakistanis and Bengalis step onto a common ground where it is seen as a norm for a daughter to stay at home until she is married, even upon reaching adulthood.
Similarities can also be seen amongst religions, food is a popular component of major importance. Muslims indulge in a feast for Eid, Sikhs embrace Langar where they provide a feast for others. Even fasting brings forward a connection. Ramadan is the month for Muslims to fast from dusk till dawn, similarly Hindu women observe ‘karva chaut’ and fast to the long life of their husbands.
Not only that, once you reach university, ‘freshers’ are welcomed to Pakistan, Bangladesh and Indian societies all competing with each other. Yet, societies often hold events with hardly any differences, a pani puri-eating challenge by the Indian Society on Wednesday means a puchka challenge for Bangladesh society on Friday.
Joint cricket screenings of India vs Pakistan matches are often a popular event where both countries embrace their competitive rivalry which can be healthy for both sportsmanship and entertainment.
Here we can actually appreciate the concept that more often than not, student societies take pride in being able to join together and celebrate their cultural commonalities, in the midst of this bond they manage to go beyond decades of ‘rivalries’ and competition.
Our communities in Britain have maintained certain values from South Asia that have prompted many to thrive on their strong connections within. Seeing this acceptance of the overlapping South Asian cultures is most definitely a cause of celebration in itself. We can revel in this sense of community that has been long forgotten in the aftermath of partition.
* Gol gappe, a type of street food, also known as pani puri or puchke
* Gola ganda, ice covered in flavoured syrup