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The Bindi Bandit Podcast: “Never Lose Sight of That Bindi Between Your Eyes”

The Bindi Bandit Podcast: “Never Lose Sight of That Bindi Between Your Eyes”

Sarika Gandhi, founder of The Bindi Bandit Podcast, was invited to speak to DiverseJobsMatter’s Diversity, Inclusion, and Content Executive, Yazz Bhandari, to discuss her heritage and subsequent foundations of her podcast. She is a radio show host, presenter, producer as well as a podcaster. Interviewing numerous guests on the show to address identity and culture, topics discussed range from transphobia, sexism, caste, and colourism within South Asian cultures, to fashion, sustainability, and ethics. She has created a forum for people from marginalised communities to share their incredible personal and professional experiences, creating a community for education and celebration.

First and foremost, tell us, what is The Bindi Bandit?

The Bindi Bandit is a podcast I launched, combining two of my passions: broadcasting, and history. It centres around the desire to find yourself whilst embracing heritage, culture, ethnicity, religion…whatever makes you different. It also includes people that aren't part of minority and marginalized groups that have done incredible work towards pioneering opportunities or embracing the community itself. I’m proud to say it's become a safe space and community where people and communities can share personal stories and their own navigation through life being either a hybrid identity, mixed race or whatever informs their identity.

If you listen to the podcast, you'll hear some incredible stories about times when they've been so appreciated and felt so at ease in a room, as well as times when they haven't. It really gives an insight into what life is like for some people in the United Kingdom. It's a reflection of the size of our society; we live in a multicultural society, and there isn't one person who looks exactly like everyone else. We discuss wider societal issues in the UK, both good and bad, while also teaching and educating. One of the main themes is to educate, inspire, and inform people. Many of my listeners are not from the BME community, and they listen to this podcast in order to learn and figure out how they could help their peers.

Your podcast is such a huge cultural celebration, bringing in so many different people from so many different spaces. You named it the Bindi Bandit, which of course is a huge nod to your own identity and community. How did the Bindi Bandit come to be and why was it important for you to incorporate your culture into this?

I love alliteration. I love things that roll off the tongue and I like things that are quite fun. I thought, ‘what's fun, what's very much me? Funnily enough, I wrote a poem about The Bindi Bandit and it was just a character in my head. I don't ever write poems but I felt this sudden creative explosion. One of the things I wrote was "never lose sight of the Bindi between your eyes," which is one of the most powerful things I've ever told myself because you shouldn't, you should never lose sight of that Bindi between your eyes. Just because we live in the United Kingdom doesn't mean you should give up your cultural identity.

The Bandit side is a rebellion. It's the passion and fire that drives me to speak out about issues in my own community. It's the discussions around taboo and often silenced issues and doing it in a way that is respectful to the community. I’m putting those two together, so the name really fits. If anyone has seen the logo, I'm wearing a mask which is symbolic of me deciding to create the podcast during COVID because I thought to myself, if I don't do it now, I never will.

You mention the Bandit side being a rebellion, touching on taboo discussions within cultures. You've brought in people from all different cultures, and all different walks of life within the eight episodes you've already published. Tell us about some of the highlights and interesting discussions that have taken place and some of your favourite bits so far.

I love the varied conversations, I think that's the magic to it. I like to stress that as much as I expect to educate listeners, I am learning too. Someone once said to me, ‘I love how you let the guests talk’. Well, when they talk, I'm genuinely captivated by them and what they're saying. I make sure that no episode is the same, and I can go from chatting about transphobia, homophobia, and sexuality, to exploring acting, dancing, and Bollywood and activist groups.

The personal stories aspect of it at the beginning is one of my absolute highlights because it's not just about the guests and the incredible things they do. They're all so open and unapologetically honest about their journey and what they've been through. It's so, so powerful. I'm hugely grateful for anyone that's willing to open up and share some really honest details about their life in order to educate. Many times, especially the episode you featured on, the one with Nav Rahman and Saaj Raja, all of them offered me moments of self-reflection and even therapy, thinking to myself - ‘Where can I grow? Where can I help people that feel the same thing or are going through this struggle?’

Listeners often believe you know or should know everything because you are the podcaster/host, but also learning is all part of the experience. Many of your conversations revolve around diversity and inclusion within cultures and communities, as well as corporate systems that are a part of our society. Although you've introduced a forum for such critical debates to take place, do you think that podcasting is diverse enough?

I genuinely think podcasting is an incredible space because anyone can talk about anything. There are some incredible podcasts out there that talk about diversity and inclusion and in very different ways to how I talk about it. I definitely would say, if someone does have an idea about cultural identity, add it. You can never have enough of conversations like these in the podcasting field or in any field as a matter of fact. Find either a student podcasting company or local podcasting groups and get your voice out there because it's important that we have people sharing their experiences. Diversity does not have to be directly discussed, as I like to say. Even if you're doing a podcast with your friends, but you have a diverse group where people feel represented and have a safe space - that, too, is diversity. It's not just about having a variety of conversations regarding diversity.

I like what you said about diversity in terms of representation rather than just talking about it. During my podcast feature when I joined you for the Bindi Bandit, we talked about South Asian people pursuing creative careers. Do you think it's important for South Asians to have representation in non-traditional fields?

110%! It's so important for South Asians or any minority groups to be represented and to feel that they have a voice. It's not wrong to do something that isn't conventional or stereotypically positive in our culture. I know it's difficult because there are so many constraints, but it's all about believing in yourself and your talent. I always say, you don't want to get to an age where you think, ‘Oh my God, I wish I did that’. As South Asians, we must support one another, and ensure that we are encouraged to pursue non-traditional careers. Share your friends’ podcast, share your friends’ essay, whatever it is, those are the things that will get them noticed.

I'm representing the South Asian community, even if it's from a small platform, by doing what I'm doing. Because it could be your little cousin who sees what I'm doing and thinks, ‘actually, I could do that.’ Representation is extremely powerful. It's critical because we're paving the way for future generations and breaking down barriers. I'll give you a sneak preview - an Olympian comes on in the coming weeks and talks about how she saw a Black woman at the Olympics. She spoke about how she saw her on TV, one Black athlete, and that changed her life completely because in that moment she felt represented.

Visibility, sharing and supporting is absolutely integral. I want people to see that creative South Asians are just as valid and talented as anyone else – if anything because of the challenges even getting to this creative space, we are better understood, more culturally aware, and more accepting. One of the major problems that has affected our culture is parental demand and the desire to see their children go into specific conventional fields, as well as the dismissal and unawareness of creative professions.

As mindsets shift and adapt, do you believe there will be any barriers for the next generation of South Asian youth?

Barriers come in all shapes and sizes, whether it's your own internal barrier, your own doubt, your age, or larger societal and cultural constraints. Each generation of migrant or immigrant families has faced something. Black Girls Brunch are coming on this week and one of the guests said one of the most incredible things I've ever heard. She said, ‘our previous two generations, our grandparents and parents, lived to survive and now we live to thrive’ and that really was a ‘woah’ moment for me. It’s a really powerful message.

We are now pushing the next generation forward, breaking down barriers, and demanding a voice. I think some people forget that even in a world of such diversity, there will always be pockets of discrimination and prejudice, but it's about overcoming that and remaining strong. You have social media, you have widely discussed mental health, and it's so important for South Asian youth to have something that feels like a community and mutual support to make sure they know they're not alone. We must continue to assist and bring in new generations by saying, "what you're going through is completely normal."

There will be barriers. I couldn't guess what obstacles will exist because things change too quickly, but there will always be small parts of prejudice and racism.

You mention social media; as time passes and digitalization takes root, social media will become more popular. You can see what people are doing all over the world on apps like Tik Tok. One thing I've noticed is a rising racist trend on Tik Tok, which South Asian children face. You'd think that as time passes, particularly with increased representation, prejudice would fade and people would become more tolerant, but this isn't the case. Even in England, there is still an explicitly racist aspect.

We live in a community and circle of people who celebrate cultures and are respectful of others, but there is another side of this coin. I agree that one of the things we can do is continuing to share and spread awareness and education into the mainstream, as you said. One thing we continue to lack is broad media representation, as well as symbols and role models. There are people like us at the bottom of the barrel, trying to make a difference, but we’re not seeing them rising through the ranks yet. This means we’re only able to meet a small number of audiences due to our smaller platforms. I hope that when we do things like this for future generations, those barriers start to disintegrate.

I would say to add on to that, there's one barrier which is cultural conflict internally. It will face my children, if I have any. ‘How British should I be? How Indian should I be? How do I honour both?’ It's hard, being in British schools, in Western society, ‘how can we honour both?’ And actually, you cannot necessarily honour both simultaneously, but it's about blending both together, finding a happy medium and getting to the point where you're confident in that identity.

My direct messages are always open for anyone who wants to talk about something or just reach out. While some people think it's just a podcast, I'm here for much more. I'm here to help the community and anyone who needs help in any way, so please reach do out.

We're not just a bunch of people trying to spread the word. We want to be a support system and network because we've been there and lived through many struggles.

That's how me and you have become good friends. It’s why we’ve become confident using our voices to support each other because we've built a relationship from talking and sharing our experiences and that's what's so important.

Yes, exactly! Thank you so much for joining us. You've been incredible and informative. Given the upcoming South Asian festivals in the coming week, I believe we should end on a high note. Tell me why you're proud of your race and what you like most about being South Asian.

I'm most proud of my Gujarati heritage, from the food to the clothes to the dialect, which I seem to speak quite brokenly. I've always been fascinated by the vivid and colourful Indian weddings, and seeing the magic that occurs is sensory overload. Every day, I consider myself extremely fortunate to have an amazing family who unconditionally supports me. I recall vividly returning to my motherland, visiting my ancestors in rural India, sleeping on the floor with them, and experiencing an indescribable feeling. I can't even explain how I felt, but all I could think was, 'right now, I'm not British, I'm not a Gujarati, I've just been accepted, and I'm learning.' They've embraced me. They're teaching me stuff like how to milk a cow, and I'm so proud of myself for doing so. My grandparents and parents never forced culture on me. They've always shown it to me. They've always taught me, and if I had a question, they've always answered it openly.

Check out The Bindi Bandit on Apple Podcasts and Spotify!

By Yazz Bhandari, Diversity, Inclusion & Content Executive