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Asha Khemka, who arrived in London with family from Sitamarhi in Bihar in 1978 without any English language skills and went to change the lives of thousands as a leading educationist, received her Damehood from Prince Charles on Friday.
Khemka, is the principal of the West Nottinghamshire College, and the second woman of Indian origin to be awarded the female equivalent of knighthood since the order was instituted in 1917; the first was Maharani Lakshmi Devi of Dhar in 1931.
Khemka was appointed ‘Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire (DBE)’ in the New Year Honours List on 31 December, and was presented with the honour at an investiture ceremony held at Buckingham Palace.
Delighted at the experience, Dame Asha said: “I am rarely lost for words, yet I am finding it difficult to express how proud and honoured I feel. I am immensely grateful to Britain for recognising my strengths and enabling me to achieve my dreams”.
She added: “But I will never forget my Indian roots and will always be a proud Bihari, which has given me the entrepreneurial spirit, drive and determination to succeed…This is without doubt one of the proudest moments of my life”.
Khemka, who is the chairperson of the Association of Colleges in India, told HT that she was in the process of opening a skills centre in Chandigarh, where online coaching will be provided in English and Mathematics.
Khemka’s husband, Patna-origin Shankar Lal Khemka, is a trauma and orthopaedic surgeon, and joined the National Health Service after gaining medical qualifications from the Patna Medical College in 1975. The couple have three children, daughter Shalini and sons Sheel and Sneh.
Hailing from a family of judges, Khemka dropped out of school at 13, married at the age of 15 and arrived in England with her family at the age of 25 without any English skills.
After teaching herself English by watching children’s television, Khemka resumed her further education after her three children starting going to school and gained a business degree from Cardiff University before embarking on her teaching career.
Announcing the New Year’s Honours List 2014, a Cabinet Office statement said: “Asha Khemka has served the deprived areas of the West Midlands as Principal of West Nottinghamshire College for the last eight years. Under her leadership, it has become one of the most eminent further education colleges in the UK”.