South Asian Heritage Month: How nature helped to heal the scars of racism

A writer from Manchester has shared how the healing power of the North West countryside improved her mental health after a racist attack.

Anita Sethi was travelling on a train from Liverpool to Newcastle when a fellow passenger launched a tirade of racist abuse towards her.

She recalls: "The man who racially abused me asked me if I had a British passport, uttered many expletives, told me to get back on the 'banana boat', threatened to set me on fire, and told me to go back where I'm from."

The man was later convicted of a racially aggravated public order offence.

Subsequently, Anita suffered from anxiety and panic attacks and began to find solace for wide, open spaces such as the countryside.

Her memoir explores themes like belonging and diversity - encouraging more people from ethnic minorities to embrace the countryside. Credit: Anita Sethi

Her experience and healing journey inspired her memoir, 'I belong here: A journey along the Backbone of Britain', where she recalls her traumatic experience.

"The book also explores themes like belonging and diversity - encouraging more people from ethnic minorities to embrace the English countryside," she says.

"I decided to make a journey of reclamation, walking through the glorious natural landscapes of the North.

"I made this journey of reclamation as way of saying I won't let having racially abused stop me travelling freely and without fear in a country where I belong.

"A bird or a butterfly or a bee or a tree or a river are not going to ask me where I'm from, I can just be."

She reflected on how her heritage reveals the story of the British Empire. As a result, South Asian history and British history will always be interlinked in her heritage.

Anita's heritage illustrates the intertwining nature of South Asian and British history. Credit: ITV News

Anita's maternal ancestors were shipped from British India to work as labourers in Guyana, a former British colony in the Caribbean.

The Indian community in Guyana can trace its origins in the country to as early as the 1830s, with the community now having a distinctive culture and identity - tens of thousands of people with Guyanese heritage now reside in the UK.

Despite this, Anita found that her family history in Guyana had not been recorded when she visited.

She said: "I've been back to Guyana and I went to the National Archives to search the records of my ancestors.

"But, I was staring down a gaping hole in history where the records of lives should have been."

For Anita, exploring her heritage is a journey of understanding the significant impact Britain had on the world.

The consequences of not exploring this history constructively were apparent when she was racially abused.

She added: "Each and everyone of us needs to understand more about South Asian history and the extraordinary journeys that were made.

Anita described how South Asian culture being brought into the mainstream in music and film boosted the confidence of British South Asians. Credit: Anita Sethi

"When I was growing up in Manchester, I learnt nothing about why I, a brown girl, was growing up in the North of England.

"Ignorance breeds racism, such as the racism I experienced when I was racially abused on the train."

Despite this, much of South Asian culture has been embraced by wider society with films like Bend it Like Beckham and Salford-set East is East illuminating the joys and sorrows of British Asians.

Anita said: "Growing up as a brown girl, South Asian culture wasn't really cool but there was a time where South Asian culture seem to become more mainstream- you had brown artists on Top of the Pops.

"It's so interesting to see how music, film, and different art forms and cultural forms helped to bring South Asian culture into the mainstream."

Reflecting on her journey, Anita read an excerpt from her memoir: "My journey is far from over, I will not be silent, I will not stop speaking out and I will not stop walking through the world, my home."

On a professional level, Anita has been building a successful career as a writer and trainer. Her memoir won multiple awards and plaudits from major newspapers and has judged book awards.

She has also set up the 'I Belong Here' foundation where she supports greater diversity in writing and exploring nature by training other writers and raising awareness.

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