Looking At The Capital Cultures Of The World Cultural Studies Essay

Published: Last Edited:

This essay has been submitted by a student. This is not an example of the work written by our professional essay writers.

London is made up of almost 300 nationalities, with a significant proportion of them holding roots in places like India, which the British Empire once governed. Although London's population is primarily white, more than a quarter of the population are from other ethnic backgrounds, which accounts for half of England's ethnic minorities. I believe part of the reason for London's highly cosmopolitan feel is down to its cultural and ethnic diversity, it can be seen to have the largest number of non-white inhabitants compared to any other city in Europe. In my essay I want to assess how London has come to be known as the multi cultural capital of the world, and take a look at Indian culture in west London. Having grown up in London it is a place I feel I know very well. As a city it holds many unique and exciting aspects to its lifestyle, one of these as mentioned earlier being its international and cosmopolitan feel. Growing up in west London exposed me to a variety of different ethnic and cultural practises, all of which have their own unique interests and identities. However I always found the cultural practises and traditions of Indians living in west London highly interesting and extremely relevant to my upbringing so will be focusing on it as the topic for my essay. I find it interesting that London, more so than many other cities around the world, allows for ethnic groups to retain their individual cultures. This may be an additional incentive for ethnic groups to immigrate to the city along with all the other positive aspects of London living. In my essay I intend to look at how Indians came to first inhabit London and in particular west London and how living in this area has affected their culture as well as how their culture has affected the city.

The initial origins of Indians settling in Britain are not known for certain, and there is no record of any form of organised migration dating before World War 2. Many Indians were stranded in London having been refused passage back during trading voyages from India; equally many Indian servants accompanied their British masters back to England from India when they returned home. Over the C17th to C19th the East India Company was responsible for bringing thousands of Indian workers to England. The fact that many of these workers were sailors meant that the first Indian communities were established in port towns and villages. By the middle of the C19th roughly 40,000 Indians were recorded as living in England, which rose to 70, 000 by the beginning of the C20th. After World War 2 and the decolonization of the British Empire Indian immigration to Britain increased with Birmingham becoming the first city in Britain to be home to a large community of Indians in the 1940s. However the Immigration Act of 1971 put restrictions on Indians entering the country but allowed those related to people already living there to still immigrate. "Recent migration from India to the UK is part of a larger and continuing migration established during colonial rule in India, although post-war immigration restrictions have modulated it (Lahiri 2006; Moodod et al. 1998; Robinson and Carey 2000)" (Batnitzky, Mcdowell & Dyer, 55, 2008). Since then most of the succeeding growth of Indians in Britain has come through offspring of initial Indian immigrants. At the beginning of the C21st the Indian community in Britain was thought to be close to 1 million and a survey taken in 2008 showed the figures to have increased to an estimated 1.6 million. "Indian people have made their mark on many aspects of London life, participating in all levels of politics, business and cultural initiatives. They also contribute substantially to the health of Londoners via medical practices and the NHS" (Indian London, www.bbc.co.uk, Accessed May 2010).

The largest communities of Indians in Britain are found in west London, in such places as Southall, Croydon, Hounslow, Wembley and Ealing. In some of these areas Indians can be seen as making up the largest ethnic groups. I believe Indians have a considerable impact on British culture, and London especially. To demonstrate this I will focus on three key aspects of their culture that have significance to London, these being religion, media and food. All three of these are crucial features of everyday life that almost every British citizen can relate to but that can differ massively by ethnicity. I will then assess whether these features have been maintained in Indian communities in London and hence determine whether Indian culture can survive in such an ethnically diverse city.

The biggest groups of religions within the Indian communities in Britain are Hindu, Sikh and Islam. There are around 500,000 Hindus in London the majority of which are Indian. London is home to the largest Hindu temple outside of India, the Shri Swaminarayan Mandir. Equally London holds the largest Sikh community outside of India, and many consider Islam to be London's largest minority religion, "According to the 2009 census there are over 608,000 Muslims living in London" (www.timeout.com, Accessed May 2010). With the biggest number of Muslim converts in western society London must have been affected in some way by the Indian religious culture. "The Gujaratis continued their religious celebrations upon settlement in London but did so in accordance with British cultural norms" (Ramji, 644, 2006). This shows that although many Indian religions have been maintained they have also been successful in integrating into the British culture. The Worldwide Headquarters of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community is located in London showing the city can be seen as highly significant for the Muslim Community. Halal food is sold and served in almost 2,500 restaurants and shops in the city displaying the religions influence on the area. However there has also been negative influence in the form of conflict between the Indian religions. In west London tension between Muslims and other religions including Sikhs and Christians has occurred regularly in such places as sixth form collages. After the terrorist attack bombings in 2005 by a fanatical wing of Islam dedicated to the destruction of capitalism and the resurgence in religion many Londoners have become fearful of the religion they know little about. "London has been one of the hubs of Islamic radicalism; it also has a large Muslim population. Sometimes you can take liberalism too far, and you allow the enemies of democracy to destroy you from within before you wake up in time" (Groening, "Brit's Waking Up To Islamic Influence", Accessed May 2010). These radical extremists of Islam are in fact detrimental to the maintenance and growth of the religion in western cities like London as citizens often attach negative connotations with the religion now which can stunt its acceptance. "It's the capital's fastest growing religion, based on noble traditions and compassionate principles, yet Islam can still be tainted by mistrust and misunderstanding" (www.timeout.com, Accessed May 2010). I feel in a city of such ethnic diversity it is important not to succumb to stereotypical racist representations that directly link all Muslims to terrorism.

Over half of England's Hindu population and around 30 per cent of England's Sikh population reside in London, along with over 135 Hindu temples and 200 Sikh Gurdwaras throughout Britain, the first government funded Hindu school opening this year clearly shows Britain has accepted these well integrated religions into the country. However some Hindus worry that "they have integrated so quietly and so thoroughly that their own traditions are in danger of being overlooked" (www.bbc.co.uk, Accessed May 2010). It is a constant struggle to maintain your original ethnicity and identity whilst attempting to adapt to the various cultures of the country you live in. However the abundance of Hindu and Sikh temples demonstrates the increasing status and influence of the various religious communities in not just London but throughout Britain. Both traditions have rich heritages and encourage respect, acceptance of others and a sense of spirituality; they have made positive contributions towards British life and would benefit citizens to follow and appreciate many of their beliefs. Although many of the morals and ideas Indian religions value may be the same as fundamental Christian ones there are some key differences that can make integrating into a different culture harder. For example ideas on marriage, "Agreement on appropriate marriage is at the centre of Muslim life and organization. It is taken for granted that marriage will be to a Muslim and to someone of the same ethnic group. The social world of the biraderi is encapsulated and separated from the social world of Muslims of other ethnicities" (Peach, 355, 2006). In this way various ethnic groups can become segregated from not just each other but from society as a whole. The highly religious nature of Indians is a principal difference that many find difficult to relate to. "The 4th National Survey of Ethnic Minorities indicates that 74 per cent of the Muslim sample considered religion 'very important' to the way they lived their life, compared to 43 per cent of Hindus, 46 per cent of Sikhs and 11 per cent of White members of the Church of England" (Peach, 356, 2006). This shows that on average white people in Britain consider religion less important in their lives, and this can create a barrier between the different ethnicities. However I feel even in the face of these apparent differences it is crucial to realise what these religions have brought to our city and the advantages they can introduce both now and in the future. "Modood et al (1997, 301) report that Muslims put religion above nationality in the factors that they would tell a stranger about their identity. There is evidence that the younger generation is overcoming the regional differences in religious traditions brought to this country by their parents, so Muslim ethnogenesis may be emerging" (Peach, 368, 2006). In this way perhaps Indian religious culture is being maintained whilst adapting to the British surroundings they live in.

The next feature of Indian culture I will focus on is how it has affected aspects of British media, for example the film industry. Bollywood is a huge part of India's ethnic identity and is recognised around the world, its influence has spread not only to London's west end theatre district with performances of Bombay Dreams by Andrew Lloyd Webber but also to huge British box office hits like Slumdog Millionaire. Equally the popular British made film Bend it Like Beckham which is set in west London depicts the life and struggles of an Indian family living in Hounslow. The Sikh family argue whether Jess the youngest daughter should follow the path of traditional Punjabi cultures like learning to cook the food and finding an appropriate Punjabi husband, or whether she should be able to follow the British culture of playing sport and dating men she chooses. In this way this film speaks directly to my question of whether Indian culture can be retained in London. "All immigrants face a tension between maintaining traditions from the homeland and assimilating to the customs of the new home, choices that affect cultural identity" (Algeo, 136, 2010). In a city like London it can be hard for Indian youths growing up around not just white angle Saxons but a wide variety of other ethnic groups all the while being encouraged to maintain their own ethnic identity from their family members. "The betweenness of cultures is emblematic of the immigrant experience. She seeks to negotiate an identity that combines ancestral culture and the culture of the new homeland, occupying what Homi Bhabha has termed third space" (Algeo, 141, 2010). Depiction of how younger generations of Indian immigrants tend to feel less connected to their host countries is also shown in other British Indian films, "In Monica Ali's (2003) Brick Lane discordance between the view of first generation Asian migrants and those of their children are explored, as well as the importance of a continuing sense of connection with countries that have been left behind" (Messent, Saleh & Solomon, 330, 2005). This displays the fears prevalent in the minds of many Indian immigrants that their children and future generations will become so westernised they may forget and neglect their own cultures. This may be one of the reasons Indian immigrants are keen to live close together in the same areas as it increases the chance of maintaining their culture. When there is more demand for a product in certain areas specialised shops are more likely to open so by Indian communities living close together more Indian speciality shops, like for clothing or food can open in that area. Similarly on a larger scale the more Indians there are in Britain the more likely industries are to begin to cater to their own cultural customs and try to incorporate them into our society. For example British television shows now regularly have Indian characters in their most popular soap operas like EastEnders or Coronation Street, which are depictions of British life demonstrating the acknowledgement of Indian culture in our country. As well as these, many Indian shows have run on British television like The Kumars at No 42 and Goodness Gracious Me and there are many channels on Sky television and radio stations like BBC Asian network directed at the Indian communities in Britain.

Lastly I will look at Indian cultures influence on food in London and determine whether this aspect of their ethnicity has been maintained through living in the city. There are almost "10,000 Indian restaurants based in Britain" (Office of National Statistics, Accessed May 2010) with many of these being located in London. Equally many now consider the Indian curry dish of chicken tikka masala to be as much a staple in British cuisine as a traditional English roast or fish and chips. However this specific Indian dish along with many other popular dishes served in the majority of Indian restaurants in England are in fact westernised twists on more traditional Indian meals. This shows how although Indian culture has had a significant influence on British cuisine it has had to assimilate to more western taste. I find this to be very telling of how Indian culture in general has had to adapt to be maintained in Britain. Popular fast food chain KFC has even started introducing halal alternatives to its menu in various London chains, this again representing the fusion of both cultures.

In conclusion I feel Indian culture can indeed be maintained in London, the multicultural capital of the world. However it seems apparent that the younger generations are also increasingly adopting more British cultural aspects too. "Cultural identities with long-term ties to specific places, such as the Sikh identity and the Punjab, become destabilized with migration as group members are exposed to new cultural influences. Acculturation and assimilation in the new homeland produce anxieties about the hybridization of traditionally fixed identities" (Algeo, 2010). The abundance of Hindu, Muslim and Sikh temples in London shows the acceptance of these religions