A council on UK plans to thank Indian immigrants

A council in England that once did not want Indian immigrants to come to the city is planning to publicly thank them for transforming it and the region.

Updated: Sep 09, 2012, 15:42 PM IST

London: A council in England that once did not want Indian immigrants to come to the city is planning to publicly thank them for transforming it and the region after facing racism and other hurdles as they rebuilt their lives over the last 40 years.

In one of the most remarkable stories of the Indian diaspora, the east Midlands town of Leicester is marking the 40th anniversary of Indians and Asians being expelled from Uganda by Idi Amin, and their arrival in a town that was then struggling economically.
In August 1972, the Uganda Indians were not welcome in the city, and the council paid for advertisements in the Uganda press, stating that it was "in your own interests and those of your family... Not come to Leicester".
Forty years later, councillor Sundip Meghani, son of one of the many Indians expelled from Uganda, has proposed a motion in the same city council thanking the Indians and other Asians from Uganda for their contribution to the city.

Meghani`s father, Shantilal, and his family settled in Leicester after being expelled from Uganda with only 50 pounds in the pocket.

On the motion before the council, Sundip Meghani told Leicester Mercury, a leading local daily: "It is a symbolic gesture on an issue that is of great importance to the whole city.

"More than 10,000 Ugandan Asians came here. Most were active, hard-working and entrepreneurial people".

He added: "They helped the recovery of an economy that, in the early 1970s was struggling ? particularly the hosiery industry.

"Today, they and their relatives play a major part in the city`s business. It`s in everything from restaurants to banking and the legal sector".

In August 1972, the expelled Indians were depressed, deprived and had arrived to the unwelcoming town of Leicester on a cold, misty morning.

The situation today could not be more different.

Not only has the Indian community worked hard and prospered over the years, it has also transformed a declining town into a buzzing multicultural haven that is the subject of study by several European towns.

It is today seen as one of the major success stories of the Indian diaspora anywhere in the world.
The mostly educated Indians from Uganda had fled with nothing but literally built an empire in Leicester, with hard work and diligence.

Meghani wants his fellow councillors to condemn those who seek to discourage people fleeing persecution from coming to the city.

He said: "At the time of the expulsions there was a lot of rhetoric from anti-immigration groups and the National Front to try to stop Ugandan Asians coming here. The city council also foolishly took out adverts in papers telling them not to come here".

He added: "Leicester reluctantly accepted the Ugandan Asians but now, after 40 years, the city is a much better place for their arrival.

"The city was a very different place back then and there was uncertainty and fear about immigration. Now we know what an important role those fleeing persecution have played".

Dharmesh Lakhani, a leading businessman and chairman of the local business association, was four years old when his family came to Leicester.

He said: "Ugandan Asians should also thank the people of Leicester for accepting them.... There are many Ugandan Asians like me who now consider themselves as British as anyone and they have worked hard to develop successful businesses to add to this city".

The `then and now` transformation of the town is symbolised by the large annual celebrations for Diwali, when the city council sponsors festivities that attract thousands of people across Britain and elsewhere, besides the local Asian and non-Asian communities.

Goa-origin Labour MP Keith Vaz, who represents Leicester East, is one of many representatives of the Asian community who hold top offices in local and national politics, business, bureaucracy and the arts (Parminder Nagra, star of `Bend It Like Beckam`, hails from Leicester).

In 2008, Ludhiana-born Manjula Sood became the first Asian woman to become the Lord Mayor when she was elected to the ceremonial post which has a history of over 800 years.

The city council, inspired by the Gujarati community`s links back home, officially twinned Leicester with Rajkot in 1996.

Passengers at the Leicester train station are greeted with welcome signs in Hindi, Urdu and Gujarati, among other languages, while local radio stations Sabras Radio and BBC Asian network belt out latest Bollywood numbers and interviews with stars.

Significantly, the first town Queen Elizabeth visited during her diamond jubilee celebrations earlier this year was Leicester, where she was welcomed by Bollywood songs and Indian dance, among other performances.