My father Balbir Dutt arrived in England aged 13 in 1961. His family settled in Bedford, a small town about an hour drive north of London. Known to most as Dutt – a bookworm, comrade and perpetual samaritan to all across races, nationalities, castes, genders and any other differences one can think of. Aged eighteen he helped organise and set-up a local youth club, the Bedford Young Indians.
They were responsible for holding the annual Asian Sports Festivals, leading to Anti-racist campaigns and setting-up the Peoples Defence Committee and People of Bedford Against Racism. My dad, along with his comrades, were already veterans of local and national level anti-racist struggles. They gave the people of Luton critical support in their opposition to the racist National Front. In the 1980s, Balbir helped set-up Bedford Unemployed Workers Centre, Bedford Race Equality Council and Bedford Advice Forum whilst also voluntarily holding free, twice-weekly, general welfare/benefits advice sessions. Social-Justice activism and community work were part and parcel of the everyday struggle.
On a typical day, he would be sorting out problems of at least half a dozen people if not more. He was a tireless organiser with a wise demeanour and always tuned-in to the needs of others. He truly belonged to the people – serving the people was his motto and he taught this to others by example.
For a couple of decades, he was the Assistant General Secretary in the Indian Workers Association (GB). He led the fight against racism in the UK, supporting the struggle of the Dalit and Adivasi people in India and forging common ground with Indian women. Most weekends were taken-up with protest, demonstrations and marches – in solidarity with the disenfranchised and impoverished working class. Whether for the Miners Strike, Antiapartheid Movement, Job Cuts, Welfare Rights and others under the notorious Thatcher government. At home, there were always banners and a megaphone kept at hand.
By now, many had started referring to him affectionately as Bob. I guess as Balbir was difficult to pronounce. Bob worked full-time at the Citizens Advice Bureau in Walthamstow, London. Then some years later, at Luton Law Centre specialising in immigration. Which meant a lot of time spent at various detentions/immigration removal centres. Growing up, I remember the house was always busy, and the phone was always ringing. People needing help and advice. To be clear, all this local and wider community work my father did was free. No doubt increasing the number of people reaching out for help.
He also played a major role in the establishment of the Bharati Dalit Mukti Alliance, a first in the UK. It united Indian people of all backgrounds against caste atrocities towards the Dalits in India. This came from his deep-seated political belief that went back to the struggle of the Indian people for their fundamental human rights.
Balbir Dutt passed away in 2010 leaving a legacy of steadfast compassion and dedication, to serve and support, poor and oppressed people. Even to his last days, he was never far away from fighting casteism; he was advising activists. He even had a hand in the inclusion of caste in the Single Equalities Bill.
I remember hearing a eulogy describing him as having lived so abundantly and fully, as if he lived six lifetimes’ worth in one. He was an inspiration, a light, and beloved by all.
Anita Dutt is an Indian woman, born and raised in a home where protest banners and a megaphone were kept on top of the unit in the front room. Social activism, demonstrations and protest marches were everyday events. A vast array of print media, a house full of books and a library card essentially shaped her inquisitive and eclectic world view. It allowed her space to understand concepts of self-identity, perception and awareness.
She is currently working on her first documentary film project ‘Power Into The Future’ A Brief History of Challenging Perspectives & The Status Quo. Celebrating – Social Justice Activism – Past, Present and Future. In Bedford and throughout the UK.