Heritage: A vast resource of wisdom

Heritage: A vast resource of wisdom

In a world of Instagram and TikTok, where mobile phones are often preferable to face to face communication, the IDEA and knowledge of history, traditions and culture are fast fading from view. Even the meaning of the word culture has become modernised such that faith is deleted from its definition when in reality it has always been deeply entwined with it. The modern is the perfect, and the past is just that – been and gone. As to religion, science sees it as dogmatic and ignorant so why go back to that irrational past? It is seen as neither alive nor relevant. How wrong and damaging.

Britain has a sad legacy of empire and slavery, and to give Black history its deserved place, has been celebrating Black History Month every October for many years. A few years ago, the visionary consultant Dr Binita Kane and barrister Jasvir Singh OBE came up with the idea of an equivalent South Asian Heritage Month to revive and reinvigorate South Asian history and it happens every summer in July/August in the heart of the wedding season. It covers a variety of themes from migration memories, to food, art, poetry and literature bringing a wide variety of Asians from all over UK into a national story of pride, hope, creative enterprise and opportunity. In 2010, I completed a 1,500-mile Masala Tour of Britain to celebrate this heritage so this theme and the vast diversity of south Asian cultures has always been a particular passion of mine.

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In the school history and economics books we are barely mentioned, even though we have contributed trillions to the British Empire. Research shows that south Asian children are high achievers in school, yet the textbooks or the classrooms give them little pride in their own heritage and culture. Subconsciously and consciously our children are made to feel that their culture is at best marginal to learning and progress. The content and targets of learning have become more important than the ‘attitude’ to learning.

The truth is that the South Asian heritage values hard work, self-discipline, family values and education as keys to growth and progress. It is the culture which shapes our motivation and enterprise, even though it is never given the credit. In truth lasting success comes from cultural depth, not exam results. It transforms our hunger for learning and growth.

At school the one question my daughter got frequently asked was – so will you have an arranged marriage when you grow up? Even the idea that her Jain culture could be rich and inspirational for the world was nowhere to be experienced. Stereotypes reduce us and are reinforced by what is taught and what is NOT taught. If we are not proactive, our children end up believing in them.

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A recent anecdotal survey of Indian students at Oxbridge suggests they are embarrassed by Hinduism and faith, even when these Universities are deeply Christian and proud of these roots. High education is often low in faith and belief sadly, and critical of it. The stereotypes of Hinduism can be embarrassing but our youth should be culturally trained and mentored to hold their heads up high.

When you see the true stories on Twitter or the SAHM website you will discover the breadth and depth of the richness of what we already do to contribute to British society, in diverse and creative ways. Featured are artists, writers, poets and musicians from all over UK. Dive into it and prepare your own showcase for next year’s festival. You will meet many friends along the way. As to your children, try to give them rounded cultural experiences at home and in the community- this may not bring high marks, but it will transform their identity and self-esteem, which are critical to sustainable future growth.

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Professor Atul K. Shah [@atulshah] teaches and writes about Indian wisdom on business, culture and community at various UK universities and is a renowned international author, speaker and broadcaster.

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