Roshni asserts South Asian identity

MonstRAASity, a Raas/Garba dance team, was one of the groups featured at Roshni on Friday. The event drew an audience of nearly 1,100.
MonstRAASity, a Raas/Garba dance team, was one of the groups featured at Roshni on Friday. The event drew an audience of nearly 1,100. Photo by Phillipp Arndt.

Nearly 1,100 people filled Woolsey Hall on Friday night to see a colorful celebration of South Asian dance, music and even a live episode of Yale’s own “Indian Idol.”

Roshni is the largest event put on by Yale’s South Asian Society (SAS) in the fall semester, with 11 performances ranging from Nepali ethnic dance to South Asian a cappella music by Sur et Veritaal. Since Roshni began in 2002, it has evolved from drawing small crowds in Battell Chapel to celebrating its second year in Woolsey Hall this past Friday. And to SAS President Anjali Ambani ’14, Roshni is a particularly important event for SAS because it demonstrates that the South Asian community is indeed a significant population at Yale with its own identity.

“We’re trying to figure out how to make the Asian stereotype less East Asian,” she said, noting the diversity of the Asian-American population.

SAS Vice-President Bibhusha Dangol ’14 said she feels that the Asian American Cultural Center represents more East Asian groups, which are much more common at Yale. Ambani described SAS as important due to the common experience of South Asians, both from America and abroad.

“I’m from Nepal and I think that having SAS gives me a place to fit in,” Dangol said.

This year, Yale’s South Asian community is taking further steps to assert South Asian American identity by hosting a conference in the spring for South Asian students along the East Coast. Spearheaded by Sonya Prasad ’15 and Arvind Mohan ’14, the conference seeks to empower and inspire South Asian Americans and promote service and activism throughout the South Asian Community, Prasad said. After working with the East Coast Asian American Student Union — which annually hosts the largest Asian-American student conference in the nation — Prasad said she noticed that few academically-oriented conferences catered to the South Asian community specifically.

Still, Roshni’s sheer size helps draw attention to South Asian students at Yale.

“I thought it was really cool to see the different cultures presented,” said attendee Megan Phelan ’15. “I had no idea most of these cultural events existed.”

Friday’s show featured multiple forms of Indian dance, with several performances by Yale’s competitive South Asian dance teams that perform year-round. The newest of these teams, MonstRAASity, which began last semester and performs Raas, a type of Indian folk-dance that uses wooden sticks, made its first public appearance. The show also included singing and small comedic sketches, as well as dances featuring each individual class. The senior class drew the widest group of participants, with 70 students participating in the dance.

“The main purpose of Roshni is to get everyone together for an hour and a half to experience and enjoy it with [the performers] and see what South Asian culture is all about,” said Anand Khare ’15, SAS cultural chair .

The organizers have been working for a month and a half to publicize the show by advertising to undergraduate and graduate students and faculty, and by posting flyers in South Asian restaurants to attract New Haven community members, Khare said. The performers rehearsed for over a month, with some choreography work beginning during the summer, Dangol said.

Khare said that this year, one of the organizers’ main goals was to publicize Roshni not only to the South Asian community, but also to engage members of other cultures. Many of the performers in the show, especially in the senior act, were not South Asian, which Khare said was a tribute to SAS members in their enthusiasm bringing others into the organization.

“The idea of Roshni is not to be limited to South Asian people. It’s about people who love the culture,” Ambani said. “It’s a way of expressing ourselves as a community to Yale.”

SAS developed the Roshni showcase in 2002 as a Diwali holiday event but altered it to a secular celebration in 2003.

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