Celebrating South Asian Heritage Month at Lennons Solicitors
South Asian Heritage Month (SAHM) seeks to commemorate, mark and celebrate South Asian cultures, histories and communities. In this article, our Kumaran Sivathillainathan, Rose Bobby and Laxmi Mall reflect on their shared South Asian heritage and identity.
Britain and South Asia
The diverse southern region of Asia consists of eight countries (Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka) and each country’s culture and relationship with the British Empire varies. This year marked 75 years of independence from British rule for both India and Pakistan, which is a significant anniversary that connects South Asians to their past. This year also marks the 50th anniversary of the expulsion of Ugandan Asians.
Head of Litigation and Dispute Resolution
Member of the Equality, Diversity & Inclusion Committee
I have had the honour and pleasure of being the Head of Litigation and Dispute Resolution here at Lennons since November 2021.
By way of introduction, I am a Tamil man of Sri Lankan descent, born in Greenwich in the mid-1980s, and my parents came to London from Sri Lanka in the mid-1970s. Tamils usually speak Tamil and are usually religious; I only speak English and am an atheist, so I have always felt like something of an outsider wherever I am, and I have never felt as Tamil as I could (or perhaps) should do. The time in my life when I most felt Tamil was watching the 1996 Cricket World Cup with my brother and my parents and my grandparents as Sri Lanka triumphed over Australia. However, apart from bearing a lengthy (and admittedly tricky to pronounce) surname as Tamils tend to do, I do not feel particularly Tamil most of the time.
In terms of my history in the legal profession, I spent two years as a trainee solicitor and have since spent almost a decade as a qualified solicitor. During these last twelve years, I have had what is in retrospect the extraordinary privilege of working with a broad tapestry of people and, while I cannot (and cannot presume to) speak for everyone, I have mostly found the legal industry in my experience to be a place where I have mostly judged by the content of my mind rather than the colour of my skin.
Now if, dear reader, you picked up on my use of the word “mostly” in the last sentence, then you have the fine attention to detail of a good lawyer. The reason for that “mostly” is this – in all my years in the legal profession, only once in all that time has someone refused to have me work on their case because of my race – because this individual had a frankly inexplicable dislike of my name (and presumably its unmistakable foreignness). I definitely felt Tamil again that day.
Initially, I felt surprise that someone would be openly racist about me without knowing me; then I felt a combination of disbelief and outrage that someone would refuse my help because of my race, my name. But the core central truth was this – I was bothered that all of the things that I had accumulated as armour throughout my life – my accent, my vocabulary, my Oxford degree – all of the things I had built up so that I could feel useful even if I didn’t feel Tamil, were not enough to prevent this.
Does this mean that I should worry about this sort of thing happening again? If I did, then my worry would be an emotional tax that I was paying because of someone else’s ignorance.
Since I am a solicitor, it would be appropriate for me to leave you with some advice, so here it is – do not let the fear of prejudice stop you from being what and who you intend to be in the world. Easier said than done? Frankly, yes. But what is the alternative? All your dreams denied, all your hopes dashed, all your fear and sadness and worry, all of it would be a price you pay because of someone else’s ignorance – but why should you pay the price for their ignorance?
Senior Paralegal (Wills, Probate and Life Planning Department)
I have been grateful for the variety of experiences I have procured due to being one of the first paralegals here. Although daunting at first, I believe it has enabled me to gain the requisite confidence to succeed in Law. I will commence my Training Contract later this year once I have completed my LPC LLM.
I am a first-generation immigrant from Kerala, situated in the South of India. Although I came to the UK at an incredibly early age, my parents believed it was important for me to learn my mother tongue, Malayalam, as well as English. I am fluent in both and can also understand and speak some Tamil. I frequently go back to India to visit my family as they are all based in Kerala. Living in a predominantly white area has made me feel like an outsider at times, especially being a catholic Indian. However, I have learnt from my experiences that it is necessary that we educate those that may have a lack of understanding due to their own upbringing and circumstances. We must ensure that we are the change we want to see in the world.
As Acting Head of the Equality, Diversity, and Inclusion committee, I formulated our mission statement. This being: “Our mission is to promote an inclusive and supportive workplace. We believe that diversity and inclusion is a business and social imperative with the purpose of achieving positive outcomes for our clients as well as our law firm and all our employees.” I also suggested the idea of blogging to spread awareness online. I believe it is vital to ensure that this continues in the legal profession. I have enjoyed working in a diverse firm and learning more about other cultures within the Lennons family.
Outside of the office, I enjoy dancing, more specifically classical Indian dancing which is known as Bharatanatyam. Bharatanatyam is the oldest classical traditional dance in India. I believe it is important for me to stay connected with my culture as it has shaped a major part of who I am today. I am also an avid reader and theatre goer.
In relation to my career growth, my future plans are to specialise in Wealth Management and Tax Planning. My experience in the Life Planning team has enhanced my interest in this field of Law.
As other first or second gens may know, the pressures we experience from our families are high. There is a constant fear of not meeting expectations and underachieving. We feel we must take the advantages of the opportunities our parents may not have had. My advice would be, if you genuinely love the law, keep trying but avoid burnout. Ensure you have a decent work life balance. Reach out to other law students, tutors, colleagues at work and find your field of interest. Find your passion. Take advantage of all the opportunities that firms and universities may offer, such as scholarships for ethnic minorities. If you would like to find out more about my journey, please do not hesitate to reach out.
Paralegal (Litigation and Dispute Resolution)
I hold the honour of being one of the first paralegals at Lennons Solicitors. I am due to start my training contract in 2023 after completing my LPC.
I am a Hong Kong-born Nepalese woman and so, a connection with Britain had always existed in my life even before my family and I migrated to Britain in 2007. I am able to speak Nepali fluently and have a good understanding of the Hindi and Urdu languages.
When I first came to Britain, I had resided in a small, crowded flat in Dartford, Kent with my extended family whilst attending school. At school, I did initially struggle to fit in with the other children and I received some unwarranted remarks about my accent from other children. A teacher had also confidently told the class that Nepal was a part of India, which is completely false and needless to say, I had corrected the teacher about that.
The adults in my family were especially subjected to racism when we had first settled into this country. Unfortunately, racism is still prevalent in present-day Britain, whether discreet or not. In fact, my teenage sister had spoken to me fairly recently about an incident of racism she had faced.
I am now residing in Plumstead, London with my parents, sister and a black-and-white cat. My workload at Lennons consists of interesting litigation matters, including personal injury, property litigation, debt recovery and contentious probate matters. For any South Asian aspiring to enter the legal profession, I would advise that as much as we like to push ourselves a lot and as much as we may try to live up to our parents’ expectations of us, you are worthy just as you are. I would also advise that you should definitely have an interest in the legal professional, as without a passion for the law, you will likely struggle. I would wish any future lawyers/paralegals the best of luck and they can always feel free to contact me via LinkedIn for any questions they may have.
At Lennons Solicitors, we are committed to creating a fair and inclusive culture where everyone feels that they belong and are comfortable being themselves. To further achieve this goal, we have an Equality, Diversity & Inclusion Committee with the current members Harry Chapples, Kumaran Sivathillainathan, Francesca Putland, Joanne Elder and Matthew Whipp.