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Three Pounds In My Pocket — how Asians fought to represent themselves

The first episode in the latest series of BBC Radio 4’s Three Pounds In My Pocket picks up the story in the 2000s
Issue 2799
A graphic shows polaroid-style photographs of Asian families in Britain

Three Pounds In My Pocket tells the history of Asians in Britain (Picture: BBC)

Kavita Puri’s brilliant history of British Asians Three Pounds In My Pocket continues with a new series, with the first episode focused on questions of identity and representation.

By the 2000s people of Asian heritage in Britain were finally getting the chance to control at least some depictions of themselves and their communities in broadcasting and the arts. That put an end to some of the worst “Love Thy Neighbour” sitcom stereotyping of television of the 1970s and 80s.

Puri talks to writers of Britain’s first Asian soap opera, Silver Street, which aired in 2004 on the new BBC Asian Network radio. They discuss the feeling of liberation it gave them, but also how it revealed political and cultural tensions—especially when the question of language and Kashmir raised its head.

Far more serious divisions could be seen in the reaction to the play Behzti.  Written by British Sikh playwright Gurpreet Kaur Bhatti, the play was in part set in a Gurdwara and included scenes of rape and murder.

The opening night of the play in Birmingham was disrupted by protests organised by Sikh religious leaders. The furious reaction of some Sikhs to Behzti pointed to the way Asian communities were divided on political and social questions, rather than being a homogenous block.

But it also showed that there were still so few popular representations of British Asians in the mainstream that the meaning of every one of them was fought over. That is a theme Three Pounds In My Pocket is set to explore in later episodes.

  • Three Pounds In My Pocket is on  BBC Radio 4, Friday 8 Apr, 11am and on BBC Sounds

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