Fixing the ‘invisibility’ of South Asian podcasters

When there are so many South Asian people, why is the podcast industry so disinterested in us?

I was at the British Podcast Awards a few weeks ago, feeling rather happy because my Masala Podcast had won an award.

But once the adrenaline wore off, as I scanned the faces under the glittering lights in the luxury central London venue, it struck me (yet again) how under-represented South Asian podcasting is. I counted maybe six or seven South Asian faces in the crowd, among an audience of literally hundreds. 

Sadly, this is normal. I often walk around awards dos and podcasting industry events feeling like I don’t really belong in these spaces, because I don’t see many people who look like me.

It’s like South Asian podcasts don’t exist. Think about this. You’ve probably read, or at least heard about, the Black Podcast Listener report. You’ve perhaps pored over the Latino Podcast Listener report. You’ve maybe heard of the South East Asian podcaster report - but have you ever read a report about South Asian podcasting? Probably not, because as far as I know, no one has bothered to create a report looking into global South Asian podcasting.

That’s particularly surprising given that South Asians make up a sizeable proportion of the world’s population - 25.2%, to be exact - and that figure doesn’t even include the diaspora. I know this because I’ve researched the potential reach for Masala Podcast by totalling up the number of South Asian women worldwide. 

There are around one billion South Asian women in South Asian countries (not including the global diaspora), 2.75 million South Asian women in the UK (where South Asians are the largest ethnic minority) and a total of almost four million South Asian women in the US and Canada. Factor in South Asian men, and that number gets even bigger.

So, when there are so many South Asian people, why is the podcasting industry so disinterested in us?

Things look different in India which, with its 57.6 monthly listeners, is already the third-largest podcast listening market in the world after China and the US, according to PwC’s Global Entertainment & Media Outlook 2020–2024. So if you consider this figure, it’s not like South Asian folks don’t want to listen to podcasts. 

Not to put a cliché on it, but many South Asians are well-educated professionals like doctors, lawyers, engineers and so on. This means that South Asians living in the West often do well economically - and the numbers speak for themselves. According to the DWP’s Household Income Survey, 41% of households in the Indian ethnic group were likely to have a weekly income of £1,000 or more, and 14% were likely to have a weekly income of £2,000 or more

If I were a brand or an advertiser, I’d be rubbing my hands thinking: yes, large, disposable incomes to tap into! Yet not many brands seem interested in marketing to South Asian audiences. This is staggering, because we know that when you create content (like podcasts) which addresses the needs of specific cultures and communities, the pay-offs are fantastic.

What can we do about the “invisibility” of South Asian podcasters?

So we know that there's a market for South Asian podcasts, and an opportunity for brands who wish to reach that market - but what about the podcasters who are tapping into that need? 

I wanted to share some of the brilliant South Asian podcasts out there - with an emphasis on podcasts for the global South Asian diaspora, because that’s what I know best - so I reached out to South Asian podcasters around the world, to begin to get a sense of this community. 

I emailed and DM-ed as many podcasters as I could. They responded generously, told me about their shows and sent me their links (except for the two long-established male podcasters who flat-out ignored me, but that’s another article entirely.)

While I was walking around listening to these podcasts, I found myself thinking: we don’t just make good “doctors, lawyers, and engineers” – we make bloody good podcasters too.

Globally, South Asians are making podcasts about all kinds of topics. Hosts Sim and Sonya from New Zealand are on a mission to make the world of investing less intimidating for women with their podcast, Girls That Invest - which happens to be the world’s #1 investing podcast for women. 

Meanwhile, the no-holds-barred Brown Girls Do It Too podcast (winner of multiple awards) has its hosts Poppy and Rubina exploring the messy realities, fantasies, and sex-pectations of navigating life and relationships as British Asian women. Then there’s The Sex Podcast by Leeza Mangaldas, a brilliant sex educator offering honest, accurate, judgment-free answers to sex-related questions. 

My own (multi-award-winning) South Asian feminist show Masala Podcast also tackles all sorts of cultural taboos: from periods to porn, from mental health to menopause, from the Kamasutra and nipple hair. 

There are podcasts about immigration and identity, such as US-based podcastImmigrantly, using personal stories to delve into authentic immigrant experiences with host Saadia Khan exploring multiculturalism, stereotypes, and the general messiness of being human. There’s also the South Asian millennial podcast That Desi Spark with hosts Nehal Tenany and Annika Sharma covering all sorts of topics that impact their dual South Asian American identity - as well as the Australian podcast Roots with South Asian Today which dives deep into identity, gender, race, caste and sexuality. 

Then there's podcasts about being LGBTQ+, such as the Canadian Sher Vancouver Podcast, which calls itself a “safe space for BIPOC LGBTQ+ individuals and allies”. Hosts Sharon and Niri are two queer South Asian cis women on a mission to highlight and celebrate queer and trans folks in their local community through this podcast. 

There are plenty of fab US-based podcasts shining a light on South Asians doing great things in the world, too. Like Tuckered Out with Ami Thakkar, which is all about interviewing innovators, experts, and prominent voices from the South Asian diaspora, as well as the South Asian Trailblazers podcast, where host Simi Shah captures the successes of South Asian entrepreneurs. We’ve also got South Asian Stories where hosts Sameer Desai & Meera Tikku talk to successful South Asians from around the world. 

Will all this make South Asian podcasting more visible? Probably not - but I’m hoping that articles like this one will bring more attention to the excellent work being done by these creators, and hopefully encourage more people to shout about them, slowly but surely starting to make a dent into the 'invisibility' of South Asian podcasters. Rest assured though, until we become a lot more visible - you’ll be hearing a lot more from me.