He died on October 7, aged 84
By: Chandrashekar Bhat
Hundreds of people attended the funeral of Indian-born equal rights activist Avtar Jouhl in West Bromwich over the weekend.
Known for his lifelong campaign for equality, the veteran unionist who headed the Indian Workers’ Association (IWA), died on October 7, aged 84.
Jouhl’s son Jagwant Johal said his father was considered “one of the giants on whose shoulders we stand.”
“Most people think the streets were paved with gold but the reality was they were paved with soot from the foundries,” he said referring to his father’s anti-racism campaign.
“In honouring his legacy we need to progress matters going forward and build on those legacies that the forefathers of first-generation migration to this country of black and Asian workers achieved,” Johal said.
Jouhl was born in 1937 in a village in India’s Punjab which was known for its communist activities before the country’s independence.
He came to the UK to study at the London School of Economics and then worked at a foundry in Smethwick, a place then known for racial tensions. He then joined the IWA and stepped up his efforts to bring together his colleagues of Indian and African-Caribbean backgrounds.
He famously invited American activist Malcolm X to witness racial segregation in a drinking facility in Smethwick in 1965.
In his fight against racial discrimination, Jouhl organised marches and strikes for workers’ rights. He also campaigned to end separate toilet systems for Europeans and Asians.
Jouhl was awarded OBE in 2000 in recognition of his services to community relations and trade unionism.
Several people mourned his death. Activist Salma Yaqoob said in a condolence message, “may we continue his amazing legacy to combat injustice.”