From colonial oppressor to Sikh founder: Southall considers changing road name

Image: Nicobobinus flickr

By Minreet Kaur

Havelock Road in Southall could be renamed Guru Nanak Road, after the founder of Sikhism.

The road is currently named after Sir Henry Havelock, a British army general who put down the First Indian War of Independence in 1857, an uprising against the rule of the British East India Company, which led to the establishment of the British Raj.

Labour councils in London are reviewing memorials after the mayor, Sadiq Khan, launched a review in the wake of the Black Lives Matter protests when statues of colonialists and slavers came under attack.

Havelock Road is home to Sri Guru Singh Sabha, the largest gurdwara outside India, which was established in the 1950s. Guru Nanak (1469-1539) founded Sikhism and was the first of the 10 Sikh spiritual gurus.


Julian Bell, the leader of Ealing Council, said a consultation would be launched over the name change “very shortly”, adding: “Our diversity is our strength. We need to make sure that our public realm, our statues, road names and buildings reflect our diversity, and not a frozen past where colonialism, racism and the slave trade were present and celebrated.”

Peter Mason, Ealing’s lead on housing and planning, said the decision to rename the road had unanimous support from Southall’s 15 councillors.

Virendra Sharma MP, the Labour MP for Ealing Southall, said: “I welcome the decision by Ealing Council finally to rename Havelock Road — decolonising our streets. As the member of parliament for Ealing Southall and a councillor for 25 years before that, I have often been ashamed that the names of the 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.”

Harmeet Singh Gill, general secretary, Sri Guru Singh Sabha, Southall, said: “We welcome the proposals to rename Havelock Road. Sir Henry Havelock had no links to the area and was involved in the colonial past of Britain which should not be celebrated or promoted. The gurdwara has been serving the community of west London on this road for nearly 60 years. These proposals recognise the immense contribution of the Sikh community to this city. We will get the views of our congregation and take part in the consultation.”


However, the proposal is being opposed by some people living in the community, including Sikhs, who have commented on the Facebook group “What I remember of Southall”. They say it would be disrespectful to Guru Nanak, who is sacred and pure, whereas the street is a place where people leave rubbish and make it unclean. They suggest this is being done for political ends to appeal to diverse communities and are calling for more consultation.

Veena Cheema said: “Hand on heart how many people think this is a good idea? I believe this is probably just a tactic to gain votes from our community . . . I do not think it’s a wise option to change the name, and with a pub on the road with people coming out of there drunk, smoking and spitting on the road, it’s really a bad idea . . . it could cause racial tension.”

Another post said: “Definitely against the name change. Imagine something bad happening in the road and having the guru’s name associated with it on TV.

“The name-change shouldn’t happen. Adding road after the guru’s name to me is just disrespectful. If they want to change the name, change it to Gurdwara Road . . . or something else.”