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Britain honours Indian-born woman who learnt English by watching TV
December 31, 2013, 12:06 pm

Asha Khemka, a Nottinghamshire-based educationist who left school in India at the age of 13, taught herself English by watching children’s television after moving to England with her husband and went on to lead one of the most successful colleges, has been made a Dame — the female equivalent of knighthood.

One of the highest civilian awards in Britain, Khemka has been honoured with the title of ‘Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire’ in the New Year’s Honours List for 2014. She was awarded the OBE (Order of the British Empire) in 2009.

Khemka, who is the principal of the West Nottinghamshire College, is the second woman of Indian origin to be awarded the top honour for women since the order was instituted in 1917—the first was Maharani Lakshmi Devi of Dhar in 1931.

The honour will be conferred by Queen Elizabeth in a ceremony at the Buckingham Palace in 2014.

Announcing the honour, an official statement said: “Asha Khemka has served the deprived areas of the West Midlands as Principal of West Nottinghamshire College for the last eight years. Under her leadership, it has become one of the most eminent further education colleges in the UK.”

It added: “She has embraced the apprenticeship agenda, leading the college to become the largest 16 - 18 provider in the UK and finding jobs for 700 young people in the first year. Her charitable trust, The Inspire and Achieve Foundation, is especially focused on those not in education, employment or training. She is in the process of opening a skills centre in India.”

Khemka’s husband, Shankar Lal Khemka, is a trauma and orthopaedic surgeon, and joined the National Health Service after gaining medical qualifications from the Patna Medical College in 1975. The couple has three children, daughter Shalini and sons Sheel and Sneh.

Khemka said after her name was announced in the honours list last night: “To receive such recognition is deeply humbling. This is a shared honour; shared with everyone who I have worked with over the years.”

Her journey after arriving in England with her husband has been unique. She dropped out of school at 13, married within a year and arrived in England with her family at the age of 25 without any English skills.

After teaching herself English by watching television, Khemka resumed her further education after her children starting going to school and gained a business degree from Cardiff University before embarking on her teaching career.

Khemka is among several Indian-origin individuals to be named for other categories of honours (such as OBE and MBE) in the honours list, including doctors Abhay Rane, Satbir Singh Jassal and Davinder Kumar Kapur.

Others include Bisakha Sarkar for services to south Asian dance, Sadhu Singh Gakhal for services to the Sikh community, Mohan Gupta for services to inter-faith cohesion and Priya Lakhani for services to business, community and voluntary initiatives.

MBE awardees include Anil Prabhu Patel, second secretary in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, and Alison Jayne Barrett, director in the British Council, for services to teaching and learning of English in India.

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