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24 September 2014

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Voices: Our Untold Stories »Asian Stories
Harjit Singh Gill

Harjit Singh Gill

One of a family of champion Indian hockey players, Harjit Singh Gill found a shared interest in sport helped to break down barriers when he moved to the UK.

Harjit Singh Gill had an arranged marriage and hopes his children will marry in India

Family life in India was very good for Harjit Singh Gill. His parents were born in Pakistan but when, in 1947, India was divided into two parts, India and Pakistan, they migrated to Jallundher in Punjab.

Harjit was born in a small village near Jallundher called Dakoha. He spent all of his childhood there until 1978 when, at the age of 23, he moved to England.

"I had my schooling in the village school and after doing primary, I went to N D Victor High Secondary School in the Army area. It was a very good school and had a good reputation.

To start with it was a struggle - all the systems are different. I've been to India and everywhere, I know so many people and still when you come to any other country everything is new for you. You have to make new friends, start a new life. quote
Harjit Singh Gill

"We had so many famous people from that school and I used to play hockey for the Jallundher junior district."

His parents were in business with a transport company and Harjat next went to college to study for a MA in political science.

"I became a good hockey player and played for Indian University Punjab and the rest of India. One of my uncles represented India in the 1972 Olympics. He was vice-captain of the Indian hockey team and he was the second best scorer in the Olympics. He even scored a hat-trick against England.

"My younger brother played for Punjab and for the university before he migrated to the USA. My other brother is in India and he is a very good businessman, supplying gas all over Punjab."

When he came to England in 1978 it was for an arranged marriage. He hadn't seen his wife before he arrived.

"I had only seen a photograph of her. My parents had agreed and from the photograph I said 'Yes'. The Indian hockey team was going to play Argentina. My friends said that they would stay in England for a few days after coming from Argentina. So we fixed our marriage for 9th of April 1978 so all the players could attend.

"It must have been the first Asian marriage where any or all international players attended a wedding, so it was very good function."

He does not consider it impossible to be married to someone who was born and brought up in England, unlike himself.

"I think that we're doing very well. I don't know why some people think you can't but we understand and respect each other, we have two children and we run the Post Office together and we're a very good team.


"Sometimes we have different views of things which clash, but not all the time. Some people who have been born here and live here have more clashes than we do. But most views we agree on or we have good education from our parents.

"I think we have listened to our parents. We want to keep their name in good shape and we're doing okay.

"To start with it was a struggle - all the systems are different. I've been to India and everywhere, I know so many people and still when you come to any other country everything is new for you. You have to make new friends, start a new life.

"Luckily when I applied for my job, the personnel officer was a hockey player. When she read my hobbies and she realised that I played for the rest of India she straight away called me for the interview and gave me a good job.

"The job was no problem and I mixed easily with society. It didn't take much time for me to interact with people around me or to get used to the change.

In India I was not used to speaking so much English, especially at that time. These days in India they can speak more English than us. quote
Harjit Singh Gill

"Lloyd, a team-mate, would pick me up to take me to play hockey matches in different cities in England. This was a good start and helped me grow in confidence."

One of the first barriers he had to overcome was language. "To start with, even though I had a Masters of Arts in Political Science, because I had come from another country there's always a problem. People who are born in this country speak fast and you are not used to it.

"In India I was not used to speaking so much English, especially at that time. These days in India they can speak more English than us."

Nowadays he runs two Post Offices in Gloucester and looking back, he feels that he has several good achievements.

"I was the Mayor of Barton for two years (1999-2000). The first year I did well and then they elected me the second time as well. I'm the first Asian person who has held this job. I think this is the best achievement.

"A couple of years ago I took the Gloucestershire Police Hockey team to India to play a five-match tour.

"At that time the Steven Lawrence case was going. Many people from ethnic minorities didn't have much confidence in the British police. It was the right time for them to go to India to find more about ethnic minority people.

"We went to different places and mixed with the people. We shared our views and those people who went know more about Asian people now. Even if you explain to them about anti-racism, people won't understand until they live in the society.

Harjit Singh Gill as mayor of Barton
Harjit Singh Gill regards his election as Mayor of Barton as one of his best achievements


"They now know that in India there are so many religions, so many cultures. It was helpful. Because of the big response we had last time, another trip is happening for hockey matches in India near Shimla, which has the highest hockey pitch in the world. "

The couple have two children - a son, Gurkamal Singh Gill, who is is at university and a daughter, Amrit Kaur Gill, doing A-levels.

In terms of bringing up second and third generations in Britain, he says; "They are teaching us rather than us teaching them. They say we're out of date with the new generation. We tell them something about their roots, which we think they should know.

"I don't think we have any problem. We understand the next generation and they are doing okay.

"We tell our children to speak good Asian languages at home but when you go to India most children speak more English than the children born in this country.

"We pray at home and believe in God. I think that in everyone religion plays a part, even in people who don't believe in it. Even young Christian people, they don't go to the Church much, but at marriage or death time they do and like Asian people religion plays a big part in our life."

The young generation should know about their roots. Whatever they are doing, they should be proud of what they are and what their parents have done for them.quote
Hajit Singh Gill

Away from work and family, Harjit still plays hockey regularly.

"When I was mayor I had to attend a lot of meetings and functions. I've got a lot of friends who visit and we usually go to see them as well so life is very busy.

"In terms of food, I like pizza for a change from Indian food but if there is Indian food I'll eat lamb or chicken. I normally watch Asian TV channels on digital and Pakistani dramas.

" I'm planning that five or seven years after my children are married, I'll go around the world and spend my summer in other countries such as India, Pakistan or the USA."

But he has no plans to return to live in India. "The truth is that we are so used to this system and our children are born here. They are going to stay in this country so it is very hard to go away. I always thought of my parents in India whilst I was in England."

When his children were young Harjit sent them to one of the best schools in India for a few years to get some education.

"They were there for five years and due to that they have learnt some mother language and they know who their relations are and what the system is like in India.


"Even now in the house we always speak Punjabi and even when guests come we have discussions in Punjabi. My aim is that the children should get married in India. You can't force the children. My wish is for them to get married in India with a nice family and we should know the background of those people.

"I even think that even if they get married in this country that they should get permission from us. It will be a long-lasting marriage.

"Asians are having a very big problem in that children are young when going to university and don't understand. They get emotional and get married.

"The young generation should know about their roots. Whatever they are doing, they should be proud of what they are and what their parents have done for them.

"Every Asian or ethnic minority family is doing good for their children. Children need guidance from their parents."

See 'The Sikh Punjabi Community'

This article is user-generated content (ie external contribution) expressing a personal opinion, not the views of BBC Gloucestershire.
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