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British Asians are British citizens of South Asian descent, also known as South Asians in the United Kingdom. In British English usage, the term 'Asian' usually does not include East Asians, North Asians, or Southeast Asians.
Prior to the formation of the United Kingdom, immigration of South Asians to England began with the arrival of the East India Company to the Indian subcontinent. This continued during the British Raj and increased in volume after the independence of India, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, and Bangladesh from British rule, chiefly for education and economic pursuits. A major influx of South Asian immigrants, mostly of Indian and Pakistani origin, also took place following the expulsion of Indian communities (then holders of British passports) from Uganda and other East African nations (see Asians in Africa).
In British English, the word "Asian" is often used to refer to those of South Asian ancestry, particularly Indians, Sri Lankans, Pakistanis and Bangladeshis. The term generally excludes people of East Asian (such as Chinese, Korean or Japanese) or Southeast Asian origin; they are more likely to be defined by their country of origin. This is reflected in the "ethnic group" section of UK census forms and other government paperwork, which treat "Asian" and "Chinese" as separate categories. This usage contrasts with the use of the word Asian in the United States, Australia, New Zealand, and Canada, where "Asian" refers to people with an East Asian or Southeast Asian background.
According to the 2011 UK Census, there were approximately 4,214,000 Asians in England and Wales representing around 7.5% of the population. The figure was 2,331,423 for South Asians in the 2001 census. Those of Indian origin comprised 2.5% of the population, with those people of Pakistani origin comprising 2.0%, around 0.75% were of Bangladeshi origin, with around 1.4% other Asian.
British Indians tend to be religiously diverse, with 56% Hindu, 30% Sikh, and 13% Muslim, while their counterparts of Pakistani and Bangladeshi origin are much more religiously homogeneous, with Muslims accounting for 92% of each group. South Asians who marked "Other Asian" as an ethnic group and then wrote in their specific ethnic group were mostly (23%) of Sri Lankan origin. Due to a growing sense of affiliation with Britain, many third generation South Asians chose to not mark "Asian or British Asian" and instead marked "British Asian" in the "Other Asian" write in section.
South Asian ethnic groups mostly originate from a few select places in South Asia, these are known as place of origins. British Indians tend to originate mainly from the two Indian States, Punjab and Gujarat. Evidence from Bradford and Birmingham have shown, Pakistanis originate largely from the Mirpur District in Azad Kashmir. The second largest ethnic group of British Pakistanis are the Punjabi people, largely from Attock District of Punjab followed by pathans and other ethnic groups from the districts of Nowshera, Peshwar and Ghazi in province of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa. In the London Borough of Waltham Forest there are substantial numbers of people originating from Jhelum, Punjab. Studies have shown 95 per cent of Bangladeshis originate from the Sylhet region in the north east of Bangladesh. In Tower Hamlets, people have origins in different thanas in the Sylhet region, mainly from Jagannathpur, Beanibazar and Bishwanath. The language spoken by Indians are, Hindustani, Bengali, Punjabi, Gujarati, Kutchi, Tamil and Telugu. People from Pakistan speak Urdu, Punjabi, Mirpuri, Hindko (dialects of Punjabi), Sindhi, Kashmiri, Pashto, and Seraiki. Bangladeshis from Sylhet speak Sylheti (a dialect of Bengali) and Bengali. People from Sri Lanka mainly speak Tamil. Those who speak dialects mainly refer their language to the main language, for example Sylheti speakers say they speak Bengali or Mirpuri speakers say they speak Punjabi. The reason for this is because they do not expect outsiders to be well informed about dialects.
The unemployment rate among Indian men was only slightly higher than that for White British or White Irish men, 7 per cent compared with 5 per cent for the other two groups. On the other hand Pakistanis have higher unemployment rates of 13-14% with Bangladeshis having one of the highest rates, around 23%. Some surveys also revealed the Indian unemployment rate to be 6-7% Persons of Indian or mixed Indian origin are more likely than White British to have university degrees, whereas Pakistanis and Bangladeshis are less likely. With the exception of Bangladeshi women, every other group of South Asians, have higher attendance at university than the national average. GCSE pass rates have been rising for all South Asians.
According to the United Kingdom Census 2001, South Asian men from all South Asian ethnic groups intermarried with another ethnic group more than South Asian women. Among South Asians, British Indians intermarried with a different ethnic group the most both absolutely and proportionately, followed by British Pakistanis and British Bangladeshis.
History in Britain
No one knows the earliest origins of settlement of South Asians in Great Britain for certain; if the Romani (Gypsies) are included, then the earliest arrivals could have been in the Middle Ages — although not normally included as South Asian, the Roma and Sinti (most in the UK have been Sinti) are both believed to have originated in parts of what is now North India and Pakistan and to have begun travelling westward around 1000, though they have mixed with Southwest Asians and Europeans over the centuries. Romani began arriving in sizeable numbers in parts of Western Europe in the 16th century. The Romani who settled in Britain are known as Romanichal.
People from South Asia have settled in Great Britain since the East India Company (EIC) recruited lascars to replace vacancies in their crews on East Indiamen whilst on voyages in India starting from the 1600s. Many were then refused passage back, and were marooned in London. There were also some ayahs, domestic servants and nannies of wealthy British families, who accompanied their employers back to Britain when their stay in Asia came to an end.
The Navigation Act of 1660 restricted the employment of non-English sailors to a quarter of the crew on returning East India Company ships. Baptism records in East Greenwich suggest that young Indians from the Malabar Coast were being recruited as servants at the end of the seventeenth century, and records of the EIC also suggest that Indo-Portuguese cooks from Goa were retained by captains from voyage to voyage. In 1797, 13 were buried in the parish of St Nicholas at Deptford.
Since the 17th century, the East India Company brought over thousands of South Asian lascars, scholars and workers (who were mostly Bengali and/or Muslim) to Britain, most of whom settled down and took local white British wives, due to a lack of South Asian women in Britain at the time. Due to the majority of early South Asian immigrants being lascars, the earliest South Asian communities were found in port towns. Naval cooks also came, many of them from the Sylhet Division of what is now Bangladesh. One of the most famous early Bengali immigrants to Britain was Sake Dean Mahomet, a captain of the British East India Company. In 1810, he founded London's first Indian restaurant, the Hindoostane Coffee House. He is also reputed for introducing shampoo and therapeutic massage to the United Kingdom. By the mid-19th century, there were more than 40,000 Indian seamen, diplomats, scholars, soldiers, officials, tourists, businessmen and students in Britain. By the late 19th and early 20th centuries, there were around 70,000 South Asians in Britain, 51,616 of whom were lascar seamen (when World War I began).
Following the Second World War and the breakup of the British Empire, South Asian migration to the UK increased through the 1950s and 1960s from Pakistan (including present-day Bangladesh) and Commonwealth countries such as India, at the same time as immigrants from former Caribbean colonies were also moving to Britain.
Although this immigration was continuous, several distinct phases can be identified:
- Manual workers, mainly from Pakistan, were recruited to fulfill the labour shortage that resulted from World War II. These included Anglo-Indians who were recruited to work on the railways as they had done in India.
- Workers mainly from the Punjab region of India and some from Pakistan arrived in the late 1950s and 1960s. Many worked in the foundries of the English Midlands and a large number worked at Heathrow Airport in west London. This created an environment to where the next generation of families did not lose their identity as easily. An example would be Southall which is populated by many Sikhs.
- During the same time, medical staff from the Indian subcontinent were recruited for the newly formed National Health Service. These people were targeted as the British had established medical schools in the Indian subcontinent which conformed to the British standards of medical training.
In 1972, all South Asians were expelled from Uganda by the controversial figure Idi Amin, then president of Uganda. Those holding British passports came to Britain. Many such displaced people had left behind successful businesses and vast commercial empires in Uganda, but built up their lives all over again in Britain, starting from scratch. Some of these "twice-over" migrants became retailers, while others found suitable employment in white-collar professions.
The Commonwealth Immigrants Act 1962 and Immigration Act 1971 largely restricted any further primary immigration, although family members of already-settled migrants were still allowed. In addition, much of the subsequent growth in the South Asian community has come from the births of second and third-generation South Asian Britons.
South Asians are said to contribute 6% to the UK GDP, whilst making up only 4% of the population. Other sources state that the figure may be even higher - the Centre for Social Markets estimates that British Asian businesses contribute as much as 10% of total GDP. Although there are roughly double the number of South Asians in the UK today compared to people of African descent, South Asians are less represented in global and British media than any other major group; in the UK there is less than half the amount of South Asians represented in the media than those of African and Caribbean descent.
The biggest influence of South Asians on popular British culture has probably been the spread of Indian cuisine, though of the 9,000 Indian restaurants in the UK, most are run by Bangladeshis; their ancestral home was part of British India's Bengal province until partition in 1947. South Asians have also played a pivotal role in rejuvenating a number of UK street markets. According to the New Economics Foundation, Queen's Market in Upton Park, East London is officially the most ethnically diverse.
As in Canada, Bhangra music has become popular among many in Britain (although only really popular amongst certain South Asian British, mainly of Punjabi origins) not only from the works of British South Asian musicians such as Panjabi MC, Swami and Rishi Rich but also incorporated into the works of a number of non-South Asian musicians not only British but including North American artists such as Canadian Shania Twain, who created a whole alternate version of her multi-platinum album Up! with full Indian instrumentation, produced by South Asian producers Simon & Diamond. Diamond, better known as DJ Swami has also collaborated with rapper Pras, of The Fugees, and his band Swami have become one of the most renowned acts in South Asian music history, having had songs in major Hollywood movies and best-selling video games. One of the first artists of South Asian Indian origin to achieve mainstream success was Apache Indian who infused reggae and hip hop with Indian popular music to create a sound that transcended genre and found a multicultural audience. He is the only Indian artist to have achieved 7 top forty hits in the National UK charts. A subsequent wave of "Asian Underground" artists went on to blend elements of western underground dance music and the traditional music of their home countries, such as Nitin Sawhney, Talvin Singh, Asian Dub Foundation, Panjabi MC, Raghav, and the Rishi Rich Project (featuring Rishi Rich, Jay Sean and Juggy D).
The influence of South Asian music has not only been from South Asians living in the UK, but also from some UK artists that were starting using South Asian instruments creating a new sound that was a mixture of sitars and tablas with more rock-based western instruments like drums and guitar.
The films East is East, Chicken Tikka Masala and Bend It Like Beckham and the TV shows Goodness Gracious Me and The Kumars at No. 42 have managed to attract large, multi-ethnic audiences. The success and popularity of British Pakistani boxer Amir Khan influenced the revival of boxing on ITV Sport.
Lakshmi Mittal is currently Britain's richest man and the fifth richest man in the world. The Mittal family owns 43% of Arcelor-Mittal, the world's largest steel manufacturer, which was known as Mittal Steel Company before the merger with Arcelor. He was listed in the Forbes List of Billionaires (2006) as the richest Indian and the fifth richest man in the world with an estimated fortune of $55.0 billion and, according to the Sunday Times Rich List 2006, is the richest in the UK, with a net worth of £29 billion. The Financial Times named Mittal its 2006 Person of the Year. In 2005, he was the third richest man in the world according to Forbes List of billionaires (2005).
UK Sikhs have the highest percentage of home ownership, at 82%, out of all UK religious communities. UK Sikhs are the wealthiest south Asian immigrant group in the UK and the second wealthiest (after the Jews) religious community in the UK, with a median total household wealth of £229,000.
Jawed Khaliq, the first world champion boxer of Pakistani origin, was born in Nottingham. Amir Khan, the silver medallist at the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens, has become a cultural icon in the UK with TV audiences of up to 8 million watching him fight. Khan represents Britain in boxing and is the current WBA world light welterweight champion. The boxer Haider Ali won the first ever gold medal for Pakistan in boxing at the commonwealth games in Manchester in 2002 in the featherweight division.
Nasser Hussain was the captain of the England cricket team. Michael Chopra played for the England national under-21 football team and became the first footballer of Indian descent to play and score in the Premier League. In 2006 he scored the fastest goal in Premier League history, as Chopra had only been on the pitch for ten seconds after coming on as a substitute.
Other British South Asian sport personalities:
Celebrities in popular culture
Since the 1970s, South Asian performers and writers have achieved significant mainstream cultural success. The first South Asian musician to gain wide popularity in the UK and worldwide fame was Queen lead singer Freddie Mercury, born Farrokh Bulsara in Zanzibar, East Africa, to parents of Parsi descent from Bombay. In 2006, Time Asia magazine voted him as one of the most influential South Asians in the past 60 years. At around the same time, music producer, composer and song-writer Biddu gained worldwide fame for a number of hit songs, including "Kung Fu Fighting" by Carl Douglas and "I Love to Love (But My Baby Loves to Dance)" for Tina Charles. In the 1990s the South Asian artists who gained mainstream success included Apache Indian, whose 1993 single "Boom Shack-A-Lak" was used in many Hollywood movies, and Jas Mann, who headed Babylon Zoo and whose 1996 single "Spaceman" set a UK chart record when it sold 418,000 copies in its first week of release.
Prominent South Asian actors in the 1980s included Art Malik, for his roles in The Jewel in the Crown and The Living Daylights, and Sir Ben Kingsley (born Krishna Pandit Bhanji), one of Britain's most acclaimed and well-known performers. Kingsley is one of few actors to have won all four major motion picture acting awards, receiving Oscar, BAFTA, Golden Globe and Screen Actors Guild awards throughout his career, including the Academy Award for Best Actor for his performance in Gandhi (1982). The actress Parminder Nagra has a prominent role in the US TV series ER, and played the lead role in the successful British film Bend It Like Beckham (2002). The actor Naveen Andrews plays the role of Sayid Jarrah in the popular US TV series Lost, and also had a prominent role in the award-winning film The English Patient (1996). The actor Kunal Nayyar plays the character of Rajesh Koothrappali in the popular US sitcom, The Big Bang Theory. Long-running British soap operas such as Coronation Street, EastEnders, Emmerdale and Hollyoaks have all had a number of South Asian characters.
The comedians Sanjeev Bhaskar, Meera Syal, Papa CJ and Shazia Mirza are all well-recognised figures in British popular culture. The presenter and match maker of the BBC marriage arranging show Arrange Me a Marriage is a South Asian-Scot Aneela Rahman. Hardeep Singh Kohli is a presenter, reporter and comedian on British television and radio. British Bangladeshi, Pakistani and Indian contestants have appeared on The Apprentice including Syed Ahmed, Tre Azam, Lohit Kalburgi, Ghazal Asif, Shazia Wahab, Sara Dhada, and most notably Saira Khan, who is now a British TV presenter. The broadcasters Daljit Dhaliwal, Krishnan Guru-Murthy and Samira Ahmed are known for working on Channel 4 News.
The term South Asian was given the tag "Br-Asian" around the turn of the millennium by media businessmen Moiz Vas and Nav Sagoo. Vas and Sagoo were responsible for the South Asian Music awards which aired on ITV1 in the UK. Sagoo conceived the Br-Asian stage at Glastonbury Festival in 2004 and 2005 which featured acts such as Rishi Rich, Jay Sean, Swami, Raghav and Pentagram.
In 2008, in the second season of reality television Britain's Got Talent, one of the country's most successful reality television shows, the South Asian dance duo Signature, consisting of Suleman Mirza (a British Pakistani) and Madhu Singh (a British Indian) performing a fusion of Michael Jackson and Bhangra music and dance styles, came second on the show. The most successful South Asian musician in 2008 was the British Tamil artist M.I.A., who was nominated for two Grammy Awards for her single "Paper Planes", and has been nominated for an Academy Award for Best Original Score for "O... Saya", from the Slumdog Millionaire soundtrack. The actor Dev Patel, who played the role of Anwar Kharral in the teen drama series Skins, also played the leading role in Danny Boyle's Slumdog Millionaire, for which he received several awards and was nominated for the 2009 BAFTA Award for Best Leading Actor.
In 2009, Mumzy Stranger, an R&B and hip-hop music artist, became the first British Bangladeshi to release a music single, called "One More Dance". In October 2009, Jay Sean's single "Down" reached the #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 and sold four million copies in the United States, making him the first South Asian-origin solo artist and "the first UK Urban act to top Billboard's Hot 100," "the most successful male UK urban artist in US chart history," and the most successful British male artist in the US charts since Elton John in 1997. A new generation of British Asian musicians have followed, such as Shizzio, 21 Perspective and Raxstar. In the early 2010s, Asian boy band members, Siva Kaneswaran of The Wanted and Zayn Malik of One Direction, have gained considerable mainstream popularity worldwide; The Wanted reached #3 on the Billboard Hot 100 with "Glad You Came" while One Direction topped the Billboard 200 with Up All Night.
Although there are South Asian communities all over the UK, towns and cities with particularly significant South Asian populations include:
- Batley 30% S. Asian. 40.72% in Batley East and 21.43% in Batley West
- Bedford (especially Queens Park, Cauldwell) 8.1% S. Asian
- Birmingham (especially Sparkhill, Hall Green Alum Rock, Sparkbrook, Small Heath, Balsall Heath, Washwood Heath, Saltley, Handsworth, Handsworth Wood) 22% S. Asian
- Blackburn 20.6% S. Asian
- Bolton 9.1% S. Asian
- Bradford (Manningham, Great Horton, Heaton, Girlington, West Bowling, BD3 and Thornbury) 24.3% S. Asian
- Burton upon Trent (Anglesey) 4.3% S. Asian (east Staffordshire so also includes Uttoxeter where the is little if any S. Asian population)
- Cardiff (Butetown, Grangetown, Riverside) 3.96% S. Asian
- Coventry 11.3% S. Asian
- Derby (Normanton, Sunny Hill) 8.4% S. Asian
- Dewsbury (Ravensthorpe, Thornhill Lees, Savile Town) around 33% Asian. Savile Town is "97-100% Muslim".
- Dundee 4,000 (especially the Hilltown and Stobswell)
- Edinburgh 10,000
- Glasgow (especially Pollokshields, Pollokshaws, Govanhill and Woodlands) Scotland 0.9% S. Asian - some estimates are as high as 80,000.
- Halifax 10% S.Asian
- High Wycombe 11% S. Asian
- Huddersfield (especially Lockwood and Fartown) 12.4% S. Asian
- Keighley (especially Lawkholme, Highfield, Knowle Park and Stockbridge) 23% S. Asian
- Leeds (Beeston, Harehills, Moortown, Hyde Park, Chapeltown) 4.5% S. Asian
- Leicester (especially Belgrave, Rushey Mead, Highfields, Spinney Hills, Evington) 29.9% S. Asian
- Loughborough 6% S. Asian
- Luton (especially Bury Park) 18.3% S. Asian
- Manchester (especially Rusholme, Whalley Range and Cheetham Hill) 9.1% S. Asian
- Milton Keynes (especially Kents Hill, Bletchley and Wolverton) 4.7% S. Asian
- Newcastle upon Tyne (especially Arthur's Hill, Elswick and Fenham and others) 7.0% S. Asian
- Newport (especially Maindee and Pillgwenlly) 2.6% S. Asian
- Oldham (especially Glodwick, Westwood and Werneth) 11.9% S. Asian
- Oxford (especially Cowley Road) 5.8% S. Asian
- Pendle (especially Nelson and Brierfield) 14.1% S. Asian
- Peterborough 7.0% South Asian
- Preston 11.6% S. Asian (especially Deepdale, Avenham, Fishwick, St. George's Preston.
- Reading borough 5.2% S. Asian
- Rochdale (Especially Wardleworth, Spotland, Deeplish, Hamer, Smallbridge, Belfield) 9.8% S. Asian
- Burnley (borough) 7.2% S. Asian
- Rugby (especially New Bilton, Benn and Brownsover) 5.3% S. Asian
- Rotherham 2.8% South Asian.
- Sheffield (especially Burngreave, Sharrow, Darnall and Firth Park) 4.6% S. Asian
- Slough 27.9% S. Asian
- Sandwell (especially the Victoria Park area of Tipton) 14% S. Asian
- Southampton 3.8% S. Asian
- Stoke-on-Trent 4.1% S. Asian
- Sunderland (especially Eden Vale, Hendon and Thornhill) 1.2% S. Asian
- Wakefield 5% Asian. The Asian population is estimated at 27.6% in College Grove and 19.6% in Agbrigg.
- Walsall 10.4% S. Asian
- Wolverhampton 14.3% S. Asian
- Note: Some local authorities contain large areas of countryside surrounding the actual towns, e.g. Bedford, Bradford, Leeds, Newport, Sunderland and High Wycombe. This may lead to the South Asian and ethnic minority populations being underestimated in these places.
Counties with a high population of South Asians include -
- Lancashire 5.3% S. Asian
- Greater Manchester 5.6% S. Asian
- West Yorkshire 8.7% S. Asian
- West Midlands (county) 13.4% S. Asian
- Greater London 12.09% S. Asian
- Berkshire 6.8% S. Asian
- Buckinghamshire 4.3% S. Asian
- Bedfordshire 8.3% S. Asian
- Leicestershire 11.9% S. Asian
London Boroughs with a high population of British Asians include -
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- British Asians in association football
- British Asians in politics of the United Kingdom
- British Cypriots
- British Indo-Caribbean community
- Foreign-born population of the United Kingdom
- Mauritians in the United Kingdom
- Nepalis in the United Kingdom
- Non-resident Indian and Person of Indian Origin
- Pakistani diaspora
- Sri Lankans in the United Kingdom
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