Thanks to Sharon Aninakwa, member of HA Secondary Committee and Head of History at St Claudine’s Catholic School for Girls, for this blogpost inviting us to to engage with South Asian Heritage month next term. Sharon provides context, reasons why we should engage, and practical support to do so.
In the history teaching community we are blessed to be able to bridge the gap between the past and the present and celebrate global histories. Through the curriculum and increasingly by cultivating learning communities outside of the classroom, history teachers play a special role in bringing the past to life through celebration, criticality and the centering of marginalised histories.
South Asia is the region located in southern Asia that includes the countries India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bhutan, and Maldives. As well as their own rich pre-European histories, these South Asian nations are intimately connected with British history too. Often, the legacy of these relationships is hiding in plain sight in our local and national and global historical narratives. Key aspects of British culture have been undeniably influenced and shaped by South Asian peoples, places and its past. Much South Asian History is also British history.
Four years ago South Asian Heritage Month (SAHM) was launched by British South Asians Dr Binita Kane and Jasvir Singh OBE. Inspired by Black History Month and other awareness months, Kane and Singh have both been at the forefront of advocating for greater inclusion and awareness of South Asian Histories. In 2018 Kane campaigned for the formal recognition of Partition Commemoration Day which is now observed annually on 17th August. She also is the founder of the Partition Education Group which campaigns and creates resources for British-South Asian and colonial histories for schools. Singh is a leading activist in the British South Asian community and was appointed OBE for services to promoting community cohesion.
South Asian History Month is celebrated from 18th July-17th August. These dates mark the Indian Independence Act; 18th July 1947, and the date that the Radcliffe Line was published that set the border between India, West Pakistan and East Pakistan (now Bangladesh); 17th August 1947. These dates were crucial to the post war experiences and histories of the South Community in Britain as they shaped migratory patterns for decades to come. The aim of Asian Heritage Month is to commemorate, mark and celebrate South Asian cultures, histories and communities.
Whilst most of SAHM falls outside of the school term, the importance of its aims can be integrated throughout the school year. Our school has decided to recognise and mark the month early to ensure it is not simply lost in the last few days of the school year. Moreover, like other history months, SAHM itself should be a springboard for meaningful integration into the history school curriculum. Rather than being a tokenistic gesture, history months are a foundation for further exploration, ethical consideration, reflection and a call to action.
There are many opportunities for students to study courses which include South Asian histories at GCSE and A-Level. A quick snapshot of some of the modules currently offered by UK exam boards shows a range of units with explicit focus on South Asian histories, and others which include significant aspects of these histories as part of thematic studies.
- A-Level Component 1J The British Empire, c1857–1967
- GCSE Thematic Study: Britain: Migration, empires and the people: c790 to the present day
- A Level: The rise and decline of the Mughal Empire in India 1526—1739
- A Level: The origins and growth of the British Empire 1558—1783
- A level: From colonialism to independence: The British Empire 1857—1965
- GCSE History A: Migration to Britain c.1000 to c.2010
- GCSE History B: Migrants to Britain, c.1250 to present
- GCSE History B:The Mughal Empire, 1526–170
- A Level: India, c1914–48: the road to independence
- A Level: Britain: losing and gaining an empire, 1763–1914
- GCSE: Migrants in Britain, c800–present
The relative freedom afforded at KS3 also leaves space for history departments to construct enquiries on South Asian Histories and therefore to consider how to weave these histories into the overall curriculum. Our history department’s coverage of South Asian Histories is summarised in the table below. SAHM provides an opportunity to celebrate and explore some of the histories beyond the curriculum. Moreover, for students who don’t take GCSE history, their knowledge of these histories can also be developed.
New exciting scholarship on South Asian histories are plentiful. My current favourite listen is Anita Anand and William Dalrymple’s Empire podcast. It is a brilliant starting point. The focus of their podcast is of course Empires, however they brilliantly bring to the forefront the stories and voices of South Asians into the first series as they masterfully explore the rise of the East India Company, the Raj, Gandhi, Independence and Partition. This recommendation comes with a history teaching warning, it’s the kind of engaging scholarship that will inspire you to want to plan a new enquiry. I’m currently dreaming of a Kohinoor Diamond enquiry and an enquiry on the intriguing Sophia Duleep Singh.
Historical Association members also have access to these resources:
Podcast South Asian British History 1800-1900, Dr Sumita Mukherjee
Podcast South Asian British History 1900-194,Dr Sumita Mukherjee
Recorded student webinar ‘Drawing the Line’: the 1947 Partition of India
Recorded Webinar: India and the Second World War Dr Diya Gupta
Short Film (available free to all users) We also served:British Asian Veterans of WW2
Last year the SAHM team published a range of resources through their schools toolkit. Each year a specific theme is explored; in 2022 the theme was ‘Journeys of Empire.’ This year’s theme is due to be announced later this month, so keep an eye out for an announcement on their website: southasianheritage.org.uk and or twitter page @SAHM_UK #SouthAsianHeritageMonth.