At Home in Leicester

Where South Asians have established a lasting presence

Cricket fans at a pub in Belgrave, Leicester watching an India vs England game during the Cricket World Cup. In April 1990, Conservative politician Norman Tebbit coined the term “cricket test”—a way to measure the loyalty of ethnic minorities in England based on whether they support the England cricket team rather than the team from their country of origin. “A large proportion of Britain’s Asian population fail to pass the cricket test. Which side do they cheer for? It’s an interesting test. Are you still harking back to where you came from or where you are?” he said in an interview to the Los Angeles Times. {{name}}
01 October, 2011

IN 1972, when Uganda’s erratic despot, Idi Amin, expelled some 80,000 Asians, mostly from the subcontinent and born in Uganda, the 30,000-odd refugees who arrived on Britain’s shores encountered anything but open arms.

The city of Leicester went so far as to take out a full-page advertisement on 15 September 1972 in the Ugandan government newspaper Uganda Argus admonishing anyone who was considering coming to Britain to think again. “In your own interests and those of your family you should accept the advice of the Uganda Resettlement Board and not come to Leicester,” it concluded.

Despite this warning, Ugandans of South Asian ancestry  still came. As a result of their arrival—along with those of countless other immigrants—Leicester may soon become the first city in Britain with a white minority. Defying all gloomy predictions that their presence would overburden the social infrastructure and strain the fabric of society in smaller towns, South Asian immigrants have not only made Britain their new home, they have also thrived. Leicester has elected South Asian Members of Parliament and lords mayor, and many of the city’s successful businesses are South Asian-owned. The South Asian community is very much at the centre of Leicester’s social and civic fabric.

The city’s remarkable diversity has prompted some to refer to Leicester as one of Britain’s most ethnically harmonious cities. But the harmony many speak of does not preclude segregation and racial tension. “There is a tendency to overstate the model community,” said Prof Gurharpal Singh, dean of the Faculty of Arts and Humanities at the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, in an interview with the Guardian. “The people managing multiculturalism in Leicester have a vested interest in portraying it as harmonious. But in so doing they often neglect the disenchantment and lower achievement among working-class groups.”