Gurcharan Kaur

Indian people did not experience the colour bar because “they all owned their own businesses”, and alongside this bold statement stood a picture of a corner shop! Do you really believe this is true? Well this was the view portrayed by a history teacher to his students. How can you know this is true if you have not got access to resources, past experiences or have never even spoken to an Indian person before? Truth is, you don’t know. 

My name is Gurcharan Kaur, I am a third generation British Sikh, I have just finished my History PGCE in a very white working-class area of Salford, Manchester and I can tell you what is missing: cultural capital! Cultural capital is not just non-existent from the children I taught, but sadly from most of the teachers in my department too. I don’t blame these teachers of course, I blame the white washed British education system that myself and so many other fellow teachers have so comfortably sailed through, but back then, I was young and naive and now I can clearly see what is missing. 

My knowledge about where I came from and what my culture and history consists of comes only from the first hand experiences of my immigrant grandparents and parents, but during my teacher training year, I had a number of racial slurs directed towards me which saddened, angered and disheartened me. It has made me pose the question repeatedly – why is it that nobody knows why Indian people came over to this country? My grandparents did not come over out of choice; there were no pull factors; Britain certainly was not the ‘land of opportunity’. There were, however, many push factors, the main one being that they were uprooted and displaced, forcing them out of their dearly beloved ‘pind’ in Lahore to seek refuge in Patiala. This links directly back to the devastation that was created by the glorified ‘Empress of India’, the unbreakable bond that would bound Indians to Britain forever. A time in our history that has meant today there are over four hundred thousand Sikhs in Britain.  Yet, why are we still only taught about the beauty of the British Empire and not the devastation and destruction of British colonialism? Surely this would help create a more unified society and eradicate the ‘go back to where you come from’ mindset and instilled culture of some. When hearing this so many times in my life, I would love to respond with… well we might have, if our homeland wasn’t destroyed by the British Empire after we helped Britain fight in the second world war; and if we were not then lured by the promises of fortunes in return for rebuilding the British economy.  Let’s not sugar coat the invaluable contribution that Indians and Pakistanis have made to British society today. What I want to see on the curriculum today is a piece of our poignant history that portrays the struggles and hardships that my grandparents experienced during the dreaded time of the 1947 partition. A time of ruins that shattered and divided communities because of an arbitrary division of land, which once constituted a united India, forcing people out of their homes with nothing but the clothes on their back who scuffled to get on to the crammed trains to escape Lahore. This great ordeal has paved the way for their future generations and allowed myself and others in my community to be put in a position where we are now educating the young minds of the future.

I found that many of my colleagues were unaware of the racial ignorance in society and even racism that existed in their own school. Regrettably, this was disproved at both of my placement schools. I do not believe racism is innate, it is institutionalised and a learnt behaviour, usually from family and society. We need to reteach these students and even current teachers about the history of the partition of 1947 and provide them with an in-depth analysis of the turbulent times that all Indians faced when arriving in this country, after all, Indians only make up 1.4 million of the British population!! Maybe then, when I’m teaching and explaining the importance of the partition and why many people migrated to Britain, teaching mentors won’t point at their watches urging me to hurry up and get to the important part of the lesson. Perhaps then will current teachers take the time to look into the range of occupations that Indians had when coming over to this country. Maybe then they will find out how much racial abuse we were and are still subjected too today. Maybe then they will stop feeding the stereotype view that all Indians owned corner shops and never experienced any racism. Let us initiate these conversations and start teaching the true realities of British colonialism. 

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