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Voices: Our Untold Stories »Asian Stories
Hindu women and girls in costume

The Hindu Community

Before coming to the UK , many Asian Indians were living and working in Kenya for their then British colonial masters. Many were educated and wealthy and were in high posts, having a good standard of living.

Hindu women and girls at a local celebration in traditional costume

Lalit Dandiker was one such Asian Indian - a manager in the government-owned and run, East Africa Railway company. Following Kenya's independence, there was a backlash and resentment against Asians, for their accrued wealth, higher education and better living conditions.

It was similar to what occurred under General Amin in Uganda and is occurring now to white farmers in Zimbabwe. It was an unpleasant time of fear and persecution for many Hindus.

Migration to the UK

As many were British passport holders, like many other Asians, they first thought of the protection and safety of their family and took themselves to the UK, via India.

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For many, migration meant being away from their loved ones, from their way of life and culture. quote
Our Untold Stories

The journey, by steamship across the Indian Ocean back to Bombay, was sometimes perilous, in high seas and bad conditions.

Most were apprehensive and uncomfortable about going to the UK, whilst leaving their families back home. For many, migration meant being away from their loved ones, from their way of life and culture.

There was uncertainty whether they would succeed in a country they did not know or understand and about which their basic information came mainly from books.

Lalit Dandiker
Lalit Dandiker came to the UK from Kenya

The first Gloucestershire Hindu immigrant, Mr Ramjibhai Popat arrived in Cirencester in 1951 to work for a major he had known in the British Army. He came from London, where he had been living for two years. His next move was into rented accommodation in Cheltenham in 1956, to work as a cook at Cavendish House in The Promenade.

This same year, the next wave of Asian migrants arrived in the county - four men who worked for Dowty Rotol and who lived in a hostel provided by the company. They later moved out and purchased a house, 12 Brunswick Street, as a syndicate. This was the first Indian owned house in Cheltenham.

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Patel is a region in the state of Gujarat, where many Indian Asians came from and so they took their surnames as being Patel on arrival to the UK. quote
Our Untold Stories

The first female immigrant was Mrs Maniben Jasubhai Patel, who arrived in February 1961, with her two children Naran and Savitaben. They were later followed by other families including, Mrs Nandiben Patel.

Patel is a region in the state of Gujarat, where many Indian Asians came from and so they took their surnames as being Patel on arrival to the UK.

As is common in many other cultures around the world and in India, people are usually referred by their Christian names and the village or town they came from.

Since the arrival of those early families, the Asian population has continued to grow by both economic migration and natural increases throughout Gloucestershire. The NHS, currently being short of staff, is actively targeting people from the Indian subcontinent.

Communication problems

Assimilating to their new environment in the UK proved, for many Asians, to be very difficult. Some of the original migrants including Mr Popat were fluent English speakers, having learnt the language in India.

For almost all the others this was not the case and communication and language problems added to their burden and anxiety. Most slowly learnt it while some, including Mrs Nandiben Patel, have never learnt English at all.

The simple process of buying food to eat and being able to read the packaging, to avoid eating beef (the cow being a sacred animal and therefore against Hindu custom and culture) proved to be problematic for many.

Hindu dancers
Dancers entertaining in Gloucester city centre

Many of the early immigrants did not own or could not afford a telephone and were unable to communicate with their loved ones back in India.

Their only way of correspondence was via letters and parcels to home towns which involved lengthy delays and slow feedback. Hindu centres in Cheltenham and Gloucester are trying, with limited funds, to provide slots for the teaching of reading and writing of the mother tongue, Gujarati, and to provide English courses to the elderly.

The conclusion is that not enough is being done, outside of major UK cities and at local level, particularly in schools, to teach children of their roots and language and at the same time, to encourage elderly Asians to learn the English language.

Cultural conflict

The first marriage within the Hindu community in Cheltenham was in 1962. As there were no Hindu priests in the UK at that time, the marriage ceremonies could only take place in a register office.

As more and more people arrived, it was understood that there was a need for priests and they were called over from India to perform important annual cultural ceremonies, as well as marriages. Most Asian families now have traditional Indian marriages alongside registry office weddings.

Food has a bearing on people and is the mainstay of most cultures. However in the early years only basic food such as rice, lentils and some inauthentic curry powder were available and then only from Cavendish House at highly inflated prices.

This eventually changed as some Asians recognised that there was a potential market to serve.

Hindu women at a community event
Hindu women at a community event

Men came in vans from Birmingham and London, selling their Asian wares, from meat and rice to Asian vegetables. Some even sold saris.

Now the selling of Asian products is widespread and common, with both Cheltenham and Gloucester having their own Asian shops where halal meat is sold, together with competition from major supermarkets and local shops.

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There has been an influx of people of differing cultures, as a result of the growth in language schools, which can only enhance and promote the diversity and contribution of cultures to the region. This may explain the wider variety of foods on offer and traditions being understood. quote
Our Untold Stories

The increase of education establishments in Gloucestershire has brought about what some believe to be a welcome change.

There has been an influx of people of differing cultures, as a result of the growth in language schools, which can only enhance and promote the diversity and contribution of cultures to the region. This may explain the wider variety of foods on offer and traditions being understood.

There is concern by many Asians at the spread of non-community harmony, of disruption, of conflict by groups such as the British National Party and the National Front. The increase in racial attacks is the outcome.

Events and festivities

The 1970s saw a time when Hindus in Gloucestershire were united in feelings about their roots, heritage and culture. It was a time of change, of celebration, of positive images.

Local community halls, both in Cheltenham and Gloucester were hired for annual religious festivities like Navratri and Diwali (the Indian New Year).

They were a time of joy, where there would be gatherings to discuss issues, to dance, to play music, to sing and to eat, and for younger members to fall in love.

Due to the lack of a permanent facility, various halls throughout the town and city were hired. The local host community, fascinated by such a novelty, came to watch and join in and people were warmly welcomed by the Hindu community. This helped to break down many barriers.

Hindu dancer
Hindu dancer at an event in Gloucester Park

The elders quickly realised that there was a need to mobilise and consolidate their efforts and so the Indian Association was born.

People from across the communities joined in the efforts to find a suitable locations, to purchase and to access funding and support, for these religious events.

Later still, famous Indian singers and dancers and groups came from India, to perform for the local ethnic communities.

Both Cheltenham and Gloucester Hindu associations purchased and imported from India instruments such as tablas, sitars and harmonium (the Hindu version of an accordion).

Hindu girls dancing
A traditional dandia stick dance

In order to express and convey Hindu culture, the Gloucester Hindu Centre became involved with the Guildhall Arts Centre in Gloucester, which regularly now shows Bollywood movies, and the New Olympus Theatre to lay on events and theatre presentations.

The Cheltenham Hindu Centre holds Asian plays at the former Shaftesbury Hall and festivals at the Axiom Centre.

A local Hindu dance group has also been created, comprising of young girls who took part in folk dance festivals held at Ross-on-Wye and other locations throughout the UK.

A Place of Worship - The Hindu Temple

From the beginning, there was a call from local Hindus for a place of worship. Religion is an important part of the culture in Gloucestershire, as well as the celebration of traditional festivals.

The elders and trustees of the Indian Association understood and acknowledged this and as the president, Lalik Dandiker was appointed to take on the task of finding funding for a suitable building and the inauguration of deities from India.

Hindu temple dieties
Dieties in Cheltenham's Hindu Temple

These deities had to be carved by specialist craftsman and transported to the UK by plane. Credit should be acknowledged to the late Charles Irving, MP for Cheltenham, who was responsible for securing the main funding of the building, via the borough council.

Finally, in July 1986 the Hindu Temple was formally opened for worship by the London-based Indian industrialist Sir Swraj Paul, in memory of a departed daughter.

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What is notable is that unlike in some areas of the Indian subcontinent, the Hindus and Muslims of Cheltenham and Gloucester live in mutual harmony and respect for each other, the majority being Gujarati-speakers, and entrenched friendships are formed. quote
Our Untold Stories

Many local Hindu families donated wholeheartedly towards the funding along with local authority grants. As the building was an old Victorian redundant church, many Hindus devoted their time and efforts, voluntarily, to redecorate and modernise the building.

Recent refurbishment was carried out with the help of the National Lottery Fund. Today its running costs are literally maintained by small donations and help from the local council. The temple also has a community centre attached to it. This space has allowed the Cheltenham Hindu Community to have a sacred place.

At the community centre there are many different activities that are for the community. There is English lessons for the old, while they also have coffee mornings for the over 75s. There are also lessons in Gujarati for the children as well as a youth club.

Gloucester has a smaller Hindu community which has nevertheless found rented, shared premises and maintains its own local community centre as the main focal point.

Current and Future

The current situation within Gloucestershire is that there are 350 Hindu families with approximately 800 persons in Cheltenham and 80 families with 250 persons in Gloucester.

At both Hindu community centres there exists an attitude of continuance of the development of their culture, but this is marred by the lack of additional funding and resources.

There is concern, as with each new generation, of the loss of Hindu culture and customs, as the younger generation becomes more assimilated and integrated within mainstream Western culture and attitudes.

Hindu children
Many younger Hindus cannot speak their mother tongue

The fear of the elder population is of the eventual loss of their ethnic customs, language and traditions.

Already, many Indian families are finding that their children are unable to read and write and speak in their mother tongue Gujarati.

More needs to be done in Gloucestershire, and this aspect needs to be taken seriously and addressed fully at national level, if ethnic cultures are to continue and survive.

What is notable is that unlike in some areas of the Indian subcontinent, the Hindus and Muslims of Cheltenham and Gloucester live in mutual harmony and respect for each other, the majority being Gujarati-speakers, and entrenched friendships are formed.

Maybe there is a lesson to be learned from this for all communities and cultures.

The original migrants found the weather very different to that of India. It was very cold, something that they where not used to. They had also never experienced snow before.

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The children of these original immigrants have grown up in a very different culture to that of their parents. Many of the second generation have or are currently going out with a white girlfriend or boyfriend as well as having English as their first language. quote
Our Untold Stories

The people that first moved to Cheltenham also found the locals very approachable, and when help was needed they where more than happy to help.

The children of these original immigrants have grown up in a very different culture to that of their parents. These children have grown up in British culture as well as the traditions of the Hindu community.

Many of the second generation have or are currently going out with a white girlfriend or boyfriend as well as having English as their first language.

Their diet has also become increasingly varied and now incorporates many different national dishes as well as Indian.

The second generation is more developed and integrated than their parents' generation was. This can be seen by their progression up the employment ladder.

The children have gained degrees, as well as becoming managers in international companies and starting up their own businesses.

» See 'Ramjibhai Popat'
» See 'Maniben Patel'
» See 'Nandiben Patel'
» See 'Lalubhai Patel'

» See 'Gulabbhai Patel'
» See 'Lalit Dandiker'

This article is user-generated content (ie external contribution) expressing a personal opinion, not the views of BBC Gloucestershire.
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MORE ASIAN STORIES
Asian colour montage
Introduction
An historical perspective
Gloucester's Islamic roots
Gujarati Muslim community
» Mahmood Patel
» Ebrahim Surty
» Mahmood Moolla
» Salim Kholwadia
Shia Muslim community
» Gulam Musa
Hindu community
» Ramjibhi Popat
» Maniben Patel
» Nandiben Patel
» Lalubhai Patel
» Gulabbhai Patel
Bangladeshi community
» Badsha Meah
» Amzad Ali
» Mohibul Hussain
» Mohibur Rahman
» Waris Ali
» Namder Meah
» Haris Ali
Pakistani community
» Ehsan-Ul-Haq
» Mohamed Sharif
» Babar Vaqas
Sikh Punjabi community
» Avatar Duggal
» Harjit Singh Gill
Christian community
» Manny Masih
Roshni Women's Centre
Gymnation
Parmjit Dhanda MP
The first Asian doctors
Islamic Girls' School
Harry Worrall
About the Authors
» Umara Hussain
» Lalit Dandiker
» Mohammed Hansdat
» Sakina Choudhury
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