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New UK documentary examines racist attacks on British Indians

Defiance: Fighting the Far Right Poster

By: Mohnish Singh

Driving around with hockey sticks in the boot of the car and stockpiling petrol bombs to defend themselves are among some of the gripping accounts that make up a new UK documentary chronicling racist attacks faced by British Indians in the 1970s and 80s.

Defiance: Fighting the Far Right, a three-part series aired on Channel 4 from Monday, uses a cache of archive footage and compelling new testimony from the people who were there to tell the story of the fightback of Britain’s South Asian community against a wave of brutal racist attacks and murders between 1976 and 1981.

The film highlights how the community stood in the face of a rising tide of anti-immigrant feelings and a campaign of violence and intimidation unleashed by notorious far-right and racist groups such as the National Front.

“Back then, my Ludhiana-born father would drive around with hockey sticks in the boot of his car in case we ever ran into far-right thugs as we went about our daily business,” said Rajesh Thind, the British Punjabi director of one of the three episodes who grew up amid some of the upheaval in west London.

“Ever since I was a child witnessing those events of the late 1970s and early 1980s, I have wanted to tell these stories of how we British Asians fought back against the National Front and other racist and fascist organisations,” he said.

“I have had a burning desire to show the world that far from being meek and mild, as some Western stereotypes would portray South Asians, our communities were courageous, resilient, and resourceful, drawing on decades of experience of anti-colonial struggles both in India and Africa,” he said.

The series, created by BAFTA-winning Rogan Productions, Left Handed Films, and GroupM Motion Entertainment, investigates seminal events in British South Asian history referred to as the Southall protests, the Battle for Brick Lane, and the Bradford 12 –- events often overlooked by the press, the police and the government of the day.

“At a moment when we have a British Asian Prime Minister [Rishi Sunak] and an Asian First Minister in Scotland [Humza Yousaf], it is incredibly powerful to be able to tell the stories of everyday British Asians fighting to make their way in this country and to be heard,” said Shaminder Nahal, Channel 4 Head of Specialist Factual, who commissioned the series.

“A comprehensive telling of the extraordinary experiences of a generation of Asian refugees and migrants who came to Britain and faced an unprecedented wave of racial violence, stood their ground, and turned the tide, is long overdue,” said James Rogan, Executive Producer for Rogan Productions.

The series starts with the killing of 18-year-old Gurdip Singh Chaggar on the streets of Southall, west London, and the chilling words of far-right leader John Kingsley Read: “One down, one million to go!”

What follows is a brutal battle between Britain’s South Asian and black communities and the far-right activists.

“The British Asian civil rights movement is a forgotten piece of history… These are stories of bravery in the face of violence and a refusal to let prejudice go unchallenged – they could not be more timely,” said Riz Ahmed and Allie Moore from Left Handed Films.

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