February 20, 2011

Strength of multiculturalism

My wife and I came to Leicester in 1966 from India, land of different faiths such as Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, Christianity, Islam, Zorasterism and Sikhism, co-existing with each other for centuries.

We started our lives in Highfields where lived too Christians, Afro-Carribeans, Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs and Bangladeshis. When we started looking for a house for ourselves across East Park Road, we were told by the white house owners that they cannot sell their house because our food smells of garlic; we have different culture and our white neighbours do not like Asians and coloured people. These sort of remarks gave us the shock of our lives.

When I used to tell them that I was a teacher in a Grammar School, they would say: "Really".

St Peter's Church Vicar, Rev Carlile, involved me in Leicester Voluntary Community Relations Council. At those times, there was no Hindu Mandir, no Gurdwara and no Mosque.

The first Islamic centre started at St Peter's Road, the first gurdwara opened at New Walk and Hindu mandir started at Weymouth Street. White population Christians started visiting these Asian religious places of worship and people like us from different faiths began to be invited by different organisations to give a talk to them about our religions, cultures, customs, traditions etc.

A new awakening about understanding each other sprang up in the city and the county.

Then came 1972. In spite of Leicester City Council's efforts to discourage the Ugandan Asians from coming to Leicester, they came in thousands and started their businesses in the Belgrave-Melton Road areas. The Gujarati community brought better understanding, multiculturalism, wealth and respect to all the Asians, the blacks and the whites and brought them nearer to each other.

Indian, Italian, Irish, Polish, Pakistani, Bangladeshi and Punjabi restaurants opened their door for the white population and they were not put off anymore from the garlic smell.

BBC Radio started Asian programme "Milan" with me which later on became 6.0 Five Show in English and is now Asian Network. People from all faiths started respecting each other's faiths and cultures. More and more gurdwaras, mandirs and mosques have come in our city. They are all co-existing next to each other along with the churches and synagogues.

People of different faiths and cultures are neighbours of each other. Our state schools are teaching all the major religions, having Christian worship and school assemblies very amicably. All the children and their parents have accepted the multi-faith teaching gladly. Hence multiculturalism is a great success in Leicester.

In 1979, my wife and myself were invited to Her Majesty's Garden Party and there we were introduced to the late Queen Mother.

Her sweet and memorable words are still ringing in my ears.

She said: "Great Britain is like a garden with beautiful flowers of different colours. For thousands of years, people of different cultures, faiths and backgrounds have been coming to this land and have contributed to the enrichment of British culture which is a mix of so many cultures. I welcome you both to this country and your contribute to the enrichment of our culture with your Asian values."

This is multiculturalism, where people do follow their own faiths and live their own lives like good neighbours. All of us also have common values, the common laws of the land, common language, common citizenship and one country and loyalty to one head of the State — Her Majesty the Queen.

We all are united against extremism, killing of innocent people in our cities.

We proved beyond any doubt on October 8, 2010 when gathering around the Clock Tower in solidarity against the EDL march and again on October 10 when the people of all faiths, colours and backgrounds showed their unity. It was the strength of multiculturalism on show.

Letter from Kartar Singh Sandhu to the Leicester Mercury

Thanks to NewsHound for the heads-up

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