South Asians in 2022: A Remarkable Year or Just Another Bout of Tokenism?
The diaspora's achievements prove the community's progress over the years.
The Quint DAILY
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While the Kohinoor remains embedded on the British monarch's crown, there is now an Indian-origin occupant of 10 Downing Street. While south Asians continue to face discrimination in Western countries, there is now a Pakistani superhero in the long list of Marvel movies. Westerners may continue to dominate international literary awards list, this year's Booker Prize was bagged by a Sri Lankan.
2022 was truly a remarkable year for south Asians.
From stepping foot into some of the highest offices in their adopted countries to winning prestigious awards that were said to be too far from their clutches, from the most accurate representation in popular culture to recognition at some of the grandest stages, it is impossible to deny the diaspora's penetration and progress over 2022.
On that note, let us take a look at some of the biggest achievements for south Asians in 2022:
Rishi Sunak Enters 10 Downing Street
Without thought, one of the biggest moments for south Asians came in October 2022, when India’s damaad Rishi Sunak entered 10 Downing Street and became the first British prime minister of south Asian descent. His appointment broke a long-standing glass ceiling, one where the highest office remained too far from the diaspora’s grasp.
At a time when minority issues in all spheres – be it race, religion, or ethnicity – continue to escape mainstream conversation, a brown-skinned Hindu Rishi Sunak now occupies one of the most powerful offices in the world.
In a now infamous episode of a radio show, a caller, a Conservative Party supporter, stated that he, “along with most people," didn’t think that Sunak was British. While this was the view of one caller on a radio show, such views are a reminder that some people still don’t accept British Asian identity to be truly British.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi was quick to congratulate Sunak, referring to him as “the ‘living bridge’ of UK Indians.” In the difficult waters of British and indeed international politics, all eyes will be watching to see how well the bridge stands.
'Pasoori' Binds Borders With 'Vibes'
Back in February, Coke Studio – Pakistan's longest-running music show, produced by Coca Cola – released Pasoori, performed by Pakistani musicians Ali Sethi and Shae Gill. But the song is not just another hit single from Pakistan, it was received as a progressive statement of socio-cultural values that aims to transcend borders.
Despite political and military tensions since time immemorial, the song was looked at as a resurgence of Indo-Pak cultural exchanges after it sat on number 1 spot of the Indian music charts for weeks on. Videos on social media showed Indian villages feeling the song’s vibe deep within their person, without even understanding the language.
Ms Marvel's Marvelous Depiction of South Asia
When Marvel comic book superhero Kamala Khan was adapted for screen, and the first episode of Ms Marvel series released in early June this year, celebratory bells rang throughout the south Asian diaspora. But 19-year-old Canadian Pakistani actress Imam Vellani’s portrayal of Khan was not the only diaspora moment throughout the show.
The series’ music further magnified south Asian representation. The Marvel Cinematic Universe offering ended up with a Tamil song from Rajnikant’s Lingaa, Krewella and Nervo’s 'Goddess' ft Raja Kumari, background music from Chennai-based MS Krsna, and Ali Sethi and Shae Gill’s 'Pasoori' – the list just goes on.
Ms Marvel’s narration of the Partition, weaving events of massive historic significance with superheroes instantly made the show a hit not only within the south Asian diaspora, but all around the world.
Moreover, in a year which has seen growing hostility to Islam and its adherents, the show is a welcome break from Muslims being portrayed as terrorists and criminals.
However, this is also the reason for the show being 'review-bombed' - a planned and coordinated spamming of reviews of a product to sabotage its popularity and success.
'Samosa Caucus' Grows at 2022 US Midterm Elections
The successes of the south Asian diaspora stretch further from popular culture and music, and extend to other, severely important sections of the world. 2022 was a huge year for south Asians in politics.
Case-in-point: the 2022 United States midterm elections, where the south Asian community wielded immense power with ensuring diaspora representation in government, but also with the influence their vote held in the nail-biting contest.
A new member was added to the so-called 'Samosa Caucus' of Indian Americans,' as five candidates of Indian origin won seats in the US House of Representatives. Ami Bera, Raja Krishnamoorthi, Ro Khanna, Pramila Jayapal, and newly elected Shri Thanedar, all from the Democratic Party, now formed the House’s ‘Samosa Caucus.’
Another Indian American – Aruna Miller – created history in the state of Maryland. A former member of the Maryland House of Delegates, Miller was elected to the the post of Lt Governor of the state from the Democratic Party, becoming the first Indian American to be elected to the post.
Diaspora Shines at the Grammy Awards
The diaspora shone bright at the 2022 Grammys as well, with big wins by both established and emerging talents from a growing pool of south Asian musicians. Indians celebrated after music composer Ricky Kej won his second Grammy in the Best New Age Album category, while singer-songwriter Falguni Shah, or Falu, won for the Best Children’s Album.
Meanwhile, across the border, Pakistan celebrated after Pakistani American singer Arooj Aftab won a Grammy for best global music performance.
The 2023 Grammys also saw multiple south Asians nominated for award on the Recording Academy's biggest night. The Berklee Indian Ensamble, British Indian sitarist-vocalist-composer Anoushka Shankar, singer-songwriter Norah Jones, Ricky Kej, and Arooj Aftab, all are nominated for the award which will be announced on 6 February 2023.
For greater south Asian representation on one of the grandest stages, the journey is long and tenuous, but acknowledging Ricky Kej, Falu, Arooj Aftab and others give fruition to years of struggle and invisibility.
The Academy Awards
The 2022 Academy Awards was one of the most significant evidence of the south Asian diaspora’s penetration after Riz Ahmed, Joseph Patel, Pawo Chyoning Dorji, Rintu Thomas. and Sushmit Ghosh were nominated for the prestigious Oscar.
British Pakistani Riz Ahmed's short film The Long Goodbye won the award for 'Live Action Short Film' and Patel worked on Summer of Soul which won 'Best Documentary Feature'.
Ahmed became the first Muslim to win in his category and made an iconic speech where he said, “In such divided times, we believe that the role of story is to remind us there is no ‘us’ and ‘them.’”
Moreover, for the upcoming edition of the Academy Awards, SS Rajamouli’s epic RRR is shortlisted for its song ‘Naatu Naatu’, while The Last Film Show is shortlisted for the International Feature Film category. Clearly, we’re going places.
Bridgerton’s Far From Tokenistic Indian Portrayal
You don't usually get to watch a mainstream TV show with brown girls, who’ve not been tokenised or reduced to an husky accent, as lead actors.
The second season of Bridgerton, a Regency-era drama on Netflix, was an instant hit with its relatively-authentic portrayal of the protagonist Sharma sisters, and was also one of the most watched shows of 2022.
The show is rich in narratives that most south Asians could relate to, including scenes featuring Kate Sharma, played by Simone Ashley, gently oiling her sister’s thick, black hair and the portrayal of the traditional haldi (turmeric) ceremony, a north Indian pre-wedding ritual.
Moreover, it featured background music from Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham, an almost two-decade-old superhit Hindi film, and Kate’s habit of adding spices to flavour her bland English breakfast tea also struck a chord with most chai-loving Indians.
South Asia Bags the Booker
Lastly, one of the biggest takeaways from 2022 has been the south Asian impact on literature and the written word which has remained nothing short of praiseworthy.
In October, Sri Lankan author Shehan Karunatilaka’s The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida bagged the 2022 Booker Prize while Indian writer Geetanjali Shree won the International Booker prize for Ret Samadhi – translated as Tomb of Sand by Daisy Rockwell.
Every edition of the latter’s book featured the names of both women on its cover, making the win a beginning in many ways – be it for the triumph of an Indian language, or the delayed recognition that its translator is getting across the world.
Tomb of Sand marks a turning point in the world of Hindi literature and, by extension, the literature of other Indian languages. This is precisely what Shree also laid emphasis upon in her acceptance speech, when she said that "behind me and this book lies a rich and flourishing literary tradition in Hindi and in other south Asian languages."
While many would believe Ret Samadhi's recognition is a long overdue feat for Hindi and south Asian literature, one that obviously adds to the landscape of global literary tradition, we mustn’t forget to celebrate the book that is interlaced with memories and traditions of northern India.
Meanwhile, Karunatilaka’s subject matter questions and explores Sri Lankan legacy and its tenuous relationship with civil war at a time when Sri Lanka was once again grappling with political and economic instability.
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