When Malcolm X Joined An Indian’s Combat 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 reviews about “colored individuals” being “handled badly”.

Malcolm X wished to witness together with his personal eyes the racism endured by immigrant foundry employees from South Asia, who have been unable to entry first rate housing and endured rampant racial discrimination in public areas in addition to the “color bar” in pubs and factories — the observe 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 mentioned, “That is worse than in America. That is worse than Harlem. In New York I haven’t seen such issues, however there we have now 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 need to bodily hurt him. To stop such a factor from occurring, he supplied Malcolm the safety of his organisation — the Indian Staff’ Affiliation (IWA). 

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

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 mentioned that, ‘My [landlord] doesn’t permit Black individuals to drink right here. You may have a drink within the bar’ … Malcolm X mentioned there was no level, and we walked into the bar the place a number of IWA members have been. He had a comfortable drink and chatted with completely different individuals in regards to the color bar. He was there for quarter-hour, and he mentioned, ‘Sustain the struggle. The one option to defeat the color bar and racism is to struggle it again.’

It’s mentioned that Malcom X’s go to to Smethwick highlighted the racism deeply embedded in white British society, notably 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 essential position in serving to fast-track legal guidelines in opposition to racial discrimination just like the Race Relations Act, 1965, which outlawed discrimination attributable to 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 training. Whereas his siblings labored on the farm, Jouhl was despatched to review in class and earn a proper training.    

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 stored raiding my household home and taking my dad and mom and different relations 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 turned a member of the Scholar Federation of India (SFI), taking up a wide range of points together with rising charges and poor services for college kids, whereas additionally organising with native peasants and industrial employees.   

“In 1956, my uncle returned from Britain and his thought was that I am going for increased research, so he despatched me to England. My brother was already dwelling 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 part of me till 1960. She didn’t need me to come back to England. My brother and my father-in-law have been already right here and so they mentioned, ‘You might be beginning your courses in October, within the meantime you possibly can 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 College of Economics. 

“My scenario was distinctive — most of my contemporaries didn’t come for training, they nearly all got here to work. Again dwelling, the Partition of India induced strain on land and there was a scarcity 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 mentioned. 

Encountering racism

Jouhl’s first main encounter with racism got here throughout his first go to to a pub in Smethwick referred to 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 a complete crowd of white males observing 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 mentioned: “We aren’t allowed in that room.” I requested them why and so they mentioned, “White individuals don’t like us sitting in the identical place.” My subsequent expertise was after 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 mentioned: “No. We don’t reduce your individuals’s hair, solely white individuals.” So I used to be actually disgusted. Again in India I had by no means skilled this type of abuse. I used to be actually indignant and unhappy.

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

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

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 employees 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 way of the ranks rapidly. Given his formal training 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 mentioned, “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 employees.” 

“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’t refuse to serve individuals in such a blanket manner,” he added.   

In the meantime, close to accessing housing, “Avtar would preserve observe 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 might lose their permits,” famous Brown Historical past on Instagram. 

As Jouhl defined in one other interview, “A few landlords’ licenses have been refused and that received large 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 Get together to help a legislation in opposition to racial discrimination, for which they even confronted resistance from white union employees. 

Jouhl was additionally concerned in breaking the “color bar” at his personal office by using some “massive lads” to bodily push apart the man liable for overseeing the segregated bathrooms.  Though he didn’t thoughts getting fired for his actions, his employers have 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 lately, non-whites have been barred from sure jobs, outlets, pubs, and even bathrooms.”

“Buckingham Palace, it was revealed final yr, banned ‘colored immigrants or foreigners’ from serving in clerical roles within the royal family till a minimum of the late Nineteen Sixties. The Race Relations Act of 1965 sought to finish public discrimination, however personal 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 may play Indian songs right here. It was not potential in a white pub.” These Desi pubs nonetheless exist in several components of the nation, however are multicultural areas that settle for all. 

Over the next many years, Jouhl continued to battle racism in public areas throughout the UK. Though he had first come to England to review at LSE, he ended up spending practically three many years 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 combating 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 turned a ‘darling of the Punjab’ by combating for Indian employees to be given British passports — it’s one motive why Windrush deportations have featured fewer British-Asians. And it’s probably the rationale {that a} man who all the time 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 in all probability 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 assume 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; Revealed on 17 October courtesy Worldwide Socialism
‘Breaking the Coloration Bar — How One Man Helped Desegregate Britain’s Pubs (and Fought for an Anti-Racist Future)’ by David Jesudason; Revealed on 16 March 2022 courtesy Good Beer Looking
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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