A Saga of 58 Years and More
Indian settlement was there in England during the British colonial period in India but it was sparsely populated. The immigration of Indians from India took a significant rise in the late sixties and people from India went to England for a permanent settlement with a view to enriching their lifestyle in a country of milk and honey. By 1965 there was a sizeable population of Indians in the London Borough of Brent but they were missing a central organisation where they could meet, discuss and celebrate. It was felt mostly so on social and religious occasions when the members of the community found it utterly depressing as to where and how to hold such events.
BIRTH OF AN ORGANISATION
Soon a solution was found. In 1965, Ghanshyambhai Patel and Sureshbhai Patel floated the idea to hold a cultural programme. This was spontaneously accepted and supported by Arvindbhai C. Patel, Navin Amin, Dinkerbhai Asher, Ranjit Patel, Lalit Raja, Dayalji Karia, Devraj Chudasama and others. An organisation was born which was named “Brent Indian Association”.
B.I.A. SPREADS ITS ACTIVITIES
With the establishment of B.I.A. the members derived inspiration from it and they were imbibed with a new spirit. They meant business. So in 1966, a Gujarati Play was staged at the Commonwealth Institute which won laurels from the critics. “Having performed drama in India and in Kampala (Uganda), I made a debut in London with a one-act play ‘Kahevu-kone?’ by Prabodh Joshi, a charity show for the Brent Indian Association in 1967/68. Writes Amrit Kotak in the ‘Opinion’ June 2000. In 1967 a first ever coach trip to Blackpool was arranged. During these years the voluntary workers would visit the hospitals, meet the patients and offer them flowers etc. These visits left a permanent impact on the members of the community and hospital staff. This was rare in those days.
The election in 1969 ushered in a committee with young blood and spirit under the chairmanship of N. T. Pandya. This committee framed and adopted a constitution.
With the advent of the the new committee, it acquired the Vivian Hall, at the Vivian Avenue, Wembley on lease for a term of three years. Here in 1969 the festival of Navratri was celebrated for all the ten days including the festival of Dashera. Thus B.I.A. was the pioneer body to celebrate the festival on such a large scale. It is noteworthy to remember that in those days no grant from the council was available and all the expenses had to be met with from the annual subscription which was .50p per person per year!
BRENT COUNCIL TAKES NOTE OF IT
With the passage of time the activities of B.I.A. were taken into account by the Brent Council. Consequently, some of the members of B.I.A. were appointed governors of the primary and secondary schools. The chairman N. T. Pandya found a place on the “Family Practitioners’ Committee”. The same year Miss Chandrika Shantikumar Thaker received first prize in the “Girls’ Fashions Parade”.
A LIBRARY WAS FOUNDED
B.I.A. was committed to all-round development for the benefit of its members. and this was necessary to allure more and more members. It started a lending library with books in Gujarati and English and subscribed to Gujarati and English news papers and magazines for its reading room. Today the library is well stocked with some 3000 titles and dozens of newspapers, magazines and periodicals. Books are the chief carriers of civilization and the message has reached home of its users.
TEACHING OF GUJARATI
For the spread and propagation of culture and religion the knowledge of Gujarati is paramount. With this view in mind a Saturday Gujarati School was started at John Kelly High School which was later on shifted to Barham Primary School in Wembley. The Gujarati School is the flag-ship of the Association. The students sit the examinations conducted by the Gujarati Literary Academy. The teaching staff is well-qualified and devoted.
ACQUIRES OWN BUILDING
During this period B.I.A. was awarded a grant of £56,500 under the Urban Aid Programme which facilitated to acquire the property at 116 Ealing Road, Wembley. The building was declared open by Brynmor John MP Minister, Home Office on September 19, 1976. The other dignitary present was Natwarsinhji, the then High Commissioner for India. He performed the opening ceremony of the hall and named it “Sardar Patel Hall”, Mahesh Kothari, a social worker from India presented the full size portrait of the Sardar and a bronze statuette of Mahatma Gandhi which still adore the premises.
HOSPITAL AT CHIKHODRA
The period between 1976 – 1980 noticed a significant progress under the Chairmanship of Manibhai D. Patel. 25 voluntary organisations affiliated with B.I.A. A luncheon club was started for the senior citizens. A cultural programme was organised and the proceeds from it was donated towards the construction of a hospital for the blinds at a town called Chikhodra in Gujarat.
A PERIOD OF DESPAIR & GLOOM
The happy period of progress and prosperity soon ended like a dream. The following years from 1980-1986 were wrought up with disaster for B.I.A.. The Brent Council resolved to terminate the lease to repossess the building and the matter was taken to court and it was won successfully. But there were many hazards ahead which were beyond the human control.
Due to some mysterious reasons the building was gutted down by fire. It took nearly two years to renovate it. During this time of crises a great help in cash and moral support was extended by many which proved enormously helpful to sustain the morale of the management of B.I.A.
PHOENIX FROM ASHES
The B.I.A. emerged from ashes like a phoenix in 1986 and a new committee was elected with D.D.Tanna at the helm. The old constitution was revised and a new one was adopted on 27 April, 1986 to meet the growing needs of the community. The past was buried deep and an era of reconstruction was set in. The number of affiliated organisation rapidly rose to 46. Long-lasting changes were effected to reap benefits. Seminars on immigration, education, housing, police and welfare rights were regularly held which attracted the active participation from the community members.
Equal stress was put on the emancipation and participation of women in the affairs of B.I.A. To this end, the Mahila Mandal was reorganised and subjects popular with women folk were introduced. Sewing classes were started which are still running todate. Navratri festival for ladies was celebrated which has become the permanent feature of the activities. Satsang Mandal was also formed at this period. This has also been a very popular event with the ladies.
RISE IN STAFF AND DEVELOPMENT OF THE CENTRE
In 1990 A.C. Patel took over from D. D. Tanna. In may 1990 B.I.A. created three new positions: Manager, Community Worker and Administrator to develop the community centre. The three appointees were: Amrit Desai (Manager), Jayendra Shah (Community Worker), and Meenaxiben Patel (Administrator), Harish Bhatt and Mahendra Patel were there as a caretaker and an assistant care taker.
The Manager was entrusted with the development of the centre to be the vanguard of the community activities. The wheels of progress were put into gear and an action plan was prepared. To make the progress known to the public some immediate steps were taken which included: Production of Manager’s monthly report, monthly statistics of various services provided to the public, production of a magazine, wall charts, displays of daily news clippings of national and international news papers and prayers at luncheon meetings. These measures left a profound impact on the general public.
JAWAHARLAL NEHRU CENTENARY
The year 1989 was the centenary year of the birth of Jawaharlal Nehru the first Prime Minister and marker of modern India. It was celebrated in conjecture with the Independence day of India on 19th August on a scale imparalled in t he history of B.I.A. Special programme was organised for youths and children and a grand dinner at Brent Town Hall where Shri M. Rasgotra, The High Commissioner for India was the Chief Guest and Cllr. Len Williams, the Mayor of Brent presided over the function.
SILVER JUBILEE CELEBRATIONS
The year 1990 proved a landmark in the history of B.I.A. It was a proud moment for a voluntary organisation to survive and function successfully for a period of 25 years working against all odds with scarce resources and means at its disposal. The silver jubilee was marked with a huge procession form the Ealing road to the Brent Town Hall where it was warmly greeted by the Mayor of Brent Cllr. Roger Stone. In the evening a grand dinner was held at the Town Hall, which ended late with the musical extravaganza.
Voluntary organisations like B.I.A. flourish with the devotional services of its members who put “service above self”. Since its birth B.I.A. has been fortunate enough to have a dedicated team of such workers. During D. D. Tanna’s Chairmanship. B.I.A. emerged like a phoenix from the ashes and he steered the ship ashore safely from the turbulent waters. Of course it is a team work that merits. A. C. Patel and his conscientious secretary Ratibhai Kathrani and Manager Amrit Desai strove hard to project a new image of B.I.A. and they were successful in achieving the targeted results.
During these years the volume of work increased manifold. In 1990 the services provided were under 1000 per annum which meteorically rose to 15856 by September 1994. This is not a mean achievement. All the services were streamlined and regularly monitored. This figure 15856 translated into value would mean £1,58,560! The then Chief Executive of Brent Council Mr. George Benham commended this achievement.
The development was around. It crossed all the boundaries and penetrated into the international fields. During Gulabbhai Mistry’s time a very good rapport was established with his personal visits to British missions in Delhi & Mumbai. This, to our much relief, eased the visa and immigration procedure.
The fame of B.I.A. by this time reached the Continent and a film unit from Holland made a contact with us to make a film on B.I.A. activities to show on their national television for the benefit of the voluntary organisations. The unit arrived here and shot the documentary for two days . This was the apex time for B.I.A.
GOLDEN JUBILEE CELEBRATION OF THE INDIAN INDEPENDENCE
The Independence day and the Republic Day of India are the tow most important events in the calendar of B.I.A. Hence the Golden Jubilee year marked the special event and was celebrated in a most memorable and splendid way attracting hundreds of well-wishers to join the procession from the B.I.A. building to the Town Hall. The procession included gaily decorated floats, smartly attired youths, folk dancers, a live band, a two-horse drawn buggey where in seated the four freedom fighters D. D. Tanna, N. T. Pandya, Amrit Desai and Narshibhai Mistry who had contributed in their own way to the freedom struggle of India. They were decorated at the evening function with medals by Shri K. N. Singh, the Minister Co-ordination, High Commission of India.
CARING FOR THE ENVIRONMENT
The ancient Indian culture glorifies the nature and pays homage to it in a most devotional manner. It advocates the preservation of vegetation, its flora and fountains and prays VANASPATAYAHA SHANTI. In footsteps of this great tradition, the B.I.A. arranged a tree planting ceremony on 16th August 1997 at the Gladstone Park to commemorate the golden jubilee year of the Independence of India and to boost the envioronment. His Worshipful The Mayor of London Borough of Brent – Cllr. Mark Cummins, The High Commissioner for India – Dr. L. M. Singhvi, The Chairman of B.I.A.- Mr. Girishbhai Joshi, and Member of Parliament -Mr. Barry Gardiner and our Affiliated Organisations enthusiastically participated and a total of 50 seedlings were planted. All the trees have nourished and grown into a beautiful plantation which is aptly known as the “Gandhi Peace Grove” in memory of Mahatma Gandhi.
A rock with a plaque bearing the inscription of the event has been raised in the Park which always reminds the naturalists of the efforts put in by B.I.A. towards the preservation and enhancement of the environment.
FROM LEASEHOLD TO FREEHOLD
The premises were leasehold form the Brent Council. However Girish Joshi immediately on the assumption of the Chairmanship turned his eyes in the direction of acquiring a freehold. He and Vice-Chairman – Ratibhai Shah, and Amratlal Sodha the experienced and conscientious Secretary General put concerted efforts to procure the freehold which was successfully negotiated and today the Association could boast of having their own premises on the prestigious Ealing Road. During this period, the B.I.A. got a registered Charity Status too. It also changed into a Company Limited by Guarantee.
LAUNCH OF A LOTTERY
The demands and wants of the community are ever increasing but the means available to translate them into reality are meagre. The Sardar Patel Hall is not specious enough to accommodate exceeding 90 people. The plans are on hand for the extension but the amount required is not available. To overcome this, a lottery has been launched to raise £100,000. The response has been quite encouraging so far and we appeal to all to positively respond to our charity call.
The tickets are priced £1 each in a bunch of 5 costing £5 only. The stake is low and the prizes are very high and attractive. Tickets are available at the B.I.A. office or from the voluntary workers. Alternatively it can be had through post by sending your cheque for the requisite amount or depositing the amount in our following bank account.
Please contact BIA for further details on 0208 903 3019.
Today there are 70 Voluntary organisations affiliated with B.I.A. The figure is self-explanatory and speaks for itself. From a small seedling a vast banyan tree has grown to enfold thousands under its shade. Immigration, Welfare Rights, Legal Advice, Education, Housing, and Youth Activities are some of the topics it deals with. For the senior citizens, it runs a luncheon club where lunch is provided at a subsidised charge. The bridge club and reading room provide them with leisurely activities. Lectures and Seminars, and local and overseas pleasure tours are also arranged. These are some of the services rendered to the public. Our efforts are always there to add more and more subject to the resources available.