UK chooses first Asian female mayor

Indian-born Manjula Sood makes history as she waits to slip on position's gilded robes.

    Manjula Sood says Britain is more tolerant
     now than it used to be [AFP]

    'Great honour'
    "To be the first is a great honour for me," the former primary schoolteacher said of the 12-month post, which begins on Thursday.
    "It's made me very proud of myself that I'm going to represent my city... I wasn't expecting it."
    The appointment to lead Leicester's 288,000 citizens, 25 per cent of whom are of Indian origin, puts Sood among Britain's establishment, although she has held the ancient post of High Bailiff of Leicester for the past year.
    Sood says she feels a duty over the next 12 months to uphold Leicester's largely harmonious diversity at a time when critics of multi-culturalism warn of no-go areas for whites and non-whites and communities living parallel lives elsewhere.
    "I'm going to be the lord mayor not for one faith but for the city of Leicester," she said.
    One of her spiritual advisers will be Christian. The other will be Hindu.
    The civic service to mark her appointment will also be held in the city's Anglican cathedral rather than a Hindu temple.
    "Leicester's a British city," she says. "I'm representing Leicester as first citizen. The religion of this country is Church of England."
    Immigration debate
    Sood's supporters say her appointment reflects much about the positive aspects of immigration that are often overlooked in the UK.
    And the move is likely to add to the debate over the extent to which new arrivals benefit Britain and affect its culture and identity.
    She recognises that her story is not typical of the vast majority of immigrants that came to Britain, saying that she spoke the language, held a master's degree in sociology and came from a well-off family.
    Sood's father was a doctor in New Delhi and her mother a teacher.
    But she said she still faced the same challenges of casual racism, ignorance and prejudice as the thousands of other Indians, Pakistanis, Bangladeshis, Kenyan and Ugandan Asians who immigrated to Leicester in the 1970s.
    As the only Indian teacher among white faces, she said she pushed to promote tolerance and understanding between often bewildered, newly-arrived children of different faiths and cultures and their local classmates.
    Britain is now a more tolerant place than the one she knew in 1970, she says, with people more respectful of diversity of culture and faith.
    But work is still required as a new wave of immigrants, many of them from eastern Europe, arrive in increasing numbers.
    "Outreach", Sood says, is the aim of her term of office as lord mayor.
    "The communities that came here in the 1960s and 1970s now feel an integrated part of British society. Now there are new communities finding the same problems," she said.
    "History is being repeated. The same challenges are facing them. There's always some sort of hostility from the host community. It's a human instinct but if we don't work at it and don't kill it it will escalate."

    SOURCE: Agencies


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