Growing up with British-Indian parents who had faced racism head-on (figuratively and unfortunately literally) in the 70s and 80s in the UK, I saw the impact of discrimination from a very early stage. I saw how it had shaped mindsets, how it had downtrodden ambition and how it had sadly created a mindset that pre-empted opposition at all junctures of life. I call it the ‘survivor mentality' of knowing that at every turn, your cultural background dictated how you were treated – but knowing that you had to push through in spite of that. Because of this, I closely resonate with the perspective shared by Kully Thiarai in the Be Bold Be Brave film, of the Leeds 5 as being survivors, especially those that were, in her words, ‘constantly having to keep strong and resilient and keep moving forward'.
In my first year of working at SAA-uk, back in 2019, I met with several South Asian arts leaders that inspired me, the most memorable being Tara Theatre's founder and former Artistic Director, Jatinder Verma. I realised quickly from these meetings that the treatment of South Asians and South Asian arts in the UK, was a huge determining factor in why they chose the line of work that they had. It had come directly out of both a lack of visibility for our heritage, and in Jatinder's case, the pain of watching the suffering of his peers at the hands of violence and bigotry.
As I continue to grow in my current role and in this sector, I often think back to those introductory conversations and relate that to my growth. Unfortunately, even now I have come across instances of bias, rejection or (somehow even worse) the tick-box approach of being needed as a token ‘ethnic' addition to another organisation's programme. However, I will always be grateful to arts leaders like Leeds 5 for paving the way forward for aspiring arts practitioners like me – to have dealt with these biases directly and not been deterred by it, but instead being bold and brave, working through it and showing true resilience as arts leaders, as women, and as people of colour.
When I spend time talking with SAA-uk's Artistic Director Keranjeet Kaur Virdee, I love to hear the stories of her rebellious phases of short hair and dancing to bhangra in ‘daytimer' clubs – and I realise that that could have been me. It could have been my sister, or any of my POC peers; young people who embraced their identity and heritage, but who were frequently made to feel unsafe in it. And for that, I love the stand that has been taken. Leeds 5 were like me, but they persevered – and if they can, so can I.
Watch the Be Bold Be Brave film by Leeds 5 HERE, and read SAA-uk's statement on the Black Lives Matter movement HERE.