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Tories suspend Harrow councillor following backlash over inaction on Islamophobia

30th Oct 2020

(Photo Harrow Council)

Harun Nasrullah

Harrow Council’s Conservative Group has voted to suspend one of its councillors over Islamophobic comments following a sustained campaign by the borough’s Muslim community.

Pinner South ward Councillor Kamaljit Chana will remain a councillor but will be suspended from the Conservative Party for six months while the Conservative Group investigates him under its Code of Conduct for Islamophobic comments already confirmed during an employment tribunal hearing.

However, the decision to temporarily suspend and investigate Chana on October 2 was made after more than 6,900 people petitioned for action as well as protest by a coalition of Muslim organisations representing over 30,000 Muslim residents.

The Harrow-based Muslim coalition and local Labour politicians had accused the Tories of “dragging their heels” over the incident which drew national coverage last month.The row began following an employment tribunal case which concluded Chana, a Sikh, called Muslims “violent” and having “no place in our society”.

Chana, who was also a Dyson senior technical project manager, was accused of Islamophobia by fellow engineer Zeinab Alipourbabaie. In 2018 Alipourbabaie, who is of Iranian origin, resigned after months of harassment and discrimination by Chana.

The Bristol Employment Tribunal found that in a one-to-one meeting in 2017, Chana said, “Pakistani men are grooming our girls” and called Muslims “violent”. During this time, he also mentioned the 2001 September 11 terror attacks and terrorism.

The tribunal found that Alipourbabaie was also excluded from meetings and emails, and Chana advised against promoting her. Dyson says that their internal disciplinary procedure upheld the discriminatory allegations made, except for the allegation of the anti-Muslim conversations. A year later, the Islamophobia was brought up to Human Resources and serious disciplinary sanction, short of dismissal, was issued to Chana at the time in relation to bullying.

Leader of Harrow Council, Graham Henson, said he is “utterly appalled” by Chana’s “disgusting Islamophobic comments”. “I and the entire Labour Group believe that Islamophobia or any other form of discrimination has no place in Harrow. We have raised these press articles with the council’s legal officer who will investigate as part of the councillor standards and complaints procedure,” said Henson.

Adding, “We will not tolerate any form of discrimination; we will continue to challenge racism, discrimination and inequality. We call upon the Conservatives to act swiftly and thoroughly to ensure there is no room for discrimination in Harrow.”

Speaking to The Muslim News Labour MP for Harrow West, Gareth Thomas, voiced his surprise “that there appears to have been no public apology and no condemnation of these Islamophobic comments by Harrow Conservatives. Given this is not the first time Tory Cllrs in Harrow have made racist comments.”

Thomas also expressed dismay at the lack “of any serious investigation by the Conservative Party nationally into this case.”

Adding, “All political parties, including my own, have had issues with racism and all need to remain ever vigilant on these matters, and hold robust investigations when appropriate. I very much regret that thus far, appropriate action doesn’t seem to have been taken.”

In a joint-signed letter dated September 21 a coalition of eight Harrow-based Muslim community organisations led by the Muslim Forum of Middlesex have called on the Tories to immediately suspend Chana insisting Harrow’s Muslim community ‘will not stand for apathy in the face of Islamophobia.’

The coalition called on the Tories to redouble ‘efforts to ensure that each and every single individual within the council serves with the respect and tolerance Muslim residents of Harrow expect from their elected officials.’

The letter also accused the Conservative Party in Harrow of ‘not adopting a zero-tolerance approach’ and has ‘dragged its heels’ over the national coverage of the incident. Despite Harrow being ‘one of the most diverse boroughs in the country’.

They also cite previous accusations of Islamophobia that were not investigated which include acts by Conservative Harrow East MP Bob Blackman and tweets from Cllr Anjana Patel which discussed “barbaric acts of Islamists”.

Replying to the coalition, Leader of Harrow’s Conservative Group Paul Osborn said, ‘We take these allegations extremely seriously, we are investigating this and following due process. We will not hesitate to take firm action accordingly. We await publication of the tribunal judgment.’

Osborn’s reply failed to address the Tories failure to reprimand or investigate Blackman and Patel. As of October 22, over 6,965 people have signed a petition calling for Chana’s expulsion not just from the Conservative Party but from Harrow Council.

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