IN­TER­ESTS & VAL­UES

The South Asian Di­as­pora is vi­brant and vo­cal, es­pe­cially in global me­dia. Rep­re­sent­ing their cul­tures wher­ever they go, what are the hur­dles South Asians face and what con­tin­ues to drive them?

Southasia - - News - By Kinza Mu­jeeb

The South Asian Di­as­pora faces nu­mer­ous chal­lenges but re­mains re­silient. Will that al­ways be the case?

The word ‘Di­as­pora’ was ac­quired from a Greek word, which means, ‘a scat­ter­ing.’ But the word also im­plies that the group of peo­ple, who are scat­tered away from their home­land, will ‘gather’ to­gether in the form of a new com­mu­nity in a for­eign land. The South Asian Di­as­pora, that is, ex­pa­tri­ates from In­dia, Pak­istan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Bhutan and the Mal­dives, spreads from the U.S., Canada and Europe to the Mid­dle East and to Malaysia and Hong Kong in the Far East.

It is in­tended here to study one as­pect of their psy­che, namely their pas­sion to ex­press them­selves through the me­dia. They write news­pa­per blogs, let­ters to ed­i­tors and also par­tic­i­pate in TV talk shows. How­ever, since such com­mu­ni­ties are dis­persed across the globe, it is hard to dis­cuss their in­di­vid­ual ac­tiv­i­ties sep­a­rately. But there is one ma­jor fac­tor which is com­mon to all of them. They all have very strong bonds with their home­land and equally strong feel­ings for their tra­di­tions and cul­ture.

As de­scribed by Robin Co­hen, this con­nec­tion of­ten helps in es­tab­lish­ing ‘transna­tional bonds,’ through writ­ing books and ar­ti­cles. Many South Asian ex­pa­tri­ates have tried to strengthen their sol­i­dar­ity with their home­land and their tra­di­tions by writ­ing about them and in their de­fense, re­sult­ing in a strong bond be­tween them and their home­land.

One cru­cial dif­fer­ence be­tween South Asian so­ci­eties and the South Asian Di­as­pora is the fact that the former have gen­er­ally be­come in­dif­fer­ent

to­wards the sit­u­a­tion in which they are placed. Over the past few years, South Asian coun­tries have suf­fered a se­ries of nat­u­ral dis­as­ters, af­fect­ing their lives and their economies. At the same time, so­cio-po­lit­i­cal evils such as cor­rup­tion, re­li­gious feuds and po­lit­i­cal in­sta­bil­i­ties have also con­trib­uted in the de­vel­op­ment of an im­pas­sive and de­tached ex­te­rior as a de­fense mech­a­nism. On the other hand, the South Asian Di­as­po­ras are com­par­a­tively more sen­si­tive. They tend to fo­cus on ev­ery mi­nor is­sue and that mo­ti­vates them to write. For ex­am­ple, they metic­u­lously dis­cuss ev­ery re­li­gious riot in their home­land, whereas the lo­cals are sim­ply re­lieved at the fact that the ri­ots are over and that they can re­sume their nor­mal daily ac­tiv­i­ties.

At times their views of­ten ap­pear to be rather par­ti­san, tilt­ing fre­quently to­wards the pos­i­tive aspects of the sit­u­a­tion in their home­land. They of­ten try des­per­ately to present a pol­ished im­age of their coun­try. They also in­dulge in de­tailed de­bates re­gard­ing the ways to im­prove the po­lit­i­cal, eco­nomic and so­cial sit­u­a­tions of their home­land, some­thing that the South Asian so­ci­eties them­selves now con­sider a mere fan­tasy. Although they re­al­ize that their na­tion has been en­dur­ing bit­ter tri­als for a long time, their writ­ings serve as a ray of hope. More­over, it also sym­bol­izes their ef­fort to re­main con­nected to the years of dis­may, de- spite the dis­tance be­tween them.

Vi­o­lence in the name of re­li­gion is also a com­mon phe­nom­e­non in South Asian coun­tries. In re­al­ity these are sprung due to al­most ev­ery other rea­son apart from re­li­gion. The over­seas pop­u­la­tion is re­peat­edly seen de­fend­ing its na­tion and re­li­gion, if not its govern­ment. They con­sider ab­solv­ing their na­tion as an obli­ga­tion which they owe to their com­pa­tri­ots.

In con­trast to this, many also write in or­der to es­tab­lish them­selves as a dif­fer­ent and sep­a­rate en­tity, in or­der to es­cape the hu­mil­i­a­tion of the heinous deeds of vi­o­lence com­mit­ted in the name of re­li­gion back home. They seem to be in a state of de­nial, des­per­ately try­ing to break all con­nec­tions from their home­land and si­mul­ta­ne­ously try­ing to blend into a for­eign land. Some re­sponses may also re­sult from the de­sire to main­tain peace­ful ties with other com­mu­ni­ties in the land of their cur­rent res­i­dence. A fa­mous ex­am­ple can be the state­ment by the Pres­i­dent of Brad­ford’s Hindu Cul­tural So­ci­ety, who claimed “what hap­pened in In­dia, has noth­ing to do with us,” af­ter the bru­tal con­se­quences of the events in Ay­o­d­hya in De­cem­ber 1992.

In ad­di­tion to these rea­sons, the Di­as­po­ras are aware of the fact that they have a well-de­fined mar­ket, where their writ­ings will be viewed and ap­pre­ci­ated by a larger and more di­verse

One cru­cial dif­fer­ence be­tween South Asian so­ci­eties and the South Asian Di­as­pora is the fact that the former have gen­er­ally be­come in­dif­fer­ent to­wards the sit­u­a­tion in which they are placed.

group. They re­al­ize the sig­nif­i­cance of their opin­ions and perspectives and hence share them with the world to ei­ther up­grade their na­tion’s rep­u­ta­tion or to lib­er­ate them­selves from the shame of the acts of vi­o­lence and cor­rup­tion in their home­land.

An­other rea­son could be the fact that the Di­as­po­ras are of­ten not fully in­te­grated into the so­ci­ety and are still largely marginal­ized. These at­ti­tudes give way to feel­ings of ‘Us’ ver­sus ‘Them.’ Their writ­ings serve as a weapon to fight back and they make their ar­gu­ments and perspectives heard. Even if it does not bring about any change, at least it serves to give vent to their feel­ings.

Some are more in­clined to writ­ing about ways to pre­serve their unique cul­tural, so­cial and re­li­gious iden­tity in a dif­fer­ent environment with­out jeop­ar­diz­ing their re­la­tions with the for­eign­ers. Some are also acutely aware of their need to al­ter their cul­tural con­scious­ness in or­der to blend with the western world. They tend to write about the changes their com­mu­ni­ties must un­dergo to sur­vive in a for­eign land, es­pe­cially when it comes to lan­guage, food and at­tire. In this way they as­sist their own com­mu­ni­ties, as they un­der­stand each other’s queries, hes­i­ta­tions and con­fu­sions. Their com­mu­ni­ties also help­lessly wit­ness their chil­dren will­ingly adapt­ing to the western life­style, de­spite their ef­forts to make them ad­here to their own cul­tural and re­li­gious val­ues.

These are se­ri­ous is­sues, which the South Asian Di­as­pora is fac­ing to­day. By rais­ing these is­sues in their blogs, ar­ti­cles and books, the ex­pa­tri­ates have cre­ated a so­cial net­work of their own. This pro­vides them with a sense of be­long­ing to their new home­land.

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