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South Asian Heritage Month

50th Anniversary of Expulsion of Ugandan Asians

Merkle’s Ethnicity Pillar & Interfaith Pillar have collaborated with Dentsu’s Represent Steering Committee to hold a host of communications, learning experiences and events for South Asian Heritage Month (18th July – 17th August). 

This blog is the first of those learning experiences to share an important historical event for Ugandan Asians and how it may impact South Asians today. 

Other activity also include: South Asian yoga instructor, Puravi Joshi, hosting a talk on Cultural Appropriation vs Appreciation in yoga and the importance of DEI is in the workplace, also an in-person yoga session hosted by Puravi. Additionally, the pillars have been working with agencies outside of Dentsu to host a ‘chai and chat’ to discuss South Asian culture, as well as more personal pieces about South Asian culture being published throughout the month.

In this blog, Merkle’s Liyah Sudra, SEO Project Manager and co-chair of Merkle’s DEI Ethnicity Pillar, shares her thoughts and experiences in light of this years South Asian Heritage Month.

50th Anniversary of Expulsion of Ugandan Asians

The theme of this year’s South Asian Heritage Month is ‘Journeys of Empire’, which is poignant as 2022 marks the 50th anniversary of the expulsion of Ugandan Asians in 1972 by President Idi Amin. This event resulted in many South Asians being forced to leave lives of comfort behind to travel to an unfamiliar country and adapt to a new culture, a language that was not their own, and a socio-political system that was not built for them to succeed. Despite these challenges, the South Asian community have managed to endure and prosper, creating close-knit communities of their own and bringing their unique culture, food, and arts to the UK.

In August 1972, President Idi Amin announced that all Asians residing in Uganda must leave the country within 90 days. This resulted in a mass migration of 80,000 Ugandan Asians seeking out refuge in countries all over the world. Although the exact incentive for the expulsion remains unclear, in part it stemmed from the Anti-Indian sentiment defined by feelings of hatred towards the Republic of India and reinforced by prejudice and discrimination towards Indian people. South Asians were also used as a scapegoat minority to draw attention away from Uganda’s political and economic adversities, due to the fact that the initial presence of South Asians in Uganda was the result of the British Administration where South Asians were brought to the Protectorate of Uganda. At the time of expulsion, Asians owned 90% of the countries businesses. Around 28,000 Ugandan Asians emigrated to the United Kingdom, whilst other masses re-settled in Canada, the United States, India, Pakistan and Kenya. Many made for Leicester (my home town!) where their arrival was met with uncertainty and hostility.

What impact has this had on my life?

Being a second-generation immigrant, I’ve often had trouble reconciling the rich cultural roots in my family life with the pressure to fit into British society. Even from my grandparents’ generation to my parents’ generation there was a dilution of cultural identity from persistent efforts to assimilate into British society, and this was even further diluted for my generation. The complexity of trying to fit in with British culture and ‘normalcy’, trying not to lose your cultural heritage and identity, while at the same time trying to hide parts of your cultural identity that people don’t understand and would make fun of, was all very confusing and difficult for a child/teenager to navigate (especially with all the other problems you have to navigate growing up)! This confusion resulted in feeling a sense of otherness which I feel is a story that rings true for many South Asians. Unfortunately, Britishness often felt like it equated to Whiteness, and Whiteness equated to normality, which resulted in feelings of embarrassment around cultural clothing, food, skin tone, and spirituality. These are all things that nowadays have been adopted by wider society, some examples including cultural clothing being ‘fashionable’, and the appropriation and whitewashing of yoga.

South Asian Heritage Month feels personally important to me because it provides an opportunity to celebrate and take pride in the South Asian part of my identity, as well as the cultural impact that families like mine have had in the UK.

Written by Liyah Sudra on behalf of Merkle’s Ethnicity Pillar & Dentsu Represent.