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It's been 50 years since UK's first Asian group launched in Gravesend

PUBLISHED: 07:00 29 August 2019

Balwinder Rana is still fighting racist influences in society. Picture: Balwinder Rana

Balwinder Rana is still fighting racist influences in society. Picture: Balwinder Rana

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Plans are being drawn up to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Britain's first Asian youth organisation.

Balwinder Rana in the early days of the movement. Picture: Balwinder RanaBalwinder Rana in the early days of the movement. Picture: Balwinder Rana

The Indian Youth Federation, Gravesend (Kent) was launched to give young people a voice.

Founding president Balwinder Rana said it happened in the summer of 1969 after racist attacks.

He said: "There was much discontent amongst our youth against the everyday racism that we suffered but no leadership was provided from our elders. Our people were not served in some pubs and had difficulty obtaining mortgages to buy homes."

Three times a year they held community functions at the Woodville Halls.

Grainy image from the days of the massive race protests in Gravesend.  Picture: Balwinder RanaGrainy image from the days of the massive race protests in Gravesend. Picture: Balwinder Rana

Guests included civic leaders, Indian High Commission, famous writers and poets from India plus leaders of immigrant organisations from other towns. There was entertainment by Indian singers and dancers.

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In 1976 they led six weeks of protest against the far-right National Front who were distributing literature in the High Street.

Balwinder said: "Local Asians found it offensive to hear the NF shouting anti-immigrant slogans like 'if they are black, send them back'. But protests by the Indian youth, who were also joined by some white anti-racists, often led to scuffles while police tried to keep the two sides apart.

Balwinder Rana is still fighting racist influences in society. Picture: Balwinder RanaBalwinder Rana is still fighting racist influences in society. Picture: Balwinder Rana

"Matters came to head one Saturday when the president of the local Sikh temple, an old gentleman, was attacked and badly injured by some NF who pushed him through Woolworth's plate glass window.

"Many hundreds then fought the NF who were vastly outnumbered. Despite large police presence, many NF and a few police suffered injuries. A few Indian youth suffered injuries too and some were arrested but the NF stopped coming."

Harjinder Bhullar, now 67, general secretary of the IYF, said: "Because of the sacrifices of our youth, we have lived in relative peace ever since. We are still united and ready to face such dangers again."

Balwinder said: "In later years the name was changed to Indian Youth and Workers Movement and some, now in their late sixties or seventies, plan a get together soon to reminisce."

In 2002, a Channel 4 documentary called Sikh Street was about the life of Gravesend's Indian immigrants, and includes Balwinder.

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