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Kulpreet Singh thread explains how “South Asian” term erases identities while offering benefit of escaping Indian hegemony

KPU photo
Kwantlen Polytechnic University recently held its first South Asian Arts Festival. Photo by KPU.

Several years ago, the then artistic director of the Indian Summer Festival generated laughs at a public event with a quip about his identity. Sirish Rao declared that it was only after he moved to Canada that people started referring to him as “South Asian”.

Rao is from Mysore, a city in the southern Indian state of Karnataka. He has also lived in Delhi in northern India as well as Vancouver.

This week, a Vancouver mental-health advocate has again raised questions about the erasure of identity of those who trace their roots back to the South Asian subcontinent.

In a Twitter thread, Kulpreet Singh stated that he was engaging in “a little tongue-in-cheek banter on the controversy around the blanket use of the term South Asian for specific faith, cultural, ethnic and language groups”.

Singh acknowledged that the “South Asian” term “is very helpful for people to escape Indian state hegemony”. However, he also pointed out that it comes at a cost.

“I see similarities in the controversy around ‘South Asian’ with the resistance of some Black ppl to the term BIPOC,” Singh stated in his thread. “All racialized people don’t have the same concerns. Often, they conflict. Sometimes the oppressors and the oppressed are all categorized under one umbrella.”

He wrote his thread on the same day that the UN Population Fund revealed that India will surpass China as the world’s most populous country by mid-2023. India’s population has more than doubled since 1950 to reach nearly 1.43 billion.

In addition to India, South Asia includes the countries of Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Sri Lanka, and Maldives. Sometimes, Afghanistan is also lumped into the definition of “South Asia”.

Within India, 11 states have populations larger than Canada. Many have their own languages, cultures, and cuisines. Even though there are more than 200 million Muslims in India, they only formed a majority in one state—Jammu and Kashmir. The Hindu nationalist BJP government in New Delhi dissolved the state in 2019, revoking its special status under the constitution.

Questions about South Asian museum 

More than a decade ago, Singh founded the South Asian Mental Health Alliance, which hosts programs for people of different identities.

In his thread, he also raised concerns about a “South Asian” museum. It will be built in Surrey with the strong support of the provincial government.

“Will it commemorate all of the atrocities of state governments on minorities?” he asked. “Will it celebrate secessionist movements?”

Then he followed up with two other thorny questions. “Will it denounce the caste system? Will it apply a colour blind, broad brush approach, or a nuanced one?”

Read his entire thread below:

 

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Charlie Smith

Charlie Smith

Pancouver editor Charlie Smith has worked as a Vancouver journalist in print, radio, and television for more than three decades.

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We would like to acknowledge that we are gathered on the traditional and unceded territories of the Coast Salish peoples of the xʷməθkwəy̓əm (Musqueam), Skwxwú7mesh (Squamish), and Səl̓ílwətaɬ (Tsleil-Waututh) Nations. With this acknowledgement, we thank the Indigenous peoples who still live on and care for this land.