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Wednesday, September 8, 1999 Published at 18:11 GMT 19:11 UK


UK Asians doing OK

BBC Two's Goodness Gracious Me

Gradually the shape of Britain's multi-culturalism is becoming clear - and nowhere is the outline more distinct than with the role Asians are playing.

Talvin Singh's victory in the coveted Technics Mercury prize with his album OK has again highlighted Asian success stories in the UK. Receiving the award, he said: "The industry needs to accept music that's a bit colourful. I am not a minority anymore, I am a majority. This is celebrating that."

The impact of Asian music, including other acts such as Cornershop and Asian Dub Foundation, and its influence on Kula Shaker, shows Singh has got a point.

[ image: Talvin Singh: Did fine with his album OK]
Talvin Singh: Did fine with his album OK
The world of the arts has seen several high profile Asian players, including the team behind the BBC comedy Goodness Gracious Me and actor Saeed Jaffrey.

Indian-born Salman Rushdie made his impact on the world of advertising, creating memorable slogans such as "Naughty, but nice" before writing his slightly more weighty and hugely controversial Satanic Verses.

But the impact of the Asian 3.5% of the UK population is not limited to the arts.

In business

Business is one area where Asians are seldom underestimated and many now rank among Britain's super-rich.

A list of the wealthiest Asians, published annually by Eastern Eye newspaper, revealed in April that the richest 200 Asians in the UK have a combined wealth of £7bn.

While they may not be household names, many have an obvious High Street presence.

Namita Panjabi, owner of the Chutney Mary restaurant group, is worth £5m, while married couple Meena and Kirit Pathak have amassed a £30m fortune through their popular Pathak food brand.

[ image: Salman Rushdie: Fatwah now lifted]
Salman Rushdie: Fatwah now lifted
Perween Warsi, who named her company, S&A Foods, after her sons, has built a personal fortune of £35m. The firm supplies frozen and chilled foods to clients such as Asda, Safeway and Whitbread.

Topping the "rich list" were brothers Srichand and Gopichand Hinduja, who hit the headlines last year when they offered to underwrite the Millennium Dome's spirit zone.

Finance, industry, oil and telecommunications interests have generated a family fortune of £1.3bn.

Nearly 30,000 Ugandan Asians came to the UK when they were expelled by Idi Amin in the 1970s, and have proved to be some of the most enterprising and successful business leaders.

In the Midlands alone, studies indicate that they have created 30,000 jobs.

In politics

It's not just in business, either. There are more Asians in Parliament than ever before. In the Commons, there are on the Labour benches Piara Khabra, Ashok Kumar, Mohammad Sarwar and Marsha Singh. Jonathan Sayeed is a Conservative MP.

Earlier this year, Keith Vaz became the first Asian to be a member of the government, when he became a junior minister in the Lord Chancellor's department.

[ image: Mohammed Sarwar, one of the Commons' Asians]
Mohammed Sarwar, one of the Commons' Asians
Representing a Leicester constituency with a large Asian population, he led a march against Rushdie's Satanic Verses, although he privately sympathised with the author.

There was another first last year when Waheed Alli became the first Asian in the House of Lords.

Having made a fortune in shrewd deals in the entertainment industry, Labour-supporting Alli was sent to the Lords by Tony Blair.

The company he set up with Bob Geldof, Planet 24, has become well- known for making Channel 4's morning show The Big Breakfast, and a range of other programmes.

In sport

Asians in sport are also making themselves felt, none more so than Sheffield's all-conquering featherweight Prince Naseem Hamed. Although from the Yemen, he is seen as a role-model by many young Asians.

[ image: Naseem Hamed: All conquering]
Naseem Hamed: All conquering
Athletics, too, is represented, with Gowry Retchakan, a recently-retired member of the women's GB 400-metre hurdles team.

And in the recent Cricket World Cup, the passion with which UK followers of India, Pakistan and Bangladesh supported their teams was one of the tournament's highlights.

This has been allied to increasing influence in the domestic game. While Madras-born Nasser Hussain took over at the helm of the England team, Berkshire-born Aftab Habib won his first England cap, although did not impress the selectors.

[ image: England captain Nasser Hussain, born in Madras]
England captain Nasser Hussain, born in Madras
He has however been selected for the A tour of Bangladesh and New Zealand, as has Worcestershire's Alamgir Sheriyar. Min Patel and others are stalwarts of the county scene.

And elsewhere

The integration of Asians through society inevitably includes the prison community, and it was in recognition of the needs of Asian prisoners that Home Secretary Jack Straw announced the first Muslim prison adviser this week.

Maqsood Ahmed will advise on issues including notification of holy days and special diets affecting almost 4,500 Muslim prisoners in jails in England and Wales.

That number has almost doubled in the past five years, but one expert said because of Muslims' over-representation in deprived sectors of the community and a rise in the numbers of Asian men between 18 and 25, the figure was "extraordinarily low".

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