Piara Khabra

20 Nov 1921
19 Jun 2007
Politics
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Piara Singh Khabra (20 November 1921 – 19 June 2007) was a British politician who served as the Labour Member of Parliament (MP) for Ealing Southall from 1992 until his death. He was the fifth Asian, and the first Sikh, to become a British MP. From the retirement of Sir Edward Heath in 2001 until his death, Khabra was the oldest MP sitting in the House of Commons, and at the end of his career was the only sitting MP to have served in the British Commonwealth’s forces during the Second World War

Khabra was born into a well-off Sikh farming family in the Punjab, then part of British India. Khabra gave his year of birth as 1924, but his marriage certificate dated it as 1921. He attended Khalsa High School and Punjab University, but his education was interrupted by the Second World War, and he served in the Indian Army between 1942 and 1946. He returned to university after the war, earning a degree in social services.

He joined the Communist Party of India, and became a teacher in an elementary school. Refused a visa to emigrate to the United States, he moved to the United Kingdom in 1959 leaving his wife and son behind in Punjab. In 1964 Khabra sponsored his son for immigration to UK where he completed an engineering degree. Khabra did not have a close relationship with his son who later immigrated to Canada to further his studies. Khabra’s first wife and mother of his son immigrated to Canada in 1974 where she lived with her son until her death in 1985.

Lacking qualifications to teach in the UK, Khabra worked in factories. He requalified in 1964, becoming an elementary teacher and then a social worker.He became a leading member of the Asian community in Southall, west London. He also became the President of the Indian Workers’ Association, which assisted Indian immigrants to establish themselves and find jobs, and was active in opposition to the far right.

He left the Communist Party of Great Britain in the 1960s, and joined the Labour Party in 1972. He became a Justice of the Peace in 1977, and was elected as a member of Ealing Council in 1978. He briefly joined the Social Democratic Party in 1981, leaving two years later and returning to Labour in 1988

Khabra was known to have made several controversial statements. In the run-up to the 2001 general election, he suggested that Avtar Lit, chairman of Sunrise Radio and an independent challenger for his seat, should be “sent back to India”.

In 2002, Khabra also claimed that the local Somali population was behind a recent crime wave in Southall. Somali activists responded to these criticisms by suggesting that their community was being targeted by some Asians who were attempting to drive them out of the area. Ealing Police also indicated that they did not believe Somali youths were responsible for the string of street robberies in question

In late 2006, Khabra announced that he would stand down at the next general election.

Khabra died as a result of liver problems on the night of 19 June 2007 at Hammersmith Hospital, where he had been being treated for abscesses on the liver since April. He customarily gave his year of birth as 1924; birth registration was not compulsory in the Punjab until 1970 and so no birth certificate exists, but on his marriage certificate his year of birth was 1921. He was married twice. His first wife died in 1985 in Canada where she was living with his son, and he remarried in 1990. He was survived by his second wife, Beulah Marian, and a son from his first marriage

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