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This article is about South Asians in the United Kingdom. For other ethnic groups from Asia in the UK, see East Asians in the United Kingdom, British Arabs and British Iranians.

British Asian is a term used to describe British citizens who descended from mainly South Asia. In British English, the term the 'Asian' usually excludes East Asians (see East Asians in the United Kingdom).

Prior to the formation of the United Kingdom, immigration of South Asian people to Englandmarker began with the arrival of the East India Company to the Indian subcontinent. This continued during the British Raj and increased in volume after the independence of Indiamarker, Pakistanmarker, Sri Lankamarker and Bangladeshmarker from British rule, chiefly for education and economic pursuits. A major influx of Asian immigrants, mostly of North Indian and Pakistani origin, also took place following the expulsion of Indian communities (then holders of British passports) from Uganda and other East African nations (see African migration to the United Kingdom).


In British English, the word "Asian" is often used to refer to those of South Asian origin, particularly Indians, Pakistanis and Bangladeshis, as well as the less numerous Sri Lankansmarker, Nepalese and Maldiviansmarker. Additionally, Britons who mark the "Other Asian" category on the UK census are normally of Afghan, Iranian, Iraqi, and Yemeni ancestries. Although there are exceptions,Color Q World. Clarifying the Definition of Asian. 2005. 1 October 2006. />. the term generally excludes people of East Asian (such as Chinese, Korean or Japanese) or Southeast Asian origin; they are more likely to be defined by their country of origin, or may instead be grouped under the umbrella term "oriental". This is reflected in the "ethnic group" section of UK census forms and other government paperwork, which treat "Asian" and "Chinese" as separate. This usage contrasts with American English, Canadian English and Australian English, in which "Asian" refers mainly to people with East Asian ancestry, as the majority of Asians in those countries originate from the 'Far East'.

The terms "Asian" or "British Asian" are contested. According to Qasim Mohammad, Britain's Hindu community considers the term somewhat vague given the religious and national origin difference between Indians, Pakistanis and Bangladeshis. Some members of Britain's Hindu community are debating whether to adopt a specific label based on nationality (e.g. "British Indian") or religion (e.g. "British Hindu"). Others see a certain degree of unity in the South Asian diaspora; the term desi is also sometimes used to name a South Asian person, pointing to a common identity, but is more often a word used within the Asian community.


According to the 2009 UK Census, there were approximately 4,300,000 British Asians, constituting 6.9% of the population of the UK. Those who were of Indian origin was 2,553,411 people (3.7% of the population), 997,285 people of Pakistani origin (2.5%), 383,063 of Bangladeshi origin (0.5%), and 277,664 other Asian (0.4%). British Asians make up 50.2% of the UK's non-European population.

British Indians tend to be religiously diverse, with 56% Hindu, 30% Sikh, and 13% per cent Muslim, while their counterparts of Pakistani and Bangladeshi origin are much more religiously homogeneous, with Muslims accounting for 92% of each group. British Asians who marked "Other Asian" as an ethnic group and then wrote in their specific ethnic group were mostly (23%) of Sri Lankan origin. This was followed by fill-ins of Middle Eastern (9%) origin. Due to a growing sense of affiliation with Britain, many third generation Asians chose to not mark "Asian or British Asian" and instead marked "British Asian" in the "Other Asian" write in section.

British Asian ethnic groups mostly originate from a few select places in South Asia, these are known as place of origins. Indians tend to originate mainly from the two Indian States, Punjabmarker and Gujaratmarker. Evidence from Bradford and Birmingham have shown, Pakistanis originate largely from the Mirpur District (in Azad Kashmirmarker), other areas are Attock Districtmarker, and some villages in Nowsheramarker, Peshwarmarker and many others (mainly in Punjab Provincemarker and North-West Frontier Provincemarker), in London Borough of Waltham Forestmarker there are substantial numbers of people originating from Jhelummarker. Studies have shown 95 per cent of Bangladeshis originate from the Sylhet regionmarker in the north east of Bangladesh. In Tower Hamlets, people have origins in different thanas in the Sylhet region, mainly from Jagannathpur, Beanibazar and Bishwanath. The language spoken by Indians are, Hindi, Punjabi, Gujarati and Kutchi, a dialect of Gujarati. People from Pakistan speak Punjabi, Mirpuri (a dialect of Punjabi) and Pashto. Bangladeshis from Sylhet speak Sylheti, a dialect of Bengali. People from Sri Lanka mainly speak Tamil. Those who speak dialects mainly refer their language to the main language, for example Sylheti speakers say they speak Bengali or Mirpuri speakers say they speak Punjabi. The reason for this is because they do not expect outsiders to be well informed about dialects.

The unemployment rate in Indians in UK is about 7%, higher than that of White British. On the other hand Pakistanis have higher unemployment rates of 13-14% with Bangladeshis having one of the highest rates, around 23%. Some surveys also revealed the Indian unemployment rate to be 6-7% National Statistics. Labour Market. 2006. 14 August 2006. Ethnicity and Identity. 2005. 14 August 2006. />. Persons of Indian or mixed Indian origin are more likely than White British to have university degrees, whereas Pakistanis and Bangladeshis are less likely.National Statistics. Ethnicity and Identity. 2005. 14 August 2006. />. With the exception of Bangladeshi women, every other group of Asians, have higher attendance at university than the national average. GCSE pass rates have been rising for all British Asians.

According to the United Kingdom Census 2001, British Asian men from all British Asian ethnic groups intermarried with another ethnic group more than British Asian women. Among British Asians, British Indians intermarried with a different ethnic group the most both absolutely and proportionately, followed by British Pakistanis and British Bangladeshis.

History in Great Britain

No one knows the earliest origins of settlement of South Asians in Great Britainmarker for certain; if the Romani (Gypsies) are included, then the earliest arrivals may have been in the Middle Ages — although not normally included as South Asian, the Roma and Sinti (most in the UK have been Sinti) are both believed to have originated in parts of what is now North India and Pakistanmarker and to have begun travelling westward around 1000, though they have mixed with Southwest Asians and Europeans over the centuries. Romani began arriving in sizeable numbers in parts of Western Europe in the 16th century.

People from South Asia have settled in Great Britain since the East India Company (EIC) recruited lascars to replace vacancies in their crews on East Indiamen whilst on voyages in India. Many were then refused passage back, and were marooned in Londonmarker. There were also some ayahs, domestic servants and nannies of wealthy British families, who accompanied their employers back to "Blighty" when their stay in Asia came to an end.

The Navigation Act of 1660 restricted the employment of non-English sailors to a quarter of the crew on returning East India Company ships. Baptism records in East Greenwichmarker suggest that young Indians from the Malabar Coast were being recruited as servants at the end of the seventeenth century, and records of the EIC also suggest that Indo-Portuguese cooks from Goamarker were retained by captains from voyage to voyage. In 1797, 13 were buried in the parish of St Nicholas at Deptfordmarker.

Since the 17th century, the East India Company brought over thousands of South Asian lascars, scholars and workers (who were mostly Bengali and/or Muslim) to Britain, most of whom settled down and took local white British wives, due to a lack of Asian women in Britain at the time. Due to the majority of early Asian immigrants being lascars, the earliest Asian communities were found in port towns. Naval cooks also came, many of them from the Sylhet Divisionmarker of what is now Bangladeshmarker. One of the most famous early Bengali immigrants to Britain was Sake Dean Mahomet, a captain of the British East India Company. In 1810, he founded London's first Indian restaurant, the Hindoostane Coffee House. He is also reputed for introducing shampoo and therapeutic massage to the United Kingdom. By the mid-19th century, there were more than 40,000 Indian seamen, diplomats, scholars, soldiers, officials, tourists, businessmen and students in Britain. By the late 19th and early 20th centuries, there were around 70,000 South Asians in Britain, 51,616 of whom were lascar seamen (when World War I began).

Following the Second World War and the break up of the British Empire, Asian migration to the UK increased through the 1950s and 1960s from Pakistanmarker (including present-day Bangladeshmarker) and Commonwealth countries such as India, at the same time as immigrants from former Caribbeanmarker colonies were also moving to Britain.

Although this immigration was continuous, several distinct phases can be identified:
  • Manual workers, mainly from Pakistan, were recruited to fulfill the labour shortage that resulted from World War II. These included Anglo-Indians who were recruited to work on the railways as they had done in India.
  • Workers mainly from the Punjab region of India and some from Pakistan arrived in the late 1950s and 1960s. Many worked in the foundries of the English Midlandsmarker and a large number worked at Heathrow Airportmarker in West London. This created an environment to where the next generation of families do not lose their identity as easily. A good example would be the area Southallmarker to which is populated by many Sikhs.
  • During the same time, medical staff from the Indian subcontinent were recruited for the newly formed National Health Service. These people were targeted as the British had established medical schools in the Indian subcontinent which conformed to the British standards of medical training.

In 1972 all Asians were expelled from Uganda by Idi Amin, the president of Uganda at the time. Those holding British passports came to Britain. Many of these people had been businessman in Africa and built up their lives again in Britain.Some became retailers while others found suitable employment.

The Commonwealth Immigrants Act 1962 and Immigration Act 1971 largely restricted any further primary immigration, although family members of already-settled migrants were still allowed. In addition, much of the subsequent growth in the British Asian community has come from the births of second- and third-generation Asian Britons.


British Asians are said to contribute 6% to the UKmarker GDP, whilst making up only 4% of the population. It is notable that although there are roughly double the amount of British Asians in the UK today compared to people of African descent, British Asians are less represented in global and British media than any other major group; in the UK there is less than half the amount of British Asians represented in the media than those of African and Caribbean descent.

The biggest influence of British Asians on popular culture has probably been the so-called "Indian restaurant", though in fact most are run by people of Bangladeshi and Pakistani origin. British Asian have also played a pivotal role in rejuvenating a number of UK street markets. According to the New Economics Foundation, Queen's Market, Upton Park is officially the most ethnically diverse.

The influence on popular music has been a long standing one for with music producer, composer and song-writer Biddu who produced and composed a number of music hits in the early part of the British Disco scene in the mid-1970s such as the smash hit Kung fu fighting for Carl Douglas and the 1 UKmarker hit and worldwide smash I Love to Love for Tina Charles.

Bhangra music has in addition become popular among many in the general British public (Although only really popular amongst Asian British)Dixon, Martha. British Broadcast Corporation News. Bhangra fusion gathers support. 2003. 14 August 2006. />. not only from the works of British Asian musicians such as Panjabi MC, Swami and Rishi Rich but also incorporated into the works of a number of non-Asian musicians not only British but including North American artists such as Canadian Shania Twain, who created a whole alternate version of her multi-platinum album Up! with full Indian instrumentation, produced by legendary British Asian producers Simon & Diamond. Diamond, better known as DJ Swami has also collaborated with superstar rapper Pras, of The Fugees, and his band Swami have become one of the most renowned acts in British Asian music history, having had songs in major Hollywood movies and best-selling video games. One of the first artists of Asian Indianmarker origin to achieve mainstream success was Apache Indian who infused reggae and hip hop with Indian popular music to create a sound that transcended genre and found a multicultural audience. he is the only Indian artist to have achieved 7 top forty hits in the National UK charts. A subsequent wave of "Asian Underground" artists went on to blend elements of western underground dance music and the traditional music of their home countries, such Nitin Sawhney, Talvin Singh and Asian Dub Foundation.

The influence of Asian music has not only been from Asians living in the UK, but also from some UK artists that were starting using Asian instruments creating a new and dynamic sound that was a mixture of sitars and tablas with a more rock traditional rock-based Western instruments like the drums and guitars. This created an inauthentic use of such cultural resources as all of the instruments were used to create an overall sound that treated all the instruments and influences equally.Bhangra Asian identity and the search for authenticity There is one important thing to notice is the relationship of Bhangra and other musical genres namely Reggae, Dub, and SoulNot only has Asian culture popularity in the UK has boomed, it also has influenced many local artists that created their own mixture of genres.

The films East is East, Chicken Tikka Masala and Bend It Like Beckham and the TV shows Goodness Gracious Me and The Kumars at No. 42 have managed to attract large, multi-ethnic audiences. The success and popularity of British Pakistani boxer Amir Khan influenced the revival of boxing on ITV Sport. In 2006, Time Asia magazine voted the late British Asian musician Freddie Mercury, the lead singer and writer of the rock band Queen, as one of the most influential Asians in the past 60 years.

Lakshmi Mittal is currently Britain's richest man and the fifth richest man in the world. The Mittal family owns 43% of Arcelor-Mittal, the world's largest steel manufacturer, which was known as Mittal Steel Company before the merger with Arcelor. He was listed in the Forbes List of Billionaires as the richest Indian and the fifth richest man in the world with an estimated fortune of $55.0 billion and, according to the Sunday Times Rich List 2006, is the richest in the UK, with a net worth of £29 billion. The Financial Times named Mittal its 2006 Person of the Year. In 2005, he was the third richest man in the world according to Forbes List of billionaires .

In the disability arena Ivan and Charika Corea founded the Autism Awareness Campaign UK.


This refers to the growing body of literature that refers to and documents aspects of the British Asian experience.

Well-known British Asian writers include: Salman Rushdie, Gurinder Chadha, Hanif Kureshi, Monica Ali, Meera Syal, Gautam Malkani, and Raman Mundair.


Jawed Khaliq the first world champion boxer of Pakistanimarker origin was born in Nottinghammarker Englandmarker.Amir Khan, the silver medallist at the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athensmarker, has become a cultural icon in the UK with audiences of up to 8 million watching him live on national television whenever he fights. He represents Britain in boxing and he is the current WBA world light welterweight champion. Another notable boxer is Haider Ali who won the first ever gold medal for Pakistanmarker in boxing at the commonwealth games in Manchester in 2002 in the featherweight division he now fights professionally out of Lutonmarker, Englandmarker.

Nasser Hussain was the captain of the England cricket team. Michael Chopra played for the England national under-21 football team and became the first footballer of Indian descent to play and score in the Premier League. In 2006, he made news for scoring the fastest goal in Premier League history, as Chopra had only been on the pitch for ten seconds after coming on as a substitute.

List of other British Asian Sport personalities:

Celebrities in popular culture

Early British Asian stars include Sabu Dastagir, who had been famous for playing non-specific foreigners in British and Hollywood films, fondly remembered for his lead roles in The Thief of Bagdad and Jungle Book. Since the 1970s, British Asian performers and writers have achieved significant mainstream cultural success. The first British Asian musician to gain wide popularity in the UK and worldwide fame was the late Freddie Mercury (born Farrokh Bulsara), who led the rock band Queen, although many people may be unaware of his Asian Parsi ethnicity. At around the same time, Biddu also gained worldwide fame for producing a number of hit songs, including "Kung Fu Fighting". In the 1990s, several other British Asian artists also achieved mainstream success. These included Apache Indian, whose 1993 single "Boom Shack-A-Lak" was used in many Hollywoodmarker movies, and Jas Mann, who headed Babylon Zoo and whose 1996 single "Spaceman" set a UK chart record when it sold 418,000 copies in its first week of release.

Famous British Asian actors in the 1980s included Art Malik, for his roles in The Jewel in the Crown and The Living Daylights, and Sir Ben Kingsley, one of Britain's most acclaimed and well-known performers. Kingsley is one of few actors to have won all four major motion picture acting awards, receiving Oscar, BAFTA, Golden Globe and Screen Actors Guild awards throughout his career, including the Academy Award for Best Actor for his performance in Gandhi. The actress Parminder Nagra has a prominent role in the US TV series ER, and played the lead role in the successful British film Bend It Like Beckham. The actor Naveen Andrews plays the role of Sayid Jarrah in the popular US TV series Lost, and also had a prominent role in the award-winning film The English Patient. Long-running British soap operas such as Coronation Streetmarker, EastEnders, Emmerdalemarker and Hollyoaks have all had a number of Asian characters.

The comedians Sanjeev Bhaskar, Meera Syal and Shazia Mirza are all well-recognised figures in British popular culture. The presenter and match maker of the BBC marriage arranging show Arrange Me a Marriage is Asian-Scot Aneela Rahman. Hardeep Singh Kohli is a presenter, reporter and comedian on British television. British Bangladeshi, Pakistani and Indian contestants have appeared on The Apprentice including Syed Ahmed, Tre Azam, Lohit Kalburgi, Ghazal Asif, Shazia Wahab, Sara Dhada, and most notably Saira Khan, who is now a British TV presenter. The broadcaster Krishnan Guru-Murthy and Samira Ahmed, meanwhile, present the Channel 4 News.

The term British Asian then was given the popular tag "Br-Asian", this was carried forward by two British Asian well known media business owners by the names of Moiz Vas and Nav Sagoo who together helped to define the term in the late ninety's and through to the millennium. They were responsible for various huge achievements for the community such as the British Asian Music awards which aired on ITV1 in the UK and Nav Sagoo then went on to conceive the first ever Br-Asian stage at Glastonbury in 2004 and 2005, taking every household name from the British Asian music scene out to the fields in the west country. Urban went Rural for the first time but with headline acts such as Rishi Rich, Jay Sean, Swami, Raghav to name a few even flying in were Indian supergroup Pentagram.

In 2008, in the second season of Britain's Got Talent, one of the most successful reality television shows, the British Asian dance duo Signature, consisting of Suleman Mirza (a British Pakistani) and Madhu Singh (a British Indian) performing a fusion of Michael Jackson and Bhangra music and dance styles, ended up as the runner-up on the talent show, second only to George Sampson. The most successful British Asian musician in 2008 was the British Tamil artist M.I.A., who was nominated for two Grammy Awards for her single "Paper Planes", and has been nominated for an Academy Award for Best Original Score for "O... Saya", from the Slumdog Millionaire soundtrack. The actor Dev Patel, who played the role of Anwar Kharral in the teen drama series Skins, also played the leading role in Danny Boyle's Slumdog Millionaire, for which he received several awards and was nominated for the 2009 BAFTA Award for Best Leading Actor.

In 2009, Mumzy Stranger, an R&B and hip-hop music artist, became the first British Bangladeshi to be releasing a music single, called "One More Dance". In October 2009, Jay Sean's single "Down" reached the #1 spot on the Billboard Hot 100 and sold two million copies in the United States, making him the first Asian-origin solo artist and "the first UK Urban act ever to top Billboard's Hot 100," "the most successful male UK urban artist in US chart history," and the most successful British male artist in the US charts since Elton John in 1997.


Although there are Asian communities all over the UK, towns and cities with particularly significant Asian populations include:

The council area with the most British Asians is the London Borough of Tower Hamletsmarker, whose population is 35% Asian, most of Bangladeshi origin.

Richard Donkin - Islam in Dewsbury

  • Note: Some local authorities contain large areas of countryside surrounding the actual towns, e.g. Bedford, Bradford, Leeds, Newport, Sunderland and High Wycombe. This may lead to the local Asian and ethnic minority populations being underestimated in these places.

Counties with a high population of British Asians include -

London Boroughs with a high population of British Asians include -

See also

External links


  2. British Sociological Association. Equality and Diversity. Language and the BSA: Ethnicity & Race. 2005. October 26. [1]
  3. Gardener, David. Who are the Other Ethnic Groups. 2005. October 27, 2006. [2]
  4. UK Ethnicity National Statistics Online.
  5. [Alison Shaw (2000). Kinship and continuity: Pakistani families in Britain Studies. Routledge. page. 16. ISBN 9789058230751
  6. Culture, Religion, and Childbearing in a Multiracial Society: A Handbook for Health Professionals. ISBN 9780750620505
  10. Lascars in The East End
  14. Sanjay Sharma, Noisy Asians or Asian noise, The Politics of the New Asian Dance Music, ed. Sanjay Sharma, John Hutnyk, and Ashwani Sharma, 32-57. London: Zed Books, 1996.
  15. Liam Fitzpatrick. " Farrokh Bulsara". Time Asia.
  16. Pakistan Sports Board
  17. Music Video: "One More Dance" by Mumzy Stranger MTV Iggy. Retrieved on 2009-06-18.
  18. R&B Star Jay Sean #1 on US Billboard Top 100
  19. Neighbourhood Statistics
  20. Neighbourhood Statistics
  21. Britain’s multiculturalism falters, by Wendy Kristianasen
  22. paragraph 4.3
  23. Neighbourhood Statistics
  24. Neighbourhood Statistics

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