On Friday, 12 January, a play is being performed in the Questors Theatre, Ealing, to commemorate the 45th anniversary of the death of Blair Peach and the tragic events that took place on April 23, 1979, in Southall.
The writer and director of the play, famous in the Punjabi theatre in this country and also in Bollywood, is called Tajinder Singh Sindra. Most of his plays highlight social issues and historical as well as contemporary oppression and injustices. He also runs the Punjabi Theatre Academy based in Southall where young actors and directors learn the trade. This play, titled, ‘GO BACK HOME!’, performed in English and with a cast of 15 white and Asian actors, is about the racism of the 1970s faced by the non-white communities and the violence unleashed by some fascist groups like the National Front (NF) but concentrates on Southall.
On April 23, 1979, the National Front were allowed to hold an election rally in the Southall Town Hall. This was after many years of racist attacks upon the non-white communities, around the country, instigated by racist groups like the NF who held regular and provocative marches, often in their thousands, mainly through the black and Asian areas. They were often opposed in massive numbers by the local communities who were supported by white anti-racists led by groups like the Anti Nazi League (ANL).
Southall was the culmination of that terrifying period and thus the local community decided to oppose NF coming to their town to spread racist hatred and insult the community. A meeting was called by the Indian Workers Association and attended by representatives of many organisations, including Gurdwaras, Temples, Mosques, Churches, trade unions, ANL and many others. The meeting decided to actively oppose the NF rally with peaceful protests and marches and a committee was elected to organise such. Balwinder Rana, a long time anti racist activist, was appointed as chief steward to oversee the protests.
On Sunday, 22 April, some six thousand people marched from Southall to Ealing Town Hall, to hand in a petition to the council appealing that the NF rally be cancelled. As that plea by the community went unheeded, on Monday, 23 April, thousands of locals, supported by the ANL and other anti-racists, gathered in the town with the aim of making their peaceful protest outside the Southall Town Hall. But they were faced by more than 3,500 police who had arrived from the early morning and had proceeded to set up road blocks. As the protesters tried to get near the Town Hall scuffles with the police broke out which went on for hours. More than 350 people were arrested, many injured, including some police, and Blair Peach, a 30 year old school teacher from New Zealand who taught in a school in East London and was an active member of the ANL died. Later on a police inquiry accepted that he was probably killed by a police officer and his family were paid compensation.
Balwinder Rana, chief steward for the protests at the time, said, “We were only trying to defend our right not be insulted in our own community by the racists and we appealed to all the authorities to cancel the rally. But no one listened to us and instead we were attacked and beaten by the police trunchens, trampled upon by the police horses and bitten by the police dogs. But the people, men and women, young and old, black, Asian and our white friends, stood united. It was not without sacrifices as many young people went to prison, others paid heavy fines and my friend, Blair Peach, made the ultimate sacrifice. But we showed to the world that with our unity racism can be defeated.”
He further added, “This is a very timely play and its very important to remember our struggles. Racism and facism is on the rise again in this country, in Europe and beyond. Therefore all the communities, black, white, Asian and regardless of religious differences coming together at this time is of the utmost importance so that our children do not have to face what we had to go through in the 70s.”