12 Powerful & Rare Photos of South Asians in 70s Britain

Take a look at some of the most iconic and powerful images of South Asians in 70s Britain that depict their tough battles and big successes.

12 Powerful and Rare Photos of South Asians in 70s Britain

His death sent shockwaves through the community

In 70s Britain, a brave wave of South Asians surged toward the shores of the UK, seeking refuge from political upheaval and chasing dreams of a better future.

Little did they know, their path would be lined with obstacles.

As they set foot on British soil, these intrepid souls encountered a storm of discrimination and racism that threatened to extinguish their hopes.

Verbal assaults, physical attacks, and the cold grip of institutional bias tested their resilience at every turn. But they refused to be defeated.

Nurturing their roots while embracing their newfound home proved to be a delicate balancing act.

In pockets across the UK, South Asian communities blossomed, becoming vibrant hubs of culture, spirituality, and support.

These enclaves pulsated with the rhythm of shared traditions, resolute in preserving their heritage while forging bonds with their British neighbours.

The struggle for employment and education was an uphill battle.

South Asians faced closed doors and glass ceilings, often relegated to menial jobs that barely scraped the surface of their potential.

Yet, undeterred, they fought tooth and nail to break free from the shackles of prejudice, refusing to let their dreams be crushed.

Perhaps one of the first moments of South Asians truly integrating into Britain was just before 1970.

Kessar Singh Bhatti, a talented athlete who soared to great heights in Punjab’s state-level football, formed Britain’s first all-Asian football team in Southall.

It revolutionised the sports scene for South Asians and the love for football and other sports spread like wildfire across London and beyond. 

12 Powerful and Rare Photos of South Asians in 70s Britain

In a stroke of culinary genius, the year 1970 witnessed the birth of a dish that would capture the hearts and palates of a nation.

It was within the hallowed walls of the Shish Mahal restaurant in Glasgow that the iconic Chicken Tikka Masala was invented.

The Shish Mahal restaurant itself became a revered institution.

Here, the owner Ali Ahmed Aslam hosts British guests who craved the explosion of flavours and the warmth of South Asian hospitality.

Its success epitomised the triumph of South Asian culinary brilliance, inspiring a wave of restaurants across the country.

12 Powerful and Rare Photos of South Asians in 70s Britain

However, the accolades didn’t stop there. 

In the same year that the Shish Mahal opened its doors, Dilawer Singh became the first South Asian police officer in Scotland.

In a historic feat, just four years later, Sawaranjit Mattharu became the first female South Asian officer in 1974.

This was a monumental achievement, not just due to her Indian heritage but also because she was a woman of colour.

12 Powerful and Rare Photos of South Asians in 70s Britain

Whilst these moments were inspiring, they came at a cost. 

Many South Asians across the UK were met with hostility and discrimination, which became all too familiar in communities. 

A storm of hostility brewed over the UK as Enoch Powell, the Conservative MP for Wolverhampton South West, unleashed his infamous ‘Rivers of Blood’ speech.

His words carried an ominous warning, predicting a future where he believed the “black man will have the whip hand over the white man”.

The impact of Powell’s divisive rhetoric was swift and alarming.

It fueled a surge in racist attacks on immigrants, tearing at the fabric of society and leaving scars that still resonate today.

A sight which plagued certain areas was racist terms graffitied on walls and extremist groups making their presence known in the same manner. 

12 Powerful and Rare Photos of South Asians in 70s Britain

The far-right group, The National Front, was one of the main groups against South Asians in the UK.

Their protests against immigration and integration were large and many of its members were involved in racial-fuelled attacks against shop owners and people of the community. 

12 Powerful and Rare Photos of South Asians in 70s Britain

In the face of adversity, the South Asian community became a force to be reckoned with.

Activism ignited like wildfire, with passionate individuals and organisations rallying against the oppressive tide of racism.

The Southall Black Sisters, Indian Workers Association, and countless others became beacons of hope, tirelessly challenging the status quo and amplifying their voices in the pursuit of equality.

The Grunwick strike became a rallying cry, transcending the boundaries of race and nationality.

Immigrant workers, united in their quest for fair treatment and respect, stood shoulder to shoulder, forging an unbreakable bond.

Led by Jayaben Desai (right), the Grunwick strike started in 1976 and lasted for two years,

It was the first time the immigrant worker struggle won heaps of support from the labour government and Black Power organisations. 

12 Powerful and Rare Photos of South Asians in 70s Britain

In the heart of Southall, a pivotal moment in British history unfolded as the community rose in protest against racism and injustice.

Gurdip Singh Chaggar, a young Sikh student, was tragically killed in a racially motivated attack in Southall, London, in June 1976.

His death sent shockwaves through the community and brought attention to the rising tensions faced by South Asians in the UK during that era.

Chaggar’s murder highlighted the need for greater understanding, tolerance, and unity, prompting a call for justice and an end to racial violence.

In protest of the murder, many South Asians rioted to show their anger and disappointment. 

12 Powerful and Rare Photos of South Asians in 70s Britain

In a powerful display of solidarity, 7000 impassioned individuals took to the streets in 1978, marching towards the iconic landmarks of Downing Street and Hyde Park.

This seismic awakening of unity against racism was fuelled by the tragic murder of Altab Ali.

The young British Bangladeshi was stabbed and stamped to death. 

Demanding an end to racism and Nazism that had cast a dark shadow over their lives, this pivotal event marked a turning point in the history of Bengalis in East London.

12 Powerful and Rare Photos of South Asians in 70s Britain

Just one year later, Southall was up in arms again. 

Blair Peach, a dedicated teacher and activist, met a similarly tragic fate during an anti-racism protest in Southall in April 1979.

Both Chaggar and Peach symbolised the struggles faced by marginalised communities.

The infamous Southall Riots of 1979 became a rallying cry for South Asians, who took to the streets to challenge the presence of the racist National Front party.

With fierce determination, they confronted bigotry head-on, refusing to be silenced.

      12 Powerful and Rare Photos of South Asians in 70s Britain

Below, South Asians confront Enoch Powell about his political and social views and demand justice. 

12 Powerful and Rare Photos of South Asians in 70s Britain

There’s no denying that the huge successes of South Asians in the 70s were drowned by the racially-fuelled attacks around the UK.

However, the fight didn’t calm down and the 80s just emphasised how much work was still to be done. 

The Bradford 12, as they came to be known, stood defiantly against an oppressive system, challenging the status quo and fighting for justice.

In 1981, a group of South Asian men was accused of conspiracy to cause explosions.

They faced the daunting prospect of a trial that carried severe consequences.

Their case sparked a nationwide outcry, rallying support from activists, communities, and individuals.

Through their tenacity and unwavering spirit, the Bradford 12 brought attention to the broader issues of racism, police misconduct, and the erosion of civil liberties. 

Ultimately, they emerged victorious, their trial ending with a resounding affirmation of their innocence.

12 Powerful and Rare Photos of South Asians in 70s Britain

Amongst the tension, there were South Asians still fighting to make a name for themselves in the UK.

One of the iconic figures for this was Pramila Le Hunte who became the first South Asian woman to be selected as a Conservative Parliamentary candidate in 1983.

The decision was controversial as many British Asians voted for Labour during this period. 

Although she lost the election, she admits she was “gutsy” and fearless, hoping to trailblaze for future generations.

12 Powerful and Rare Photos of South Asians in 70s Britain

The South Asian community’s journey through the 70s and 80s encapsulates a tapestry of resilience, resistance, and cultural triumph.

They harnessed the power of protest, creating defining moments and iconic figures who challenged the status quo.

In the face of racism, they united, their voices resonating with unwavering determination, forever etching their place in history.

In the midst of their remarkable journey, South Asians sought to redefine themselves, asserting their identity as British South Asians.

Their battle cry for recognition and representation echoed through the corridors of power, demanding a seat at the table.

Balraj is a spirited Creative Writing MA graduate. He loves open discussions and his passions are fitness, music, fashion, and poetry. One of his favourite quotes is “One day or day one. You decide.”

Images courtesy of Historic Environment, Paul Trevor, Al Jazeera, Digital Works, Stronger Unions, Ruth Bundey & Peter Arkell.

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