Saturday, 13 April 2013

Thatcher's 'race' legacy: death, murder, Southall, Kuldip Singh Sekhon

Margaret Thatcher's prime ministerial 'reign' presided over - and some say contributed to - the tragic deaths of many people in disasters at New Cross, Hillsborough, Bradford, Clapham, King's Cross, Broadwater Farm and Brixton. 
  Certainly, Thatcher dictated UK government policy during the miners' strike, the Falklands War and the oft-forgotten United States' invasion of Grenada, a Commonwealth English-speaking Caribbean country.
  As Thatcher receives a state-funded 'ceremonial' funeral at St Paul's Cathedral this Wednesday (17 April), Paul Coleman recalls a tragedy during the Thatcher period that received little or no attention - the death of Kuldip Singh Sekhon in December 1989, one of many people believed to have been racially murdered during that era.
   Thatcher prefaced that era in January 1978 when, posing as a genteel English suburban housewife, she acted as willing spokeswoman for the 'common sense racism' prevalent across England at that time. 
   Speaking on national TV on Granada's World in Action, Thatcher oozed: "You know, the British character has done so much for democracy, for law, and done so much throughout the world, that if there is a fear that it might be swamped, people are going to react and be rather hostile to those coming in. So, if you want good race relations, you've got to allay people's fears on numbers."

Powell Reprise
Thatcher's statement received widespread acclaim from newspapers like the 'Daily Mail'. The mainstream media saw it as a common sense reprise of Enoch Powell's "rivers of blood" speech against immigrants a decade earlier.
   But marginalised voices condemned Thatcher for presenting a blank cheque excuse for thugs intent on making the streets feel unsafe for black and Asian people, including the many now born in Britain.
  Critics also said Thatcher helped fester a hostile climate where racial harassment and racial violence became tolerated and further fuelled by indifferent and, at times, outwardly racist policing. Kuldip Singh Sekhon's murder typified the feel and reality of street life for black and Asian people in London and elsewhere during Thatcher's turbulent 'reign'.


(By Paul Coleman, Asian Times newspaper, London,Tuesday 6 February 1990)

'Southall shutdown one of Mrs Thatcher's favourite British crowd scenes - the High Street money-go-round - to draw attention to a very British tragedy; the turn-a-blind-eye approach to racial violence.
  Southall's west London Asian community was determined to draw attention to Kuldip Singh Sekhon's brutal murder in December as well as to console the Sekhon family.
  Sekhon was stabbed 58 times in his mini-cab by a late-night passenger, a 'known local racist' man. Southall's Asian community are united in the belief that Kuldip's murder was racially motivated.

Show Respect
Markeet Sekhon insisted her husband's body be displayed to show Britain what had happened to him. It bore no resemblance to the handsome pictures of Kuldip Sekhon posted around Southall's streets.
  Sekhon's murder deprives his five beautiful yet bewildered daughters of the life-time experience of having a Dad. How are Jaskram, aged 10, Karamjit, 8, Sukhbir, 7, and five-year-old twins Harpreet and Rajvinder, going to make any sense out of their father's death?
  Southall showed its respect. Sweet centres and Sari shops shutdown. 
Kanda Jewellers closed its shutters. 
The Suman Marriage Bureau ceased match-making. 
So much for the myth that the Asian trader sees life only as open all hours money-making.
  Even Barclays Bank closed. 
Leeds Building Society clerks stopped pushing mortgages. 
Schoolchildren raised money for the Sekhon family. 
A local radio station launched an appeal.

Kuldip's need for extra income drove him to part-time drive a mini-cab, a supplement to his day job as a caterer for SAS Caterers at Heathrow Airport.
  Reconstruct Kuldip Sekhon's world; indeed, the lives of many black and Asian shift-workers, mini-cab drivers, bus crews, railway workers, cleaners and waiters. Lower paid, longer hours, less safety, more isolation and, in many such jobs, virtually no protection from thugs, racist or otherwise.

Working alone
Two Tamil security guards were murdered working at a Soho amusement arcade last year. In July 1987 restaurant worker Abdus Sattar was stabbed to death by skinhead Anthony Carroll as he walked home along a Hampstead street at 11.30pm.
  Peter Burns, a British Rail ticket collector, died after a metal stake was thrust into his eye. 
He was working alone, late at night. 
No protection. 
No security.

Hanif Akhtar, whose niece Tasleem was brutally murdered in Birmingham last December, said the Asian community in Britain must take greater steps to protect itself.
  Fifty-eight stab wounds is horrific but 50 racial murders in the past two years seems to fail to make the 'disaster' grade. There is no talk of tragedy from government, Parliament, the police.
  No flying visit from Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher to the Sekhon family home. 
No message of condolence from Buckingham Palace.
  No public inquiry into the lives of families devastated by racial violence. 
Not even a report to gather dust on a shelf.'

(Three years after Kuldip Singh Sekhon was murdered - and long after Thatcher had stood down as Prime Minister - the outcry over the 1993 murder of black student Stephen Lawrence in south-east London forced the government, judges, politicians and police to belatedly take seriously black and Asian people's daily experience of racial harassment and violence).

Paul Coleman, London Intelligence, April 2013

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