Many of our visitors will remember the incredible Diwali celebrations held over the years at Brighton Museum. Instrumental to this event was the Hindu Women’s Group. Today’s 100 Pioneering Women of Sussex blog highlights the dynamic Nalini Patel, founder of the Hindu Women’s Group and who dedicated her life to supporting others. Written by guest blogger, Nalini’s daughter, Mita Patel.
Nalini was born and raised in Narobi, Kenya and came to the UK in 1964 to study at Chichester College. She got married and then moved to Brighton in the early 1970s with her husband where she worked for the family business whilst raising her two children and looking after her husband’s extended family.
Nalini was always involved in supporting the local Gujarati cultural and community activities and soon became very active in working with other ethnic groups in promoting diversity in the city. She believed strongly in the strength of collaboration, in bringing communities together and breaking down barriers.
She was one of the early founders of the city’s Black and Minority Ethnic Community Partnership and the first International Women’s Day celebrations – she worked tirelessly to support the needs of minority groups in the city – particularly that of women. In 1991 she established the Hindu Women’s Group and then the Hindu Elders Group. The groups provided members with the opportunity to engage in social, cultural and health activities, they provided a support network and, for some, were the only opportunity for having contact with others or for being part of something other than their day to day family life. Nalini was passionate about promoting the Indian culture to the wider public and, amongst others, engaged the Hindu women in supporting the annual Chattri memorial service and in organising the annual Diwali celebrations with Brighton Museum.
Egalitarian in nature, Nalini had a unique personality and infectious energy that enthused so many women to become involved. She made everyone feel equally important and valuable without even realising she was doing it. But she devoted extra time for those in greatest need. Nalini was always the trusted ‘go to’ person for many city organisations wanting to engage with the Indian community. It was because of her open and inclusive nature that so many other third sector groups, charities and organisations enjoyed working with her, and relied upon her for supporting them to engage the Indian community in city events, consultations, workshops and for reaching out to individuals from the wider BAME community. She was also called upon by organisations to support women who had run away from an abusive marriage, migrant support, interpretation, and other specialist cases.
Nalini never really got the recognition for what she achieved in the city – though she never really wanted it either. Humble and modest in nature she often put others forward for recognition, or for opportunities to represent the groups, before herself. In 2000 Nalini’s service to the community was recognised at a national level when she was awarded a Millennium Award. She was away at the time of the ceremony event and the award was collected from Tony Blair by her niece. She was known to comment that she didn’t see what all the fuss was about, a typically self-effacing and modest response.
Nalini was a dedicated community pioneer – driven by a burning desire to improve the lives of those in the community, she was an inspiration to so many who knew her and is greatly missed.
Written by Mita Patel
With thanks to Mita Patel and Manish Patel for their contribution and photographs.