This week is National Hate Crime Awareness Week. Fiona Finch spoke to a survivor of the 7/7 London bombings about the ongoing impact of such crime.
A survivor of the London 7/7 attacks has spoken of how the fateful day when he became the victim of a terrorist hate crime changed his life.
Former Wigan schoolboy Sudhesh Dahad was in a tube train carriage when a bomb exploded on what should have been a normal commuter journey.
He ws thrown by the blast, but followed instructions and eventually joined other escaping by walking along the tube line to Russell Square, fearful they may get electrocuted if they stood on the tracks.
Sudhesh was among the walking wounded, with damaged eardrums and suffering from shock.
This week he recounted the tale of his trauma and detailed the aftermath of the terrorist attack and the impact it has had and still has on his life.
He was the first speaker at Runshaw College’s 5th Annual Public Services and Criminology Conference which was held at Chorley Town Hall.
On July 6 2005 there had been much rejoicing in the capital when it was announced London would be the venue for the next Olympic games. The following day four bombs exploded - three on the London underground and one on a city bus.
Sudhesh’s opening question to the hundreds of students present was direct as he asked : “How many of you left home this morning and will go back after college returning to things as they were in the morning - going back to your families, parents, brothers and sisters? I’m sure you all thought everything would be exactly the same when you get back in the evening. One day in July 13 years ago 52 people who thought exactly the same thing didn’t return home.”
He is a clear and confident speaker. But he admits his life has been a journey of seeking to fit in and avoid dangerous situations.
Today he avoids tube journeys wherever he can, preferring to cycle or walk across London and is alert to possible dangers.
Afterwards he explained that he was willing to come and talk of his experiences in the hope that it might make anyone attracted by extremism think again.
He was also open about the challenges he has faced working post 7/7 in a high flying career in the city - and how post traumatic stress surfaced later leading him to “downsize” his job, staying with the same company but seeking far less responsibility.
Putting up a photo of Wigan slag heaps on screen, which he said had been a view in his childhood, (he also recalls the Goose Green area of Wigan) he said: “I moved south when I started my teens, I had a Wigan accent. There were about 800 pupils in my comprehensive school and I was one of the few coloured people in the school and not only that I had this Wigan accent. Quite often I put up with racist slurs and jibes about my accent That was the start of my trying to have a low profile, avoid danger and stay safe.”
He told the audience: “It was a skill I honed over many decades, avoiding risky situations,”
To start with he altered his accent: “My accent evolved in order not to be noticed.”
As a student in Manchester he knew to take care too.
Sudhesh, who came from the Goose Green area of Wigan, before moving south to Hertfordshire, said while he had feared terrorist attacks on London he was still supremely confident he would avoid the dangers.
Promising to “avoid the graphic detail” of the bomb blast he said: “The train had pulled out of King’s Cross, a few seconds later there was a popping sound, a flash of light and the train jolted to a standstill. I found myself on the floor...At first I thought I was having a nightmare.”
He described how he and other walking wounded victims were gathered in a hotel, where news came through of another attack on a bus. At this point people scattered in panic. He described how he and two others set off down the street. “We had our blood and other people’s blood on us as well...We probably looked like zombies, the walking dead.”
After the attack he worked from home for some time and when in London for work his company would pay for a taxi to take him from King’s Cross to the office.
Eight years later after suffering back pain he faced surgery for a previously unknown injury sustained in the blast.
He said: “For many people the injuries are not visible. The emotional scars last a lot longer and sometimes for a life time.”
However at the time he had not recognised the depth of the emotional injuries he had suffered and said: “For three or four years afterwards I took on more and more responsibility at work and my career went through like a second growth spurt. Then stress got to me. I downsized my career and found other ways of coping - meditation, exercise and writing as well. These are coping strategies, they are not strategies that will cure me, but they help. I avoid the Tube but life goes on.”
Sudhesh said: “I have worked for an investment management company in London for the last 25 years. I went from asset management - managing billions of pounds, to not managing anything at all.”
While his post managing massive pension fund portfolio investments eventually proved too stressful, he is adamant that without 7/7 he would have coped.
Looking back he reflects on how from an early age he sought to minimise danger and risk and thought he was in control of his own destiny: ”No matter how careful you are, no matter how you think but things only happen to other people - they can happen to anyone.”
He finished his presentation asking the students: “If you knew there was a chance you might not return home today what would you have said to your parents, your brothers and sisters?”
He is determined that by sharing his story and raising awareness some good will come: “I think the more people hear stories like this, specifically young people, hopefully they learn to listen to other people and understand other people... and are less likely to commit hate crimes, less likely to be radicalised. If they can empathise with a part of my story then empathy is a great way of connecting with other people.”