( I accidentally published this earlier in the day before it was finished, my B.)
Anyways, hey guys. I’ve been wondering. Am I actually “Indian?”
Because I think the answer is no.
Yes, Voice of Reason, really.
Well then you might have some revisions to make there, M.
Revisions? What do you mean revi-
Oh. Right. I’ll fix that.
Also, what the heck, M?! What do you mean you’re not Indian??
It’s actually not as crazy as it sounds, I promise. I’ve just kind of realized that nothing about me is actually Indian. Let me explain myself in three nice and organized main points.
Technically, I’m not Indian. Like, in technical ways.
Think about it. My nationality is American, because I’m a citizen of the United States.
And my ethnicity is Panjabi.
So even technically, nothing about me is actually Indian. It’s not my nationality, and it’s not my ethnic group. It’s no one’s ethnic group, really. “Indian” is a nationality. Panjabis who live in India are Panjabi by ethnicity and Indian by nationality, Panjabis who live in Pakistan are Panjabi and Pakistani the same way, and Panjabis who live in the U.S are Panjabi and American. I’m a Panjabi-American.
So there’s that.
I’ve always been friends with the brown kids in my school, most of them of ethnicity originating in India (see what I did there). And while I was always able to be pretty tight with them, and we’re always able to have a laugh, I noticed pretty early on that, whenever we talked about our cultures, there was always some confusion. They wouldn’t know what I meant when I said there’s a new bottle of Rooh Afza in my house. I wouldn’t know what they meant when they said they had a Bharata Natyam class to get too. I noticed my friends were able to connect over their cultures in a way I wasn’t. In fact, even after knowing some of them for a while, they would ask me if I was Indian, or, lol, just ask me what I was. Not in a rude way at all–they were sincerely unsure, because I didn’t do any of the “Indian” things that they did. There were occasions where they labeled parts of my culture, like Bhangra, as strictly Pakistani, and not Indian. Which is fine. I love Pakistan and I love that my grandparents were born in such a beautiful place. And it’s true, a lot of the traditions and customs my family is familiar with–like Rooh Afza, for example–are familiar to Pakistanis as well. But my friends saying this just kind of showed how unfamiliar my Panjabi culture was to theirs, that they did not consider it Indian.
And they were kind of right. Panjabi culture is different from that of a lot of India. We speak a language specific to our region,we eat unique foods, we have different traditions, and most Panjabis in the world are either Muslim or Sikh, not Hindu, like the majority of India (even though there are some Hindu-Panjabis).
I know that India is pretty diverse, and many regions have traditions and cultures that are pretty unique. But there are a couple of factors that make Panjabi culture even more different, I think. For one thing, more than half of the Panjab region is in Pakistan.
This has allowed our culture to have some Pakistani influences, even for those of us who don’t live in Pakistan.
Additionally, because most Panjabis in India are of a different religion than the rest of India, religion has had a different influence on our culture. For example, Panjabis are famous for many meat dishes, including some with beef. Because Sikhism doesn’t ban meat, at least not as explicitly as Hinduism, Panjabis have developed a unique cuisine to reflect this.
Politics and Stuff
India has always oppressed Panjabis, it’s just a fact. Sikhs and Panjabis have always fought valiantly for India, and they continue to do so today:
And yet, today, the Indian government channels over half of Panjab’s water supply to other parts of the country–an act which is prohibited in the Indian constitution.
Also, 30 years ago, the Indian government attempted to wipe out the Sikh population of India, killing and displacing over 50,000 Sikhs and Panjabis.
India still denies visas to Sikh refugees who fled to different countries during the genocide 30 years ago, and to those who speak out against the government’s actions against Sikhs.
Additionally, over 73.5% of Panjab’s youth are drug addicts–not just users, but addicts. The Indian government has barely acknowledged this tragic and strange statistic, nonetheless done anything about it.
Not to mention Bollywood, India’s major movie industy, which almost never fails to portray both Sikhs and Panjabis as unintelligent, drunk, and irrational. (There are quite a few good articles on this, so the link is just to the google search. You can take your pick from there.)
There’s also the fact that Mahatma Gandhi, who is hailed as the Father of India, refused to acknowledge Sikhism as a religion.
As I learned about them, all of these unfortunate facts kind of made it harder and harder for me to identify as an Indian. And I’ve learned that this is actually not uncommon. Some Sikhs, particularly after the Sikh genocide, find it hard to even identify as Panjabi, nonetheless Indian. And not just the crazy rebellious youths such as myself.
So…with these three reasons, I’ve come to the conclusion that I’m not really Indian in any way. The last reason is kind of the kicker for me. Even if the first two reasons were still there, I might not have a problem calling myself Indian if it weren’t for the last reason, which is the lack of respect and fair treatment Panjabis and Sikhs get in India. I’m not trying be dramatic or anything here, really. Like, am I going to start correcting people when they call me Indian from now on? I don’t really know. I just know that this feels right. ” Panjabi-American” feels so right. It’s what I am, you know? I listen to Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan while eating hot dogs. I go to Starbucks in my Patiala salwar kameezes. I’m a blend of these two cultures, and I think they’re really all I need to describe myself when it comes to the culture that has surrounded me my whole life.
Let me know your thoughts?
See you next week 🙂