By Shiran Illanperuma
The term Desi is a social, cultural and political identity that applies to the peoples of Southasia and their diasporas. Derived from the Sanskrit word for country, it evokes a primordial relationship between diverse peoples and their vast motherland. Gaining unique currency in the diaspora, the term has come to be a rallying point for socialisation and politicisation of Southasians abroad.
Modern nation states being social - and often colonial - constructs, immediately problematise an identity as broad as Desi. Where does Southasia begin and end? A geographer, a politician and a linguist would each answer this question differently. In a region that was artificially consolidated by imperial Europe and then torn asunder by successive independence, secessionist and separatist movements, what place does a universalising identity like Desi have? Particularly in spaces of displacement like the diaspora, is it possible to truly claim allyship on the base of ancestry in a land that is historically and contemporarily scarred by division and competing nationalisms?