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Spend more on education than food: Mayor Chaudhry
Councillor Aslam Chaudry who has been elected as Mayor of Brent on Labour Party ticket belongs to Kotli in Azad Kashmir and is settled here for the last 40 years. He is an accountant by profession. He came here at the age of 9 years along with his family in 1964 and received education here. The Asians spoke to him on British politics and problems being faced by the Pakistani community.
The Asians: What motivated you into politics?
Cllr Aslam Choudry: I had been taking interest in local politics from the start but I entered into formal politics 8 or 9 years back. I was not satisfied by national and local political policies. I contested elections for the first time in 2006 but lost and than in 2007 again I lost the by-elections by a short margin. I won the councillor’s election in 2010 and was immediately made the deputy mayor and elevated to the post of mayor last year. It’s not usual that someone, who for the first time had won the election, was immediately made deputy mayor and then elected as mayor. It was possible only because of the party’s trust in me and its cooperation in this behalf. Labour party has the majority in this borough. There are 40 Labour, five Conservatives and 14 Lib Dem councilors in the borough. There are only six Muslim councilors while the Muslim population in the borough stands at 10 percent of its total population that means their total population is around 28 thousands of which only about 8 to 9 thousands are Pakistanis.
The Asians: What was your feeling on your election as Mayor?
Cllr Aslam Choudry: I received very good response from the community for which I am thankful to God. I also visited Pakistan where I was also accorded warm welcome.
The Asians: What are the issues being faced by the Asian community and what the Brent council is doing for their resolution?
Cllr Aslam Choudry: Ours is a multi cultural borough comparing to all the boroughs in the Britain as some 130 languages are spoken here and it is home for the people hailing from 156 nationalities. The problems being faced by the Asian community of this borough included housing, education and unemployment. Some 18 percent Pakistanis are jobless but the ratio of their involvement in various crimes is far less than that existing in other parts of the country. The Borough Police Commander had praised the role of the Muslim community during the recent riots. The parents here feel difficulty in finding matches for their children. In my opinion if they want to live here they should find matches for their children from here because in case of arranging marriage from Pakistan the couples face many problems in this country which is the main reason for higher divorce rate in our community. Secondly the boys and girls graduating here could not get their fair share in jobs leading to discontent among them. So far as housing problem is concerned the council is trying to resolve this problem but our budget has been slashed by £104m due to which it is facing difficulties in continuing its certain services. We also lag behind in education too as our parents pay little heed towards education of their children. Our community also suffers from lack of social interaction while our women face language problem. The community leaders should pay special attention to women and children. Contrary to the past the council is not in a position to support community projects as a result of which many organisations have stopped working for want of funding. We have been left with no option except to do something by ourselves for the community’s welfare.
The Asians: How do you see the immigration policy of the present government?
Cllr Aslam Choudry: This country is a small Island. There is no harm in immigration as if someone comes here legally it’s OK. But it’s also a fact that some 2.6 million people in this country are jobless and those who come here do not possess the required skills, even many of them can’t speak English properly.
The Asians: Are you satisfied with the political and social progress of the Pakistani community?
Cllr Aslam Choudry: I would like to tell you that here people quite happily invest their time and money in the Pakistani politics but take little interest in local politics. Therefore the parents and the community leaders should pay attention to the issue and exhort their youth to participate in local politics wholeheartedly as their future lies here. Politicians from Pakistan visit this country and their parties are funded from here. Azad Kashmir’s elections are contested on the resources provided from here.
The Asians: Did you experience any problems being an Asian in your political journey?
Cllr Aslam Choudry: Yes. Like others I also faced some problems but overcame them through my hard work and consistency. So far as my becoming a councilor is concerned, decisions here are made on pure merit. Black and Ethnic Minority (BEM) community is not proportionally represented in our council and we have to focus on this issue. There are only two Asians in the cabinet out of ten. I would stress that our people should participate in the politics in maximum number so that our voice could be heard.
The Asians: Do you think that there is any issue of extremism in the community youth of the borough?
Cllr Aslam Choudry: I take pride to say that no such problem exists in our borough and we are also leading in communal harmony as well. However, we need to pay more attention to education. Unfortunately our children could not reach higher education level and due to increase in fee the applications from Muslim students had also decreased by 15 per cent. If our children couldn’t get higher education the economic conditions of the community would further deteriorate and unemployment increase.
The Asians: Will you please tell us about your family?
Cllr Aslam Choudry: I have three sons and one daughter. I was married in 1973 at the age of 19 year. My wife Jamila is also from Kotli. She has always stood with me in difficult times. She has a big contribution in bringing up my children. The main reason for my not joining politics earlier was that I wanted to pay full attention to the brought up of my children.
The Asians: Please tell us about your charity work?
Cllr Aslam Choudry: Brent Mind is one of the two charities, I have chosen for my appeal this year, alongside the Central Mosque of Brent.
The Asians: What message would you like to give to the community?
Cllr Aslam Choudry: To them, my only suggestion is that they should spend little on their food and much to the education of their children as a very difficult time is ahead. We have to acquire skills. If we have to live in this country we have to participate in politics, sports and social activities and get merged in this society.