The Monitoring Group provides advice, assistance and support to victims of hate crime.

 My friend, how will you ever thrive in his strange and loveless land Where hatred mocks you at every turn Where souls are as cold as ice Where the very soil is contaminated Oos Pardesh by Kala Preet Now yu si fire burning in my eye Smell badness pan mi breat Feel vialence, vialence Birstin outta mi Look out! It too late now I did warn yu Time Come lyrics by Linton Kwesi Johnson Over four decades ago, on Friday 4 June 1976, a young Asian teenager, Gurdeep Singh Chaggar, had made plans to see a Bollywood movie at a local Cinema Hall in Southall. When the film ended he was in a happy mood. Within minutes he was dead, fatally stabbed by a gang of white youths. 

The combined impact of his racist murder and the protests, including violent public disturbances and street occupations, that followed were historic. The events propelled a new generation of young street fighters and campaigners against state racism busting myths of Asian docility. A new voice emerged and it’s potency unleashed new political and artistic forces of dissent and victories. I first heard the terrible news on Saturday, a day after his killing when it was spreading throughout the town. I was outside the Dominion Cinema with my friend Denis Almeida and we bumped into a couple people who had taken Chaggar to hospital. They pointed towards a pool of blood across the road. A lone police officer was stationed near it. The image startled me because I realised that we were looking at a murder scene. 

I made my way to the officer and asked, ‘Is this where he was killed?’ but he didn’t respond and simply stared back at me. At that moment, Denis and other people joined me. I continued: ‘Whose blood is it’? His tone was unsympathetic, ‘He was just an Asian’. I was surprised by his answer and both Denis and I looked at each other in disbelief. I continued, ‘Why don’t you cover the blood or clean it? It’s disrespectful to leave it as it is, a young man has just died here’. He ignored my plea and without uttering a word simply walked away leaving a murder scene unattended. For a while we stood over the pool of blood in silence. We discussed the need to preserve a dead teenager’s dignity. The least we could do was ensure that no one would accidently trample over his blood. There was also anger in the air at the police officer’s attitude. He had shown no respect and revealed his bias in such a brazen and unkind manner and did so knowingly, and literally, over our dead brother’s blood. 

We wanted to contact his family but we didn’t know where they lived. Denis and I took the initiative by deciding to cover the pool of blood and the surrounding area with red cloth and write a message with paint on the pavement. The temporary shrine also carried a defiant message to racists and authorities alike. We had written: ‘this racist murder will be avenged. We’ll get you racist scum’! Our choice of words provoked a backlash from some of the journalists and politicians who had come to Southall that day. But we simply couldn’t hide the anger burning inside us. Chaggar’s murder was the latest injustice in a list of many others and we had little faith in the police to protect us. My own experience had already taught me this bitter lesson. I was only eleven years old when my family arrived in England in the cold winter of 1966. It was the end of a momentous journey and the beginning of new awakening. Our journey started in Nairobi, travelling in a people carrier through Kenya, a year earlier. We reached India by sea and after brief stay travelled across three continents via the Suez canal and Paris and finally ending in Nelson, a small mill town hidden in the Pendle district of Lancashire, 

For a young child the journey was a momentous adventure and the first encounter with people of different cultures and nationalities. The French owned ship, Steam Ship Vietnam, had provided the very first opportunity to share my life and adventure, and in such confined space, with African children, a friendly English woman and Vietnamese cooks. But life in Nelson was hard. We learnt to endure the reality of freezing winters and cold rain. There was no luxury in our home. My parent’s made titanic efforts to provide human love and care but neither the harsh conditions nor the dripping affect of racist incidents allowed one to live a life on a feast of hopes and dreams. 

During my formative years, in a very short space of time, my ambitions were wrenched out of me, and I faced an uncertain future with trepidation. No one warned me of the approaching storm of racism that had been festering in the underbelly of our society fuelled by the media and politicians. By the early 1970’s violent racism was rearing its ugly head in my town. In a deadly ‘sport’ called ‘paki-bashing’, gangs of white teenagers and skinheads would target and damage Asian homes and businesses and provoke daily fights against Asian people in schools, sports fields and the streets. My parents had only drummed respect in my head. I had to learn to defend myself and overcoming fear was the first great obstacle. In my first confrontation I was terrified of being hit so I tried to reason with my assailants but my logical arguments proved fruitless. They certainly didn’t help me avoid the first hard punch to my face. But then the school bell rang and I was saved. 

In another encounter, I remember being hit without warning. My head rolled backwards. At first the fight seemed to slow down and then suddenly real time kicked in when both pain and senses became more pronounced and where you could smell your own blood. I had no time to fear and I managed to block and hit back. My reactions seemed to surprise every one including the assailant’s supporters who had surrounded us during the fight, purposely to deny me, their targeted victim, any escape route. This time I had survived and only suffered a black eye. At my school racism was never challenged either in the classroom or playground. Enoch Powell was viewed as a folk hero by some of my schoolmates. His name was often used as a chant to reinforce supremacy and as a signal to start or provoke a fight. We were always outnumbered and forced to fight in an unfair and unequal contest but we quickly learned that victory, especially when faced with a sea of hostility, didn’t always require a decisive win. It also meant carving an ending where one didn’t loose. We would regularly navigate our way to school by avoiding the main roads. One Saturday evening both my nephew and I couldn’t avoid a group of white racists. In a calculated brutal attack my nephew’s jaw was broken as soon as he opened his mouth and I was stabbed. 

We had just come out of the Cinema having watched Clint Eastwood’s latest movie. We reported the incident to the police and my father even arranged a meeting with a senior police officer but nothing happened. After some time, the storm of hatred receded in Nelson. It drifted away towards other cities bringing more pain and harm in its wake. I encountered an entirely different world when I enrolled for a sixth from college in a different town. The student’s common room had a visible presence of’ ‘hippy’ and left wing culture as well as world music. For a brief moment I was on safe ground and readily embraced this new free spirited wave with open arms. Our direct experience forced us to investigate the origins of racism and its global impact. People, throughout the world, struggling against oppression, inspired us. However, nothing changed at home. My parents were factory workers and their life was as hard as ever. Both my nephew and I knew we couldn’t survive in a town already devoid of any real and meaningful opportunities for working people. These were reduced even further for people like us. At a young age, both of us could feel the burden, not the expectations, of our families on our little shoulders. A year later, after repairing my confidence and armed with a new political consciousness, and on reaching my 18th birthday, we both left the warmth of our homes and headed down south on a night coach towards London. 

It is both remarkable and ironic how violence is tolerated in British society, especially in working class areas where it is perpetually promoted by the state as a basis of survival and manhood but then condemned when its usage is exposed. This allows a simmering and an ‘acceptable’ level of violence to exist, unchallenged, and ready to be deployed, with impunity, against the most vulnerable or discriminated sections of our society. In this sense, the greatest tragedy of a killing in our communities lies not just in its painful occurrence but also in the State’s own bewildering impotence or complicity. Chaggar’s murder was no exception. In 1976, racism in our country had reached another peak. The tabloids fuelled anti immigrant sentiments by creating fake news that white Britain was on the verge of being swamped by Black and Brown people from the new Commonwealth.

 History tells us that when racial prejudice is constantly drummed up publicly, there is invariably a corresponding spike in ‘hate’ crimes against targeted groups of people and always disproportionally against the Black and Asian communities. A more deadly storm had risen and we began to experience racial attacks on our communities, No arena was spared: people, bookshops, centres, workplaces or places of worship. Our makeshift shrine for Chaggar began to attract large numbers of young people onto the streets. Initially we made spontaneous speeches and others joined in but by early that Saturday evening, there were over 500 young local people gathered round a corner and outbreaks of spontaneous violence began to occur, mainly directed at owners of cars who were perceived residents of a white enclave of Southall. The police responded by implementing a blanket stop and search policy of any Asian person living or entering the area. By mid evening arrests of young Asians began to take place. We responded by demanding the immediate closure of all Indian owned Cinemas and restaurants as a mark of respect for Chaggar. 

There were no formal discussion or meetings, but everyone engaged in discussing the next steps of action, gravitated toward the Dominion Cinema. `It was the only building where we could hold large meetings and where Chaggar had spent his last hours. It was a symbol of self-reliance, owned by the Indian Workers Association (IWA) Southall. By sheer coincidence the organisation had planned a conference on fascism at the Dominion Cinema the next day. The IWA tried to appease the youth by passing a general resolution against racism but this response only made people angry. Resolutions never worked, they were only symbolic. The time for symbols had gone, many in the audience wanted real change. The meeting descended into a ferocious and sometimes chaotic battle between two camps - those who wanted immediate action against racism and the police and those sought reliance or goodwill of politicians and the state. Despite being seasoned community politicians, many of whom had challenged discrimination in the UK and fought for independence in India, the IWA leadership couldn’t convince their own audience and some looked frightened at the prospect of a new power emerging in their town. Then a local young man called for an immediate demonstration outside the police station to demand protection against racial attacks. 

The conference ended and everyone began to gather outside the Cinema. We took over the main road. It was all very peaceful until a car pulled up and a couple of white man got out. One had a weapon in his hand and he shouted ‘you black bastards’. We ran after them but they drove away. The police cars could have chased them but remained motionless. When we reached the station, we found it barricaded like a fort ready for battle. By staging a mass sit-in, we occupied the entire area surrounding the station. The police tried to disperse us but failed miserably. They then responded by creating a sterile area around the entire town so that none could come in or leave. But more and more people, young and old, kept arriving to joint the protest. By late evening, despite police roadblocks and mass targeting of Asian car owners and condemnation by national politicians, there was new air of confidence in Southall. A call by some of the ‘community leaders’ to check our militancy and to keep a low profile was ignored. Our actions were driven by a common anger against undiluted racism but they had also rejected traditional politics in Southall. This also included a rejection of government-funded projects set up to mediate between our communities and the state. Neither sought fundamental shift in power relationships and both wanted to buy off our self – organisation. Within days a local group called the Southall Youth Movement was established. 

It carried the hopes a new generation. In reality the resistance inspired a new wider movement and different constellations began to assert their own influence over the next decade. Faced with incredible challenges, the young movement reacted in both a positive and destructive manner. Inspired by self-organisation and an uncompromising belief in their ability to provide its own solutions, it created a new political culture that forged new links between the Asian and West Indian youth. This unity became crucial in defending Southall from racist attacks and responding to the aftermath of the April 1979 events that led to the murder of the schoolteacher Blair Peach, by the Metropolitan Police’s Special Patrol Group; the arrest of 750 people for protesting against the fascist National Front; and destruction of the People’s Unite building. The events had ushered a new creative energy for young independent musicians and artists and provided space for local bands playing both Bhangra and Reggae music to flourish. 

It created youth clubs for young people to meet developing its own sports events and teams. It led to the development of new rights based agenda and the mushrooming of new community based organisations that both provided information on rights affecting young people, women and workers and campaigned with them to challenge discrimination. For an important moment in history, Southall had became a beacon for the Asian youth and communities nationally who, armed with fearless audacity, began to chart a new journey for the rest of Britain.