Jaswant Singh Birdi moved to Coventry 60 years ago and has served as a councillor for 16 years
By: Ellie Brown
A councillor has made history as Coventry’s first Lord Mayor to wear a turban in a move hailed as an example of the city’s diversity, reports Ellie Brown.
Born in the Punjab region of India, councillor Jaswant Singh Birdi moved to Coventry 60 years ago and has served as a councillor for 16 years.
Birdi said he feels proud to take on the role and described it as a great honour for both him and others in the Sikh community.
“They are very supportive of me as the first Sikh with a turban being elected [as Lord Mayor]. It’s a great honour to them,” he told the Local Democracy Reporting Service.
“It’s a great honour, I feel very proud of it and I am glad I had this opportunity – you never know in politics what’s going to happen.”
As well as being a councillor, Birdi has been active in the religious community and raised three children with Krishna, his wife of 54 years.
When he moved to Hillfields in 1963, the Sikh community here was small, he said.
“Back then, there were very few members of the Sikh community here in Hillfields. It was a smaller community then,” he said.
“It grew slowly and slowly, then became a city where ethnic minorities would come and stay – the facilities were appearing.”
“It’s a very friendly city, a city of peace and reconciliation, promoting that all the time,” he added. “Different communities know they have a lot to contribute.”
Birdi has three grandchildren and his family were there to see him receive the chains of office from outgoing mayor Kevin Maton.
The Wyken resident said his intentions as Lord Mayor are to support charities and promote different cultures within Coventy’s twin cities.
Members of his family worked for the NHS including wife Krishna as a theatre nurse – and health is reflected in the charities he has chosen this year.
These are the Muscular Dystrophy charity, the Coventry Resource Centre for the Blind, and University Hospitals Coventry and Warwickshire Charity.
Krishna said she is looking forward to meeting people and supporting communities this year as Lady Mayoress.
Birdi takes on the non-political role after serving as a Conservative councillor for Bablake ward over the past eight years.
His fellow Conservative, councillor Asha Masih, said the appointments show the diversity of Coventry as well as the opportunities that are here in the city.
Masih was the first Asian Christian councillor in Coventry and her late father was also from the Punjab area of India.
“Coventry is a city of opportunity as well as diversity, because it’s giving people these opportunities,” she told the Local Democracy Reporting Service.
“Our Lord Mayor was born in India, came here like many other people.
“[People] can come and serve our community and be officially recognised.”
(Local Democracy Reporting Service)