Skip to comments.'Little India' drives peace and economy in Northern Ireland
Posted on 11/28/2004 6:05:35 AM PST by CarrotAndStick
Belfast, Nov 28 : Two leading businessmen of Indian origin are leading the way in keeping the flag of Indian culture flying in Northern Ireland.
Unlike British towns such as Leicester, Birmingham, London and Bradford - which have a large Asian population - Belfast and Northern Ireland have a small but influential Indian community.
Estimates vary between 200 and 250 families of Indian origin in Northern Ireland, but the community is said to be influential in trade and business. It is being increasingly incorporated in official efforts to change perceptions about Northern Ireland and sell it as an ideal destination to do business.
Two of the best known figures from the community are Lord Diljit Rana, who is a successful businessman and India's honorary consul general in Northern Ireland, and Raj Puri, another successful businessman and chairperson of the Indian Community Centre here.
Rana, 65, is the elected president of the Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce and Industry. He retains strong links with India, funding a school and university in Punjab. He is keen to strengthen the region's business links with India, and was a key member of the 18-member Northern Ireland trade delegation that recently visited India.
Rana's has been one of the few success stories. He came to Britain from Punjab in 1963, moving to Belfast three years later to open a restaurant. He faced bankruptcy in the early 1970s when IRA bombs destroyed the two restaurants he owned.
But with a young family, heavy debts and no job he had little option but to try again. He borrowed money to refurbish five houses, reasoning that they would not be bombed.
When he moved into commercial property the bombers returned. His first hotel, the Plaza, was bombed three times in its first two years. A further 21 bomb attacks on his businesses failed to deter him from building up a portfolio of offices, hotels and restaurants.
Today, he owns a string of businesses in the region, including Hotel Ramada, which offers Indian-style hospitality and Kerala-style Ayurveda facilities.
Raj Puri, a close associate of Lord Rana, is active in keeping alive Indian cultural traditions as chairperson of the Indian Community Centre in central Belfast.
The centre is located on the busy Carlisle Circus on Clifton Road, next to the Orange Hall. It is based in a part of what used to be a church. The two spacious floors occupied by the centre were bought for 35,000 pounds with the help of donations from people of Indian origin.
It was later refurbished with grants from the Lottery Fund. Today, the centre is a beehive of Indian cultural activities, including instruction in Hindi, Indian dances, and festivals.
"The centre is located in a neutral area, but we often become victims during troubles between the Protestants and the Catholics - our cars and centre windows are targeted. We often hire our own security," he said.
In 2001, the centre received the prestigious Diversity 21 award for its 'Gateway to India' exhibition.
Raj Puri told IANS that the Indian Community Centre often invites tutors from London for lectures on Indian culture, and artistes from India who come to London or other places in Britain. He said such visits here are arranged with the help of individuals in the London offices of Sunrise Radio (a leading Asian radio station) and Zee.
The centre includes a temple with idols brought from India. Religious functions are conducted by an in-house priest, Acharya Gopi Krishna (originally from Vrindavan, India, but who moved to Belfast from Nairobi).
The centre organises community programmes during Independence Day, Diwali and other Indian celebrations. It also organises lectures and workshops to acquaint the Irish community about Indian culture. This includes advising the local police on how to interact with the Indian community.
Among the centre's staff is Pritam Sridhar, originally from Delhi, who is the centre's culture and diversity officer.
Puri said all Indian families in Northern Ireland were members of the centre. Indian students studying in the University of Ulster and the Queen's University of Belfast often visit the centre, he added.
Indian high commissioners based in London often visit the centre during tours of Northern Ireland.
This sounds very strange. Who would loan someone with no job and heavy debts more money for property speculation?
Probably because the lenders were impressed with his drive and business acumen.
Immigrants tend to have tenacious business ethic, and this guy sounds like another example.
"Among the centre's staff is Pritam Sridhar, originally from Delhi, who is the centre's culture and diversity officer."
Why is "diversity" something the Irish, Americans, and British must learn? Why can't the Chinese and Indians get a little taste of diversity?