The Indian population has been travelling to Britain since the beginning of the British rule in India which first started during the 17th century. Yet, Hindus, Sikhs and Indian Muslims’ journey to the UK only reached its peak this last century.
During the Fifties, Indian communities started to travel to the UK to escape the economic hardships of post-independence India as well as to meet the post-war labour needs of the UK. At that time, there were no restrictions on immigration for Commonwealth citizens who were considered as British subjects and as such, enjoyed full rights of citizenship.
Originally, the first ones to set off on this journey were single males who took up unskilled or semi-skilled work. Most Indian Muslim communities found employment in the textile mills of Yorkshire and Lancashire, as well as in the NHS. Most Hindus settled in inner-city areas where they became menial workers, started small businesses as grocers, newsagents and clothing manufacturers. Most Sikhs moved to cities such as London, Birmingham and West Yorkshire, and took up jobs as unskilled labourers, worked in textile factories, or in the service sector such as at Heathrow Airport.
During the Sixties and Seventies, Indian immigration also arrived from former African colonies especially from East Africa, and countries such as Kenya or Uganda. These countries preferred industries to become more “Africanised” which led to more Indian communities moving to the UK. Indian Muslims coming from these countries, were highly skilled urban middle class professionals and entrepreneurs, and settled mostly in London and in the Midlands. Hindus entered the small and medium business sector, and medical professions.
As immigration from the Commonwealth became more restricted during the Seventies and Eighties, single males brought their families to join them rather than risk never gaining re-entry, and this led Indian communities to settle permanently in Britain.
The collapse of manufacturing industries during the Seventies, resulted in higher rates of male unemployment which opened up opportunities for unskilled immigrant women to start working because of economic necessities but also because of the impact of the feminist movement at that time. More recently, Indian communities have travelled to the UK for their studies or with work permits. For example, Indian Muslims from India can be now found working in the IT, finance, and legal sectors.
Nowadays, about 1,45 million Indians are living in the UK, and recent interviews have shown that all Indian communities feel well integrated into British society. According to the 2013 British Sikh report, 95% of British Sikhs are proud of being born or living in Britain. The Connecting British Hindus Report shows that 89% of the people interviewed believe that Hindus are well integrated in English society. However, the results of these recent interviews have also shown that these communities feel sometimes discriminated because of their ethnicity but also because of their faith. This is the case for Indian Muslims living in the UK who often feel left out by the British national media who perpetuates negatives stereotypes based on their faith, and also for female Muslims who feel often disadvantaged in employment areas.
This report was written by Emily Zerling, Faiths Forum for London intern.