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Protesters pictured taking to the streets in Southall, Magnum Photos.

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29 November 2023

Anthems Which Highlighted the Struggles: Episode 2 - Gurdip Singh Chagger & The Southall Youth Movement (1976) 

PRITHVI KUMAR

In the Cambridge dictionary an anthem is described as “a song that has a special importance for a particular group of people, an organisation, or a country.” Throughout British History we can identify several anthems which have highlighted key struggles and battles fought by a variety of groups. This series looks to focus on anthems in relation to the pursuit of civil rights. Episode One will aim to tackle battles fought by the Windrush generation from 1948 to 1971. Episode Two will explore Gurdip Singh Chagger and the Southall Youth Movement. Episode Three will look at Satpal Ram and his story of injustice, ending with Episode Four which will discuss Stephen Lawrence and how it took 20 years to get a conviction for two of the attackers and a further 30 years to identify all the key suspects. 

 

The series aims to inform readers about what happened in each of these movements and provide a track-list to go with it, the idea being that the music should help to immerse you in the experience of the times. 

 

The series has helped me gain greater insight for all those who have endured systematic racism throughout recent history. I really hope it helps you, the reader, to understand what they had to go through as well. 

 

Episode 2 - Gurdip Singh Chagger & The Southall Youth Movement (1976)

Many would assume that racism decreased with the many years of migrants arriving in the UK. They would be wrong. Racism increased dramatically as political organisations like the National Front (NF) began to use fear-mongering to increase support amongst the British population. Groups like the NF can be compared to modern parties like UKIP and BNP. Each one of these groups attaches a blame, a reason to explain the hardship faced by many of their followers. This antagonises their supporters to act against those blamed, usually migrants. In the 1970s this is best characterised by the term, ‘Paki Bashing’. Paki Bashing involved groups of white gangs heading into brown areas with the aim of assaulting people living within the neighbourhoods. The violence peaked during the 70s; many Asian people were assaulted, and some were killed. One of the most infamous incidents was that of the young Gurdip Singh Chagger, who was assaulted and killed at 18 years old. This occurred on the 4th of June 1976; Gurdip’s body was laid over a fence for all to see, a truly tragic moment for the entire community in Southall. 

 

Suresh Gover, a member of the community, was walking by the scene the day after and asked the policemen what had happened. The policeman said that someone had died, but also stated, “It was just an Asian”, indicating that the incident was of little importance. For the people of Southall, this was a massive concern, as Paki Bashing was now resulting in deaths.

 

The death caused mass protests amongst the population of Southall, mainly involving the youth. The youth within Southall then proceeded to band together and form a group called The Southall Youth Movement (SYM) following a dominion meeting. It was a group composed of different groups from Southall, some of the groups involved were the Holy Smokes, Tooti Nungs as well as a variety of religious groups, such as the local Gurdwara. All in all, the SYM was a grassroots organisation with the aim of defending local neighbourhoods against the violence being imposed upon them.

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The protests in Southall peaked in 1979 when an NF meeting took place in the heart of the community, with the main goal of antagonising the local migrant population. Some 3000 police officers were used to ‘maintain’ the peace; it could be stated they did the opposite with little to no consequences for their actions. They used their power to antagonise and arrest peaceful protesters and this caused a violent reaction in the crowd. In the end, 700 arrests occurred, 349 court cases and one tragic death. Before the protest occurred, there were several actions by community leaders in attempts to block this NF meeting from happening in the first place. Local councillors at the time, however, simply said no. There was even a 10,000-strong march in protest to Ealing on the Sunday before the NF meeting, a conservative hotspot at the time. The council again denied the motion to cancel the meeting. 

 

Many people were injured by the events on the 24th, including members of the reggae band, ‘Misty In Roots’. They reported that their manager almost died from his injuries on the day of the protests.

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The members of the band and lots of members of the SYM were attacked when their building at 6 Parkview, ‘The People Unite’, was raided following the violent clearing of the peaceful protesters in Southall a few hours before. It was here that many were ‘trugeoned’ i.e. hit with heavy police bats and many eyewitnesses also report seeing people thrown down flights of stairs by the police at the time. They also destroyed most of the building, which was a community sanctuary built for the people of Southall. Many members were arrested for seemingly no real reason, and many were seriously injured. 

 

The heavy beatings of the community did inflict one major casualty as mentioned previously. Blair Peach was assassinated by 6 policemen in a brutal attack. He was an innocent teacher, beaten down outside his uncle’s house, in a show of nothing but aggression. Having himself emigrated from New Zealand he stood with those in Southall in the defence of migration and to fight the fascists. He unfortunately died at the scene due to blunt force trauma. At his funeral tens of thousands attended and demonstrated the strong/united community atmosphere in Southall.

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His murderers are still at large, with the metropolitan police force only accepting responsibility in 2010. The police initially stated that he was killed by left-wing activists in order to incite further violence by creating a martyr. They then changed this once it was disproved by stating that he could have been killed randomly and that they didn’t know who did it. Both conclusions were stated with no evidence presented. Many lies were churned out by those in positions of power, which caused a mistrust still seen today in Southall and throughout the country.  

 

One of my selected anthems for this protest and this period is “Jah War” by The Ruts. The song references the manager of Misty in Roots, Clarence Baker who as previously stated, almost passed away due to an injury from a truncheon. The song goes on to say:

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“Clarence Baker,

No troublemaker,

Said the truncheon came down,

Knocked him to the ground.”

The Ruts themselves were activists and part of a group called Rock Against Racism which like the SYM was a grassroots movement aimed at discouraging youngsters from taking up racist views. This saw them in tandem with Misty in Roots and the SYM complete several benefit gigs in order to raise money for the cause. The ruts music discography can be said to have a highly energetic punk rock vibe whilst also integrating the reggae/dub sound – this made them a massive sensation during the late 70s to early 80s. Their most influential track was Babylon’s Burning which reached a top ten position in 1979. The track is a special favourite of mine and one I recommend you listen to. Babylon within reggae/dub music refers to the establishment and forces that oppress the people. 

The band’s success was cut short by the unfortunate overdose of their lead singer, Malcolm Owen, in 1980. In my opinion, due to the band’s stance on racism as well as their legendary discography, they should be considered a British Hall of Fame Rock’n’Roll act. 

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