The South Asian Community's Fine Line Between Rebel and Choice

Updated: Feb 8, 2021

Rebel - A person who does not like rules or authority and shows this by behaving differently from most people in society.

Everyone has a different understanding of the term 'rebel', and it is constantly changing across different cultures. The meaning is contorted to fit the South Asian culture - someone who does not conform to the norm and steers away from society's expectations by the slightest fraction. It could be as simple as a unique fashion sense, not choosing a traditional career path, or not following the life ladder of school, university, job, marriage and kids. You may have made a decision that you thought was 'rebellious' in the past, but when you look back at that moment five, ten or twenty laters, it was just your choice of life. What is the most 'rebellious' decision you've made?

Like most teenagers, I went through different phases and experimented with different looks to get attention from everyone, especially from the ages of 16-18 years old (thank God I did not take many photographs during this period).

  • I would regularly straighten my long and wavy hair because I wanted to look like Jared Leto from 30 Seconds to Mars (not a good look for me).

  • My dress sense was terrible (Ed Hardy Shirts and skinny jeans/leggings).

  • I had slits in both of my eyebrows (to make me look more intimidating).

  • I would often try to talk in a typical London slang in front of friends and then switch to a Downton Abbey accent when conversing with teachers/adults.

  • I just looked like a wannabe gangster or as my friends in London would call me an ‘Indian Rude Boy’.

I also briefly went through the ‘India Hipster’ phase where I refused to watch Bollywood films or speak Punjabi/Hindi and wore brightly coloured sweaters and multicoloured scarfs looking very much like my dad in the eighties. But then I went to university and started to meet more young British Asians and went on a life-changing trip to Punjab in 2014. This got me interested in the British Asian music scene that was spreading across dancefloors like a wildfire in the late 90s and early 2000s which was initiated by the following four men.

A British Asian DJ who managed to smoothly combine Bollywood soundtracks with Reggae/Jamaican Dancehall music called Bally Sagoo, a pioneer of British Asian music and a great dancer called Juggy D, a singer/songwriter who showed that Indian boys can have great lyrical flow called Jay Sean and a welder turned award-winning rapper called Apache Indian. It was through British Asian music that I realised I don’t have to play the 'rebel'.

I could just embrace my South Asian culture in my own way by writing these articles and experimenting with poetry.

Here’s a poem that I wrote called Baaghi (Hindi for Rebel):

My style is unorthodox and opportunistic,

I am more interested in doing great work rather than being materialistic.

At times I have been a rebel without a cause.

I was just worried about people seeing my flaws.

But a student mentality and that Punjabi flamboyance can open doors.

Although right now my talent cannot travel to many shores.

A mind full of vivid ideas is often seen as egocentric.

What matters to the world is money; the decisive metric.

Write a vision and make it a reality.

Hustle and grind is just the formality.

I am not the only young British Asian with their own distinctive style. Here are a few young British Asians who share their opinions on the correlation between South Asian culture and rebellious nature.

Omar Mehtab is a genuine guy with brilliant comic timing who is currently a broadcast assistant at BBC Click which has an audience of over 330 million viewers. He has produced great social media content for BBC Click and reported on topics such as technology and social media influencers. There is nothing he can't do - he does everything from reporting, producing, filming, editing, directing, and writing - across television, radio, and online.

As long as the culture aligns with my thoughts, interests, morals and doesn't hurt anyone it is fine.

“I'm a rebel in that I don't make my decisions based upon entrenched cultural tradition. They may be guided by such, but only to the point that it makes sense. Otherwise, I go by what I believe is right, moral or sometimes a little fun. Be it a night out, having a girlfriend or a bit of drinking (nothing that harms others beyond their own sensibilities). I've accepted who and what I am and part of that is being South Asian. When I was younger, I would wish not to be as it would make things simpler. Like dealing with racism, culture, traditions, etc.

But now, I've gotten to the point where I know it's part of who I am but not what my whole identity is. I could wish not to be seen as South Asian to experience less pressure or discrimination, but that won't solve it. I've learnt to embrace my South Asian culture by taking a step back. Talking to people. Getting to understand how they see the culture, how much it means to them, how they judge others for/because of it... and what actions they take purely because of culture. Am I going to go and do shisha because culturally, South Asian lads in East London do it? Well, no. I don't like shisha. So I'm not going to force it. Am I going to stop myself from having a girlfriend because it's seen as taboo or shameful? No, because I want one and it is not hurting anyone. So as long as the culture aligns with my thoughts, interests, morals and doesn't hurt anyone, it is fine. And so as long as I don't get tempted to make South Asian my identity and rather I have the culture be one part of my whole identity, then cool. I am not just a South Asian. I am Omar, who happens to be South Asian amongst other things”.


Chandni Sembhi is an incredible young British Asian journalist who has created social media content for many Channel 5 shows as well as having interviewed musicians and written several reviews on albums in popular magazines such as Kerrang Magazine. She recently founded 'So You Want to Be a Journalist', an Instagram page and Youtube platform, with advice and tips on how to make it in the journalism industry, from job applications to interview prep.

“I don’t personally consider myself a rebel. But I guess some people could consider the way I act/dress to be rebellious against traditional South Asian culture. I have never wanted to not be South Asian, it is never something I have been ashamed of. I have learnt to embrace my culture through a variety of ways from the food to the fashion”.

Faris is an innovative video creator for brands, events and online platforms with a unique flow that comes straight from the heart. He is a charismatic and down to earth presenter who has worked with The Ibiza Bible, BBC Asian Network and Imjustbait.

You can’t change where you came from and that will always be your story.

“Growing up as a British Asian guy who wanted to go into media, I’ve been perceived as a rebel but feel very fortunate enough to have proven my time and effort was worth it with both parents finally understanding my vision, feeling proud and are happy to leave me to it. I love my roots and will always embrace my background because you can’t change where you came from and that will always be your story”.


Tanbir Ahmed is an accredited online fitness coach who has a simple but effective approach to fitness. He has even innovatively applied the 80:20 rule to fitness and explained this in detail on his Instagram profile which has changed the game for fitness fanatics.

“I do not see myself as a rebel so to speak. During the lockdown, it has almost been forced upon us to embrace our South Asian culture because we are at home eating our mum’s food and spending more time with our family. I think before lockdown it was different. We were all going out with friends or to work parties and embracing Western culture. But now, restaurants are closed and going out for special occasions or celebrations are not allowed, we are embracing our home, and therefore, South Asian food and culture. It has gone the opposite way. In all honesty, I feel many people who are not embracing the South Asian culture is due to the Western culture constantly being instilled upon them. I feel with the LGBTQ+ community, it often causes conflict with the South Asian culture which is why British Asians who are LGBTQ+ may find it difficult to fully embrace the South Asian culture. This is because the LGBT+ community is sometimes frowned upon by certain family members (a random aunty or uncle). But with my own personal brand, I feel that the South Asian culture should be embraced more”.

The expectations that come with our South Asian culture drastically changes what society considers rebellious or not. After speaking to these young British Asians, it is clear that we all accept that our ethnicity and culture is an influential part of our identity. However, that doesn't mean you have to live to the expectations of that culture. When you remove the views of everyone else around you, your action is no longer 'rebellious', but instead your own choice.


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