South Asian Heritage Month: the Indian family bringing North East communities together since 1974

Sitting in the garden at his home in Newcastle where he has lived since moving to the city 47 years ago, Dr Hari Shukla reflects on his work as former director of the Tyne and Wear Racial Equality Council.

The 87-year-old recalls how there was very little being done to bring communities together when he first arrived in 1974.

Dr Hari Shukla (right) and his son Nitin (left)

He said: "They had a real problem so I had to start right from the beginning. They came, couldn't find jobs, they had to work very very hard and people had no idea about the way of life of this country. So we had to change that.

In the following years, Dr Shukla helped to bring people from different faiths and backgrounds together.

One of the groups Dr Hari Shukla (top right) worked with during his time as director of the Tyne and Wear Racial Equality Council.

He said: "That made me really confident that it can be done. You can have a successful multicultural society, but we need to work for it."

Watch a longer interview between Dr Hari Shukla and Andrew Misra.

Racism and inequalities

Hari's son Nitin has also become involved in work to improve race relations. He came to Newcastle with Hari at the age of 13 and loved growing up in the city, having few problems finding his way in a predominantly white neighbourhood.

Nitin Shukla

However, an instance of racism left him shaken about his roots.

He said: "I was stopped by an individual, probably in his sixties, seventies, white guy and he said a few nasty things to me and then basically said 'why don't you go home I didn't fight in the war so that people like you could come and live in this country.'

Changing attitudes

Nitin believes that action has helped create a better society for Hari's nine grandchildren to live in.

Shukla family tree

All nine are university graduates, but Nitin's son Milan, who runs a dog training business, is keen to stress the importance of changing attitudes within South Asian communities, as well as towards them.

Milan Shukla

He said: "For different generations in the family it was you have to become doctor, engineering, accountancy.

However, the 26-year-old believes those attitudes are starting to change.

First in the North East to get the vaccine

Although he may not shout about them, Hari's work has brought him many honours. To name a couple, he has been awarded a CBE and features on the Newcastle Gateshead Walk of Fame.

Dr Hari Shukla has a plaque on the Newcastle Gateshead Walk of Fame

In December 2020, he became the first person in the region, and one of the first in the world,  to receive the coronavirus vaccine alongside his wife Ranjan. 

Dr Hari Shukla receiving the first dose of the coronavirus vaccine on December 8, 2020 Credit: PA

He said: "I am honoured to get this opportunity and I think it's my duty because I belong to this country and anything I can to help is very very useful."

His grandson Milan is in no doubt that his grandfather was a deserving recipient of the first jab in the region.

He said: "He does so much in the community and he doesn't ever ask for anything back. He's not like 'I'll just do this to get this', he does it because he wants to."

How far have we come?

It's a question Dr Hari Shukla is perhaps better placed to answer than most.

The answer? "A great deal", he says.

Nitin adds: "Our communities continue to change. The demographics change, when we first came here 40 odd years ago to our communities now. I'm the governor of a primary school and we have 27 languages spoken in the school."

 The 60-year-old also notes the change in sense of identity between his son and himself.

He said: "For him he's not known anything different. He's grown up in this country, so he's a Geordie.

Nitin Shukla and his three children when they were young

Milan is determined to follow in the footsteps of his father and grandfather. 

He said: "I think it's very important to carry on the work they've done because then otherwise if it just ends there then they've just built it all up and if nobody carries it on they've done it for nothing."

 And perhaps there's a message for us all - reflect on the past, but look to the future.

Read more: