South Asian Heritage Month: Celebrating colour
Main article content
In support of South Asian Heritage Month (SAHM), Northamptonshire Police is celebrating the work and contributions of officers and staff who proudly carry the police badge as British Asians.
SAHM was launched for the first time in July 2020 to celebrate the contributions of British South Asians to the UK’s economic fabric.
It runs from July 18 to August 17 and commemorates the cultures of the South Asian nations – Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka.
Sophia Perveen, who is a Northamptonshire police staff investigator of Pakistani heritage, takes an active role in developing community relations and awareness both internally and externally, in order to create better understanding with the communities. She says: “There are hundreds of years of history that connect Britain to South Asia and this year, the force is showcasing the contributions of some of our very own South Asian officers and staff.
“Whether it’s a curry on a Friday night, yoga class on Saturday morning or the Nadiya Hussain recipe you followed last week, one way or another, Asian culture is deeply rooted in people’s day to day lives and in modern British society.”
Sophia who grew up in Manchester worked in banking and as the only Asian person there, felt like she led a double life, contrasting the large family gatherings, festivals and celebrations with smaller social outings with white colleagues.
“I feel like I got the best of both worlds and exposure growing up in Manchester. The multi-cultural nature of the city helped me fit in well with colleagues, flitting between two very different and distinct cultures. I later became a police officer in Manchester which exposed me to so much more and where I really felt as though I was making my mark on society.”
Chief Inspector Gan Thayanithy is one of the highest ranking South Asian officers at Northamptonshire Police. He said: “What I love most about my South Asian heritage is discovering new things about it every day. The more you look the more you will find. My father is Sri Lankan and I have been speaking to him recently to find out about his upbringing and experiences. I found out that the Tamil language is one of the oldest in the world and has a very rich history of poetry and stories. One of my favourite quotes is from a Tamil poem – “Victory is not dependent on the strength of arms but on the fairness of justice”.
Speaking of how cultures are merging, he says: “I also find the wisdom of Hindu culture amazing – simple things to improve your life that are being re-discovered and popularised in the UK, that happen every day in South Asia. Yoga, martial arts, meditation, connecting with nature, living and eating seasonally and using natural preventative medicines like turmeric are all part of my heritage and are so vital for physical and mental wellbeing.”
Talking about his dual heritage, he says: “I perceive my appearance as Black because that is how I am perceived by the majority of people I meet, and I am proud of my Caribbean heritage too, thanks Mum! But I perceive my soul to be Asian British. What that means to me is taking pride in the fact that I am British, that I grew up identifying with traditional British ideals of patience, tolerance, kindness and bravery. Mixed in with that is the calm, natural energy of being Hindu and understanding myself and my environment through self-reflection, thought and cultural awareness. In both, the importance of duty cannot be overstated. It’s why I became a police officer and what motivates me every day.”
When asked about barriers he may have experienced, Chief Inspector Thayanithy, said: “I am a positive person and while I recognise barriers do exist, I am happy that I have the strength to overcome them. Sometimes this can be counterintuitive – for example I have never chased promotion or success. I have just tried to do my very best in each moment for the right reason and success naturally came with it. I taught myself to stay calm, depersonalise difficult situations and use positive thought and action to navigate my way through tough times. I have also learned to be happier with who I am, and accept myself, faults and all! These things have taken me a lifetime to learn and I genuinely believe it is because I have spent time learning about my culture, heritage and history.”
Naima Akhtar, Positive Action Officer, works towards creating a level playing field for those joining Northamptonshire Police, she said: “I absolutely love the food and clothing when it comes to my heritage. Everything is always full of flavour and so vibrant.
“I am proud to be a British Bangladeshi – being bilingual means I have the best of both worlds.
Talking about being different and its impact, Naima says: “I was the only British Bangladeshi when attending primary and secondary school and so I did stand out from the crowd especially during times of religious or cultural celebrations.
“When it comes to my career, I have achieved my educational and professional goals on my own merit – not because I happen to be South Asian. It has however helped me to understand the struggles people of colour face in society especially when trying to get a job. My role within the Force helps me to support these individuals to have confidence and be the best version of themselves.”
Parminder Bhooi, who works as a vetting officer, speaks of her heritage and what it means to her. She said: “What I love most about being Indian Sikh is the fact that I can have the opportunity to share what my background is and where I come from and the things that are important to me and our communities.
“I love the fact that since the migration of settlers from North India, Punjab, also called the land of Five Rivers, has become known for its brave and hospitable people, and their exuberant festivals and celebrations have all been adopted in today’s Great Britain.
“I love everything that is over the top, colourful dresses, foot tapping music, and an undying love for food and drinks!
“Working as a vetting officer for Northamptonshire Police and coming from an ethnic background has been a great opportunity for me to help the organisation. We are a force working hard to recruit people with all skills, experiences and understanding of cultural issues.
“I’m proud to say that we work for a Force who encourage individuals from any background to consider applying and strive to employ a workforce that reflects the diverse communities we serve.”
Talking about her Asian British background, Parminder says: “As a born-and-bred Londoner, I grew up in a city that was multi-cultural. I went to school with other kids from a very wide variety of ethnic backgrounds. This allowed me to absorb a lot of other people’s cultures, which was wonderful. I embraced that diversity while feeling it was completely natural. I was able to appreciate the wide variety of cultures and the festivals that people celebrate.
“My perception as a British Asian is that I’m really proud of my varied identities and I can say this with so much appreciation.
“People often point out the differences between cultures and, for sure, that diversity and richness around the world is something to celebrate. But I also think, having grown up in a very multicultural environment, there are increased overlapping of influences.”
Reflecting on the sacrifices made by her parents, she says: “My parents originally come from North India, my mother from Amritsar in Punjab and my father was from Nairobi, Kenya. My father settled in England in the 1960s and became a qualified BT engineer, while my mum worked for a company inspecting parts for British Aerospace. I’m the second oldest of three children and the opportunities I have had with my career are entirely down to the sacrifices my parents made in order to ensure each of us had a good education.”
From left to right: Chief Inspector Gan Thayanithy, Positive Action Officer Naima Akhtar and Vetting Officer Parminder Bhooi