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The History of South Asians in Britian

The establishment of the East India Company in 1600 began a complex relationship between Britain and India that would mark major shifts in the culture and history of both nations. This trading relationship, combined with Britain’s long imperial rule in India, led to far reaching changes and a steady migration of South Asians from all walks of life to Britain.

With a focus on the period 1858–1950, explore this history through contemporary accounts, photographs, letters, newspapers and pamphlets – all evidence of the rich and diverse contributions South Asians have made to British life and society. 

Find out more on the British Library’s site:

46 Influential British South Asians you should know

Sadiq Khan: Mayor of London

Sadiq Khan was born in London and has lived here all his life. His parents moved to London from Pakistan in the 1960s. He was state-school educated in Tooting before studying Law at the University of North London.

Sadiq became a solicitor specialising in human rights and was a councillor in the London Borough of Wandsworth from 1994 to 2006.

In 2005 Sadiq was elected MP for Tooting. He was appointed Minister of State for Communities in 2008 and later became Minister of State for Transport, becoming the first Muslim and first Asian to attend Cabinet. He was also Crossrail Minister.

In 2013 Sadiq was appointed Shadow Minister for London, and in 2015 he led the Labour Party campaign in London in the General Election.

The Rt Hon Sajid Javid: Conservative MP

Before being elected MP, he worked in business and finance. Aged 25, he became a Vice President at Chase Manhattan Bank. He later moved to Deutsche Bank in London to help build its business in emerging market countries. Sajid left Deutsche Bank as a senior Managing Director in the summer of 2009 to give something back through politics.

Sajid Javid was appointed Secretary of State for Health and Social Care on 26 June 2021. He was previously Chancellor of the Exchequer from 24 July 2019 to 13 February 2020. He was Home Secretary from 30 April 2018 to 24 July 2019. He was Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government from 8 January 2018 to 29 April 2018, and Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government from July 2016 to January 2018.

Sajid served as Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills from May 2015 until July 2016. He was Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport from April 2014 to May 2015 and previously he was both the Economic and Financial Secretary to the Treasury. He was a member of the Work and Pensions Select Committee from June to November 2010. He was elected Conservative MP for Bromsgrove in 2010.

Venkatraman Ramakrishnan: Nobel Chemistry Prize Winner

Venkatraman ‘Venki’ Ramakrishnan is a Nobel Prize-winning biologist whose many scientific contributions include his work on the atomic structure of the ribosome. As the site within living cells where the genetic information is read to synthesise proteins from amino acids, improved understanding of the ribosome has yielded many fundamental biological insights.

He determined the atomic structure of the 30S ribosomal subunit followed by structures of the entire ribosome in many different states and in complexes with several antibiotics. More recently, he has been using electron microscopy to visualise ribosomes in action in higher organisms. This work has advanced our understanding of how the ribosome works and how antibiotics inhibit it. In the past he has also worked on histone and chromatin structure, which help us to understand how DNA is organised in cells.

Venki received the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his work on ribosomal structure and was knighted in 2012. He is a Member of the US National Academy of Sciences, Leopoldina and EMBO, and a Foreign Member of the Indian National Science Academy. He was President of the Royal Society from November 2015 until November 2020.

Nadiya Hussain: Great British Bake-Off Winner and TV Presenter

Nadiya Hussain is a British TV chef, author and television presenter. She rose to fame after winning the sixth series of the BBC’s The Great British Bake Off in 2015. Since winning, she has signed contracts with the BBC to host the documentary The Chronicles of Nadiya and TV cookery series Nadiya’s British Food Adventure and Nadiya’s Family Favourites. Nadiya co-presented The Big Family Cooking Showdown and has become a regular contributor on The One Show.

Gopichand and Srichand Hinduja: Hinduja Group

Indian born British billionaires business magnets, investors and philanthropists. Chairman and Co-Chairman of the Hinduja Group of Companies:

  • Hinduja Housing Finance Ltd,..
  • Ashok Leyland
  • Optare
  • Ashok Leyland Foundries – a division of Ashok Leyland, also known as Hinduja Foundries
  • D. Hinduja National Hospital and Medical Research Centre
  • Hinduja Healthcare Limited
  • Hinduja Bank (Switzerland) Ltd(formerly Amas Bank)
  • IndusInd Bank
  • Hinduja Leyland Finance Ltd
  • Hinduja Global Solutions Ltd
  • GOCL Corporation Ltd
  • Gulf Oil International Ltd
  • Gulf Oil Lubricants India Limited
  • Quaker-Houghton International Ltd
  • Gulf Oil Middle East Ltd
  • Hinduja National Power Corporation Ltd
  • Hinduja Renewables Energy Private Ltd
  • Hinduja Realty Ventures Ltd
  • Hinduja Group India Limited
  • KPB Hinduja College of Commerce
  • NxtDigital Ltd (formerly Hinduja Ventures Ltd) – includes Nxtdigital Hits, OneOTT iNtertainment Ltd, INE, and INDigital
  • Cyqurex Systems Private Limited
  • British Metal Corporation (India) Pvt Ltd
  • Hinduja Investments and Project Services Ltd

Lakshmi Mittal: Steel Magnate

Lakshmi Mittal was born to relatively modest origins. Mittal’s career began by working for his father in his family’s steel making business in India, where he acquired knowledge and experience in steel and related businesses. In 1976 he founded Mittal Steel Company, eventually merging with French steelmaker Arcelor in 2006 to form ArcelorMittal. In addition to his work in the steel industry, Mittal is a philanthropist and a member of numerous boards and trusts. He has held a seat on the board of Goldman Sachs since 2008.

Mittal opened and successfully ran his own steel mill, after which he began to acquire and reorganize failing, mostly state-run, mills around the world. His growth model emulated other global industries, such as car manufacturers and iron and coal companies. As part of his push to make his company a globalized player in the steel industry, he acquired companies in Canada, Germany, and Kazakhstan.

Rakesh Kapoor: Businessman

Rakesh Kapoor is an Indian businessman. He was, until September 2019, chief executive (CEO) of Reckitt Benckiser plc, a UK FTSE-listed multinational consumer goods company, a major producer of health, hygiene and home products.

Kapoor was educated at Modern School, New Delhi, India. Kapoor has a BE (Hons) in Chemical Engineering from the Birla Institute of Technology and Science (BITS), Pilani, and an MBA from XLRI- Xavier School of Management, Jamshedpur, India.

The Rt Hon Alok Sharma: Conservative MP

Alok Sharma was appointed full-time President for COP 26, the 26th United Nations Climate Change Conference, on 8 January 2021.

He was previously Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and President for COP 26 between 13 February 2020 and 8 January 2021.

He was previously Secretary of State for International Development from 24 July 2019 to 13 February 2020, and Minister of State for Employment at the Department of Work and Pensions from 9 January 2018 until 24 July 2019.

He was Minister of State for Housing and Planning, for the Department for Communities and Local Government from 13 June 2017 to 9 January 2018.

Malala Yousafzai: Campaigner and Nobel Prize Winner

Pakistani activist who, while a teenager, spoke out publicly against the prohibition on the education of girls that was imposed by the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP; sometimes called Pakistani Taliban). She gained global attention when she survived an assassination attempt at age 15. In 2014 Yousafzai and Kailash Satyarthi were jointly awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace in recognition of their efforts on behalf of children’s rights.

Tariq Ahmad: Conservative Peer (Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon)

Lord Ahmad is the Minister for South Asia and the Commonwealth at the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO). He was first appointed as the Prime Minister’s Special Representative on Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict and as Minister of State for the Commonwealth and the United Nations on 13 June 2017.

He was educated at Rutlish School and London South Bank University (LSBU) as well as the Chartered Institute of Financial Services.

  • Prime Minister’s Special Envoy for Freedom of Religion or Belief (2018 to 2019)
  • Minister for Aviation and Trade – Department for Transport (2016 to 2017)
  • Minister for Countering Extremism – Home Office (2015 to 2016)
  • Transport Minister – Skills & Aviation Security (2015 to 2016)
  • Communities & Local Government Minister (2014 to 2015)
  • Government Whip and Lord in Waiting (2012 to 2014)
  • Vice-Chairman (national) of the Conservative Party (2008 and 2010)
  • Councillor (Wimbledon Park) and Cabinet Member in the London Borough of Merton between 2002 and 2012

Lord Ahmad had a 20 year career in the City working in banking and finance, including at the NatWest Group where he was a senior manager in corporate banking and financial markets. He was later Vice-President and Marketing Director of Alliance Bernstein and his last role before joining the government was as Strategy and Marketing Director at Sucden Financial.

Sir Rabinder Singh: High Court Judge (Lord Justice Singh)

Sir Rabinder Singh was called to the Bar (Lincoln’s Inn) in 1989 and was in practice at the Bar from 1990 to 2011. He was elected a Bencher of Lincoln’s Inn in 2009.

He was on the Attorney General’s Panels of Junior Counsel to the Crown from 1992 to 2002 (on the A Panel from 2000). He was also Additional Junior Counsel to the Inland Revenue from 1997 to 2002. He was appointed Queen’s Counsel in 2002. He chaired the Administrative Law Bar Association from 2006 to 2008.

From 2003 to 2011 he was a Deputy High Court Judge and Recorder of the Crown Court from 2004 to 2011. He was appointed a High Court Judge (Queen’s Bench Division) in October 2011. He was a Presiding Judge of the South Eastern Circuit from 2013 to 2016 and the Administrative Court liaison judge for the Midland, Wales and Western circuits during 2017. In September 2018 he was appointed President of the Investigatory Powers Tribunal.

He was a visiting Professor of Law at the London School of Economics from 2003 to 2009 and has been an Honorary Professor of Law at Nottingham University since 2007 and a Visiting Fellow, Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford since 2016. His publications include The Future of Human Rights in the UK (1997) and (as co-author with Sir Jack Beatson and others) Human Rights: Judicial Enforcement in the UK (2008).

He was appointed a Lord Justice of Appeal in October 2017.

Amol Rajan: BBC Media Editor

Amol is the BBC’s media editor. Prior to joining the BBC, he spent just under three years as editor of The Independent and was for many years a columnist for the Evening Standard and a restaurant critic for The Independent on Sunday. Amol worked for a year at the Foreign Office, adores reggae and the Caribbean, and his first book, Twirlymen: the Unlikely History of Cricket’s Greatest Spin Bowlers, was published in 2011.

Ivan Menezes: Businessman

Ivan Menezes has been Chief Executive, Diageo plc since 1 July 2013. He was previously Chief Operating Officer Diageo, plc.

Ivan joined Diageo in 1997 and held various senior management positions with Guinness and then Diageo until 2004 when he was appointed President of Diageo Venture Markets. Prior to his appointment as COO in March 2012, Ivan was President and CEO of Diageo North America for eight years. During this period he was also made Chairman, Asia Pacific from October 2008 and Chairman, Latin America & the Caribbean from July 2011.

Prior to his career with Diageo, Ivan worked across a variety of sales, marketing and strategy roles for Whirlpool in Europe, Booz Allen & Hamilton in North America, and Nestlé in Asia.

Ivan became Chairman of Movement to Work, a UK voluntary collaboration of employers committed to tackling youth unemployment in May 2017. In September 2017, he became Chair of the CEO Group at the International Alliance for Responsible Drinking, a global not-for-profit organization dedicated to addressing harmful drinking and promoting responsible drinking.
He serves as a non-executive director of Tapestry, Inc. in the United States, is Vice Chairman of the Scotch Whisky Association Council and sits on the Advisory Council of the China-Britain Business Council.

Ivan holds an MBA from Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management, a post-graduate degree from the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad and a BA Economics from St. Stephen’s College, Delhi University. His is also currently a member of the Kellogg School of Management’s Global Advisory Board.

Dame Bobbie Cheema-Grubb: High Court Judge

Dame Bobbie Cheema-Grubb is a judge of the Queen’s Bench Division of the High Court. She is the first South Asian woman to serve as a High Court judge in the United Kingdom.

Cheema was born to Indian Sikh Punjabi parents who came to the United Kingdom from India in the 1960s.[3] She grew up in Leeds, and attended City of Leeds School before studying law at King’s College London.

Cheema-Grubb was called to the bar in 1989. In 2006, she became the first Asian woman to be appointed a Junior Treasury Counsel.[4] In 2007, she became a recorder.

In 2013, she was appointed Queen’s Counsel (QC). She served as a Senior Treasury Counsel and was authorised to sit as a deputy High Court judge.[6] She chaired an Advocacy Training Council working group that produced the report “Raising the Bar: The Handling of Vulnerable Witnesses, Victims and Defendants in Court”.

Cheema-Grubb successfully acted for the prosecution against retired Church of England bishop Peter Ball for sexual abuse[7] and against barrister and recorder Constance Briscoe for perverting the course of justice.

On 22 October 2015, Cheema-Grubb’s appointment as a High Court judge was announced. She was sworn in on 25 November 2015.

Meera Syal: Actor

Meera is a British comedian, writer, playwright, singer, journalist, producer and actor. She rose to prominence as one of the team that created Goodness Gracious Me and portraying Sanjeev’s grandmother, Ummi, in The Kumars at No. 42. She became one of the UK’s best-known Asian personalities.

She was appointed Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) in the 1997 New Year Honours and in 2003 was listed in The Observer as one of the 50 funniest acts in British comedy. She was appointed Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in the 2015 New Year Honours for services to drama and literature.

Sanjeev Bhaskar: Actor

Sanjeev is an English comedian, actor and television presenter, best known for his work in the BBC Two sketch comedy series Goodness Gracious Me and star of the sitcom The Kumars at No. 42. He also presented and starred in a documentary series called India with Sanjeev Bhaskar in which he travelled to India and visited his ancestral home in today’s Pakistan. Bhaskar’s more dramatic acting roles include the lead role of Dr Prem Sharma in The Indian Doctor and a main role as DI Sunny Khan in Unforgotten. Bhaskar is currently the Chancellor of the University of Sussex.

In 2003, he was listed in The Observer as one of the 50 funniest acts in British comedy.[2] In 2006, Bhaskar was honoured with the title OBE – Officer of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire.

Zayn Malik: Singer

Zayn Malik is an English singer and songwriter. Born and raised in Bradford, Malik auditioned as a solo contestant for the British music competition The X Factor in 2010. After being eliminated as a solo performer, Malik was brought back into the competition, along with four other contestants, to form the boy band One Direction, which went on to become one of the best-selling boy bands of all time. Malik left the group in March 2015 and subsequently signed a solo recording contract with RCA Records.

Rajesh Satija Ram: Businessman

Chairman of Indian Council for UN Relations. Co-founder of Sun & Sand Group of Companies. Founder Samsung Overseas Limited, India.

Asif Kapadia: Film Director

Asif Kapadia (born 1972) is a British filmmaker of Indian descent. He directed several award-winning films, including The Sheep Thief (1997), winner of the 2nd Prize Cinéfondation for Short Film at the Cannes Film Festival, The Warrior (2001), which won the BAFTA Award for Best British Film and Senna (2010), winner of the World Cinema Audience Award Documentary at the Sundance Film Festival 2011.

BAFTA award winning filmmaker Asif Kapadia is known for his visually striking films which explore the lives of ‘outsiders’, characters living in timeless, extreme and unforgiving circumstances or landscapes. His films have been awarded and distributed internationally and shown how versatile and expressive British cinema can be.

Born in Hackney, London in 1972, Kapadia studied filmmaking at the Royal College of Art where he first gained recognition with his short The Sheep Thief (1997) telling the story of a gifted street kid and the family who take him in, made with non professional actors in Rajasthan, India, the film won many awards including Second Prize at the 1998 Cannes International Film Festival Cinefondation, the Grand Prix at the 1997 European Short Film Festival in Brest & Best Director at the Recontres Henri Langlois Festival International des Ecoles de Cinema in Poitiers 1997.

Mishal Husain: BBC Presenter

Mishal is a British news anchor for BBC Television and BBC Radio. She is the main Sunday presenter of the BBC News at Ten and BBC Weekend News and one of the main presenters of BBC Radio 4’s Today. She has hosted The Andrew Marr Show, HARDtalk, Impact and BBC Breakfast.

Husain gained her first experience of journalism at the age of 18, spending three months as a city reporter in Islamabad, Pakistan, at the English-language newspaper The News. Then, while at university, she did several stints at the BBC as work experience.

Her first job was at Bloomberg Television in London from 1996, where she was a producer and sometime presenter. Two years later, in 1998, she joined the BBC as a junior producer in the newsroom and for the News 24 channel, and then in the Economics and Business Unit. Within a few months she moved in front of the camera and has since worked in a variety of roles: on the daily Breakfast programme, on Asia Business Report (based in Singapore), and as a presenter of business news on both BBC World News and the BBC News Channel. From September 2002 she was the corporation’s Washington correspondent, serving as the main news anchor through the buildup to the invasion of Iraq and during the war. She has interviewed many high-profile figures including Paul Wolfowitz, Richard Armitage, Richard Perle, Paul Kagame and Emmerson Mnangagwa.

Riz Ahmed: Actor and Rapper

Riz Ahmed is an English-Pakistani actor and rapper. As an actor, he has won a Primetime Emmy Award, National Board of Review Award for Best Actor, Independent Spirit Award for Best Male Lead, London Film Critics’ Circle Award for British Actor of the Year, and received nominations for an Academy Award, two Golden Globe Awards, two Emmy Awards, two Screen Actors Guild Awards, and three British Independent Film Awards.

He was initially known for his work in independent films such as

The Road to Guantanamo (2006)
Shifty (2008), Four Lions (2010)
Trishna (2011)
Ill Manors (2012)
The Reluctant Fundamentalist (2013)

as well as television series such as

Britz (2007)
Dead Set (2008), before his breakout role in the film
Nightcrawler (2014)
The Night Of (2016)

In 2016, he appeared in the action film Jason Bourne, and played Bodhi Rook in the Star Wars Anthology film Rogue One. He also starred as a young man accused of murder in the HBO miniseries The Night Of, earning critical acclaim. At the 2017 Emmy Awards, he received two nominations, for his performance in The Night Of and his guest role in Girls; he won the award for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Limited Series or Movie for the former, becoming the first Asian male to win an acting Emmy, and the first Muslim and first Asian to win a lead acting Emmy. He went on to play Carlton Drake in the film Venom (2018), and Ruben Stone in Sound of Metal (2020), the latter of which earned him widespread critical acclaim, his second Golden Globe nomination (following The Night Of) and his first Academy Award nomination, making him the first Muslim to be nominated for Best Actor.[8]

As a musician he was formerly known by his stage name Riz MC, he was a member of the Swet Shop Boys, earned critical acclaim with the hip hop albums Microscope and Cashmere, and earned commercial success with the US Billboard 200-topping Hamilton Mixtape, with his song “Immigrants (We Get the Job Done)” winning an MTV Video Music Award. In 2020, Ahmed released The Long Goodbye, a critically acclaimed album with an award-winning accompanying short film. As an activist, he is known for his political rap music, has been involved in raising awareness and funds for Rohingya and Syrian refugee children, and has advocated for representation at the House of Commons. In 2017, he was included on the front cover of the annual Time 100 list of the world’s most influential people.

Rishi Sunak

Current Chancellor, Oxford PPE Grad, Pioneer of the Eat out to help out scheme.

Zuber & Musa Issa brothers

Two British born working class Indian businessmen from the small northern town of Blackburn. They founded Euro Garages and are now worth £3.56 billion, recently became major stakeholders in Asda.

Mahmud Kamani & Sons

Founded Boohoo, Pretty little thing (famous pink taxis), Nasty Gal and Miss Pap. Adam and Umar often hang with famous celebrities like Kylie Jenner.

Tan Desai

Sikh Backbench Labour MP, passionate speaker and defender against racist rhetoric.

Arora Brothers

Founded British Business chain B&M, billionaires.

Sir Anwer Pervez

Pakistani British immigrant, came here when he was 21 and founded Bestway Wholesale cash and carry, billionaire. 

Freddy Mercury

Born to Parsi – Indian parents, attended British style boarding schools in India, grew up Zanzibar – British protectorate at the time. INTERNATIONAL MUSIC ICON. 

Nish Kumar

Comedian

Romesh Rangonathan

Comedian

Adil Ray

Comedian GM Britain presenter.

Steel Bangelz

‘Hood’ icon, major uk Music producer in the uk grime&rap scene. 

Lisa Nandy

MP for Wigan, champions working class struggles, half Indian.

Paul Chowdhury

Comedian 

Anish Kupoor

Famous sculptor 

Mandip Gill

Actress and current Doctor Who companion Yaz.

Tariq Ali

British political activist, writer, journalist, historian, filmmaker, and public intellectual. He is a member of the editorial committee of the New Left Review and Sin Permiso, and contributes to The Guardian, CounterPunch, and the London Review of Books.

Tulip Rizwana Siddiq FRSA MP

British politician serving as the Member of Parliament for Hampstead and Kilburn since 2015. A member of the Labour Party, she previously was the Camden London Borough Councillor for Regent’s Park from 2010 until 2014. 

Sayeeda Hussain Warsi, Baroness Warsi PC

British lawyer, politician and member of the House of Lords who served as co-Chairwoman of the Conservative Party from 2010 to 2012.

Keith Vaz

Former British Labour Party politician who served as the Member of Parliament for Leicester East from 1987 to 2019. He was the British Parliament’s longest-serving British Asian MP. Vaz served as the Minister for Europe between October 1999 and June 2001.

Claude Moraes

Former Member of the European Parliament.

Dadabhai Naoroji

One of the first South Asian MPs elected to parliament (under PM Willian Gladstone) after his second campaign in 1892.

Tjinder Singh

Member of the band Cornershop.

Sheila Chandra

Singer of the 1980s band Monsoon.

Parminder Nagra

Actress best known for Bend It Like Beckham.

Kunal Nayyar

British-Indian actor best known for portraying Raj on the Big Bang Theory.

Steven Kapur (better known as Apache Indian)

British singer-songwriter and reggae DJ, active from 1980-present.