Connections between India and Ireland have been evolving since at least the 18th century but it wasn’t until after World War Two, that people from India came to Northern Ireland in significant numbers, many of them after the partition of India and Pakistan.
‘Like anywhere when there is a revolution, a lot of family, lives, houses and money are lost and I think due to that, my grandfather came’. People settled in Coleraine, Portrush, Derry, Portadown, Enniskillen all over Northern Ireland …they all had one idea in their mind when they left India … wherever we are going to be, we are going to survive’. Rajni Sharma
A generation of Indian families arrived at a time when Northern Ireland was relatively peaceful, but this was soon to change.
‘With the exception of two families who left because of the Troubles, I think everyone stayed here’. Lord Diljit Rana
‘You walked to school in the morning and you come home in the afternoon and as you’re growing up you see tanks on the street and soldiers around you and you think that is what the world is about’. Mukesh Sharma
However, the Troubles did prevent friends and families coming to Northern Ireland.
‘None of my other family members whether they were first cousins or second cousins or immediate family came out of India. They thought they had made the wrong choice, sending somebody away to a place where there was so much disturbance and so much hatred’. Nisha Tandon
The Troubles affected many properties and businesses. Stores, warehouses and shops were destroyed on a daily basis.
‘Over the years, my businesses were affected 26 times, minor incidents, major bombings, car bombings’. Lord Diljit Rana
Towards the end of the 1970s, a desire to provide for future generations found expression. The older generation feared that their young people would lose touch with their Indian heritage. They realised they knew more about Irish culture than their own.
‘They all felt their offspring who were born here or some who came here at a very young age were losing their identity’. Rajni Sharma
The Indian Community Centre was established during in 1981, when the Troubles and the Hunger Strikes were at their height, in the former Carlisle Methodist Church Hall.
‘It was in a terrible state. It had been lying derelict for a long time. We raised the money to buy it, we had volunteers, we cleaned up the building’. Lord Diljit Rana
‘We painted that whole building, all of us by ourselves, right from the top of the ceilings all the way down’. Bharat Sharma.
The Indian Community Centre offers numerous activities such as dance, arts, festivals, cookery and language classes and is frequented by the wider community, not just the Indian community. It is situated on an interface between two working class communities, Catholic and Protestant.
‘The Orange Hall is next door, the Catholic community on one side and the Protestant community on the other, so we were seen to be neutral, we weren’t seen to be taking sides, we felt we were there for everybody, so both sides of the community use our centre’. Rajni Sharma
‘During the Troubles a lot of Indian people felt safe here. We heard about riots in Bradford and Birmingham, racist violence, racist attacks. Everybody was too busy fighting amongst each other to worry about us lot. That was a worry whenever the Peace Agreement happened believe it or not, that attention would be diverted to us…. and it certainly has been’. Mukesh Sharma
Reflecting on the progress the Indian community has made, Lord Diljit Rana remarks, ‘I believe that you only live once and wherever you are your first loyality is to the community.”
‘Even within such a divide, I have still made my place’. Nisha Tandon
‘That’s the happy ending, we are here living and surviving like everybody else’. Bharat Sharma