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How did you develop an interest in political activism?

 I suppose there are distinct memories which had an impact on me growing up. Firstly, I was at school in Southall in the late sixties, and this was a difficult time for Asians in Southall. I think I recall my time at school like a prison sentence. I was in one of the top classes, but I hated being there because all the other kids were white, and I was alone. One day I ran away, and joined the lower class, 2b, just to spend time with my Asian friends, I’m not sure why, but it took them two days to find me and take my back to my class. Racism was fairly open in the class, and the teachers would regularly ask you questions, and point to you directly just to mock you. One of the other kids, Harpal stood up to the teacher one day, and told them he doesn’t want to be humiliated, some other Asian kids stood up, and eventually I did the same. The school expelled Harpal for a while, though he is now Dr Gill, a successful doctor. My worst experience was that of being chased by older white kids. We had to walk from one block to another, and we would get regularly chased through the corridors, and sometimes we would get beaten up. The teachers never intervened. Outside school was just the same, older white boys would hang about outside school simply to chase and beat us. We would have to walk into school through a different entrance. In the end, older Asian kids would also come and hang about outside school to get us home safely. They protected us, and this was perhaps the seeds of the Southall Youth Movement, an attitude that violence was prevalent everywhere, and we just had to deal with it ourselves. Secondly, I have a memory of a demonstration by some local white people along Southall Broadway in the late 1960’s, I can’t remember exactly what it was about, or if it was organised by a particular group, but I remember thinking, ‘they don’t want us here’. Around that time, we used to see a lot of British flag flying in Southall.... and people would often be aggressive to you, sometimes just shout at you, and it dawned on me from an early age that they were concerned about me, that they didn’t want us here, and that effected me. It wasn’t political, I didn’t know about the National Front things like that but we knew that some white people didn’t like us. This wasn’t political, I don’t come from a political family, my father wasn’t political but when he came in the 1950s he was told to go and get his hair cut, but he didn’t, he said he was a Sikh and he didn’t do it and despite this he did eventually get work. He never complained about things to us, but he had strong values, and he taught us to do the right thing. I got the message from him, and my brother that you had to talk straight, and when I was younger I was very introverted, but I learnt to do this, and I still get impatient with people who speak with forked tongues. I think straight talking sits alongside honesty and trust, and this is important within communities. How did the Southall Youth Movement begin? I think all of us kids growing up in Southall were similar, and faced similar issues. We all grew up knowing we only had each other, because of this bond we never betrayed each other, that’s the sort of environment we moved in and experienced growing up all in Southall. So even before the Youth Movement started we already had these networks operating informally, and they worked quite well. The networks were came from a number of different places, the local pubs, the two kabbadi teams, the cricket teams, Southall college, and a number of different individuals. The Youth Movement was basically one or two people from each place, and everyone knew each other, though because we worked with one or two people from each place, not everyone knew everything. So, when the murder of Chagger happened we were able to react quickly, and we didn’t need a formal organisation to do this. The only reason we gave a name to this reaction was because people kept asking us, what is this? who are you? Everybody wanted a name, so we just said ‘Southall Youth Movement’(SYM). So, SYM was born. Also the Olympics was about to take place, and there was all this discussion about South Africa, and we kept seeing the image of John Carlos and the Black Power salute in the earlier Olympics, so we identified with that and we liked the torch, so we made a logo for SMY inspired by the Black Power salute. It was all very spontaneous and quick. We did have a committee, and in the beginning, we didn’t have a leader, but I was eventually asked to be the leader, because of my brother, I became the front man, and all it meant was that I would have contact with other people, whilst the others stayed in the background. We had the sense to know that we had to be careful, What sort of things did the Southall Youth Movement do? We came to find out about the National Front. Initially we didn’t know about the National Front, we know about skinheads, and we didn’t really care if the skinheads were part of a group or not, but we started talking to the different socialist groups which suddenly came to Southall. Working with the socialist groups and later the Anti Nazi League, helped us to understand about the workings of the far right. Some of the white people worked with us, they went to NF meetings and told us what was happening, where they were going to sell papers, and have meetings and if they intended to attack people in certain places. So, we found out, and we would get our squads together and fight them. We had a lot of volunteers, hard core people who wanted to fight the skinheads, this was an important part of the work. We wanted the make Southall a no-go areas for skinheads, and so if they came here we would fight, in that sense if was quite effective. Southall very quickly became a no-go area for skinheads, and the violent racist attacks ceased. I think a lot of families stopped getting harassed because of us so it worked. However, at another level nobody really wanted violence, but you need to understand that we had grown up facing violence, and nobody wanted to talk about the subject, it was if the violence we face didn’t exist, and before SYM many people had been beaten, and even when Chagger died, they wanted to present it as anything but a racist murder, nobody wanted to talk about violence or racism, and we were afraid that it would remembered as just another death, and so wanted to register its meaning to others. We didn’t totally like the white left groups. We had concerns that these white lefties kept coming to Southall, and telling us how we could achieve liberation. We kept saying to them, ‘nobody tells us what to do’. We knew that they weren’t totally committed, because when things got difficult they just disappeared. We wanted to see things simply as black and white, but we also knew we had to learn about the left and right, about fascism, and other things and we attempted to do this. We also had an impact nationally, especially up north. We contacted young people from Bradford, they came to see us, and then we in 1981 we spent a couples of weeks with them in Bradford. The two communities were totally different, whereas Southall was vibrant, I found Bradford totally depressing, but they were also different because they had read a lot more political work, and they had more knowledge, but they had less connection with the community, it felt less of a movement, not that it was not there, the Asian Youth movements in Bradford, Batley, Dewberry and the others places were very important. They were trying to do their owns things, and they were inspired by us, in fact, in front of their office was huge wall with big letters ‘long live southall’. However, after the burning of the Hamborough Tavern we were under surveillance, they had been charged with conspiracy, so it was dangerous to meet up and develop things. Did you work with the Southall Indian Workers Association? The SYM didn’t get on with the Indian Workers Association. As soon as we met them we thought they had a mentality of appeasement, we viewed their views as a humiliation for our people, and that what they were doing didn’t represent any of us. The problem wasn’t just that of representation, but they really had no contact with us, and didn’t engage with our lives. They didn’t really know what we were doing, they didn’t influence our lives, they were of a generation who related more to my parents, they worked in factories, and we were in school and colleges, and they were totally disconnected. It was like two separate communities, and they couldn’t understand where suddenly this all came from. In those days, we saw the Southall IWA as collaborators with the state, and with the police. When there a racist attack, white on black, their message to us was always, ‘calm down, do not react’, and this is happened even so many racist attacks were occurring locally, so many people got injured, and even at the point where there was a death, a racist murder, here in Southall they did nothing. The Southall IWA had their own networks and it was huge. When they had meetings hundreds of people would come and talk and go to the elections, but they created their own community, amongst themselves, they argued and heckled amongst themselves, and they didn’t talk to or listen to the people outside of their own structures. So suddenly they found themselves in a powerless position, because we were doing something different, and we didn’t need to consult them. Suddenly, they were powerless, and they didn’t know how to talk to us. When we sieged Southall police station because they had arrested our members, they came and said we can get them out, instead they went in and made a deal with the police, and they came out and told us they won’t be charged and we should disperse, but this was not true, after this there was little trust between the SYM and the Southall IWA. They then treated us like we were hooligans, and they even told the media this, and the media treated us like we were hooligans. This leadership happens in all communities, certainly it’s something we are seeing in the Muslim community at the moment. By the time we met them, Southall IWA was huge, and wealthy and out of touch with the younger generation. Yet, it was once a leading organisation, and achieved a lot. And it is sad that when you look at the white left, the SWP and ANL they have books, pamphlets, website, and yet when you look at our community, there is nothing. Its political history, its legacy is slowly disappearing, nobody has written about it, and this is perhaps why we had no direction. When we only have white people’s history, rather than our own history we don’t know what the rules of engagement should be. As a young person growing up in Southall back then we had a series of encounters growing up, and when we did something they labelled us, and we had the whole media and state apparatus tell us we were just gang members, its something that still happens today. Are you less political as you get older? As you get older you get more political in the sense that when you are young you don’t have the range of vocabulary of words to really articulate things, but now now have the words, It’s not that I could see things when I was younger, but now I have more words, but the danger is that you just talk and become part of the system, because that is what the system wants you to do, just speak and not actually change anything. In some sense as you get older you can end of deskilling yourself by losing touch with the real issues. I try to do this by still speaking to people in Southall in Punjabi mostly, this helps maintain some sharpness and connection. it still makes me realise that sometimes you can get more change by hurling a brick than by keep going to meetings. that sometimes community leadership is best achieved through less knowledge and understanding of the establishment. SYM was powerful because we thought differently and didn’t want to listen what others had to say, this was both its strength and weakness.