‘Stories to Tell’ – how to celebrate South Asian Heritage Month 2023

18 July to 17 August marks this year’s South Asian Heritage Month (SAHM).

Launched in 2020, the South Asian Heritage Trust curated SAHM as a way to elevate the prominence of British South Asian heritage and history in the UK across workplaces, and through education, arts, culture, celebration, and commemoration.

It is important for employers and employees to understand what SAHM is and consider how to engage with this year’s SAHM theme, as well as how best to meaningfully celebrate SAHM in the workplace (for any staff members with South Asian heritage) tomorrow (on its last day), or in the coming month/year.  

‘Stories to Tell’

This year’s SAHM theme, ‘Stories to Tell’, aims to celebrate the individual stories that have made the UK’s South Asian community so diverse. It is an opportunity for everyone to learn about and appreciate the countries in South Asia and the links between South Asian culture and life in the UK.

It also offers individuals of South Asian descent to step forward and share their own journeys on a range of themes, from identity and community, to faith, family, acceptance, and gender.

For the purposes of SAHM, South Asia is made up of the following eight countries: Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, The Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka.

It is important to remember that many people moved to the UK from South Asian countries following the India and Pakistan partition/independence in 1947, and again following the Empire Windrush pulling up on British soil in 1963.

How to celebrate SAHM in the workplace

It is important for all employers (not just those with South Asian employees) to understand the ethos and aims of SAHM and partake in celebrating South Asian heritage and/or employees in some form (and meaningfully rather than as a means of tokenism). SAHM provides employers with a unique opportunity to demonstrate their commitment to equality, diversity, and inclusion and, more importantly, celebrate the influence of South Asian employees as well as strength morale amongst the workforce.

There are a number of ways which employers could look to celebrate SAHM tomorrow, in the coming months, or the year ahead. We have heard great stories about how organisations have been celebrating and listed a few suggestions below:

  1. Sponsor one of the fantastic events hosted by the South Asian Heritage Trust and raise awareness of this by circulating links to these/raising awareness of SAHM in general.
  2. Hold a cultural food day – perhaps encouraging any employee, including those of South Asian heritage, to cook for other employees and share recipes, ideas, and experiences. Food is, for many, a universal language.
  3. Launch a South Asian representative group – depending on the size of the workforce. The aim can be to raise awareness of issues and milestones directly affecting or relevant to South Asian individuals. It can also be used as an opportunity to host informative events, such as book clubs or movie days.
  4. Provide employees with a platform to share – the theme for this year is ‘Stories to Tell’ and employers should encourage (but not force) employees to share their stories and provide a platform for them to do so comfortably. It is important for employers not to place pressure on employees to speak or share their stories, as some employees may not feel comfortable doing so. Employers could simply advertise a platform for employees to step forward and share their journeys or connection to South Asian heritage. All employees should be offered this chance, as some non-South Asian employees may feel passionate about sharing an insight into South Asia/n heritage.
  5. Share resources and launch a book club or suggest reading – there are a plethora of brilliant authors and novels voicing the experiences of South Asian individuals and/or raising awareness of issues experienced by those of South Asian descent. Raising awareness of these novels and resource sharing is a meaningful way of offering employees an insight into the motivations underpinning SAHM.

It is never too late to engage in one of the above initiatives, and employers can choose to do so even as SAHM is closing (as now) or once SAHM has passed.

Why is it important to celebrate SAHM

Not only to transform how staff members connect with South Asian culture and experiences, but to also demonstrate a commitment to equality and diversity initiatives in the workplace.

A complete ignorance of SAHM in the workplace could result in South Asian employees feeling demoralised, disincentivised or unrepresented. This could particularly be the case where other diverse milestones are raised awareness of or celebrated. This could also give rise to potential arguments for unlawful discrimination.

For more information, please visit: https://southasianheritage.org.uk/.