As we head towards the Great Escape: Notes from the Editor’s Desk

Since March 23rd, when the clampdown started in England, our streets and parks have been quiet; all regular life seemed to have ground to a halt. It wasn’t easy for me, or for others, to accept this new normal. Time was elastic and seamless, and you were waiting for something to happen, to break the awful dream that you were living. We are now hearing that those states in the USA like Texas and Florida, which eased social restrictions and distancing earlier, are now facing a resurgence of cases:  we know that the virus is here, and will be with us, it is for us to be wise about our actions. This virus has no respect for borders and other socially created divides in society. WE are ALL reeling from its impact, in different ways and diverse extents. WE have faced the abrupt cessation of our everyday, taken-for-granted routines of life. Our working practices are radically being transformed, some have been canceled altogether, others face various threats and ruptures, now as well as in the future. 

But the strange eeriness of the recent past is waking up, the street noises are more discernible, the lockdown as we know it is going to change as we look forward (or not) to that which is being touted as the Great Escape from the 4th of July. More social outings, more frequent laughter of groups coming together…our communities are slowly getting back to normal, but I hope it does not come at a cost. I hope reassuring sounds of nature is not obliterated by raucous get-togethers. It has been good spending so much time together, and being at home; let us be sensible in the next phase as well.

Before we go much further, I must make clear that the views expressed in the newsletters are of the authors and do not necessarily reflect that of SAaS. I also invite articles to reach me before the 26th of the next month (i.e. July 2020) at the following email: Let us make this collective resource a big success.

Dylan’s words are still fresh in my mind: “How many years can some people exist before they’re allowed to be free? How many times can a man turn his head and pretend that he just doesn’t see?”

Keep smiling and stay safe

Smita Tripathi

Editor, SAaS Newsletter

Stay Safe: Coronavirus is a merciless killer!

In my opinion, headlines in the news media (e.g. BBC) are rightly being over-cautious while reporting deaths within South Asian communities linked to the Pandemic. Headlines such as “South Asians are most likely to die of coronavirus” have stoked fear among the South Asian community. This is particularly so, as reported death among health care workers of Asian origin is much higher compared to other populations. Although it is of high priority to focus on the safety of BAME/South Asian community especially when they represent a considerable proportion of frontline/key workers, it is indeed of utmost importance to have clarity about the issue so that appropriate approach can be adopted to identify most vulnerable members of the society.  I have been working on COVID19 with my fellow academics and researchers within the UK and elsewhere in the world (Ireland, Germany, and India). As of now, despite higher death incidence in the BAME community, there is no concrete evidence or peer-reviewed reports showing a direct association between COVID19 susceptibility and ethnicity in general. Higher mortality in the South Asian community has been linked to factors such as a higher incidence of diabetes and cardiovascular diseases or a higher risk of occupational exposure.

Scientifically, COVID19 belongs to a well-known family of coronaviruses with RNA (Ribonucleic Acid) as their genetic material. One of the mechanisms by which this virus gains entry into the host cells is via the ACE2 receptor. Recent scientific research has revealed that circulating ACE2 levels are higher in men and in patients with diabetes or cardiovascular diseases. This partly explains higher mortality in males and in patients with underlying conditions such as diabetes or cardiovascular diseases. It is well known that diabetes and its associated complications are more prevalent in people from South Asian descent; however, this cannot be construed to generate general headlines reported by media outlets.  It could be assumed that diabetic individuals from any ethnic background with comparable lifestyles would be equally likely to succumb to COVID19. Socio-economic and socio-cultural factors including maintenance of social distancing due to cultural traditions and economic deprivation are likely to be key determinants in mortality associated with COVID19 patients within the BAME community. In addition, it would be important to thoroughly examine the patient data sets from both BAME and other communities. This should include multiple factors such as economic disparities, cultural factors, and quality of life. It may emerge that healthy individuals or individuals with underlying conditions from any ethnic backgrounds and similar professional and economic status are equally likely to have COVID19.  In this context, I would refer to an article recently published in “The Guardian” by Dr. Winston Morgan, a Clinical Biochemist (University of East London), stating that “Structural Racism” is the key underlying cause of high mortality in BAME community.  Given the reported higher mortality among the South Asians, it is indeed a time for introspection within policymakers and managers for taking positive steps to identify the underlying scientific risk factors and work practices to improve quality of life and avoiding undesirable exposures of COVID19 within the community. While the media generalisation should be taken with a pinch of salt, the communities need to be vigilant to follow government rules to protect themselves from this merciless killer! ‘Stay safe’!

Dr Vikram Sharma

Lecturer in Biomedical Sciences, University of Plymouth

Disclaimer: We accept no liability for any errors, omissions, or representations. The copyright of this content belongs to the author and any liability with regards to infringement of intellectual property rights remains with them. The opinions expressed in this post are solely the author’s own views and do not necessarily represent the views of our society. Out attempt is to provide a platform for community members to share their views, reflections, and opinions through our website.

‘Maa’, why aren’t I white?

“Maa, why aren’t I white?” I asked, 5 years old. It wasn’t something that I had ever thought about until another child had pointed it out. It didn’t make sense to me, because in my mind I was just like everyone else – I was white.

Having had very few brown people around me, except my family, I didn’t realise the subtle effect this has had on me. It wasn’t until I went to university that I was truly confronted with the reality of it. The sudden diversity that I was thrown into in London, gave me unprecedented volumes of comfort and relief. That I could blend into the melting pot of races and cultures. That I was no longer one of just a handful of BAME students in my school, but one of a larger number. That I no longer felt I had to represent both myself and my entire culture to others – I could just be myself. That I now had many brown friendships, where we have a shared understanding of experiences as second-generation immigrants that didn’t require constant explanation.

Only now have I reflected on the experiences I had growing up in Plymouth and how they have shaped me into the person I am. Fortunately, outright racist comments or acts committed against me – like local teenagers throwing stones at our house, to the man behind us in McDonald’s loudly announcing that we should “go back to where we came from” – were few and far between. I consider myself incredibly lucky, as I know that this isn’t the experience of many people of colour in this country.

Microaggressions made up the majority of my experiences. Being made fun of for having a ‘moustache’ in primary school, to strangers asking where I “really come from”, to teachers constantly mispronouncing my name despite my corrections (or sometimes just coming to my name in the register before exclaiming “I’m not even going to try and pronounce that”). I’d be lying if I said all these things didn’t have an impact on the way I thought about myself and my culture. For years, I was ashamed of being different – being embarrassed to wear traditional attire, to speak to my parents in Hindi in public, or of my parents’ Indian accent. Much of adolescence involves a desperate desire to fit in, and being of a different race to the majority makes it so much harder to do so.

It wasn’t just the local community that affected me. Just switching on the TV, or reading books, or in films – it was rare to find a British brown girl. Representation in media matters because it reflects our society. If you aren’t represented, your society does not value you. A certain cognitive dissonance appeared particularly in my former years, where I simply didn’t believe that my skin was that dark. I had subconsciously subscribed to the eurocentric beauty ideals that I had been surrounded with. Even in later adolescence when I eventually did recognise my features as being different, I couldn’t see the beauty in my dark complexion or my thick eyebrows. It is only in recent years that I have begun to try to undo that damage. To become proud of my culture and heritage, to admire the bravery of my parents who uprooted their lives in India to move across the world to a country that was likely much more intolerant then than it is now. I have decided to love the richness of my skin and the features which I have inherited from my ancestors. I still have a lot of work to do, but I believe my journey of re-engaging with this part of my identity is still only just beginning.

Miss Anjali Jha

Medical Student

Disclaimer: We accept no liability for any errors, omissions, or representations. The copyright of this content belongs to the author and any liability with regards to infringement of intellectual property rights remains with them. The opinions expressed in this post are solely the author’s own views and do not necessarily represent the views of our society. Out attempt is to provide a platform for community members to share their views, reflections, and opinions through our website.

Life and thoughts under the Pandemic

We grapple on, from our homes and the frontlines with this invisible (more on this later) yet deadly threat amidst us. In this scenario, I was asked to put pen on paper and write the next newsletter to the members, friends and well-wishers of our South Asian Community– to capture some of the emotions and feelings that we are going through. And, to solicit support for our charitable endeavour for the Food Bank by letting your latent talents and artistic gems rise to the fore by participating in our interesting Art and Talent Contest.

The words that we use to describe this current global challenge are woefully inadequate: invisible – hardly so, it has left in its wake crying and suffering people; unprecedented – how can we have forgotten the Spanish flu of the last century; bizarre,  disturbing, shocking, terrifying are similarly insufficient to capture the blow it has dealt to different levels of society. I just have to think about my graduating students who face an uncertain employment market and the South West that we live in, so reliant on tourism and hospitality, facing a sunny summer with lock-down and social distancing.

Now more than ever before, we need to stand and support one another and be pro-active in our own ways in lending that helping hand. Find details of the Food Bank and how your generous donation will help people across the city.

The Thursday clapping has turned our thoughts collectively to those who are on the frontlines of this battle. We acknowledge and applaud the appreciable work the doctors/nurses/health care professionals wage on the frontlines. Our thoughts turn as one to the hospitals pushed to their limits, the toiling supermarket employees working to keep the essentials flowing, country after country on its knees fighting this silent lurking virus on a warpath.

You don’t need to open the television or hear the news to realise how people are suffering. The people who have run out of money or business, who are relying on food banks more than ever. Then there are those too tired to do their shopping after a long day at work or even too tired to eat – working long shifts at the hospital, care home or ensuring other essential services go on uninterrupted. It is painfully sad to hear of the death of health care workers – so many from our communities are on the frontline. Thursdays evenings are a day to look forward to – a small but mighty expression of solidarity and appreciation for those on the frontlines of this war. I have seen people come out with cymbals and bells and the good ole pot and spoon!

Last night we opened our front door and stood on the doorstep and clapped. Our claps resounded up and down the street and I could hear horns blaring and a few crackers blasting off around the city. The neighbours were out in full force – we were acknowledging and applauding everyone who works in the NHS, the carers whom we rely on when we are sick, those on whom we turn to in our illness and for our essential services. Who is looking after them, I wonder?? Who is making sure that their needs and their safety is a priority?    

When will we appreciate the fundamental interdependence of our existence in this world? We are so reliant on the health system and on the retail and care sectors, the refuse and bin collectors, and others like them. Most often we take them for granted. At least by opening our doors and coming out we recognise the intrinsic connections between ourselves and those you look after us when we are vulnerable.

I hope and pray that this enemy does not come knocking on my door and, if it does rear its head, we shall be ready to fight it tooth and nail like so many before us have and after us will. The things that distinguished our days—commuting to work, dropping our kids to school, discussing work issues over coffee with colleagues, bumping into people in the printer room—has been put on hold, time tends to take on a flat, seamless quality. Without some self-imposed structures, our days can feel a little untethered, our lives a little hinged. But the human spirit in each of us is there, creative, enterprising, full of resources and ideas; the sun is shining, and the birds are singing, and we shall together prevail.

Or, as Rumi has expressed so eloquently:

“Be patient where you sit in the dark. The dawn is coming.”

More from me next time.

Stay safe, stay home, stay curious and stay well! 

Smita Tripathi

Editor, SAaS Newsletter and Trustee

SAaS fundraising event through Art and Talent Contest for ‘Food Banks’

Dear members and well-wishers

The Covid-19 is affecting our communities at their core. This crisis has also given us the opportunity to come closer, share our values and help each-other during this unprecedented global predicament.

In line with previous charitable events, South Asian Society (SAaS) of Devon and Cornwall has aimed to raise funds for ‘FOOD BANKS’ through an exciting contest involving younger members of our communities to showcase the talents, reflect their perspectives and feelings into fun and art.

Those members and well-wishers of the SAaS, who are not able to participate in this contest are requested to donate generously to support this noble charitable cause (bank details given in the attached flyer). The collection of donation without participation in the contest will continue until 30th of June 2020. Communities need to support one another at this time and think about those most vulnerable and affected by the pandemic.

The deadline to participate in the contest is 11pm, 20th of June 2020. Please find details about the event in the attached flyer. By entering in the contest, it is implied that you agree with the ‘Terms and Conditions to Participate in SAaS Event’ downloadable from the link below.

Contest theme: Life in times of the Corona

We will most gratefully welcome your co-operation and efforts in support of the wider community, including wider dissemination of this Art and Talent Competition.

Please do not hesitate to contact us if you have any queries regarding the contest or the charity event.  

Looking forward to your generous support to these activities.

Yours truly,

Professor Awadhesh Jha

(Chairperson, SAaS) on behalf of the trustees

Eid Mubarak and Buddha Purnima

‘Eid Mubarak’ to all our friends celebrating ‘Eid ul-Fitr’. As we know, the festival marks the end of a month of fasting from dawn to dusk during the Holy month of Ramadan. ‘Eid ul-Fitr’ is the most important festival in the Islamic calendar and was started by the Prophet Muhammad himself. It is also known as ‘The Feast of Breaking the Fast’. Eid is celebrated with a lot of fervour and joy as people greet each other, pray and celebrate with family and friends. ‘Zakat’ or charitable giving is an important aspect of the festival. I remember sharing food at ‘Iftaar’ (Break of a fast)  with friends and partaking delicious food.

Like any other festival, Eid is a time for celebrating religious teachings, history, and community spirit. We wish our friends celebrating Eid ul-Fitr a blessed time during this Eid. Unlike previous years the festival celebrations have taken a very different turn under ‘lock-down’ and with social distancing in place.   

Vesak (Buddha Purnima, Buddha Jayanti) is a Buddhist festival that marks Gautama Buddha’s birth, enlightenment and death. It falls on the day of the Full Moon in April or May and is celebrated worldwide by remembering the teachings of Buddha and offering prayers. This year it was observed on 6th and 7th  May, 2020. The dharmacakra or dharma wheel is a symbol often seen during Vesak – it represents Buddha’s teaching on the path to enlightenment. The eight spokes symbolize the noble eightfold path of Buddhism. Buddha’s teachings are truly relevant today as Buddhism in my mind is closely linked with meditation practices and with deep introspection which enables us to be mindful of nature, and to live each moment to its fullest.

COVID – Community fundraising initiatives

We are pleased to announce that we are working on couple of fundraising initiatives supporting the local community to combat both short and medium-term challenges.

Art and Talent Contest supporting Food banks 

The contest could be a great way to channel children’s and wider community perspectives and feelings into fun and art and to have a place where audiences could see it. The contest details will be shared separately later this week. This is our medium-term effort to help and contribute culturally within the local community but also raise funds for charities in Devon and Cornwall who are and will have an instrumental role to play in the recovery ahead. 
Watch out for our next newsletter for further details. 

AGM & Annual Event 2020

Annually, the society organises its AGM in the month of June. The AGM is a valuable opportunity for its members to meet socially and discuss the progress made and how to move society forward. It also gives us the opportunity to start planning for the annual event, normally organised in the month of November. Due to the prevailing situation, the trustees have agreed to postpone the AGM until the situation improves. We will be reviewing the Government relaxation rules for social distancing and announce the date of AGM and the Annual Event at the earliest opportunity. It will be a great occasion to meet in person. We all should be looking forward to it.  

The tenure of current office bearers will expire following the AGM. The trustees will, therefore, be electing new office bearers after the AGM. We will be giving advance notice for the AGM and will also encourage members to volunteer themselves to become trustees to serve the society.

Devon and Cornwall Police Zero Tolerance to Hate Crime Pledge

Devon and Cornwall Police have a Zero Tolerance to Hate Crime. With that in mind I would like to make those of you who don’t already know, that you too can support this pledge, helping to empower your communities that Hate Crime will not be tolerated. 

The pledge aims to:

  • Increase knowledge and understanding of Hate Crime among our communities
  • Promote reporting methods, including third party reporting
  • Explain how the police respond to a victim of Hate Crime
  • Help individuals understand how we can deal with those individuals who commit hate crime

You can sign the pledge by visiting our site:

Please show your support as an organisation and spread the message amongst the communities that Hate Crime is not acceptable and will not be tolerated.

Parent’s help-seeking for, and care of, a sick or injured child during Covid-19: a new national survey

SAaS is always supportive to its members who are involved in academic, research or other extracurricular activities. Dr Mala Raman, Derriford Hospital, Plymouth has been involved in an interesting collaborative research related to welfare of children affected with Covid-19. The University of Plymouth, a partner of this collaborative research has launched a survey to find out how the Stay Home advice during the pandemic has influenced parents’ decision making and care of sick or injured children. The survey results will advance understanding of how these extraordinary times are affecting parents thinking about, and perception of, access to services for children when they are sick or injured. Nationally the number of children being seen in primary care and emergency departments has dropped substantially in the UK since the advice to ‘Stay Home’. This has led to concern that some children are getting treatment late in the course of an illness and it is assumed that this is because parents are worried about seeking help. The findings from this survey will provide the evidence to underpin the development of information for parents to help them get help for their children when they need it during the pandemic and afterwards.

The University of Plymouth team is collaborating with University College London, the University of Leicester, University of Northampton, South West Academic Health Science Network, Derriford Hospital, the ASK SNIFF team and parent panel, Mother’s Instinct support group, Meningitis Now, the Meningitis Research Foundation and the UK Sepsis Trust.

Please support  this important research by filling a brief questionnaire and return as per the link below: