South Asian Awareness Week Remains Cultural
By Nilanga S. Jayasinghe
Until the catastrophic events of September 11, American media consideration of South Asia was cursory. And if recent attacks on Sikh men in the U.S. are any indication, public knowledge of South Asia, its people and cultures remains very limited.
It takes but one event for the media and public to shift their focus of attention. With international attention now focused on the region, the media spotlight has begun to throw light on South Asian communities living in the United States.
Although such heightened interest seems new, student groups at UC Berkeley have held South Asian Awareness week for the past 10 years. Those events provide entertainment as well as education, featuring dances, demonstrations and booths that provide cultural information.
This year's South Asian Awareness Week, to be held from October 29 to November 2, proves exceptionally timely. However, despite the addition of a few items related to the current political situation, the week will continue to have primarily cultural overtones.
"We are certainly doing more in terms of awareness during this year's week, but we want the nature of the week to be more upbeat and less political," said Rina Shah, president of INDUS.
INDUS, the largest umbrella South Asian student organization on campus, organized the annual event. Because many INDUS members participate, Shah added that it would be too difficult to merge the political ideas of 350 members into one if the week became more political due to recent events.
One event will speak directly to backlashes against South Asian American groups, Shah added. The Sikh Students Association, SSA, will hold a Sikh Awareness night in response to the aftermath of September 11. Their goal is to disseminates awareness of Sikhism.
Jaspreet Sani, a council member of SSA, said the event will revolve around the theme of Seva, which is selfless service. Students will provide a basic presentation on Sikhism, personal testimonials on what Seva means to people, information about backlashes against Sikhs, and documentary films on Sikhs and Sikhism. A turban tying demonstration and a sampling of food will wrap up the evening.
Sani added that the cultural focus of the week is important in drawing public attention. "We are not going to attract a huge crowd with a speech, and we get more attention through dances," she said.
"Even though this week is not focusing completely on the current situation, we have worked previously to promote awareness of what has been happening," she added.
Another timely event will be the screening of a documentary film by award-winning Indian filmmaker Anand Patwardhan. Sponsored by the Center for South Asian Studies, CSAS, the film titled "Jang Aur Aman" (War and Peace), is Patwardhan's latest production and deals with the aftermath of the 1998 nuclear tests carried out in India and Pakistan.
"I think there's more relevance in this year's week because the military actions going on could affect all South Asian countries directly," said Christopher Plummer, the Program Representative for CSAS. Plummer added that CSAS is trying to promote activities that will educate people on the history of the region.
The focus of the week, however, is the portrayal of culture. INDUS is organizing a dance called Raas Garba to kickoff the week. Raas Garba is a dance originating from the state of Gujarat, India, and will be held in celebration of the festival of Navratri.
"We generally have Raas Garba as the opening or the closing event of the week, and this time we have decided to have it at the beginning," Shah said. The dancers will also teach the audience the movements in an effort to involve more community participation.
In addition, the Hindu Students Council, HSC, will be having an audience interactive Raas demonstration during lunchtime on October 30. There will also be a Rajasthani dance, a Kannada dance, a Bhangra performance and a few dances from Hindi films performed in Sproul Plaza. A fashion show depicting regional attire is also lined up as part of the cultural outreach of the week.
Shah believes that about one hundred performers will participate in the dances and says that many people join INDUS just for the opportunity. "Five people who are not South Asian joined the club before the event to take part in the events," she said.
Shah also said that the membership in INDUS is now at 350, but that more people will join the club after the awareness week. "The significance of the week for students is to increase awareness and the fun aspects of South Asian culture," Shah said.
The booths, popular during previous years, are to include information on hate crime awareness, Bollywood, mehndi, fashion, domestic violence and food. "The biggest attraction for many is the Indian food," Shah said.