South Asian Heritage month celebrates the culture and history of South Asians across Britain, and runs between 18 July to 17 August.
The awareness month was created in Ontario, Canada to commemorate South Asian roots from countries such as India, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bhutan, and the Maldives.
Dr Jayshree Avasthy, Specialist Clinical Psychologist, explained what South Asian Heritage month means and its importance to her.
She said: “South Asian month is particularly significant as it includes a number of dates when these countries gained their independence. Not only this, there are many South Asian influences in the UK which range from cuisine, clothing, music and other cultural influences.
“South Asian Heritage month provides a space for South Asians to reflect on their culture and heritage and how this fits with British traditions and values. I am proud to be a British South Asian.”
South Asia has a diverse range of religions, cultures, languages and celebrations. Dr Avasthy explains how her cultural beliefs as a Hindu are celebrated during the awareness month even through the challenges of the pandemic.
She said: “We are currently in the midst of a particularly holy month in the Hindu calendar known as ‘Shravan’, which falls between July and August in the UK.
“Many Hindus fast during this month which can be observed on a particular day of the week or the whole month.
“I have been fasting on Mondays, which is regarded as a particularly auspicious day, only eating one meal and using the time to reflect on how despite the adversity we have all been facing, we have been able to offer kindness, togetherness and compassion to one another.”
As a South Asian with family from the state of Gurjarat in India, Dr Avasthy’s family celebrate a variety of traditions and rituals during this month.
“We only eat particular foods on certain days, offering prayer to demonstrate gratitude and on Sunday I will be celebrating ‘Raksha Bandhan’, which is a ceremony that signifies the valuable bond between siblings.
“I am grateful that I will be able to see my brother in person this year and tie a Rakhi, a sacred thread, on him rather than having to send this in the post to him like I did last year”, she said.
After a year of uncertainty, Dr Avasthy uses this time to reflect on issues that are central to most South Asians, such as the on-going pandemic.
She said: “It is with a heavy heart that I see the continuing high number of deaths in India due to Covid-19 which my family and I have been personally been affected by.
“We have lost a number of loved ones this year and have not been able to be a part of the usual cultural rituals that bring family together to mourn, look after one another, conduct religious ceremonies and prayers to mark the rites of passage.
“Like others, we have had to find alternative methods or saying goodbye to our loved ones, which has been particularly hard for the older members of our community for whom such traditions are an inherent part of their identity.
“I have been fortunate enough to have had both of my vaccinations. I have advocated for the importance of being vaccinated, especially for the BAME community, and have encouraged members of my own community to be vaccinated too.”