Welcome to Londonistan, home of Britain’s largest South Asian population. A multifarious assortment of Indians, Pakistanis, Bangladeshis and Sri Lankans that together represent a remarkable 12% of Greater London’s residents.
Actually, it is not all that remarkable: unless you really have been living in a hole somewhere, you cannot have missed the huge boom of South Asian’s over the last half of the century, settling up and down the country and completely transforming the way we view Britain today.
Walk onto any local high street and you will automatically detect the multitude of Indian restaurants and takeaways on every street corner. All of them stamp the same determined and unified mark onto the nation’s map; that simply says, ‘we are here to stay’, and there is nothing that the government or the rest of the populace could do to alter that fact.
In all honesty, they are not too far from the truth. As children of these settlers have grown up a new identity, British Asian has evolved, giving way to a new breed of third and fourth generation South Asian’s that have combined their parental heritage with a Western society upbringing, thus creating a new niche lifestyle for themselves.
They now represent a new age of Britain and one that will ultimately pave the way for the future of the nation.
The origins of their fathers and grandfathers arriving into this country can be sourced back (with a few exceptions) to the aftermath of the Second World War, which saw a great influx of migrant workers from the Indian subcontinent to the British Isles, all loyally working to serve the interests of the colonisers that had led them for so long.
A weak economy fuelled by extreme labour shortages meant that foreign aid in terms of an able-bodied workforce was vital for Britain’s regeneration. Manual labourers were brought in during the 1950s and 1960s to work in the industrial factories, and in addition, medical staff and doctors were invited to kick-start the newly created NHS.
Working and settling in and around the nation’s industrial towns and cities, and gradually creating cultural hotspots and thriving communities for themselves, South Asians rose from an initial 70,000 people at the beginning of the twentieth century to a sizable 2.5 million today. They now contribute to 6% of the nation’s GDP.
It takes a lot of determination and spirit to leave one’s homeland in place of another. And now in more recent concerns of global terrorism hitting our streets and fears of unchecked immigration levels, we have to sincerely ask ourselves, inter-racial issues aside, whether after all that trouble, was it really all worth it?
We have to admit, Britain is not the nation that it regularly believes itself to be. It is marred by a deep-set recession that will take more than a generation to heal; higher costs of living; huge rises in unemployment; increasing strains on the welfare system; pension cuts; extortionately high university fees; graduates expecting to be working until they are 70; and rumours that the NHS will become privatised. It seems that any newcomer entering the country would have to think twice before deciding to settle here.
But for those who have already made this country their home?
“Yes, it was worth it. Well, we’re much better off than before. Most South Asians go into professional occupations. More are going to uni and getting jobs easily,” says British-born Pakistani Haroon Khan studying Law at the University of Birmingham.
25-year-old Sara Hussein agrees, adding, “The biggest factor definitely is the free education. My cousins in Africa have to pay for everything, right from primary. Even though we are in a recession, we are better off than the ones back home.”
No doubt Britain offers the security that so many other nations struggle to, and most citizens depend on the benefits that welfare, healthcare and free education provide. Without them? Well, that would be a very different story.
For many first-generation South Asians, the answer is simple. The worth came from taking full advantage of the resources offered. To not only rebuild Britain but their lives too, for themselves and their future generations.