When Malcolm X Joined An Indian’s Struggle In opposition to Racism in UK

Barely 9 days earlier than he was shot in New York, on 12 February 1965, American civil rights activist Malcolm X arrived in Smethwick, an industrial city close to Birmingham, England, on the invitation of an Indian-born commerce unionist. 

The civil rights icon confirmed curiosity in visiting this city after studying disturbing information experiences about “colored individuals” being “handled badly”.

Malcolm X wished to witness along with his personal eyes the racism endured by immigrant foundry staff from South Asia, who had been unable to entry respectable housing and endured rampant racial discrimination in public areas in addition to the “color bar” in pubs and factories — the follow of forcing non-white individuals into segregated areas.     

In Smethwick, the activist visited Marshall Road, the place there have been posters put up by native property brokers stating “Whites Solely” or “No Coloureds”. Upon seeing them, Malcolm stated, “That is worse than in America. That is worse than Harlem. In New York I haven’t seen such issues, however there now we have different assaults and discrimination in opposition to Black individuals.” 

Fearing for Malcolm’s security in a city that didn’t take too kindly to his presence, the Indian commerce unionist expressed worry that native white residents could wish to bodily hurt him. To stop such a factor from taking place, he supplied Malcolm the safety of his organisation — the Indian Staff’ Affiliation (IWA). 

Being the fearless chief he was, Malcolm refused his provide. 

Later, the activist and the commerce unionist visited a pub named The Blue Gate, and the previous would later recall: 

I ordered a drink and the barmaid already knew me and he or she stated that, ‘My [landlord] doesn’t enable Black individuals to drink right here. You’ll be able to have a drink within the bar’ … Malcolm X stated there was no level, and we walked into the bar the place a number of IWA members had been. He had a smooth drink and chatted with completely different individuals concerning the color bar. He was there for quarter-hour, and he stated, ‘Sustain the battle. The one solution to defeat the color bar and racism is to battle it again.’

It’s stated that Malcom X’s go to to Smethwick highlighted the racism deeply embedded in white British society, significantly the “color bar”. 

Within the phrases of this Indian commerce unionist, Malcolm’s go to was “the shot within the arm for the anti-racism battle in Britain” and “put racism in Britain on the worldwide map”. 

The commerce unionist who made this occur was Avtar Singh Jouhl, whose activism and position within the IWA introduced racism to the forefront of the British nationwide discourse through the 1964 normal elections. 

His activism performed an vital position in serving to fast-track legal guidelines in opposition to racial discrimination just like the Race Relations Act, 1965, which outlawed discrimination on account of color, race, ethnic or nationwide origin in public locations, in addition to Race Relations Act, 1968, which centered on eradicating discrimination in housing, employment and promoting.  

Avtar Singh Jouhl, an Indian trade unionist and activist, invited Malcolm X to help him in his fight against racial discrimination in the UK.
Malcom X throughout his go to to Smethwick simply 9 days earlier than he was assassinated (Picture courtesy Twitter/Taj Ali)

Namastey Smethwick

A local of Jandiala village in present-day Jalandhar district of Punjab, Jouhl grew up with three brothers and sister in an agricultural family with little to no formal schooling. Whereas his siblings labored on the farm, Jouhl was despatched to check in class and earn a proper schooling.    

In an interview with Worldwide Socialism in 2019, he recalled, “My household was actively concerned within the Indian ­pre-independence motion. My cousin was imprisoned in 1941 for 5 years by British authorities. Whereas he was on the run earlier than 1941, the police saved raiding my household home and taking my mother and father and different family members to the police station, questioning them and beating them. That was my early childhood as I keep in mind it.” 

Enrolling at Lyallpur Khalsa School in Jalandhar in 1953, he grew to become a member of the Scholar Federation of India (SFI), taking over quite a lot of points together with rising charges and poor services for college kids, whereas additionally organising with native peasants and industrial staff.   

“In 1956, my uncle returned from Britain and his concept was that I am going for greater research, so he despatched me to England. My brother was already residing in Smethwick and that’s how I got here to the West Midlands. I got here in early 1958 and though I used to be married, my spouse didn’t be a part of me till 1960. She didn’t need me to come back to England. My brother and my father-in-law had been already right here and so they stated, ‘You might be beginning your courses in October, within the meantime you’ll be able to work,’” recalled Jouhl. He was solely 16 when he wedded his spouse Manjeet in an organized marriage.    

Arriving in England, the target was to enrol on the London Faculty of Economics. 

“My scenario was distinctive — most of my contemporaries didn’t come for schooling, they virtually all got here to work. Again residence, the Partition of India brought on stress on land and there was an absence of jobs. Folks from the Commonwealth had no restrictions on their entry into this nation till July 1962. So long as that they had an Indian passport, they might come and settle right here,” he stated. 

Encountering racism

Jouhl’s first main encounter with racism got here throughout his first go to to a pub in Smethwick known as the Wagon and Horses. This expertise would inform a lot of the activism that might comply with.  

I went to the bathroom whereas they went right into a room and I didn’t know which room they went into. I got here out of the bathroom and went into the meeting room. As quickly as I opened the door, there was an entire crowd of white males watching me and the owner got here and shouted at me, saying: “Your individuals are within the different room.” I went into the opposite room somewhat than arguing with them and requested my brother and others: “What is that this, why can’t we go in that room?” 

They stated: “We aren’t allowed in that room.” I requested them why and so they stated, “White individuals don’t like us sitting in the identical place.” My subsequent expertise was once I went for a haircut in Brasshouse Lane in Smethwick. As quickly as I opened the store door, the barber got here to the door and stated: “No. We don’t minimize your individuals’s hair, solely white individuals.” So I used to be actually disgusted. Again in India I had by no means skilled this kind of abuse. I used to be actually indignant and unhappy.

However that racism wasn’t simply exhibited in pubs, but additionally in the way in which “colored individuals” had been unable to entry subsidised public housing. Even within the foundry the place Jouhl labored, there have been separate bathrooms for non-white staff. 

At his office, South Asian immigrant staff had been compelled to undertake harmful work, however for a lot much less pay and place than white staff.

Avtar Singh Jouhl stood alongside Malcolm X to battle racial discrimination in not just the UK but around the world.
Avtar Singh Jouhl (Picture courtesy Twitter/UCU)

Difficult racism

Jouhl’s “life-changing” second would come within the type of an commercial for the IWA, a staff collective not affiliated with any main commerce union or authorities company, which campaigned in opposition to racism. He discovered this commercial in a meals bundle delivered to him and housemates.  

He joined right away with none hesitation and rose by means of the ranks rapidly. Given his formal schooling and fiery spirit of activism, he rose to the place of normal secretary of the IWA’s UK department in 1961 — a few months after his spouse Manjeet joined him from India.  

Talking about one of many first issues he did within the IWA, he stated, “To check the color bar within the pubs, we organised pub crawls involving members of the IWA and scholar organisations from Birmingham and Aston universities — so a mix of white college students and Asian staff.” 

“The scholars used to go within the pub first and get the drinks, and 4 or 5 Asians would go in later and be refused after being given some excuse just like the room being reserved. The scholars would then come to the counter to problem that. Utilizing that proof, we opposed the publican’s licence when it got here up for renewal, as a result of below the licensing legislation the licensee can not refuse to serve individuals in such a blanket approach,” he added.   

In the meantime, close to accessing housing, “Avtar would maintain monitor of which landlord refused to lease out their locations to them and when it was time for his or her allow renewals, Avtar would offer proof to the board of their racism and they’d lose their permits,” famous Brown Historical past on Instagram. 

As Jouhl defined in one other interview, “A few landlords’ licenses had been refused and that received enormous publicity in 1963, as a result of up till then, racial discrimination was not illegal so everybody and anybody was free to discriminate.” 

On the political facet of issues, the IWA campaigned for the Labour Occasion to assist a legislation in opposition to racial discrimination, for which they even confronted resistance from white union staff. 

Jouhl was additionally concerned in breaking the “color bar” at his personal office by using some “large lads” to bodily push apart the man chargeable for overseeing the segregated bathrooms.  Despite the fact that he didn’t thoughts getting fired for his actions, his employers had been “too scared” of him.

David Jesudason, a British-Asian freelance journalist who covers race points, famous in a Might 2022 article, “The color bar could also be Britain’s most shameful secret. Whereas many individuals within the UK now see apartheid and segregation as a part of different nations’ histories, few are conscious that up till very just lately, non-whites had been barred from sure jobs, retailers, pubs, and even bathrooms.”

“Buckingham Palace, it was revealed final 12 months, banned ‘colored immigrants or foreigners’ from serving in clerical roles within the royal family till at the least the late Nineteen Sixties. The Race Relations Act of 1965 sought to finish public discrimination, however non-public golf equipment — such because the Smethwick Labour Membership — may nonetheless legally ban non-whites,” added Jesudason. 

In fact, altering the legislation didn’t rid Britain of racism. In response to the “color bar”, the primary Desi pubs constructed by Sikh landlords got here into existence. 

As Jouhl recalled in an interview with Jesudason, “You’ll be able to play Indian songs right here. It was not attainable in a white pub.” These Desi pubs nonetheless exist in numerous components of the nation, however are multicultural areas that settle for all. 

Over the next a long time, Jouhl continued to battle racism in public areas throughout the UK. Though he had first come to England to check at LSE, he ended up spending practically three a long time working in foundries throughout the Black Nation (an space of West Midlands county within the UK) earlier than changing into a senior lecturer of commerce union research. 

Within the midst of all this, he by no means stopped organising, educating and preventing for the rights of immigrants and battling racism.   

“Jouhl, below the guise of the IWA, fought varied immigration acts that barred entry from ‘Black’ nations and ensured the organisation he was a secretary of grew to become a ‘darling of the Punjab’ by preventing for Indian staff to be given British passports — it’s one motive why Windrush deportations have featured fewer British-Asians. And it’s presumably the explanation {that a} man who at all times agitated in opposition to the state was given an OBE [Order of the British Empire] by the Queen in 2000 for service to commerce unions and neighborhood relations,” wrote Jesudason. 

Final week, on 8 October 2022, Avtar Singh Jouhl, handed away on the age of 84. How can one sum up his legacy? It’s most likely this quote from an interview with Jesudason. 

“Any racist legislation has received to be opposed, violated and damaged. There’s no level in a ‘democratic course of’ if that course of is producing these legal guidelines. However I don’t suppose I’m courageous — I simply have the intuition of the working class.” 

‘Life-long class fighter in opposition to racism’- An interview by Sheila McGregor and Esme Choonara; Printed on 17 October courtesy Worldwide Socialism
‘Breaking the Shade Bar — How One Man Helped Desegregate Britain’s Pubs (and Fought for an Anti-Racist Future)’ by David Jesudason; Printed on 16 March 2022 courtesy Good Beer Searching
Birmingham Black Oral Historical past Challenge– An oral historical past interview with Avtar Singh Jouhl
Brown Historical past/Instagram– Avtar Singh Jouhl  
Photos courtesy Twitter/Taj Ali/UCU

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