One of the biggest issues facing Malayalees in Great Britain today is staying in touch with their culture and their roots. This is especially true of the younger generation.
Many of the Malayalee youth grow up not knowing the Malayalam language for example, and they have lost interest in the music and cinema of Kerala.
Are the numerous Malayalee Associations within the UK that strongly advocate the promotion of Malayalam heritage and culture doing enough to attract and retain the attention of the youth? How can they help to reverse this negative trend? On this question hangs the future of cultural awareness and understanding among youth of Kerala origin.
Why is this the case? Some aspects of this issue could be linked to India’s colonial past. It is a fact that the British introduced an educational and cultural framework that was designed to make Indians feel ashamed of their heritage and culture.
This was particularly the case for people from the North of India and parts of the South like Tamil Nadu, but Kerala was not dominated by the British to the same extent and so retained more of its own identity. Yet, Tamil, Guajarati or Punjabi youth often speak to each other in their mother tongue when they get together while Malayalee youth tend to converse in English! Why?
Young people no longer show any interest in even visiting Kerala anymore because they cannot communicate well with family members and therefore are reluctant to participate in family activities, leading to a feeling of boredom and isolation.
This contributes to cultural disconnect and dissatisfaction. Many young people know next to nothing about what is going on in Kerala or India as a whole because of their lack of interest. The older generation is what is left of the Kerala heritage in Great Britain today.
But does that lineage, pride and history have to end with them? There is a synergy of options available to make the culture more accessible, palatable and understandable. Youth clubs, sports clubs, dance groups are just some of the possibilities, many of which are in fact implemented by Malayalee cultural organisations across the UK.
However, as youngsters reach university level, they go off to stay in campuses far from their homes, and the previous cultural ties are severed. And it is a well-known fact that the majority of parents send their children for further education!
This then becomes a major turning point as their thought process and lifestyles are influenced by what appears to be a more attractive western culture. Sadly the consequences are that by the time they complete their university education, they no longer wish to participate in their community, almost to the extent of denouncing or shunning their ties.
Although many ideas have been tried and tested by organisations such as the Malayalee Association of the UK (MAUK), it is the lack of interest shown by youth that is of grave concern.
A few ideas that could either be revived or looked into more closely includeorganised trips to Malayalam concerts and films that more closely resemble Western films. Malayalam pop culture based on hip hop or rock could be interesting to the youth, especially musical concerts when Malayalee groups are touring the UK.
Another idea would be sponsored trips using crowd funding to Kerala to enable young Malayalees to become familiarised with their culture with those of their own age group. A small coachload of young Malayalees may be just the tonic needed to energise and familiarise the youth of their heritage and identity.
This is not a unique idea. Other British minority communities like the Jews organise large scale trips to Israel to ensure their young people know what they are about. So too should Malayalees!
Sport is also an excellent way of uniting young people. Malayalee youth are passionate about sports such as cricket and football. Getting them to engage with association run events using social media such as Facebook and Twitter could potentially work.
Furthermore Indian activities such as Kabbadi and Yoga are beginning to make an impact in the UK. Holding classes and sessions for Kabbadi and Yoga may be an excellent idea.
Appointing more youth representatives who can do outreach work to get them to participate in organisational outreach might be effective. There are people under 30 in Malayalee organisations that could do this role. They could effectively be the bridge between youth and the older generation.
Through their leadership and guidance at youth clubs more young people can become familiar with their culture. These ideas have all likely been tried out, but still failed due to a lack of interest.
We live in an increasingly uncertain world where old certainties have been swept away in a wave of changes. From the decision to leave the European Union to Donald Trump becoming president in the United States, many native populations in the West are growing increasingly hostile to immigrant populations, no matter how integrated they are.
It may be a wise thing for young people to engage with their culture as it is no longer an option to ignore their links with their original homeland.
Malayalee associations have an important role to play in reintroducing young Malayalee to all facets of the culture, history and heritage of Kerala. Co-ordinate this youth outreach on a national level. It will be a long and challenging endeavour, and it will certainly not be easy. Nothing worth doing ever is easy.
The key words are determination and flexibility. A combination of travel to Kerala, trips and youth activity based outreach can get more young people involved. The more young people see of Kerala culture, the more they will accept it.