From partition to integration: the South Asian journey

As we celebrate South Asian Heritage Month, physiotherapist Dr Devdeep Ahuja says we must also commemorate the sacrifices of previous generations in order to fully move from partition to integration  

by dsingh

A train chugging along slowly, filled to the rafters with people forced to leave their homes - their whole lives - separated from their families. Their direction of travel was based on their faith, Hindus and Sikhs came together travelling east while Muslims migrated west.  

The partition of India in 1947 was the largest mass migration event in history with millions of people displaced from their homes, widespread riots and thousands of deaths. Those who once lived together as neighbours became divided by their religion. The consequence of the dissolution of the British Raj was like a dagger through the heart of Punjab, mercilessly gutting out the rivers of blood, separating the land of five rivers into misery for decades.  

From hearing stories of partition from my grandparents (born in Jhang, now in Pakistan), who had to suffer through the migration and loss of their close family members, to present day UK which is led by the children and grandchildren of people from Punjab, it feels that life has come full circle

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak performed religious rituals before taking up his new office in Downing Street, proudly displaying his Hindu roots. While Humza Yousaf, elected as Scotland's First Minister, moved to Bute House and offered Maghrib prayer after breaking Ramadan fast along with his family. While they belong to different ends of the political spectrum, both trace their family history back to the Punjab. 

The initial migrants from Indian sub-continent to the UK were mostly working in factories and in labour jobs. They had an impeccable work ethic to make life better for themselves, their families and the society. And there was an incredible zeal to educate their children to be able to train as professionals, whether that be in medicine, engineering or law. The latter helped the South Asian diaspora to integrate into British life and develop leaders in politics, business and civic society.  

Tackling discrimination

While positive strides have been made in integration of people of South Asian descent, there is still a lot of work to be done. Looking at the Workforce Race Equality Standard for NHS trusts demonstrates this. In 93.5 per cent of the trusts, a higher proportion of Black, Asian, minority ethnic staff compared to white staff experienced harassment, bullying or abuse from staff.

They were also 1.14 times more likely to enter the formal disciplinary process compared to white staff. Women from a Black background (19.8 per cent) and women from an Arabic background (18.4 per cent) experienced high levels of discrimination from a manager/team leader or other colleagues.  

South Asian Heritage Month seeks to commemorate, celebrate and educate the world about the South Asian cultures and the intertwined histories of the UK and South Asian diaspora. It runs from 18 July to 17 August with 18 July marking the Indian Independence Act of July 1947 gaining royal assent and 17 August being the Partition Commemoration Day.  

As Jasvir Singh, one of the co-founders of South Asian History Month, said:

There needs to be a lot of education done to challenge much of the stereotyping, misogyny, racism and other forms of discrimination which exists within society

As we celebrate the contribution and influence of South Asians to the physiotherapy profession, we must also commemorate the great challenges and sacrifices of past generations. Only then, we can truly move on from partition to integration.  

Dr. Devdeep Ahuja is a member of the CSP BAME Network’s leadership team 

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