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«The third generation of Indians in Britain Cultural identity and cultural change Vorgelegt von: Abgabedatum: 16.10.2008 Judith Frübing 1. Gutachter: ...»

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Young British Indians in the Brent sample are more positive towards cultural change than those affiliated to sampradayas. The Brent sample reached an average of 3.25 while Sathya Sai Baba sample’s average amounted to -5.1. The ISKCON sample appeared to be even keener to retain Indian heritage holding an average of -6.26. This shows that the affiliation to a religious movement influences attitudes towards cultural change among young British Indians. This result is not surprising in the light of the community building and educating effects of belonging to a Hindu sect.32 The interviews illustrated and confirmed this relation. Pradeep is most interested in his cultural heritage and religion. As a Hare Krishna devotee he plans to move to India after having finished his studies in a few months. For this reason and in order to be more involved Frübing, 49 with India, he has even become an Oversea Citizen of India. His understanding of Indian culture is based on a very good knowledge of the ancient Vedic culture and the ancient texts

from ISKCON’s publications. He explains:

I think at first *…+ I didn’t feel a great deal of attachment or affinity to *my Indian origin]. But I think about the age of fifteen or sixteen I really started to take more of an interest. *…+ I mean just maturing for one thing, but also there was a bit of encouragement from my grandfather’s side, and when I really started to read about the spiritual literature *…+ it just blew my mind, you know. And so from that point on, it like more and more inculcated into my kind of everyday life. So yeah I feel a great deal of attachment to it... (Pradeep) Throughout the whole interview Pradeep proved his knowledge about the ancient Indian philosophy and theology. His Indianness is based in his spiritual life being very strict and fundamental in his views. Consequently, his opinions are rather traditional rejecting several aspects of western English life, and he is very critical about the English society. I will consider his comments in detail later. Being the son of an Irish American father and a British Indian mother who ran away from home, he did not grow up in a traditional background although the family has been attached to the Hare Krishna Movement. Only later Pradeep started to take an interest in his Indian heritage. The same developments were indicated in other interviews as well so that it can be derived that people in the third generation turn more traditional and take a greater interest in their culture of origin the older they are. Ranjitham describes this as a process of learning when talking about some of her fellow Indian students

who come from stricter family backgrounds:

…they come to university *…+ and they’d come in with the miniskirts tight *…+, tight tops and you [...] really have to think: “Why would you do that?” *…+ And it is just the fact that they think what they are doing is normal. *…+ I think you’ve got to learn from your mistakes as well and I think a lot of girls do and you find that by the end of the university that they mature and you see them *…+ acting appropriately.

(Ranjitham) Ranjitham confirms Buddhdev Pandya from the Confederation of Indian Organisations (UK) who also found this phenomenon: when maturing, young people turn towards more traditional forms of behaviour. On the one hand, this seems to be a normal process: Young people going into their twenties pass the “phrase of revolution” against parents and their norms and rules. On the other hand, this correlation contradicts the view that cultural Frübing, 50 conflicts and pressures grow when children reach a marriageable age. Such pressures are expected to lead to a rejection of home values; however, none of my interviewees expressed such conflicts and pressures.

Pradeep’s late interest in his Indian heritage was triggered by his grandparents. They play a very important role in his life, and he has a close relationship to them. In contrast, the relation to his mother is conflicting. A strong relation and regular contact to grandparents has an important influence on the youngster’s willingness to retain his cultural origin (Appendix 6.1). In general, grandparents act as a conserving influence in the family.

Psychological research about the role of grandparents confirmed that contact to grandparents establishes security and belonging. Grandparents introduce the young generation into the family history which helps the adolescent to create biographical awareness (Tyszkowa 1991: 50, 62). In my context, being first generation, grandparents often live according to Indian customs and traditions and maintain a strong connection to India. Thus, they act as examples of Indian lifestyle, tradition and language for the adolescent.

In order to identify the willingness to carry Indian culture and tradition on and to find out in how far the adolescents retain Indian cultural aspects, several indicators have been set up.

These will be considered in detail in the following paragraphs.


The research confirmed the further loss of the heritage language despite the willingness to learn, improve and retain ones Asian tongue. Most teenagers (65%) mentioned that they speak two languages at home. However, from the interviews it became clear that this does not say anything about the teenager’s language skills. Rather, most teenagers do not speak their heritage language fluently although they grow up bilingually. About one third of the respondents speak only English at home (Appendix 5.6). These figures were confirmed by the interviewed teenagers. They pick up bits of their heritage language at home and they understand their community language quite well. However, they are critical about their oral skills. Groups of young Indians in temples and on the streets of Brent always spoke English with one another. Apart from the girls and boys at the Dudden Hill Centre, of whom some were about to take their GCSEs in Gujarati 33, “… reading and writing is pretty much out of the question.” (Pradeep) Nevertheless, the interviewees showed a strong will to improve their heritage language (Appendix 6.2).

Frübing, 51 … It’s our mother tongue. So that’s why I feel it’s important that you should know your mother tongue. (Sheela) I actually speak English at home. *…+ One of my biggest regrets in life is not having learnt my mother tongue in fluent, I can speak it but its very (laughter) very, very broken. *…+ I’d love to be given the opportunity to learn, if I had the chance I definitely, definitely, without doubt, I’d take the opportunity to learn. (Ranjitham) I think it’s important. *…+ I tried to learn my mother tongue except I had a bad teacher and then I ended up, I didn’t end up learning it properly but I mean I plan to do it in the future *…+and at least be able to speak it. (Ravanan) However, apart from Pradeep, who plans to learn Hindi in India, and the four teenagers interviewed at the Dudden Hill Centre, no one appears to have proper plans. In the questionnaires nearly 60% have nothing against speaking English with family members although using one’s Asian tongue with parents and relatives would help to improve community-language skills. Only few teenagers I spoke to take a language course. There is a number of community centres that run language classes like the Dudden Hill Centre but none of the teenagers I spoke to had community-language classes in school although heritage-language teaching was introduced to the curriculum twenty years ago (Ghuman 1994: 108). This adds to the undervaluing of community languages especially prevalent among Indians, which is one reason for the bad language abilities of the British Indian youngsters. Parents consider other school subjects and the European languages taught traditionally in English schools to be more important for their children’s career (MacLeod 2005). Thus, often not enough time remains for heritage-language courses.

Further, the communities do not encourage the use of their Asian language which has already been criticized by other authors (Ghuman 1994: 123). In almost all the temples I visited announcements and proceedings took place in English and apart from the elderly almost everyone spoke English fluently.34 Surely, in using the English language, communities and congregations have reacted to the decreasing language skills of the younger generations. However, the consequence is that English has become the predominant language for British Indian teenagers in all aspects of their life. Consequently, my findings confirm Afshar’s results of heritage-language loss in the third generation.

Frübing, 52 It is generally assumed that the knowledge and use of language affects the ethnic and cultural identity. Language is considered to be a constituting factor of culture and ethnicity (Ghuman 1995: 40-41, Anwar: 130, 136, Heller 1987: 187). Its knowledge determines belonging or non-belonging to an ethnic or cultural community because a common language involves a common code. Language skills clearly differentiate people and mark insiders and outsiders to an ethnic group or subgroup. Thus, community language skills enable the individual interact with the community and to create a sense of belonging (Heller 1987: 181, 183-184).

In the light of this one could derive that the young people’s belonging to the ethnic community erodes. However, the analysis of the interviews, questionnaires and observations found that this erosion does not take place as I prove in the following paragraphs. The adolescents do not only hold a positive attitude towards their culture of origin but have a close connection their ethnicity and community. Culture, ethnicity and community are detached from language and continue to exist in English. None of the respondents found any problem or conflict in that. Religious plays at the Sai Baba Centre are acted out in English, prayers are read in English and all temple and community proceedings are held in English or bilingual. Despite the lack of language ability the youngsters feel very attached to their ethnic community, about which I will talk in detail when engaging with identity. Thus, solidarity and social coherence are not dependent on a common language different to the outside.

This questions the importance of language for culture and identity which has been stressed repeatedly in the literature. Language ceases to be a factor for ethnic identity. This shows that language and ethnic identity must not be linked. Rosenthal argues that the degree to which language contributes to ethnic identity may differ from culture to culture (Rosenthal 1987: 164). In that sense Indian culture has never been a language-centred culture as it has always been multilingual. Other factors like a shared religion, history and skin colour are more important for ethnicity and ethnic identity.

Religion Religion plays an important part in Indian culture and remains to be very important for the respondents in the study. Especially the teenagers involved in sampradayas are religious (Appendix 6.3). Due to the particular youth activities and classes described above, religion significantly influences their lives. They are much more involved in religious activity then Frübing, 53 those in the contrasting sample. In the Sai Baba Centre young people spend a lot of time practicing music and theatre and preparing exhibitions and services. All teenagers in the sampradayas want to learn more about their religion. Mr. Rajasingam, chairperson of the South London region of the Sri Sathya Sai Service Organisation UK, confirmed that the teenagers are very interested. Particularly, the older ones who have already completed the Bal Vika programme come regularly to discuss and explore religious contents and philosophies.

But, teenagers who are not affiliated to a sampradaya also take part in religious activities.

Peter Smith also reported that many of the young people who take part in the Duke of Edinburgh Award join in activities in the temples. More than two thirds of the Brent respondents found it important to regularly take part in religious activities and to learn more about their religion (Appendix 6.3). Peter Smith and Buddhdev Pandya confirm that. They observe that the majority of British Indian teenagers stays vegetarian which means that they adhere to religious rules. Still, as Peter Smith mentioned, particularly among older boys drinking and smoking is increasing.

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