One In A Minority

Updated: Aug 25 2002, 05:30am hrs
Being the first Indian to be a senior probation officer in London is a matter of pride, indeed. And Amrita Singh doesnt exactly pretend to be humble either. Rather, she speaks about the position she holds with authority.

However, it is not just pride, Ms Singh genuinely enjoys leading one of the largest probation teams in Isleworth Court in west London, and working with the people. And she enjoys it enough to set aside her native Punjabi love of fun.

Says Ms Singh, In London, ethnic minority communities are still largely looked down upon. They (the white people) wont give you the same respect as an individual if you are black, you will have to command it. They cannot easily take a black person to be their boss, but because of the official authority, they cannot ignore me either.

Maybe thats why the National Probation Services (NPSs) new thrust is Towards Race Equality, and why it is recruiting more people from ethnic minorities (on the lines of the MacPherson Report). This new thrust has raised the hopes of the few Asians in the NPS. It has been decided to increase the percentage of people from ethnic minorities in the National Probation Service to 25 per cent, says Ms Singh. But the situation is still far from idyllic.

One day, a police official came to our office, Ms Singh cites an incident. He came to me and asked Who is your boss. I told him Im heading the office here. But he would not believe it and insisted on calling in my boss.

Being in a senior management position, Ms Singhs job responsibility primarily involves preparing reports about offenders sent for probation by the judicial courts. On the whole, this does not call for much interaction with either her white colleagues or white offenders, and shes happy about the situation. Nevertheless, she enjoys her job in the NPS so much that she is seriously considering not returning to India.

Ms Singh joined the NPS by default. She came to London in the early 1980s soon after her marriage. I had nothing to do at home and a hell of a lot of time on my hands. My husband was busy looking after his business, she recalls. So, I looked for a job. I got one with a voluntary organisation, working to rehabilitate alcohol addicts. I worked there for three years.

Then came the opportunity to join the NPS. I saw an advertisement for recruitment in the service, but at that time, I had no idea about the scope and nature of the job there, says Ms Singh. However, her experience of working with alcoholics helped her in getting a call from the NPS.

Since I joined the probation service unqualified, I had to undergo a years training. Then I went on to complete my two-year postgraduation in Social Work under the sponsorship of the Home Office.

Once she was fully qualified professionally, Ms Singh went back to the NPS. Four years later, she was promoted as senior probation officer. With one of the largest probation teams in London working under her, Ms Singh and her team now meets the needs of three magistrates courts and a crown court spread over three boroughs, including the Heathrow Airport area.

And, conceivably, the work pressure and responsibility on her team and her have increased manifold in the aftermath of the September 11 incident. After that day, the risk to the public has increased and so have our responsibilities, Ms Singh says.