Southall in West London is known as Little India or, more specifically, Little Punjab. Located in the borough of Ealing, it has the largest Sikh community in London, as well as the largest Sikh temple, the Gurdwara Sri Guru Singh Sabha. While Sikhism is the dominant religion, there are also many of Hindu and Muslim faith.
Southall’s population includes people from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and East Africa. In the town centre, some three quarters of its 70,000 residents are of Asian origin. Their influence has led to a rich cultural landscape. The sounds, smells and colours of Southall gives the whole area a vibrant, exotic atmosphere.
Indian fashion and jewellery is sold in shops and on street stalls, while grocery stores offer Indian food. Scores of restaurants offer mouth-watering Asian food. From fast-food kebab outlets, through Pakistani diners like Gifto’s Lahore Karahi, to the iconic Brilliant restaurant, the distinctive aromas of Indian spices permeate the air.
Mosques and temples abound in Southall. There are ten gurdwaras, six mosques and two mandirs in and around the area, as well as numerous Christian churches. The Gurdwara Sri Guru Singh Sabha, built in 2003, is the crown jewel of Southall. One of the biggest outside of India, it attracts over 15,000 worshippers a week and runs a free kitchen which provides vegetarian meals for all who come, Sikh or not.
Asian people started arriving in Southall in the 1950s. Partition of the Punjab by the British in 1947 — placing half in Pakistan and half in India — led many people to move to Britain. Southall was an affordable area, close to work opportunities at the newly-opened Heathrow airport and the R. Woolf rubber factory. The factory’s manager had served with Sikh soldiers in World War Two and was happy to employ them. Among the first Punjabi residents was Pritam Singh Sangha. He opened the first Asian cornershop in the UK in 1954, starting a retail concept that continues today.
AFRICA AND ASIA
The next influx of Indian immigrants came from Kenya and Uganda in the 1960s, after the former colonies gained independence from Britain. Ugandan Indians were forcibly expelled in 1972 by Idi Amin, who had seized power in a coup. Many of these people settled in Southall.
The boom of the Asian population unfortunately led to acts of racism. The first uprising was the murder of Sikh teenager Gurdip Singh Chaggar in 1976. Later, clashes after a meeting of the British fascist party National Front caused the death of protester Blair Peach in 1979. In 1981, a full-scale riot broke out at the Hamborough Tavern, resulting in multiple injured and seventy arrests.
Racism in Southall is not quite as prevalent today and the area is more affluent. Wealthy Indians are moving out to the suburbs, replaced by other minority groups such as Somalis and Afghan Sikhs. Its Little India reputation continues to attract new residents and visitors alike. Easy connections to London make it a popular destination for those who love South Asian culture. Several generations on from its first Indian immigrants, it is still the best place in London for an authentic curry.
Southall: Brilliant Food