Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 22 November 2014

Racist attacks make me want to leave Northern Ireland after 37 years here, says Belfast Mela founder

Nisha Tandon, founder of ArtsEkta
Nisha Tandon, founder of ArtsEkta

One of the most prominent advocates of ethnic minority rights in Northern Ireland has said she wants to quit the country because of an upsurge in racist attacks.

Nisha Tandon has been living here for almost 40 years and is the founder of Belfast Mela – now a major festival in its eighth year.

She was awarded an OBE for her services to the community, but now admits she would leave if she got the chance.

She moved to Northern Ireland in 1977 after marrying her husband Vijay, whose family had been living in Belfast since the 1950s.

Talking to the Belfast Telegraph, Ms Tandon said she received a warm welcome even in the toughest areas where she worked as a freelance artist when she first came to the province.

Later, she was the driving force behind the development of the Indian Community Centre in Belfast.

But now Ms Tandon confessed that if an opportunity came up outside of Northern Ireland she would move away.

"I've been living here for 37 years, I've brought my three children up here, and I've never regretted coming to live in Northern Ireland," she said. "But after all the racist attacks, I have started asking myself – do I want to be here, long-term? I don't think so."

However, Ms Tandon also revealed that she turned down a recent job opportunity in India.

"I was thinking of going for it, but then I thought – no, I'm still in the middle of something I've started here, and I want to finish it," she said.

"I want to bring new opportunities to new communities, to build their repertoires. There's still so much to do." Ms Tandon's comments echo those of Alliance MLA Anna Lo, who said earlier this year she was considering leaving Northern Ireland because of abuse directed at her by loyalists.

She made her comments following utterances from north Belfast pastor James McConnell, who said he did not trust Muslims.

But Ms Lo later said she had decided to stay here after being inundated with messages of support from the community.

There has been a sharp increase in racially motivated incidents this year, with the latest occurring this week when paint was daubed on a house in Hillsborough

Earlier this year the Belfast Telegraph revealed the number of racist attacks in Northern Ireland had almost doubled, with figures jumping by 43%.

The vast majority of race hate crimes (70%) took place in Belfast.

The majority of incidents took place in north Belfast (27), followed by the east (23) and south (16) of the city.

Figures obtained by this newspaper showed there were 156 race crimes across Northern Ireland in the first three months of this year, compared to 103 for the same period in 2013.

Further reading:

Northern Ireland can't afford to lose Belfast Mela founder to racism 

Elephant? Check. Dragon? Check...Belfast Mela festival's all set to go  

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