Punjabis in Leamington is a grassroots project; founded to allow the narrative surrounding the immigrant experience to be rewritten with respect, truth and integrity. There are countless stories, both tragic and triumphant, of the Punjabis who first immigrated to the UK, but for so long remained untold. These stories hold so much history and knowledge, which deserve to be shared within our community and with the wider public. Punjabis in Leamington is an accessible platform where we are honoured to house these treasures. Thank you for joining us on this journey; we hope that you enjoy what we have created!
The Punjabis in Leamington Team
An introduction from Mr Jaswant Singh Virdee
Rajas, Maharajas, business tycoons, scholars and such have been coming to Britain ever since the British colonised India, for recreation, education and business opportunities. Employment seekers began arriving in the early 1930s. They possessed a rare courage and pioneering spirit. Most were unable to speak the English language; yet, in this foreign environment, they demonstrated unwavering perseverance, will, and determination. To not only to survive but also to succeed against all odds, as they faced a multitude of prejudices from the indigenous population.
Leamington and Warwick offered fantastic employment opportunities in Flavells, Pottertons, Automotive Products, Midland Red Buses, Ford, AP Lockheed, and other smaller outlets. These towns were renowned for peaceful surroundings and natural beauty along with exceptional cleanliness. It was natural that many immigrants were attracted to these towns. Many of the early arrivals were Punjabis and a trickle rapidly became a torrent in the mid-1950s.
It was not all plain sailing due to the fact that, in the beginning, the local population resisted immigration from foreign lands. Memories of the British rule in India were still fresh. Therefore, the local people never missed an opportunity to remind and taunt; they were not ready to accept outsiders as equals. Well-educated men were forced to accept menial jobs not aligned with their academic ability. Most were employed as cleaners, labourers and foundry workers.
First-generation immigrants had envisaged returning back to their country of origin, but life in the UK persuaded them to stay permanently. Therefore, soon after, their families started joining them. Realising that they were here permanently, they started spreading their wings. Many ventured into other ares, including business and politics.
By the late 1970s, there were a number of corner shops owned by Punjabis. Transporters, builders, garage owners, publicans and many more businesses became the means of earning their living. It was the Indian shopkeeper who pioneered Sunday opening, a practice which has since been adopted by big supermarkets and other retailers. Punjabis' inherent open-mindedness and attitude to social life endeared them to the locals, eventually.
The springboard for the second generation had been laid and they did not disappoint. They equipped themselves with good education and professional skills. The last quarter of the twentieth century produced a bumper crop of Punjabi chemists, doctors, engineers, solicitors and teachers, along with many other professionals. This was not a miracle but a result of sheer hard work, commitment, dedication and a good measure of their beliefs of earning a living with honest labour and not relying on handouts. Thus, they became employers from employees, contributing substantially to the local and national economy. Countrywide, Punjabis have recognised that it is their duty to intertwined themselves into the fabric of their adopted country.
The first Punjabi to enter politics in Leamington was Dharam Singh Rupra who contested to be a district councillor. Although he did not succeed, his actions provided an incentive for others to try. Within a short span of time a number of Punjabi councillors emerged as victorious, they held a multitude of senior positions and headed various local governmental and independent welfare agencies. The labour of first-generation Punjabis blossomed into socially accepted, respected and honourable equal partnership in society at large.
Punjabis' sporting prowess emanates from the social and religious structure of life in Punjab, the ethics of ‘fit body, fit mind’ was advocated by religious masters. It was, therefore, natural for Punjabis in Leamington to engage in sporting activities. Khalsa Sports Club played a prominent role in promoting cricket, football, hockey and kabbadi; achieving remarkable success.
It is unthinkable for Punjabis to be separated from a Gurdwara for long. A Gurdwara was established in New Street, Leamington, where traditional religious services resumed in 1967. This has since evolved into a magnificent four-storey place of worship covering 428- square metre floor space incorporating three worship halls and a basement hall for social functions. The initial £6,700 invested in New Street in 1967 multiplied into £11.2 million in 2009. This success has been bought about by the dedication and shared ambition of the Punjabi brotherhood and sisterhood.
There is yet much to be accomplished and it is hoped that future generations will continue to build on the successes achieved so far.
Click here to read our interviews with first-generation Punjabis in Leamington. Their stories are only a moment away!