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Case study: South Asian Heritage Month - Raj's story

South Asian Heriatge Month

I am Sikh. 

I am Punjabi. 

I am British. 

I am a Woman. 

I am a Mother, Daughter, Sister, Wife… 

As a Second Generation South Asian Woman I have  layers to my identity that have been shaped not only by my own experience but from observing a generation of fearless South Asian women making  their mark on a society that wasn’t quite ready for them.

Following an arranged marriage at 19, my mother moved 5,000 miles away from home and settled in a foreign country to become a wife, mother and eventually a British Citizen. 

Having lived a simple village life in Punjab, India, she was engulfed into a society that expected her to have a stiff upper lip and contribute like everyone else. Knowing only a handful of English words, ‘please, thank you and you alright love?’ she managed to find work and successfully raise a family of four children. 

As a fellow NHS worker for 27 years, my mother has been able to provide a quality of life and education for her children that she could have only dreamed of for herself as a child. The opportunities we have had bestowed on us were the direct result of the sacrifices my parents made in leaving their own family behind and carving out a life in the UK. I am presenting this story to you not because it’s unique, but quite the opposite. This story represents the lived experiences of millions of people in the UK, the people that you see when you go for a walk down the street, in the supermarket or sat across from you at work. 

Reflecting back, it was challenging for our parents to support their children to blend into British culture and access the opportunities available to them and to balance this with their Sikh faith and culture. Sometimes it was easy, for example, we’d go to the gurdwara on a Sunday morning, participate in prayers and selfless work (seva) but be home in time for the Eastenders Omnibus! At other times though, it was hard and as young adults we made decisions or took risks that weren’t in our parents’ frame of reference.

Despite this, what kept us grounded was seeing our parents navigate these challenges each day and using philosophies from our faith. It is these philosophies that have shaped who I am today and how I conduct myself through the different identities I possess. 

Kirat Karni - to work honestly, live honestly, and practice honesty

 As an NHS Employee and working in a clinical research organisation that exists to serve our population's health and care, there is an overwhelming sense of responsibility to ensure that the work I contribute to is effective, efficient and is of value to our population. Furthermore, it’s this way of living that forces me to have often uncomfortable conversations to discuss ‘the truth’ in my personal life and this skill enables me to succeed in similar discussions in a professional setting. 

Wand Ke Chhakna - Sharing with Others 

This concept is about social responsibility; sharing what you have with others whether it be wealth, knowledge, physical labour or opportunities. 

We have an abundance of knowledge and skills to improve access to research for our population in order to improve their health and wellbeing. In our own organisation, if we support one another by improving the access to training and development opportunities, then this is considered a form of selfless work. 

Recognise the Human Race as One 

Being a second generation immigrant increases my awareness of the fact that there is so much diversity in our communities and that being curious and open is key to improving inclusivity. We have a responsibility to ensure that the way in which we conduct our work and how we communicate our messages to our stakeholders are broad and inclusive enough of the communities we represent. 

It is the determination and grit of my parents, and the millions of others like them and their philosophies that fuel people like me to strive for success and to break down barriers wherever they go. We owe it to the previous generation and those that come later to be an advocate for diversity and paying forward the opportunities we have had. 

I am proud to work for the Clinical Research Network as a South Asian woman, as it enables me to have a positive influence on the way in which we deliver research, improve healthcare and broaden access for our whole population. 

I am privileged to support our mission to support Inclusivity in research and lead our Life Sciences engagement to bring research to our populations that are underserved, experience health inequalities and are not offered participation in research.