14th August 1947: 82 years. It has been eighty-two years since South Asians were liberated from the brutal colonial rule of the British Empire. Yet, we still observe the devastating manifestations of the subjugating rule in the fabric of our societies. From our tumultuous network of infrastructures to the deeply embedded stigmas depriving our populations of the right to live peacefully. Perhaps the most significant embodiment of the Empire is evident in our South Asian bodies.
During the 18th and 19th centuries, the people of India suffered at the hands of a series of cataclysmic famines, perpetuated due to the structure of apathetic colonial policies amalgamated with nature’s wrath. These policies included rack renting (both legal and
illegal), abandonment of the maintenance of agriculture, “free-trade” policies, and additional levies for wars. For the sole emancipation of their colonial enterprise, the famine codes of the British’s primary purpose was to save lives at a minimal cost.
Recurrent Famines took place in India from 1760 AD till 1943 AD. Over the course of these periods, 85 million Indians lost their lives. This statistic alone qualifies as systematic genocide committed by the British purely due to their passive regard for human life. However, the continual occurrence of famines and the absence of action on the part of the British to aid the general population over such an extended period of time had such a detrimental effect on the health and well-being of the residents of the sub-continent that it is still prevalent to this day.
In fact, South Asians disproportionally face higher rates of heart disease than the general population currently, making up 60% of global cardiovascular patients, despite only being 25% of the world’s population. To add fuel to fire, the multigenerational trauma was of such a monumental degree that South Asians have become six times more likely to develop diabetes than Europeans, and 40% more likely to die from a heart attack than the general population. Surviving just one famine doubles the risk of diabetes and obesity in the next generation, even without a famine, according to a study by Brown university, the risk of cardiovascular disease increases 2.7 times for their grandchildren. Thus, the accumulation of the combined effect of thirty-one famines alone has been proven to be catastrophic for South Asians. This data signifies the barbarity of colonial rule in the most profound sense.
However, in the modern era of abundance, the scenario of the South Asian physique has become an evolutionary discrepancy. Our adaptation to scarce food availability is no longer suitable for our environment characterized by food abundance. So, storing nutrients was an evolutionary response to famine, but now, where scarcity is no longer the norm for much of the modern world, it creates a conflict, exacerbating our risk of certain health conditions.
Although the physical oppression inflicted on South Asian bodies has been defined but another aspect that has to be taken into consideration is the behavior mechanisms adopted by South Asians, carried from generation to generation as the result of colonial oppression. These are exhibited in the form of increasing rates of mental health disorders, people-pleasing, submissiveness, and perfectionistic tendencies that are
wreaking havoc upon their day-to-day functions.
These complications get intensified due to the deeply embedded stigma existing in South Asian communities, particularly for those who migrate to Western societies. According to WHO, almost 86 million people in South Asia suffer from depression alone. To acknowledge the existence of such disorders invokes a notion of shame in many
South Asian households as the symptoms of mental disorders get dismissed under the heading of ‘superstition’. Thus, the appropriate treatment for such diagnoses is entirely neglected under the burden of cultural pressures. These complications get intensified to a greater degree for women particularly due to disparities existing between men and women in South Asian countries. With a higher magnitude of gender inequality combined with social stigmas that constrict women from opportunities that empower them, issues of feminine health and disorders largely go undiagnosed e.g postpartum depression for South Asian women is highly prevalent. The reason being, the accumulation of traumatic events passed down from generations from their colonial pasts to the atrocities committed during the event of partition of 1947 manifests in the most tangible aspects.
Though the practice of settler colonialism has largely diminished, the long-last effects of that period have certainly not. It is essential that we remember our histories, not to sow seeds of resentment and self-pity but rather to inculcate awareness and grow a better understanding of our bodies and colonized minds perpetuated by our very own practices. The practices implemented by our communities keep us trapped in these vicious cycles of trauma and will continue to do so if we fail to develop introspection amongst ourselves. It is crucial that we diffuse the stigmas surrounding our bodies in order to heal from our atrocious pasts and progress as empowered communities.