In 1972, when I was 16, I remember being offered a job at the Barclays Bank, and the headmistress getting very upset with me because none of the white girls had been offered a job at the bank. I was the only one to be offered, and she wanted to know what I’d said at the interview. To be honest, I haven’t a clue – I wasn’t even interested in working in a bank. I was interested in sciences, and my ambition was to be a lab technician.
I do remember quite clearly, an argument with a geography teacher regarding what crops were grown in India. My parents were peasant farmers and they used to grow wheat. And I kept being told only rice and cotton were grown in India, so I challenged this and said no, wheat and corn were also grown. For this subversion I was given a detention.
Black Country Sikhs is about the Sikh and other communities of the Black Country, told in the words of local people. Many of the stories come from sessions at the Guru Nanak Gurdwara in Smethwick which has the distinction of being the first, and the largest, Sikh place of worship in Europe. It has recently been listed in Historic England as one of the top 10 faith buildings in the UK.
The interviews are with people from many walks of life. They raise many of the issues being tackled by the Sikh community as they establish themselves as valued members of UK society. There are stories of the terrible racism encountered and the resilience that it took to carry on. The book is illustrated with photography from local archives and also from the work of photographers who have been fascinated with uncovering the extraordinary life of Black Country people over the years.
The book was edited by Graham Peet and Emma Purshouse, and interviews were conducted by Indi Deol, Amarjit Nar, Graham Peet, Emma Purshouse and Faisal Shafi. We are very pleased that Preet Kaur Gill, the first female Sikh MP, has contributed to, and introduced this book.
When Emma Chetcuti of Multistory asked if I would help tell the story of the people of Sikh backgrounds in the Black Country, I jumped at the idea. My father was a bus driver but also a driving force in helping his community, the Sikhs, to make a home in this country. There are many other communities who originated in India: Hindus, Buddhists, etc, but this is the story I know best. I knew that there was a great story to tell of the challenges, the happiness and the determination of all the people who came to the Black Country. I hope this book will be a tribute to all of the people of the Black Country and will help the younger generation discover what their parents and grandparents went through to become a part of the community.
Preet Kaur Gill, MP
The book was launched during Blast! Festival 2019, and is now available to buy from our shop.