In the town square of Bristol, England, stands the statue of Indian social reformer Raja Ram Mohan Roy (1772-1833), with a book in hand, wearing a turban, dhoti and kurta. Eight miles from Bristol, in the town of Bradley Stoke, another 21st century Indian is changing mindsets as a public representative.
Tom Aditya, originally from Kerala, was elected as the mayor of Bradley Stoke in May. Born in Pala, Aditya is on a whirlwind visit to his home state from where he immigrated in 2002.
The felicitations by youth groups, churches, colleges and community organisations do not end. After all, it is rare for an Indian to make a mark in politics outside of India, especially in a town where the population is 92 per cent white.
Tom is the first Asian to win in South Gloucestershire County. A Tory, Aditya is a staunch Brexit supporter in spite of the current political upheavals in Britain. “The people supported the referendum to quit the EU.
A country like Norway, which is not an EU member, is doing economically very well. So we (the UK) can,” he says. Aditya’s turning point was joining the Equality Commission of the South Gloucestershire Council in 2007.
He interacted with LGBT groups, senior citizens, women’s guilds, youth clubs, disability forums, voluntary organisations, religious and ethnic groups, families, as well as representatives of the police, fire and rescue units. “I was able to observe first-hand the problems people faced,” he says. In 2011, Aditya won the election and became a councillor.
It began with his 80-year-old widowed neighbour who had severe depression. Aditya recounts her saying, “I have nobody. My children are working elsewhere. I have not seen my grandchildren for a long time.” To end the isolation of the aged, Aditya started ‘Coffee Mornings’ where a group of elderly people would be invited to a cafe for sandwiches and coffee.
The project was funded by the town council. “They were able to have conversations with each other. The meetings helped the widow to overcome her depression,” he says. Later, when an old skating park had to be demolished, Aditya invited youth in the area to design a new one. “Today, this skating park, constructed at a cost of £350,000, is being used by more than 500 youngsters,” he says.
Aditya also conducted a successful campaign to increase the speed of internet broadband in Bristol among many other such development activities for the community.
His outlook for Kerala is not totally saccharine. “It is a progressive state. But there is an attitude problem. A range of values must be inculcated in the education system such as self-confidence, following rules, civility, and situation management skills. Students must adopt critical thinking. Kerala’s education system must be geared to meet the future and not deal solely with the present.”
Certainly, not a Conservative idea.