Shankar Balasubramanian, a professor of chemistry and DNA expert at Cambridge University, has received a knighthood – the highest accolade from the Queen – in the New Year honours list.
The 50-year-old, who was born in Chennai in India and brought to the UK by his parents a year later, is Herchel Smith Professor of Medicinal Chemistry at Cambridge University.
He was recognised for his work as a co-inventor of Next Generation DNA sequencing, described as the most transformational advance in biology and medicine for decades.
Balasubramanian is also a senior group leader at the Cancer Research UK Cambridge Institute and Fellow of Trinity College.
A host of British Asian talents were honoured for services to their respective fields. They included Kamaldeep Singh Bhui, professor of cultural psychiatry and epidemiology at Queen Mary University of London, Tricycle Theatre director Indhu Rubasingham and prominent chef Tony Singh.
Other big names to be recognised include Olympic star Mo Farah and tennis ace Andy Murray as well as actors Mark Rylance and Patricia Routledge from the entertainment world.
This year’s honours are the most diverse to date, with 9.3 per cent of candidates being Asian or black.
Acknowledging his knighthood, Sir Balasubramanian said: “It is a great honour for me and a wonderful acknowledgement of the research I have carried out in Cambridge with my coworkers and collaborators over the past two decades.
“I was particularly pleased to see recognition of our basic science and its impact on medicine, as I am jointly appointed between the Departments of Chemistry and Medicine.”
Bhui, who received an OBE for his work in mental health research and care, told Eastern Eye he was “delighted”, and “humbled” by the touching messages he had received in recognition of his work.
He is the co-founder and director of the Centre for Applied Research and Evaluation International Foundation (Careif ), where he masterminded the Mental Health 4 Life scheme – a useful online resource.
The professor also spearheaded a study into UK railway suicides. He has worked to dispel the stigma that exists within the Asian community when it comes to mental health issues.
Bhui said: “One of the important things for me is that it is recognition of the work undertaken in mental health care, and that there is great need and little resource.
“I am especially pleased as my work is on health inequalities and cultural and ethnic factors that risk mental illness and might be used to help recovery.
“This is a tough area, and it is not easy to shift [attitudes], but over decades small gains have been made in better understanding the causes and remedies for ethnic inequalities in mental health, and experiences of health care.”
The mental health expert added that the stigma and reluctance to use mental health services was not just restricted to south Asian populations “We must do more to talk about emotional difficulties, especially with young people, so they are aware of their own emotional needs and how to care for themselves and others.”
Jatinder Verma, the co-founder of Tara Arts a theatre company in south London, was awarded an MBE for services to diversity in the arts. He has spoken extensively about the lack of ethnic representation in the theatre, and told Eastern Eye that a diverse range of talent in the arts was vital.
“In today’s world, certainly after the events of last year, culture and identity are absolutely at the forefront of all agendas. It seems to me that there is a choice to be made – either you are for them (the arts) or you are not. That’s the new world we are moving into. It is vitally important that we all support those who have creative abilities.
“In particular, Asian and black businesses must also see how this is vitally important – not just for themselves and their communities and their children who have artistic leanings – but also for the wider community.”
Indhu Rubasingham, artistic director at Tricycle Theatre, is another notable name in the arts world who was handed an MBE.
Rubasingham, who was born in Sheffield to Tamil parents from Sri Lanka, is the first Asian woman to run the north London theatre.
She was also recognised in the GG2 Leadership Awards in November, organised by the Asian Media and Marketing Group (AMG), publishers of Eastern Eye.
Verma said he was delighted that Rubasingham had also made it onto the list, and added that having two Asian directors receive honours was a significant achievement.
“I’m delighted that our circle in the last 40 years has had this kind of recognition, and to ensure that there will be many others who receive this kind of recognition, as they deserve,” he added.
Rubasingham told Eastern Eye: “It’s hard to put in words what I feel, but ultimately this award is about the journey and sacrifices my family have made in order for me to achieve this. They came to this country and overcame obstacles and created, through hard, hard work an environment to allow the next generation to flourish. Therefore it’s a recognition of them as well.”
Tony Singh, a well-known chef and presenter who often appears on the nation’s TV screens, was recognised with an MBE.
He said he was gobsmacked when he found out about the award and hoped it would inspire young chefs to follow their dreams.
“Being a chef is still not really looked upon as a career path within Asian families, but I hope something like this can change mindsets. I want to be a role model for young chefs. To show that those that love to cook, are dedicated and hard working, this is a good career path,” Singh said.
Priyesh Patel, managing director of Cofresh Snack Foods, based in Leicester, said he was humbled and deeply honoured to receive an MBE in the New Year honours list.
Patel said: “I am grateful for the leadership and support of my parents, my family and the team at Cofresh, who are the heart of this recognition.”