She was born in Ludhiana 48 years ago but was brought up in the UK. She joined the Labour Party as a student and today she is a key Member of the European Parliament (EP), whose members are drawn from the 25 countries that make up the European Union (EU).
She is called Neena Gill, and she represents a West Midlands constituency in the UK. Now in her second five-year term, Gill describes herself as ?the only female British Parliamentarian of Asian descent?. She sits on the EP'sbudget committee and is Vice-President of the EP'sdelegation for maintaining relations with South Asia.
Gill visited Chennai in the first week of January, and saw for herself the devastation caused by the Indian Ocean tidal wave. ?I learnt first hand about the immediate needs of the people whose lives have been destroyed, but also how they were already planning to rebuild their lives,? she told INEP, in an interview in Brussels.
Since then Gill has been working very hard to ensure that the aid given by the EU is not at the expense of the existing development programmes. ?It is not acceptable that we divert money away from poverty eradication programmes,? she said.
Gill told INEP that she understood the Indian government'srefusal to seek emergency aid from abroad as India is a donor country itself. Even so, those hardest hit by the tsunami wave are among the poorest.
?I don'twant to encourage the begging bowl mentality,? Gill said, ?but we must help them rise above the poverty line, so that they will be less vulnerable next time any such disaster strikes.?
Gill stressed the need to help people who are dependent on fishing ?to return to their livelihoods. We can supply the means for new nets and boats,? she said. However, she declared as unsuitable the proposal that the EU donate European fishing boats that have been decommissioned under EU programmes aimed at conserving the fish stocks in the Atlantic waters.
Gill was in New Delhi last November, encouraging Members of the Indian Parliament to visit the EU and to strengthen ties with European Parliamentarians. MPs are in fact setting up an EU delegation. Meanwhile, both FICCI and CII want to bring business delegations-a move welcomed by Gill, who has numerous businessmen of Indian origin in her West Midlands constituency.
Referring to the projected strategic partnership between the EU and India, Gill noted that ?there are lots of good intentions,? but wondered ?what resources will be made available.? She felt for example a road map was needed, to raise awareness through cultural cooperation.
Gill referred to the problems of the people of Pakistani origin living in her constituency. ?Mechanisms have been set up to help them invest in Pakistan,? she told INEP, ?but there has been inadequate discussion on issues such as that of gender equality.?
As an Member of European Parliament, Neena Gill feels she has ?a wide remit of concerns to address, including questions of sustainable community and economic development.? As vice-president of the parliamentary delegation for South Asia, she is well placed to strengthen both regional and intra-regional ties.
The directly elected European Parliament has 732 members.
[India News in Europe Programme (INEP)]