LONDON: A road in Southall, where the largest gurudwara in western Europe sits, could be renamed Guru Nanak Road as the local council reviews colonialist connections to all street names and statues in its area in the wake of the Black Lives Matter protests.
Gurdwara Sri Guru Singh Sabha is situated on Havelock Road in Southall, a road named after British general Sir Henry Havelock, who was involved in the recapture of Cawnpore (now Kanpur) in UP during the First War of Independence in 1857.
Labour councils are reviewing statues and commemorations in their areas after London mayor Sadiq Khan launched a commission to review the capital’s memorials as Britain starts to decolonise street names and statues following anger sparked by George Floyd‘s death in the US.
Ealing Council has begun to consult its residents on a proposed name change from Havelock Road to Guru Nanak Road, just as Gurdwara Sri Guru Singh Sabha prepares to open for private prayer on June 15. It will be the first time the gurdwara opens for individual prayer since the start of the lockdown.
“We need to make sure our public realm, our statues, road names and buildings, reflect our diversity and not reflect a frozen past where colonialism, racism and the slave trade were present and celebrated,” said Ealing Council leader Julian Bell.
“I welcome the mayor’s review of our public places across the city to make sure they do represent London as it is today. We in Ealing will be conducting a similar review of our public spaces and in that spirit we will begin the process of consultation to change the name of Havelock Road to Guru Nanak Road. As part of the 550-year celebrations of the birth of Guru Nanak we want to make this name change. This will symbolise the huge contribution of our Sikh community in Ealing,” Bell added.
“I welcome the decision by Ealing Council to finally rename Havelock Road, decolonising our streets,” said British Punjabi MP Virendra Sharma. “As the MP for Ealing Southall and a councillor for 25 years before that, I have often been ashamed the names of empire still pervade our streets. I have long campaigned for schools to teach more about our imperial past, not just the great strides made, but also the shameful thuggery and violence. Names like Havelock belong in books, classrooms and museums, not on the streets to be celebrated. The community should come together to decide how we rename this road, but celebrating Guru Nanak Dev Ji in his 550th anniversary, and erasing a white man who killed Sikhs, Muslims and Hindus would be a sign of our multiculturalism and our diversity.”
Two years ago a radical outfit, the National Sikh Youth Federation, launched a campaign for a different name for the road — “Sant Jarnail Singh Marg” — in memory of slain militant Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale. The group’s petition, addressed to Ealing Council, which is still live, has garnered just under 2,000 signatures.
“It is time street names also reflected the community that is Southall’s life blood,” it reads. “Sir Henry Havelock represents the traumatic and incredibly violent occupation of the Sikh homeland of Punjab. The National Sikh Youth Federation firmly believes it is only fitting that Havelock Road, named after a colonial general, be renamed Sant Jarnail Singh Marg after the famous Sikh ‘general-of-generals’, the de-facto leader of the Sikh nation who awoke the spirit of Sikh sovereignty within a displaced and defeated generation.”