Pakistani communities


Pakistani communities
   Pakistani communities began settling in Britain following the New Commonwealth immigration of the 1950s and 1960s. As migrants from the Islamic nation state of Pakistan (itself shaped by migrant experiences following the 1947 India-Pakistan Partition and the 1972 cessation of East Pakistan (Bangladesh)), Pakistanis comprise a complex transnational religious and political grouping in Britain. Sharing close affinities with other South Asian communities, particularly Indian communities, Pakistani communities demonstrate among other characteristics, an intracultural heterogeneity according to ruralurban, regional, caste and sectarian divisions. Pakistani communities were partly established by pioneer migrants who fought in the British Indian army and navy during the First and Second World Wars. Like other overseas ex-colonial subjects, Pakistanis were lured by the employment, economic and social opportunities presented by severe labour shortages in Britain, while other localized factors such as partition, population and land pressure and the Mangla Dam construction also influenced migration. The 1950s and 1960s ‘beat the ban’ influx of Pakistani immigrants, encouraged by immigration legislation like the Commonwealth Immigrants Act (1962) and ironically, the work voucher system (designed to regulate the immigrant flow) continued the chain migration instigated by pioneer migrants to consolidate these developing communities. The ‘myth of return’ was ultimately dispelled for many as temporary sojourners became permanent settlers. With Urdu employed as the oral and literary language of the Pakistani communities, other familial languages are based on linguistic-regional descent. The majority of Pakistanis descended from regions with migratory traditions such as primarily rural but also urban Punjab, the Mirpur district of Azad (Free) Kashmir (some of whom identify themselves as Kashmiri) and the North-West Frontier. Others included smaller numbers from other regions such as Sind and Baluchistan and Muhajirs (Indian refugees). Pakistani communities settled in largely unskilled labour-specific areas like the Midlands, the engineering and industrial north, and the textile regions of West Yorkshire, Lancashire and Greater Manchester, while other significant communities have formed in Bradford, Birmingham and dispersed parts of London. Migrant support networks and intricate kinship structures underpinned processes of chain migration among Pakistani communities. Migrants relied on the patronage of other Pakistani migrant relatives and friends to facilitate their arrival in Britain. Initial all-male settlements were gradually superseded by family reunions with wives, children and parents and then the addition of British-born dependants which accelerated concentrated parallel reconstructions of traditional Pakistani culture in Britain.
   Pakistani communities are effectively based on the binding but definitionally flexible structural notion of the biraderi (fraternity, brotherhood), existing simultaneously as consanguineous kinship systems and socially endogamous networks (in and between) Britain and Pakistan. The biraderi is a collective and mutually dependant unit bound by kinship, social, religious or political links, extended through arranged marriages, often with first cousins or other distantly related family members to fortify its endogamous structure. Pakistani families function around the joint household and categorized notions of the extended family which traditionally demonstrate a patrifocal emphasis and patrilineal line of descent. While older and male members exercise superior authority and command greater respect, women have modified their traditional household roles, becoming as inclined as their male counterparts to seek self-employment or employment outside their domestic domain. Customary traditions like purdah and the wearing of the burqah and hijab are sporadically maintained. Izzat (honour, prestige) is the foundational attitudinal and behavioural principal in all social interactions, enacted through a group conscious biraderi, a motivating force for achievement and advancement inextricably linked to culturally integral notions of social status and material wealth. Despite the rejection of zat or caste distinctions in Islam, some Pakistani communities loosely equate social status through the caste considerations of rural village life and hierarchical divisions of ashrafs (nobles), zamindar (landowners) and kammi (craftsmen and artisans). Zat also functions in determining acceptability between prospective marriage partners. Westernization and Ashrafization are seen as potential forces of respective upward socio-economic and religious mobility. Westernization, however, is often posited as a deleterious and morally corrupting power against assertions of a trans-ethnic Islamic identity. Sectarian factions highlight the majority Sunni and minority Shi‘a sects among British Muslims, yet further divisions occur according to followers of, for example, the exegetically and theologically opposed reformist Deobandi, traditional Barelwi, Ahymadiyyahs and other modernist movements. Politics and religion have combined to preserve Pakistani Muslim traditions, the Rushdie Affair signifying a pivotal moment in the birth of British Muslim history.
   As a Muslim grouping, Pakistanis have acutely experienced the British/Western distortions of Islam and Islamic fundamentalism, although the politicoreligious foundations of their communities remain strongly enforced. From the early supportive and advisory role provided for newly-arrived immigrants and settled Pakistanis by the 1957 established Pakistani Welfare Association to the 1963 formation of a National Federation of Pakistani Associations in Great Britain encompassing smaller grassroots organizations, community solidarity has soldered over internal divisions and wranglings among individual leaders to enforce notions of the biraderi on a broader community level. Concurrent religious developments have sought to fulfil objectives of cultural preservation, building mosques and creating local Muslim organizations, councils and after-school weekly Islamic educational groups to maintain an active involvement from all sections of the community. The Rushdie Affair led to the formation of the Muslim Parliament and increased political activity among Muslims intent on asserting their identities against a perceived hostile, exclusionary British state. While many of the largely British-born descendants of Pakistani migrants are re-defining their Pakistani identities and traditional heritages within British contexts in realms including family, marriage and career (particularly among young women), some ‘British Muslim’ youth are reasserting their Islamic heritage in rejection of culturally imperialistic Western influences.
   Pakistanis have endured disadvantageous exclusionisms in the social sector especially, for example in employment and housing. Engaged in different accelerations of social mobility and being less economically established than their Indian neighbours on arrival, they have still determinedly negotiated their own social, political and cultural standing in a British context through emphatic kinship, regional/nationalistic and religious roots, whether retaining or rejecting traditionalisms in creating a clearly defined middle ground.
   See also: Indian communities
   Further reading
   Anwar, M. (1979) The Myth of Return, London: Heinemann (a pivotal, if somewhat dated text on Pakistani culture).
    Shaw, A. (1994) ‘The Pakistani Community in Oxford’, in R.Ballard (ed.), Desh PardeshThe South Asian Presence in Britain, London: Hurst and Company (a thorough microcosmic study of a Pakistani community in Britain).
   SATINDER CHOHAN

Encyclopedia of contemporary British culture . . 2014.

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