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The Baroness in a sari in the House of Lords

As a girl who raised her voice to demand India’s independence from the British, Shreela Flather never imagined that one day she would be a part of British politics and become the first woman from the Asian ethnic minority community to enter Britain’s parliament.

world Updated: Nov 16, 2009 00:21 IST
Mukesh Sharma

As a girl who raised her voice to demand India’s independence from the British, Shreela Flather never imagined that one day she would be a part of British politics and become the first woman from the Asian ethnic minority community to enter Britain’s parliament.

In 1990, as a member of the Conservative Party, Flather was elected to the upper house of British parliament, the House of Lords, and from then on, she has been referred as Baroness Flather.

Flather was born in Lahore in 1934 into the family of Sir Ganga Ram, an engineer and philanthropist famous for building a large number of schools and hospitals across undivided India. Both Lahoris and Delhiwallas are aware of the role the Ganga Ram hospitals play in their cities.

In the 1950s, Flather came to study law in London.

Though the Baroness concedes that racist attitudes did prevail in England during those times, she told the BBC: “If there was racism, it was very open. If people didn’t want to talk to you they would not, but they would never abuse you.”

In 1976, Flather became the first ethnic minority woman in the UK to be elected councillor. In 1986, she was elected as mayor to the royal borough of Windsor and Maidenhead, a county famous for having the Windsor Castle, one of the Queen’s principal official residences in England.

Before entering politics, Flather was actively engaged in the social sector.

As a member of the House of Lords, she gained attention for wearing a sari in parliament. “I have always worn saris,” she said. “I am habituated to wearing them from the time of independence and partition.”

Flather makes it a point to take her two sons frequently to India so that they understand the country and its traditions. “If children are not accustomed to their roots and heritage, they tend to grow up lacking in self-confidence”.

She has written a book, scheduled for release in February, where she argues that women can play a crucial role in confronting poverty.

Flather took the lead in establishing a memorial commemorating the sacrifices made by South Asians during the First and Second World War. “In 1997, it struck me that there was no cenotaph for our people who had laid down their lives during the world wars,” she said.