The book contains a number of recollections including the following:
‘Harvinder Singh Rai was born in Narangwal, Punjab in 1970, and is affectionately known in ‘the job’ as ‘Harvy’. He came to the UK when he was just a few months old and this is his recollection:
‘My family hail from Malri, near Nakodar City Punjab, which is famous for its historic Gurdwara ‘Baba mal’. The 5th Guru of the Sikhs came to the village and it is said many people who have visited the shrine have been cured of ailments. The Gurdwara now draws people of all backgrounds seeking blessings and pain relief!
The ‘Rai’ family status is attributed chiefly to my paternal grandfather who was a substantial landowner and travelled to the UK in the early 1950’s. The family has land sprawled across neighbouring villages.
My maternal grandfather was an Army Captain who saw active service in snowy terrains and the jungles of Burma. Captain Avtar Singh Grewal was engaged in military reconnaissance and impressed me by being able to speak several languages – I quickly installed him as my ‘hero’.
I grew up in Walsall and regard myself as a ‘black country lad’ who mixes easily with people from all communities. I believe in working honestly and diligently for a living, being loyal, treating people fairly, and sharing knowledge and resources for the benefit and furtherance of society. I put my value system down to the influence of my Sikh faith and will proudly proclaim I am a ‘Sikh by choice’.
I went to Alumwell School in Walsall and did well in academic studies however, while studying ‘A` levels I became ill with TB and had to spend several months in isolation. Consequently, I decided to involve myself more with life and living, with the intention of putting into practice my understanding of the Sikh faith, uppermost of which was to serve others.
After treatment I went to work starting employment at a factory owned by my extended family where my father was the production manager.
About twelve months later I made enquiries about office work and secured a job with a Birmingham-based import firm. I was intrigued and eager to learn about the business world.
It wasn`t long before I was moved from an office clerk’s position to taking orders at trade shows worth hundreds of thousands of pounds. I was then moved to Wales to assist at a new acquisition, however about this time I got married and fortunately I got another job locally as the manager of my own store in West Bromwich.
Twelve months later an old school friend approached me, and I was asked to join him in a new enterprise. I agreed and found myself in the property letting market.
In early 1992 while washing my car one day a policeman on the beat began talking to me. This particular policeman was different… he was a Sikh! and more than that, he was one of my friends.
We got talking and over the course of several foot patrols, PC Billy Singh shared the merits of; serving the community, helping victims and people in need, catching criminals, working hard, wearing the uniform… in fact all the things I was searching for – I get it when people say policing is a calling.
Suffice to say it was an ‘easy sell’ and Billy Singh convinced me to apply to join the police.
I joined the West Midlands Police in December 1993, and after my initial training at the Police Training Centre in Ryton, near Coventry I was posted to H2 OCU. I was one of a handful of Sikh officers and perhaps one of just three or four visible Sikhs in the whole Force area.
H2 included a notorious area, Leamore in Bloxwich, which at the time had a reputation for being tough. A TV documentary about it described it as, ‘the worst estate in Europe’.
There were incidents of ‘KKK’ type cross burnings nearby, the National Front and ‘Combat 18’ were prominent fixtures, and it was known as a ‘racist area’. My supervision would have been aware of this, but on one of my first night shifts I was posted to foot patrol on my own in Leamore.
On the first night nothing of note, on the second night curtains were twitching, on the third night, that’s when it happened.
It would have been about midnight on a deserted street when a local man appeared from behind a public telephone kiosk. His chest puffed out arms astride and a swagger which was designed to intimidate, “You lost mate?” he asked.
This type of ‘community engagement’ was fully expected and not totally naïve to street-talk and how things work, I calmly and confidently looked around and said, “This Leamore?”
“Yeah!” replied the man and took a step closer.
“The one in Bloxwich?” I said.
“Yeah! You wanna watch your back!” boomed the man giving me the deadeye.
Unbeknown to the man I had trained as a kickboxer for many years, and had a short competitive stint, so was totally confident in my tone, ability and body language which unnerved the man.
“Well” I said, “If it’s Leamore in Bloxwich, I ain`t lost pal”
It was a make or break moment, if word got out to the locals that the new cop was ‘chicken’ then it would be a rough ride from there on.
I stood my ground almost challenging him to occupy my pavement space and my right to be there. On seeing his failed attempt at intimidation, he finished sheepishly with, “Just sayin you wanna watch your back round here… it’s a bit rough”- as if he was looking out for the me.
Suffice to say, there were no more ‘twitching curtains’ and I enjoyed several years in Bloxwich.
After response policing for three years I was posted to an Area Crime Team, which is where I got my first taste of an undercover stakeout. My most memorable experience was; sitting alone in the back of an unmarked van peering through a tiny hole in a plastic bin liner at a set of doors in the middle of a freezing winter, during the dead of night, hoping to catch a glimpse of a wanted suspect.
Having remained in a cross-legged position for six hours the van was collected by a colleague the following morning and driven to a nearby police station. Six hours in a ‘lotus’ position welds the joints and it took thirty minutes to sufficiently warm my knees up so I could straighten my legs and exit the van!
After this I became an OCU trainer at H2, the first Sikh officer in the Force to occupy such a post and went on a secondment to deliver diversity training for nine months.
This training was mandatory for all staff in the West Midlands Police and was an effort to address institutional racism/discrimination as per the recommendations of the ‘McPherson Report’.
Listening to the views of officers in a ‘safe learning environment’ about race and prejudice was an easy thing for me. I didn`t judge, accepting the exercise as huge learning and was grateful for the honesty of the participants, who all had different life experiences.
A highlight for me was when a female officer unexpectedly announced she was gay in one of my lessons. It caused a mixture of emotions inside me, one of contentment that I had done my job and the other of some sadness that it had taken two days to get people into the frame of mind to accept difference.
I was very active with the ‘Forced Marriage’ project and remain heavily involved with overseas work.
This really came about following a conversation with Jag Mavi, an HMP Prison Officer who was hosting a visiting senior police officer from India, Dr. Kiran Bedi.
An opportunity for Dr. Bedi to visit H2 was presented to Chief Superintendent Layton who supported the idea and I teamed up with PC Ramesh Kumar to work on arrangements.
An unparalleled episode of community relations ensued from that point on.
H2 soon became the ‘go to place’ for visiting dignitaries and the OCU’s achievements were constantly reported on by the local media.
West Midlands Police subsequently received a request from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office asking for a team to engage in a ‘Forced Marriage’ project.
After all the work H2 had done in the community we were nominated by the Chief Constable to take part.
I was part of the team which explored the scale of issues faced by British nationals forced into marriages with partners from the Indian sub-continent. I visited India several times to build links, highlight the issue and to ascertain the understanding of our Indian counterparts which was then reported back to the FCO.
I spoke at Police Training Centres in Delhi and Punjab as well as schools and colleges in Punjab.
During one of my speeches, I asked an audience of approximately one hundred teenage girls if they wanted to marry a UK national and move abroad. Without exception every single girl gleefully raised their hand. I then went on to give an example of a very sad case I had dealt with where an Indian girl had arrived in the UK having gotten married to a man from my policing area. She wasn`t allowed to use hot water and was forced to wash the clothes and dishes using only cold water. This obviously caused her pain and discoloration to the tips of her fingers. Considering other abuse which was reported the girl was asked to pack her belongings and leave with the officers. Shockingly, the girl went to her bedroom and returned moments later with two suitcases and a plastic bag… she explained that since she`d arrived she hadn`t been allowed to unpack.
In the audience I noted several parents and girls with tears in their eyes. At the end I again asked if they still wanted to marry and move to the UK. Even more shockingly 99% of the girls still raised their hands.
At this point I addressed the parents in the audience and asked them to consider the welfare of their daughters over their personal ambitions and desires. Several mothers later spoke to me and admitted that they were responsible for their daughters conditioning and their selfish desires for social status. I remained in touch with NGO`s in a personal capacity and private cost to help shift this mindset.
Years later I happened to be visiting the ‘DAV’ Girls College, Ludhiana and was invited to present some awards. I took the opportunity and asked that same question, but this generation of girls insisted on staying in Punjab. International marriages do happily occur, but the understanding, mindset and implications of ‘Forced Marriages’ now feature in most if not all proposals from abroad.
I acknowledge that my engagement with the Indian Police Service in relation to this work has been misunderstood by some members of the Sikh Community who have viewed such interactions with suspicion. Helping these families is however the most important thing for me.
I subsequently gained promotion to the rank of Sergeant and was posted to Headquarters where I worked with the recruitment team. I was then posted to Smethwick where I had geographical responsibility for four Wards. The area is a hive of activity especially within the Sikh community which is well-represented.
I quickly set about incorporating four teams into two. Although a compassionate man, I had little hesitation in having conversations or moving staff to other stations to drive home a strong work ethic in the teams.
In addition to my ‘day job’ I have been deeply engaged within the area of fairness and welfare. This led me to instigate and become a founding member of the ‘West Midlands Police Sikh Association’.
The WMPSA has embarked on regional, national and international endeavours which has helped raise its profile and led to other police forces seeking our counsel on issues pertaining to Sikh employees and community.
The inquiries and workload led me to drive the launch of a ‘National Sikh Police Association’ of which I was duly elected as its first President.
The Sikh Association enjoys considerable accomplishments with successful delivery of various projects involving policy making, advocacy for victims, changing police culture and improving representation.
I have met the UK Prime Minister at 10 Downing Street and regularly liaise with the NPCC and Home Office officials.
I put much of my drive down to my observations of my former H2 OCU Commander – Michael Layton had tremendous drive and grit but expressed it very calmly.’
#wmp #police #history #diversity #onefamily #sikhs #india #willenhall #kiranbedi