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Supporting South Asian Heritage Month

South Asian Heritage Month takes place from 18 July – 17 August and celebrates South Asian history, culture and communities in the UK.

17 July 2024

First established in 2020, the month-long celebration provides a platform to help people better understand the diversity of present-day Britain. Over the next four weeks NHS organisations are encouraged to support the month.

Now in its fifth year, the campaign provides a platform to better understand and celebrate the diverse heritage and cultures that link the UK to South Asia. Eight countries form the region of South Asia; they include Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.

This year’s theme is ‘Free to be Me’, celebrating the stories that make up our diverse and vibrant community.

South Asians have had a huge impact on society in the UK, and in particular in the NHS and healthcare sector. The NHS has a higher proportion of staff from South Asia than the wider economy: these staff made up 5.3 per cent (75,473) of the NHS workforce in 2023.

Many South-Asian and ethnically diverse colleagues are likely to have faced barriers and challenges that do not exist for everyone. Various world events have led to increased racism towards Muslim and South-Asian communities, alongside a continued increase in prejudiced hate crime and stereotyping.

Research conducted by Totaljobs and the Diversity Trust in 2022 highlights inequalities in recruitment processes and employment opportunities. It identified that South Asian women specifically face significant barriers in the recruitment process.

South Asian Heritage Month (SAHM) provides an opportunity to change perceptions by sharing experiences and celebrating the contribution South Asian communities have made to the NHS. Over the next four weeks NHS organisations are encouraged to support the campaign and host events, share stories, reflect and showcase the rich heritage that has contributed to the diversity of our NHS. 

  • Members of the NHS Confederation's BME Leadership Network share their thoughts on what the month and theme 'free to be me' means to them:

    Asma Nafees, Deputy Chief Operating Officer (NHS England Delivery), NHS Arden and Greater East Midlands Commissioning Support Unit
    "I am of Pakistani heritage, my family come from Azad Kashmir. 'Free to be me' means embracing my unique identity and heritage without fear of judgement or discrimination. For me to have the freedom to express my cultural values and traditions, being able to show my true self and letting it shine in both my personal and work life - whether that be in feeling able to wear my traditional Pakistani clothes (salwar kameez) in the workplace (if I chose to), or feeling able to talk about my cultural identity with colleagues.

    SAHM is a great space for sharing knowledge and experiences. I always leave SAHM month having learned a lot! Recognising SAHM in the NHS is important because it highlights the diversity that makes us stronger; South Asian staff have made incredible contributions to the NHS, and celebrating this month is a way to honour their hard work and dedication. From frontline workers to pioneering leaders, South Asian communities have played a key role in shaping the NHS. Celebrating our heritage isn't just about looking back; it's about building a more inclusive and fair future for everyone." 

    Farhana Ahmedabadi-Patel (she/her), Senior Diversity & Inclusion Specialist, University Hospitals of Northamptonshire 
    "Free to be me, this year’s theme, found me reflecting on my own lived experiences - Indian born, British Asian living in the UK for over two decades. My life can be divided into almost equal parts spent living in both countries and I wonder what being free would really mean to me.

    Growing up in Bombay (now Mumbai), a huge urban landscape in western India, life was simple and complex at the same time. Connections always felt surreal as we were taught to mask our identity in public for our safety. Home was where we had an identity, we looked out for each other and respect was a fact of life, never an option.

    I grew up in a home where three primary languages were spoken and I’m not sure if consciously or subconsciously I spent my childhood and teen years navigating between several identities, depending on the language I was speaking. To this day, language is an area which sometimes determines my identity and my imposter syndrome – am I an Indian when I speak Hindi, a Gujarati when I speak in Gujarati my ancestral language, a Muslim when I converse in Urdu, British Asian when I speak in English. What I do know is, that I am still learning about my identity and my heritage.  I still don’t feel very British though my school friends think quite the contrary – perhaps this is what imposter syndrome is all about.

    I feel that I appreciate my South Asian heritage more here in the UK – the beauty of its rich, diverse, heritage through art, music, dance and culture, which I perhaps took for granted when I lived in India. If anything, my experiences working within the NHS in a specialist EDI role has been in some ways liberating and in other ways, revealing of just how marginalised and seldom heard minority communities are and how important the connections we make, help us to be truly free.

    I love human connections, they help me discover myself and here in the UK, I get those connections from being part of networks - networks through work, networks through my community, and networks through my interests - they help me find my tribe and my freedom."

    Professor Jagtar Singh OBE, Chair, Coventry and Warwickshire Partnership Trust 
    "As a South Asian man, arriving in the UK as a young boy of six, unable to speak a word of English, I'm honoured to contribute during SAHM which offers a powerful opportunity to celebrate the rich tapestry of South Asian cultures woven into the fabric of the UK.

    It's through the support of my network and the wider community that I've been able to embrace and celebrate my South Asian heritage while cherishing the opportunities this country has provided. I’ve been truly humbled by the recognition I've received – the OBE in 2003 and the honorary professorship from Warwick University this year. However, SAHM is more than just personal achievements. It's about acknowledging the challenges we still face as a community.

    The South Asian community has come a long way, and our contributions to British society deserve recognition. Throughout SAHM, I hope we'll hear inspiring stories that showcase the achievements of our community while building hope for the future. I offer my support to the South Asian community in any way I can. Let's celebrate our heritage, acknowledge the challenges, and work together to build a brighter future."

    Dr Mohit Venkataram, Deputy CEO, North East London Foundation Trust
    "To get up in the morning knowing I will be embraced at work for what I bring; not judged for the background that I belong to, not judged for the stereotype but recognised for the individual quality and skills, not mocked for my colour or looks but celebrated for the diversity I add. The ability to be me is not about a process or policy or rhetoric, it’s about the impact of behaviours and the feeling we are all left with."

    Sabina Hafesji, Senior Policy Manager, NHS England
    Co-founder and co-chair of the NHS Muslim Women’s Network  
    "For me, free to be me is about recognising the struggles that my ancestors went through but to also acknowledge what some people may currently be experiencing and understanding the impact this has. It’s about uplifting these stories, not forgetting the intersectionality lens that being someone of South Asian heritage may have, which for me is also about being Muslim and a woman too.

    South Asians make up a significant proportion of the workforce in the NHS. I’m proud to be a part of this, making a contribution and hopefully a difference to improve the health of the nation."

    Safina Nadeem (she/her), Equality Diversity and Inclusion Director/System Lead, Freedom to Speak Up Guardian, NHS Frimley 
    "'Free to be me’ means being able to express myself authentically, without fear of judgment or discrimination for the way I look or what I wear. It means being able to embrace my identity as a Muslim woman, wearing a hijab from a South Asian background and for people to understand that this has shaped who I am today." 

     

     

  • Free to Be Me: A Celebration of Self in South Asian Heritage Month - Thursday 18 July, 12 – 1.30pm 

    Join Elsevier’s Embrace and the Lancet Group for Racial Equity (GRacE) for a virtual panel discussion exploring their panellist’s journeys; taboos within the South Asian community; challenges faced by South Asians in sectors such as entertainment, scientific research, publishing, and advocacy; ideas and interventions to enable present and future South Asian generations to safely be themselves. Access more information and book your place.

    In Conversation with Jaspal Roopra and Hira Ali - Tuesday 23 July, 12 – 1pm

    Join King's College NHS Foundation Trust in celebrating South Asian Heritage Month with Hira Ali, HR Director St Barts Hospital, and Jaspal Roopra, CEO, advancing your potential, as they share their unique stories and the pivotal moments that have shaped their careers as South Asian leaders. Book your place.

    Add your event to this page
    We encourage organisations to share their events so we can add them to this page. Please email details to bln@nhsconfed.org

    • The NHS Confederation's BME Leadership Network exists to strengthen the voice of NHS BME leaders and to support NHS organisations to meet the needs of all communities. Membership is open to both BME leaders and non-BME supporters. Visit BME Leadership Network to become a member.  
    • The NHS Confederation's Health and Care Women Leaders Network is a free network for women in the NHS and broader health and social care sector. The network is a diverse community of talented professional women who connect through events, networking and shared learning.
    • The NHS Confederation's Health and Care LGBTQ+ Leaders Network is open to LGBTQ+ leaders, aspiring leaders and allies to help influence change across the system.  
    • The Asian Professionals National Alliance (APNA) is a network for NHS senior South Asian leaders to connect, share ideas and support each other. The network encourages partnership working and is passionate about influencing policy to bring about positive change for NHS staff health and wellbeing, and also their communities. Contact with them via their LinkedIn page 

    • NHS Muslim Women’s Network is a space for Muslim women in the NHS and health and care sector to share knowledge and support each other #NHSMuslimWomen. For more information contact Sabina Hafesji and Sajidah Ahmad directly via email at muslim.women@nhs.net.    

Get involved

Visit the South Asian Heritage Month website to learn more about the campaign, access their calendar of activities and download the campaign logos.        

To join the conversation on X use #SouthAsianHeritageMonth #SAHM24 #FreeToBeMe or follow the BME Leadership Network on LinkedIn.