Bath's first Asian deputy mayor on institutional racism, diversity and tapping into the city's potential

  Posted: 10.06.21 at 09:07 by The Editor

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By the Local Democracy Reporter Stephen Sumner

Bath’s first Asian deputy mayor is proud to be inspiring others from diverse backgrounds to get active in the community.

Yukteshwar Kumar, known to most as Dr Kumar, was the first person of Indian heritage to be elected to Bath and North East Somerset Council – less than half an hour before results came in confirming Dr Bharat Pankania as the second – and is the member advocate for black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) issues.

He has spoken out passionately against institutional racism, which he said is prevalent in political parties including his own, the Liberal Democrats, and wants to boost diversity in the council as BAME communities are underrepresented in the workforce.

Councillor Dr Kumar said: “I’m the first person from Asian heritage to be the deputy mayor of Bath. I’m also the first from a non-white group, although I know it’s a pejorative term.

“I’m very proud of that. In 2002 there was a councillor for Walcot from Bangladesh, Wahid Chowdhury, who was selected to be the deputy mayor but just 12 days before the mayor-making ceremony he unfortunately died.

“I was the first councillor of Indian heritage to be elected in Bath, 25 minutes before Bharat Pankhania.

“There’s a man who fled from Pakistan because of religious persecution and now lives in Bath. He said to me ‘we’re so proud of you, you’re doing so much for the community’. It’s giving inspiration to other people. He wants to do something for the community.

“Quite a lot of people have an interest in local politics because of me. They think if I can do it they can get involved in community service. You need to give and not think of taking anything.”

Dr Kumar said he was delighted that his first deputy mayoral engagement was to open the Lord Jagannatha temple, the first in Bath, the UK and beyond, something the Hindu community had been striving for for more than a decade.

He said Hindus will remember the efforts of Ashish and Sushmita Rajhansh in setting up what will be a valuable resource, particularly for east Asians who do not drink alcohol or go to pubs to socialise so can be left feeling isolated.

The temple is a rented temporary home at the former Bath Community Academy campus but Dr Kumar said Hindus in Bristol and Swindon had been handed permanent premises by the local authorities.

“We have half a billion pounds worth of properties,” he said.

“The council needs to do something for all the other communities. Temples can act as a conduit between various communities. It’s open to everybody.

“Every Saturday and Sunday we will be giving free food to anybody as a blessing from the god.”

Bath is currently twinned with cities in France, Germany, Holland and Hungary but Dr Kumar said it should look further: “We only have relationships with four European cities – why not at least one from India, one from China, one from America, one from Canada, so we don’t become only a European county?

“The world is big, we should look at that. We could be the best county as far as diversity, equality and inclusion are concerned.

“It would be very boring if everyone spoke the same language. We need rainbows.

“Bath has so much potential. It’s the only World Heritage City in England and one of four in the world.

“Things are normalising. The BAME community can play a role. Quite a lot of Chinese tourists would like to come here.

“They would like interpreters, those who can tell more about the Roman Baths and other places. They bring their interpreters from London – why not local people?

“More people would come to Bath. BAME communities could help build bridges.”

Dr Kumar has lived in Bath since 2007 and calls the UK his home country.

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