British Asia News Nework
London: It can be easy, in this day and age, to feel that there are so many huge problems facing the world: global warming, immigration, poverty, terrorism and exploitation of children, that it’s an unwinnable battle. Virendra Sharma, a Labour MP, not only feels that these problems need to be addressed but also that he has the duty to help and make the world a better place. A quality that can feel all too rare in the current political climate.
“Politicians (like me) should not lead social projects – they should follow and support to encourage. Don’t let the issues become political, they should remain social issues with collective solutions from all political parties. Questioning the society on where we are going wrong, how we can resolve these issues and who should be encouraged and supported – these are in the agenda for 2019,” said Virendra.
He wants to continue supporting ethnic minority groups within his constituency and across the UK. “I get involved when issues concerning people from immigrant backgrounds come up that the system is not geared to tackle, since our issues are a little different. My presence as a member of Parliament makes a little difference as it gives them the confidence that people from the establishment are listening; understanding the issues and picking it up. I will carry on giving the support to the people even this year,” said Virendra.
Child marriage and Grooming
Deeply moved by the horrific stories concerning the grooming of young people, he is keen to pick up the issue this year. “We need to understand how to stop this menace in our society, comprehend how we can challenge this mindset. I want to support groups that are working in this field.”
Virendra has raised issue of underage marriages in Parliament and plans to do more to support children in need. His statement to Parliament said:
[[ That this House recognises the great step forward which India has taken in ending child marriage; acknowledges that according to UNICEF in India 47 per cent of women are married before they are 18 years old and 18 per cent by the age of 15, while the age of consent is still 18; notes that child marriage has been used as a loophole to escape rape charges; further recognises that a child should not marry or be forced to marry; and urges the UK Government, and the Department for International Development in particular, to do whatever they can to support India in enforcing the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act.]]
Virendra has been supporting social causes because he feels that issues like breast cancer, forced marriages, child abuse, homelessness, terrorism and unemployment effects everyone.
Tackling issues of immigrants
Virendra’s constituency is unique, with a highly diverse population; immigrants from across the globe living together. Understanding their issues and raising them with the British Parliament is not an easy task, but something that Virendra is committed to continue supporting. For example, he highlighted the issue of the atrocities meted out to Sikh community in Afghanistan.
[[That this House notes with sadness the targeted murder of at least 19 people, mostly Sikhs, on 1 July 2018 in the Afghan city of Jalalabad; acknowledges that the suicide bombing murdered the majority of Afghanistan’s Sikh community leaders, including Mr Avtar Singh Khalsa the only Sikh candidate for Parliament; recognises that the Sikh community in Afghanistan, along with other religious minorities, are under sustained assault by a government uninterested in them and a significant minority of the population who want to see them gone; notes that many members of the Afghan Sikh community have come to the UK to seek safety and have joined the large UK Sikh population centered on West London; asks the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs to meet representatives of the Sikh community in the UK to update them on the work the Government is doing; and calls for the Government to work with the international community to offer support and security to the persecuted minorities of Afghanistan.]]
Understanding the concerns in the UK’s curry industry, which relies heavily on chefs from overseas, Virendra championed the availability of their visas to support the industry.
[[That this House notes the recently implemented changes to Tier 2 Intra Company Transfer visas; acknowledges that changes have significantly increased the minimum salary threshold to over £40,000; further notes that businesses across the UK rely on key skilled workers from abroad have been adversely affected; further acknowledges that this threshold far exceeds the salary of a fully trained curry chef…]]
The changes have also made workers ineligible for applications to stay in the UK as part of a permanent settlement. Chefs have appeared on the Home Office designated shortage occupation list for a number of years; and so he urged the Government to ensure that Home Office rules are fit for purpose and support rather than hinder economic growth in the UK.
Youth and Politics, Sports
“I want to make sure that I bring more young people into the mainstream of this country, that includes politics. We need to understand how best we can prepare the coming generation to fully make themselves available through knowledge and participation, to be considered as their equal in political system. It needs to be clear ideological commitment – not based on religion,” said Virendra.
“I do not believe that in 21st century Britain, faith and religion are all our communities need. I want to see more people look at the culture and social future of children and invest their time and energy in that. If we devote too much of our community’s efforts to religion, then I think we are doing a disservice to our future generations.”
As a youngster growing up in India, Virendra was sporty and had the potential of playing national-level hockey if he had not considered politics. Sports continues to be a topic close to his heart. He acknowledges the lack of opportunities and representation of South Asians in national sports of the UK and is a patron of the Southall Football Club which won the Spartan South Midlands League in May last year, the first time since 1927.
The club was founded in 1871, making it one of the oldest clubs in the country; and looks forward to witnessing its success in the coming years in higher leagues.
Championing Indian Traditional Sciences
As the Chairman of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Indian Traditional Sciences, initiated by Lord Patel and his peers Bob Blackman, Lord Hussain, Lord Desai, Baroness Hussein-Ece, Lord Rana, and Baroness Verma, among others, Virendra has been instrumental in the celebrations of the first Ayurveda Day in Brussels held in November last year The event saw over 60 delegates, Ayurvedic doctors, clinicians, and leaders gathered to campaign, promote, and protect traditional systems of medicine. He has urged considering Ayurveda to be included as part of prevention and well-being initiatives for the NHS.
“Ayurveda is credited with the distinction of being the first indigenous medical system; accepts that Ayurveda is a means of maintaining good heaIth; further recognises that Ayurveda empowers patients and restores them as agents of their own health and healing; and urges the consideration of Ayurveda to be included as part of prevention and well-being initiatives for the NHS,” he said in Parliament.
[[… medical research has shown yoga has proven health benefits for a wide range of physical and mental problems; accepts that yoga is a means of maintaining good health outside of health services and offers a sustainable means for people and patients to care for themselves; further recognises that yoga empowers patients and restores them as agents of their own health and healing; and urges the consideration of yoga to be included as part of prevention and well-being initiatives for NHS staff and for yoga to be integrated within treatment for NHS patients.]]
Support Plastic Bill
Virendra has also gathered support from his peers when he raised UN’s findings that there will be more plastic in the sea than fish by 2050.
He further noted that global fossil fuel subsidies amount to 5.3 trillion US dollars, more than the combined GDP of UK and France and fossil fuel subsidies reduce the cost of plastic production.
[[… council taxpayers also pay 90 per cent of UK plastic recycling costs; and calls on the Government to support the Plastics Bill to introduce a tax on plastics to cover the costs of recycling and a fiscal strategy designed to reduce, reuse, and recycle plastic alongside annual plastics targets to encourage the use of sustainable alternatives.]]
His role model Dr Lekh Raj Sharma
Virendra Sharma is the son of the veteran Congress leader Dr Lekh Raj Sharma from Jalandhar, who remained the member of Legislative Council of Punjab and the Chairman of Jalandhar Improvement Trust, in a political career that spanned 74 years.
“My father has been my role model while growing up. He supported me while I was standing for elections in the UK, he came here to campaign with me.
“He was standing in one corner while the results were being declared, and I remember he simply dumped himself on the floor when he realised I won. He was so overwhelmed with happiness.
Dr.Lekh Raj Sharma celebrating Virendra Sharma’s win in 2010, Jalandhar, India
“Being someone who can provide service to people is what I learnt from him. He was a freedom fighter and worked in Indian politics during an extremely grave period. It could have been easy to be dishonest, but he chose the alternative path of service. He passed away at the age of 95, but his ideals continue to live on with me. I have shadowed him and chosen mine too,” smiled the 72-year-old MP, who has spent nearly 40 years in UK politics, watching the scenario change gradually but positively for the immigrant diasporas.
Virendra Sharma with his family on his 50th Anniversary
Virendra Sharma with his grandchildren