South Asians in Britain

By Parekh, Bhikhu | History Today, September 1997 | Go to article overview

South Asians in Britain

Parekh, Bhikhu, History Today

Although South Asians had been coming to Britain during the colonial period as students, cricketers, visitors, pedlars, housemaids, governesses, entertainers and political supplicants, and some had even settled here, their number was extremely small. The picture changed radically after the Second World War when Britain, after exhausting European sources, turned to South Asia and the West Indies to recruit labour it desperately needed to regenerate its economy. Even as late as 1956 it had 174,000 more unfilled vacancies than unemployed workers. Thousands of semi-skilled and unskilled South Asians came to work in the textile and steel industries, at first alone and later joined by their wives and children. They were followed by skilled workers and professionals, especially the doctors whose services were badly needed to run the National Health Service. As their numbers increased, pressure for immigration control mounted, leading at first to various kinds of restrictions and to a virtual halt of primary migration in 1971.

As Britain began to decolonise its African empire from the 1960s onwards, South Asians, whom it had recruited to help run the empire and its economy, felt insecure. Their sense of insecurity increased when the newly independent African countries, especially those in East Africa, embarked on a programme of giving preferential treatment to their own people. South Asians from Kenya, many with British passports, started coming to Britain. As their number increased, the Labour Government under James Callaghan passed a law in 1968 denying them entry. The news of the impending legislation caused a panic, and resulted in the arrival of several thousands, including those who had otherwise no intention of coming to Britain. When Idi Amin came to power in Uganda, South Asians were harassed and began to arrive in Britain in small numbers. In 1972 when Amin expelled all British passport-holding South Asians, Britain asked the world to 'share the burden' and was helped by Canada, Australia and India. Over time it gracefully accepted and resettled over 27,000 of them.

Thanks to the three phases of immigration, South Asians in Britain are a somewhat heterogeneous group. Some came directly from South Asia, some from different parts of Africa but mainly East Africa, and a few from Fiji, Mauritius, the West Indies and other parts of the erstwhile British Empire. Although they share in common broad cultural traits, a common place of origin, an the experience of living under a single empire, they belong to different ethnic, religious and linguistic groups and bring with them different fears and historical memories. Even the apparently homogeneous East African Asians differ among themselves in several respects. South Asians in Kenya evolved different forms of cultural and social life, enjoyed somewhat different types of relations with South Asia, and arrived in Britain with different expectations and fears to those from Uganda or Tanzania. A connoisseur of South Asian culture generally has little difficulty identifying and distinguishing them.

According to the 1991 census, South Asians in Britain number 1.5 million, about 2.7 per cent of the population. Indians, just over 840,000, are the largest group, followed by Pakistanis (477,000) and Bangladeshis (163,000). Since the census had no category to identify East African Asians, their precise number is unknown, and is estimated at between 110,000 and 150,000. Among South Asians, Muslims number just over three quarters of a million, Hindus just under half a million, and Sikhs just over half that number. Demographers calculate that over the new few years, the South Asian population in Britain will stabilise at 2.3 million, just under 5 per cent of the estimated total population at the time.

South Asians have carved out a distinct niche for themselves in certain areas of the economy, in some of which they are a significant presence. Although they represent just under 3 per cent of the population, they provide about 16 per cent of the total number of GPs, nearly 20 per cent of hospital doctors, and about 12 per cent of pharmacists.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Cite this article

Cited article

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)


1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25,

Cited article

South Asians in Britain


Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25,

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.