South Asian Heritage Month runs from 18th July to 17th August every year. The Month aims to amplify and celebrate British South Asian heritage and history across the United Kingdom through education, arts, culture and commemoration, helping people better understand the diversity of present day Britain and improve social cohesion across the country.
The theme for 2022 is Journeys of Empire. In this Insights Guest Blog, Sukhwinder Singh explains more about the Punjab culture and an intriguing travel experience. Sukhwinder is a Sikh and is Deputy Managing Chaplain at HMP Berwyn. He is Sikh Regional Manager to HMPPS Wales and the National Deputy Lead for HMPPS staff network, RISE.
I always encourage people from various backgrounds to be proud of their language and cultures and to celebrate them with everyone. Being based at HMP Berwyn, I am proud to be celebrating the Welsh culture alongside colleagues, whilst drawing on my proud South Asian heritage.
I was born in the Punjab which means the land of Five Rivers; referring to the rivers Jhelum, Chenab, Ravi, Sutlej and Beas. In 1947 partition of the Subcontinent divided Punjab into two parts – the West Punjab, belonging to Pakistan and the East Punjab became part of India. Both sides share the same heritage especially when it comes to the traditional home cooked Punjabi style food!! And they proudly take their heritage and culture with them wherever they go around the world.
I was 9 years old when I arrived in the United Kingdom. I gained qualifications in education and religious studies and started in HMPPS in 2003. I have been working for HMPPS now for nearly 20 years and have learned so much that I could write a book. However, I shall wait for that moment.
The culture of Punjab is the one of the richest cultures in the world. Punjabi songs are full of melody and energy.
Pretty much every Bollywood film includes Punjabi music or song for its popularity and traditional Bhangra and Giddha (Punjabi dance).
The majority religion of Punjab is Sikhism, which originated from the teachings of Guru Nanak Dev Ji, the first Sikh Guru. Hinduism is the second largest religion.
A significant population of Muslims and small communities of Christians and Jains in some areas who have lived together for many years.
Whether you are Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Hindu, Pagan, Jains, Rastafarian, Buddhist or even if you are atheist; Sikhs will still respect you and treat you equally and serve you where possible as if we are serving God.
Recently, RISE has been able to do more work face-to-face alongside Diversity & Inclusion and Race Action Plan teams.
Our visits to establishments have been acknowledged by staff and prisoners from Black Asian Minority Ethnic backgrounds who were able to discuss some concerns or suggest ideas for improvements.
Those of South Asian heritage would speak to me in Urdu, Hindi, or Punjabi. I’m proud to understand the needs of others and to assist them accordingly.
In photo below you will see Rev. David Gould of Holy Trinity church, Imam Nasir Zameer from Abrahamic Foundation Mosque and me, with the students hoping to be Imams, who welcomed us warmly and asked many questions about our friendship. We held hands together in the picture to affirm each other’s faith and the friendship we share. In that friendship and respect, we have explored what each other’s faith means and how we work out that faith living and working in a society of many faiths and cultures.
Whereas my friends learned and enjoyed the Indian heritage and culture, I was extremely impressed to have explored even more during our travels across a few states in India.
I have visited and travelled though many countries with my faithful friends and observed many cultural events. My recent visit to Israel/Palestine and walkabouts on the streets of Jerusalem surely opened my eyes towards its centuries saved historical culture, which reminded me of some similarities with the Indian subcontinent!!
However, our history and traditions enable us to develop an awareness about ourselves. It helps us understand and explain why we are the way we are. Heritage is a keystone of our culture that plays an important role in our politics, society, business, and world view.