'Mirpuri' Label; Its Misconceptions

Understanding the correct use of the label ‘Mirpuri':

Setting the record Straight; ‘Facts’ over ‘Fiction’

It should be understood that the use of the term 'Mirpuri' to refer to the 'Pahari' contingency originating from the connurbation of Mirpur 'ethnolinguistically' is incorrect. There is no such thing as a 'Mirpuri language' or ' Mirpuri dialect' sui generis and on this token it is incorrect to refer to Pahari people that overwhelmingly transcend the geographical limits of the district Mirpur as Mirpuris. Put simply Mirpuris, i.e., those who (or whose ancestors) originate from District Mirpur are Paharis but not all Paharis are from Mirpur

The fact that the Portmir Foundation has sought the use of the term in its publications and on this website is for convenience and as a matter of convention. The term 'Mirpuri' can be used to describe people who have a connection with the district of Mirpur, in much the same way conventions of speech connect Birmingham-based communities with Birmingham, perhaps even to use the colloquially accepted term 'Brummie' to refer to such regional inhabitants. It does not however follow that there is a ‘Brummie’ language exclusive of the English language or that there is a Brummie people exclusive of the Anglo-Saxons who today use the label 'English' as an autonym (labels used to describe one's own people; self-identification). 

Although the term Mirpuri has wide currency today as a reference to Pahari-speaking people of Mirpur among British Pakistani circles, its popular usage is relatively recent and dates back to the first interactions in the UK between nationals of Pakistan and 'state-subjects' ('Kashmiris') of Pakistan-administered-Kashmir. The latter, who had been fervent supporters of Pakistan (and the two nation theory; i.e., a separate homeland for Muslims in the subcontinent of India), were singled out as being imposters to a Pakistani identity as they originated from 'Kashmir'. To emphasise this point, the term Mirpuri was used as a regional synonym for Kashmiri and the former term then took on negative connotations in the minds of its detractors. Today on numerous websites and online forums run by Pakistanis, the term Mirpuri we are told, is derogatory in nature. Mirpuris are further accused of a plethora of sins, from being backwards, uneducated, extreme in disposition to condoning and indulging in domestic violence, honour killings and suicide bombings. This description is by no means an exaggeration of the diatribes that members of the Mirpuri community have been subjected to and merely seeks to explain the frosty reception Mirpuris have become accustomed to when identifying themselves as 'Mirpuris'. There is of course little truth to such descriptions and their existence merely captures the prejudice of those who actively seek to popularise such myths. 

In using the term ‘Mirpuri’, the Portmir Foundation seeks to re-appropriate it has a value-free label to describe the Pahari people of District Mirpur and their descendants in the UK. British Mirpuris should not shy away from its usage as a geographical indicator of their ancestral origin, but rather empower themselves by feeling proud of their heritage that is as equally rich as any other cultural heritage, whether in the subcontinent or outside it. It is a credit to Mirpuris that they have not responded to such blatant caricatures on such websites by replying in kind to their detractors

Our readers should also be mindful of the fact that there are numerous towns in Pakistan, India and Bangladesh, inhabited by Muslims, Sikhs and Hindus that are also known as Mirpur and whose residents are either Sindi, Punjabi or Bangali. However, by virtue of their connection with their locality they are known as Mirpuris. ‘Mir’ after all is a popular Indic name and ‘Pur’ is the Sanskrit word for fortification that over the centuries evolved to incorporate the notion of a settlement. Despite living in towns and cities called Mirpur, no one has ever insinuated that the peoples of such regions have a separate identity from their fellow countrymen. Incidentally, the labels Sindi, Punjabi and Bengali (along with English) each carry a variety of divergent meanings and depending on the context can mean different things to different people.

 

Also, it should be noted that the usage of the term Mirpuri for those with an intimate connection with the District of Mirpur in Jammu Province transcends the British context in which the term has taken on negative undercurrents. There are Mirpuri (Hindu and Sikh) communities in Indian-administered-Kashmir who fled Mirpur following the religious conflict in the wake of the Partition. This community runs in the hundreds of thousands and has created a shared sense of belonging. They are keen to preserve their Pahari cultural heritage having been displaced from their ancestral lands. They employ the term ‘Mirpuri’ in the context of preserving continuity with their past and the term, for them, carries positive connotations. There are numerous streets and boulevards in Jammu City that are named after Mirpur. Many have excelled in this community and swell the ranks of the professional classes in Jammu with leading politicians and members of the judiciary hailing from the Mirpuri community. There are of course those who also use the term Mirpuri as a family surname by virtue of their regional connections to the various regions cited above.

 

Hyperlinks to websites featured above and other examples (1), (2), (3), (4), (5), (6)

Historically, Mirpuris sought work as stokers on merchant ships docked in Bombay during the British Raj and although they were primarily identified as 'state-subjects' of Kashmir, they were keen to mention their place of origin. The work of a stoker was gruelling and tiring, a job that was avoided by many of the native Britons working on such ships. As a result such opportunities were made available to Indian Subjects of the British Indian Empire who pre-partition included those from District Mirpur. These opportunities were filled by many Mirpuris who lived on the banks of the River Jhelum and who had previously monopolised the boat-building trade during the course of their lives. However the introduction of the railways fatally decimated the river course-ways as viable modes of transportation in British India. As a result Mirpuris had to look further afield for work and eventually found opportunities on ships docked at Bombay that were outbound for Britain. Their work ethic and graft endeared them to their employers and the term Mirpuri became synonmous with the reputation for being hardworking due to their laborious toiling in the engine rooms of British ships. It was through the trajectory of these first interactions that Pakistanis in general discovered work in Britain many decades later mainly at the auspices of Mirpuris, who on returning home spread the news that work was available in an industrial and sooty-filled Britain. From the labour-intensive engine rooms of merchant ships Mirpuris progressed to the equally labour-exhaustive work of factories and textile mills working 12 - 15 hour shifts.  

In mentioning the above facts, we should recognise that although the term Mirpuri in the context of the UK has been used as a label of derision (primarily by detractors of Pakistani descent), history is a testament to the fact that members of the Mirpuri community have the means of re-appropriating the word Mirpuri and infusing it with positive connotations. The Portmir Foundation will endeavour to make such an aspiration a living reality for members of our community and up-and-coming generations.  

 For more in-depth information on the Pahar please refer to the heritage section of this website or click here.

© Copyright 2013 Portmir Foundation

All Rights Reserved 

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