British Colonial Legacy

Mirpuris & Migration Fever

During the post-war reconstruction of the UK following the devastation of World War II, large contingencies of the ‘Pahari’ peoples primarily from the Jammu ‘Subha’ (Province) of the now Pakistan-administered-Kashmir (otherwise known as ‘Azad Kashmir’) were recruited by industry leaders in the UK with the help of the British government to fill its labour shortages. Emigrants hailing from Mirpur had been disposed to this turn of event given their intimate knowledge of the UK labour market well before the reconstruction programmes of European governments after both World Wars. Mirpuris had historically worked as stokers on British merchant ships docking in Bombay and had earned a reputation for themselves as offering reliable but honest toil. The work of a stoker was back-breaking work not conducive to those of a weak constitution; Mirpuris were admired for the fortitude in their work ethic.

From the mid 1800 onwards and through such seafaring opportunities Paharis from Attock and Mirpur along with other ‘subjects’ of the Princely State of Jammu and Kashmir could be seen living and working in docklands the length and breadth of the UK. Some of these single men married local women, others fell on hard times and a few returned to their homes after decades of a long sojourn abroad. Some of the earliest emigrant communities from British India actually hailed from the princely State of Jammu and Kashmir. In line with the martial traditions of their region, many Mirpuris had opted to join the British India army especially when restrictions were removed that previously inhibited recruitment from the princely States. British army regiments from Jammu and Kashmir were almost drawn entirely from Mirpur and Poonch and surrounding ‘Pahari’ areas; of the 71,667 army personal who fought in World War II, 60,402 were drawn exclusively from Mirpur and Poonch.   

With the Allied victory over the Nazis and the resumption of normal economic activity, governments in Western Europe were left with the task of rebuilding their countries. In the UK labour shortages grew exponentially commensurate with an inability to fill such voids with ‘white’ European sourced labour and so the British government reluctantly resorted to an accessible pool of labour drawn from the ex-colonies. Pioneers of this post-war immigration from Mirpur were some of the earliest economic migrants from the subcontinent, following in the wake of immigrants from the West Indies.

Seventy years have elapsed since the first pioneers of post-war migration from the erstwhile State of Jammu and Kashmir touched the shores of Britain. Their descendants today totalling almost a million inhabitants of the UK, some of whom are third and fourth generation Britons belong to a ‘diaspora’ that outnumbers those remaining in their ancestral lands. They do not have however see themselves as an extension of ‘foreign’ people in the UK, neither as exemplars of a proxy culture thousands of miles away from their original homeland but rather as a settled people in the UK albeit with ‘Hilltonian’ origins. Their values and aspirations, hopes and concerns, tastes and habits are part of the mosaic that forms the wider consciousness of the mainstream British communities that have themselves evolved from within a global context. 

Unfortunately this history has been neglected for a plethora of reasons, some of which are as follows;

The Partition of India; its political fallout for Paharis; 

Communities living on the Fringes

 

The partition of British India between the Dominion of India (officially thereafter the Republic of India) and the Dominion of Pakistan (officially thereafter the Islamic Republic of Pakistan) and the ensuing conflict over ‘Kashmir’ has resulted in a power dynamic that undermines those caught-up in the conflict but who are otherwise marginal to the centres of power in Islamabad and New Delhi respectively. This has resulted in the effacement of important cultural realities for the purposes of wider political considerations especially in Pakistan where identification of the ‘Pahari’ cultural sphere has been mediated through false paradigms that reduce ethnic identities to regional labels. It is incorrect to therefore speak of Mirpuris as either Punjabis or Kashmiris in any ethnic or linguistic sense of that term, this holds true for the Pothoharis and Hindkowans. The latter however fully partake in the use of the Pakistani ‘national’ label given that the Pothohar Plateau and the Hazara Hills are constitutionally part of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan given their respective connections with the Pakistani Provinces of Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkwa. Azad Jammu & Kashmir on the other hand is not constitutionally part of Pakistan, it has its own supposedly autonomous government that conducts its business in accordance with its own constitution and it mounts its own flag on all state-run buildings. There is an irony in Pakistan’s official stance in its concern for the rights of ‘Kashmiris’ to articulate their own will to self-determination when the constitution of Azad Kashmir prohibits pro-independence parties from participating in the supposedly ‘free and fair’ democratic elections of an already independent ‘Azad’ nation, after all according to the state-sanctioned policy of Pakistan, ‘Kashmir banega Pakistan’! This reality has created dichotomies that influences the choices people make in the use of diametrically opposed national labels even within the shared space of ‘Azad’ Kashmir.

 

Colonial Politics; Direct and Indirect Rule;

The British legacy in India


Colonial politics influenced administrative demarcations of clearly identifiable culturally homogenous areas. These regions were partially or fully subsumed within one or another province or district within either the territories of the British Raj or within any one of its subordinate princely States. To contextualise this reality within the colonially constructed territoriality of the princely State of Jammu and Kashmir, the British Indian Provinces of Punjab and the former Province of Sarhad and its incorporation of District Hazara (formerly part of the Punjab Province prior to 1907 CE), one encounters considerations that were disposed to securing the interests of the Paramount power and its client princely-fiefdoms without consideration being afforded to the maintenance of cultural spheres that would cohere in strictly corresponding regional areas, at times wedging different ethnic peoples within the same arbitrarily-bound borders. Confusion now abounds in the use of provincial or national labels that detract from the more significant cultural histories of individual regions, fuelling in the case of Mirpuris deeply flawed caricatures that question their choice or use of national labels either-way. 

Colonial stratagems that categorised peoples into false labels as the primary basis of identification have post-partition come undone with catastrophic implications for communal-conflicts. The two-nation theory propounded by the Muslim League had its seed in the germination of colonial policies that sought to label Indians on the basis of their religious affiliations, despite the overwhelming cultural commonalities that existed between the various ethnic peoples of the subcontinent, Muslim, Hindu or otherwise. Pakistan came into existence in 1947 as a protectorate for Indian Muslims, a religious minority seeking protection in an overwhelmingly Hindu nation that through the course of political mishandling of its ideological tenants resulted in the actual partition of India (where one to accept revisionist narratives on Pakistan). This same bastion of protection for minority rights has gone on to oppress its own ethnic minorities despite sharing commonalities in religious affiliations and which in the case of Pakistani Bengali Muslims, resulted in the latter waging a struggle for greater autonomy that culminated in the independence war of 1971. In both cases struggles for greater rights, protection from discrimination, acknowledgement of a sectional-specific identity resulted in both peoples, first Indian Muslims and then Bengali Pakistanis demanding a complete break from the established political order to seek a future in their own national space and on their own cultural terms. 

Despite the glaring inequalities that continue to exist in Pakistan and the result of its own failures to redress its peoples’ legitimate grievances it continues to follow a course on a trajectory that has bought the Indian subcontinent schisms and divisions (not necessarily of its own doing). The status quo may benefit ossified elites that have sanctuary in the West when the going gets tough, but it is the peoples of Pakistan that have borne the brunt of its sectional elites that aggrandise themselves at the expense of its overwhelmingly poor majority that either turn to fundamentalist religious movements to address the imbalance or to provincial based separatist movements that advocate separation from the perceived ‘tyrant’ majority. Incidentally, there are no oppressive majorities in Pakistan but rather elite-interests subsumed within a corrupt political system that pities one people against another because of the perceived associations between the elite and the ethnic group from which they claim descent; unfortunately these inter-district or inter-province differences are simply ignored.

Pahari migration to the UK

The largest contingency of the Pahari peoples in the UK hail from the district of Mirpur. Having been disenfranchised by the princely State of Jammu and Kashmir, their lands ceded to an expansive Dogra entity, many sought work outside the Princely State first in the engine rooms of British merchant ships and then in the British Indian army. These realities inadvertently facilitated their sojourn to Britain pre-1960. With the partition of India and the ensuing conflict that resulted in the Pahari people of Jammu and Kashmir being ‘liberated’ (to borrow a term from Pakistan’s narrative) by Pakistan to live in an ‘autonomous’ region called ‘Azad’ Kashmir, the political order of exploitation continued and Mirpuris continued to seek work outside the domain of their homeland given the levels of poverty that existed within it.

In 1967 Pakistan built a huge dam at the confluence of the Rivers Jhelum and Poonch, directly upon the lands of Mirpuris, flooding approximately 250 villages and making homeless 110000 people, all of whom were poorly compensated and dislocated from their ancestral homes. The fact that the beneficiaries of the dam lived in Pakistan and enjoyed its electricity without interruption in such cities as Lahore whilst the exorbitant cost was borne by Mirpuris who ironically received intermittent electricity almost two decades later, paying a higher tariff for its consumption, speaks volumes of the relationship between Pakistan and ‘Azad’ Kashmir. Approximately 5000 of those directly affected by the dam’s construction were given vouchers to enter the UK following a deal struck with the British firm awarded the contract; the British government as our readers will recall sought to fill its labour shortages by recruiting from its ex-colonies and Mirpuris were very much integrated in that process. We would not be surprised if there were ‘kickbacks’ in the awarding of this contract.

In any case the Pahari peoples of Pakistan-administered-Kashmir were ardent supporters of Pakistan. They had tasted first-hand the brutality of Maharaja Hari Singh’s reign; from the time of the State’s first ruler to that of its last, Muslims occupied a pitiable position in an overtly Hindu political order, its very existence guaranteed by its colonial overlords. It was from Mirpur and Poonch that the citizens of Jammu and Kashmir agitated for the annexation of their lands to that of Pakistan. It was from Mirpur and Poonch that the first armed revolt began against Hari Singh’s despotic rule and without the support of his colonial masters his standing army had to retreat into the Hindu majority areas of the State where they alongside the Hindu locals massacred hundreds and thousands of Muslims. Partition bought incredible bloodshed on either side of the partition lines and Mirpuris threw in their lot with Pakistan. The memory of the brutality associated with the State has been documented by colonial officials and travellers alike and is not a figment of any imagination mired by the communal politics of the time. For Muslims of the Pahari regions of Jammu and Kashmir who had strong ethnic ties to that of the Pothohar Plateau and the Hazara Hills, the prospect of a more benign future in Pakistan in the midst of their own ethnic kin was a welcome release from a century of ‘heathen misrule’, real or perceived.

However in the UK amongst the newly constituted peoples of Pakistan, Mirpuris were being told that they were not Pakistanis but rather ‘Kashmiris’. In the popular imagination of Pakistanis, or at least those who professed an urban-background in contrast to the rural backwardness of the ‘false Pakistanis’, Mirpur and Mirpuris stood for something altogether ‘disdainful’ despite the glaring unparalleled benefits accrued to Pakistan from its relationship with Azad Kashmir. By a cruel twist of fate, Mirpuris were again caught up in the divisive politics of partition and with the on-going exploitation of Pakistan-administered-Kashmir by Pakistan’s military and political elites, Mirpuris resorted to voicing a ‘national’ identity that was diametrically opposed to that of their detractors in Pakistan. They said, ‘if we are not Pakistanis, then we are Kashmiris!’ In so doing they have been caught unwittingly in a cycle of recrimination where their claims to being Kashmiri have been rejected by those who seek to force on the ‘Kashmiri’ label an exclusive ‘ethnic cum linguistic’ nuance that is located within the historical trajectory of the Vale of Kashmir.

 

Dynamics of Marginalisation

The Colonial legacy & Pahari disenfranchisement 

Current sensibilities on the Mirpur region are mediated through the filters of political discourses that legitimise the creation of Pakistan and anathematise separatist agendas. It navigates the history of the peoples of Mirpur through a reductionist critique that identifies the cultural background of a people on the basis of the administrative regions in which they live, creating false parallels with established cultural areas firmly fixated within a ‘Pakistani’ territorial space. This critique fails to consider the historical power dynamics that have shaped the course of numerous provincial and regional borders. To illustrate this point using a commonly bandied charge, “Mirpuris are similar to Pothoharis and the Pothohar Plateau is a hill region that is part of the province of Punjab geographically, therefore Mirpuris are Punjabis ethnically-speaking because Pothoharis are Punjabis”. The fact that geography does not equate to ethnicity especially within the context of geopolitical frameworks is neither here or there for such sensibilities, in effect disparate perspectives are convoluted to create false postulates. The Pothohar Uplands may be identified with the Punjab today but it is simply wrong to assume that its incorporation into the Punjab region administratively somehow creates parallels with a ‘Punjabi’ ethnic-identity that is today located on the eastern plains of the Punjab where its inhabitants speak the ‘Majhi’ dialect of Punjabi adjudged the vernacular standard of the language, again a reality arbitrarily borne within a colonial context. What is also startling here is the actual spatial extent of the ‘Majhi’ dialectical zone in Pakistan Punjab, tiny in comparison with the rest of the Province that had historically been associated with the Lahnda (fem. Lahndi) dialect-continuum.

The fact that the Punjab has grown and shrunk over time territorially, having evolved in modern parlance from the Lahore Subah of the Mughal Empire, quite distinct from the Multan Subah, that is now also adjudged part of a uniform Punjabi cultural-sphere though equally contested seems to be curiously missing from such a critique. It also fails to consider the impact of regional actors on the demarcation of the ‘Punjab’ that incorporated an evolving ethnic ‘Punjabi’ identity on the basis of their own territorial conquests as was evidently the case with the Sikh confederacy. The exact borders of this Punjab were again redefined by the British. In India, its stake of post-partition Punjab was split into three entities, with the Punjab of Sikh dominated areas retaining the historical name and a further two new States were created, namely Haryana and Himachal Pradesh that are no longer part of an ethnic ‘Punjabi’ cultural sphere.  

Conversely, the above dynamic holds true for the erstwhile State of Jammu and Kashmir where again heterogeneous regions were lumped together on the basis of conquest to form a clearly demarcated territorial space that had all the hallmarks of an imposed ‘national’ identity. The Paramount Power gave legitimacy to the princely realm of its new client for services rendered and for a not so modest price of 7.5 million rupees. This state existed for one hundred and one years, after which point it was dismembered and occupied by two mutually antagonistic and ideologically driven Nation States, each laying claim to the entire State crucially disenfranchising the peoples of the State from the process. This conflict has become nothing more than a real-estate dispute between India and Pakistan, each with its own particular narrative and litany of grievances. Pakistan has introduced a third player into the conflict by selling or ceding parts of its administered Kashmir to China without even consulting the peoples of ’Azad Kashmir’ and  much to India’s protestation. China has also occupied parts of Indian-administered-Kashmir, gone to war over it and now maintains a military presence in the region. India and Pakistan have fought two wars over Kashmir and have engaged in numerous border skirmishes over the Line of Control which for all intents and purposes is the de facto border between India and Pakistan. The peoples of the erstwhile State of Jammu and Kashmir have become victims of the whole debacle, their humans rights violated and their lands and resources exploited. 

It must be stated for the sake of fairness that both India and Pakistan maintain their control over the region through the use of military force and the respective peoples of this State have little support from the international community given the bilateral relations 3rd party countries have with both Pakistan and India that factor in important geopolitical interests however parochial. It is not in America’s interest that the State of Jammu and Kashmir become independent given the need for security in the region, a newly independent country like Kashmir could theoretically become destabilising in the region where it becomes a refuge for extremist outfits. China on the other hand benefits from the current status quo; any change here would mean it would have to consider the status of the lands it has purchased from Pakistan and those that it forcibly took from India.

Also the occupation of both Pakistan and Indian-administered-Kashmirs cannot be understood within the same light as for example the conflict between Israel or Palestine, the former relies on American prowess to maintain its control over the Palestinian territories and the latter resorts to help from the Arab and Muslim world, diplomatically and monetarily; these are important proxies that can exert influence over the course of the conflict. ‘Kashmiris’ on the other hand can neither rely on moral outrage in the same way (for example) the anti-apartied movement mobilised support for its cause internationally and which inevitably bought the downfall of the regime and the emancipation of black South Africans. Even support from the Muslim world against the occupation of Kashmir by India is orchestrated by Pakistan, is nothing more than symbolic and completely ignores similar realities of occupation in Pakistan-administered-Kashmir. ‘Kashmiris’ can only rely on their own population and Diasporas, but even then there are no real shared bonds of kinship between the various peoples of the State despite the paradoxical demands on either side of the LOC that the State retain its pre-1947 borders. The leadership of the ordinary people in both Indian and Pakistani administered ‘Kashmirs’ have sold-out to narrow self-interests and have become absorbed into the wider political tapestry of the occupying powers respectively. It would come as no surprise to learn that politicians from Azad Jammu & Kashmir have second homes in Islamabad, feeling more at home there than in their own regions. Even in the UK those ‘representatives’ who purport to speak for ‘Azad’ Kashmiris tend to parrot Pakistan’s narrative, personally benefiting immeasurably from the warm reception they receive in Pakistani official circles. The few that have remained loyal to their own conscience representing in a tangible way the sensibilities of the overwhelming majority of diaspora ‘Kashmiris’ and an equally sizeable majority in Azad Kashmir have been disenfranchised from the process, some of whom are simply not up to the task whilst the others merely choose to voice their grievances on a shared platform without having any real concrete strategies or plans of action to mobilise their people against the perceived ‘occupation’ of their lands. With such large constituencies in the UK pro-independence Kashmiris have simply failed to make inroads into the British political establishment. 

The fact that Britain (Imperial Britain and not contemporary Britain) is wholly responsible for the creation of the princely State in the first place; watched as a bystander to the brutality of the regime; offered nothing more than lip-service to the moral outrages that were unfolding in the State that practically enslaved people to the whims of the State’s despotic ‘Darbar’ and its associated ‘Hindu’ interests; sought intervention only when it suited its imperial priorities to maintain a buffer against other imperial powers means that the modern British State as the inheritor of Britain’s colonial legacy is morally obliged to make representations on behalf of its own citizens that have ancestral ties to this princely State. Whether it is predisposed to this sentiment is an entirely different discussion but one that cannot be tested given the inadequacy of the current ‘Kashmiri’ leadership in Britain. We believe that a case can however be made for Britain to exert some influence over Pakistan, not least because of the hundreds of millions its gives annually to Pakistan in aid, much of which is siphoned off by a country notorious for its bureaucratic corruption. Mirpuris after all fought and died voluntarily for Britain in their tens of thousands during World War II, this sacrifice must be worth something?

Mirpuris and the State of Jammu and Kashmir;

Imbalances in the rendition of the princely State’s history and the modern conflict

Mirpuris in the UK are not familiar with the dynamics of this social history. Where they have sought to learn the history of their region, they have been forced to resort to the narratives of Pakistan through its twisted umbilical cord of the ‘two-nations’ theory without being rooted in perspectives that give traction to their own interpretations of that history from the vantage point of their own experiences as a people originating from Pakistan-administered-Kashmir. 

Worse still is the imbrication of social and political history with issues of cultural anthropology. The fact that Pakistan and India exist today as two sovereign Nation States, carved from the territory of British India, the last foreign imperial power to quit the subcontinent, leaving in its wake a contested status to the princely State of Jammu and Kashmir has meant that issues pertaining to the regional history of the Pahari-cultural-sphere have become ignored if not politicised to lend credence to a set of nationalistic priorities. This has become the position of pro-independence movements in ‘Azad’ Kashmir who navigate their political stake in the freedom struggle for the State through the trajectory of the princely State’s history inadvertently dislocating Hilltonians from a much wider cultural sphere that transcends the delimits of the artificiality of their State’s borders to encompass a vast geographical space with an equally long social history. 

It comes has no surprise to learn that the history of the erstwhile State of Jammu and Kashmir has become intricately interwoven with the history of the Valley. Typically, history books on the Kashmir State recount the history of the State backwards from the time it first cohered into a uniform but artificial union of culturally heterogeneous regions per the terms of the Amritsar Agreement of March 1846 to the time when the Valley of Kashmir first became the loci of a distinct ethnic identity.  

Hardly anything is written about the Pahari-cultural-sphere despite being the heart of the early Vedic Aryan civilisation in the North West of the subcontinent. Hill tracts belonging to this sphere that were then lumped into the Treaty of Transfer between the British and Ghulab Singh had historically been conquered by the later through the aegis of his Sikh patrons many decades earlier. Although formally annexed to Jammu, these regions were the eastern limits of a clearly identifiable cultural space that had a shared cultural and linguistic heritage with peoples of the Pothohar Plateau and the Hazara Hills. Many historians have referred to this region as West Punjab without any allusions of commonalities in ethnicity or language with the peoples inhabiting the Punjab region as a whole envisaged within the borders of the British Province of Punjab. It was in this location that the first wave of Indo-Aryans from Central Asia settled with their families, it was from this location that the Vedic-Aryan civilisation evolved and from where it was consolidated for hundreds of years prior to its move to North India and the Madhya Desh or the Middle Country. It was in this location that numerous tribes, raiders and settlers coalesced into the now remnant population that speaks the different dialects of Pahari, from Hindko to Chibhali. It was in this cultural-sphere that Panini wrote his grammar of Sanskrit and where the early Buddhists used the evolving ‘Prakrit’ of the locals to transmit the teachings of Buddha. This region was home to numerous hill tribes, where great wars were fought between the Macedonian Alexander and Porus, in the wake of a waning Persian Empire. Ironically, it was from these lands that the Lohara dynasty of Kashmir had its roots, today epitomised by Valley Kashmiris as indigenous Kings of Kashmir. 

But the history of the State of Jammu & Kashmir, despite being a union of divergent peoples and lands forcibly bought together to become the chattels and possessions of an altogether brutal regime curiously lacks mention of this history despite having an inherent stake in the history of that State. It is as if the regions of Mirpur, Poonch, Muzaffarabad and Riasi (its westerly regions concentrated on Rajouri) with the much smaller tehsil of Uri were nothing but an extension of the Dogra cultural-sphere. For want of mere shorthand, popularised by the British colonial circles, the State of Jammu and Kashmir became precisely the antithesis of its very reality, its various peoples’ legacy become the sole property of Valley Kashmiris who in turn where pitied for becoming the native subject-population of a foreign people.

Numerous political treatises devoted to the Kashmir conflict, a modern conflict borne of colonial machinations and that fundamentally has the imprint of that legacy is intricately tied with the history of the Valley, as if the ‘beginnings’ of all the peoples of the State were exclusively located in the Valley. Writer after writer will quote the Rajatarangini of Kalhana, a thirteenth century text on the history of Kashmiri Kings to help shed light on the history of the region without the obvious realisation that the history of the State of Jammu and Kashmir transcends the Valley to include the associated histories of five distinct regions. Ordinarily where one to speak of the Valley, then this would not pose a problem but this is not the case as the State comprises numerous peoples with numerous social and political histories. Kalhana may speak of ‘Darvabhisara’, an historical principality associated with the legacy of the Pahari-cultural-sphere and that had an intimate relationship with various Kingdoms in the Valley but he does not speak of Gilgit for example or any of the other culturally distinct regions of the State.

One can literally pick up a book on ‘Kashmir’ today and learn absolutely nothing about the Pahari heritage of Mirpuris whom it is worth mentioning again and again and for the risk of the stating the obvious also have a stake in the State.

The Portmir Foundation;

Redressing the Imbalances in the Recounting of ‘Kashmir’s’ History;

The State of Jammu and Kashmir

Cognizant of the foregoing discussions and in light of the absence of any remedial attempts to address the imbalances in the priorities afforded to Valley Kashmiris in the recounting of the State’s social and political history, in the process marginalising Hilltonians and other State-subject peoples, the Portmir Foundation will offer a ‘corrective’ to that history. The Foundation will navigate the social and historical terrain of its stake in the recounting of the erstwhile State’s history through the trajectory of a sociocultural heritage that accommodates the realities of the Pahari Hill tracts’ incorporation within the princely State. The Hilltonian heritage from this perspective will be an overriding factor that will transcend the creation and workings of the State and its subsequent de facto incorporation within the national polities of both India and Pakistan whilst rejecting the mutually antagonistic narratives of both countries. The Hilltonians on this reading of the State’s history were involuntarily forced within its territorial boundaries.  

The Portmir Foundation does not therefore advocate nationalistic agendas for the settlement of the ‘Kashmir’ conflict although it will critique and bring to attention the theoretical positions peoples of ‘Hilltonian’ descent will occupy in a hypothetically liberated ‘Kashmir’ of which Mirpuris form an important contingency. The Foundation will not shy away from exposing human rights violations and exploitation of peoples within the region strictly on humanitarian principles in accordance with the democratic charter of the Foundation without being partial to either India, Pakistan or to their corresponding powers within the two administered-Kashmirs. At all times the Foundation will show solidarity with the disempowered peoples of Jammu and Kashmir, India and Pakistan in a non-partisan and non-ideological way and again in accordance with its own democratic charter. The Foundation will be mindful at all times of the destructive nature of communal politics in the subcontinent and its legacy on the social fabric of both India and Pakistan.

The British Context; 

Mirpuris and the Portmir Foundation

As a British based organisation constituted on liberal values and democratic principles, the focus of our research per the terms of our heritage objects is to familiarise members of the Hilltonian communities settled in the UK of their rich cultural and linguistic heritage albeit as Britons of ‘Hilltonian’ ethnic descent. Again the largest contingency of Hilltonians in the UK is from Mirpur, Pakistan-administered-Kashmir and so the focus will necessarily revolve around priorities that seek to increase knowledge of that heritage within this community although not exclusively and neither to the disadvantage of other Hilltonian communities in the UK, of which there are sizeable communities from the Pothohar Plateau. Mirpur here refers to the erstwhile Province of Mirpur pre-1947 and is therefore not limited to the District of Mirpur in Pakistan-administered-Kashmir and also includes for example Akhnoor and Nowshera now forming part of administrative regions in Indian-administered-Kashmir.

Mirpuris according to this classification are religiously heterogeneous and so the Mirpuris of a Hindu and Sikh religious persuasion also have a stake in the recounting of Mirpur’s history. Following the sectarian carnage of partition many Mirpuri Hindus and Sikhs sought refuge in the Hindu majority areas of Jammu. Those that were unable to flee the ensuing violence were murdered in Mirpur by mainly ‘Afridi’ tribesman, ostensibly bought in from the NWFP to protect Muslims from the State’s Hindu army and expedite its accession to Pakistan. Even according to the Pakistani state-sanctioned narrative, these mercenaries were distracted from their undertaking and participated in widespread looting that involved the murder of fellow Muslims in Baramullah. Many Mirpuri Hindus and Sikhs (according to the testimonies of survivors) were also dispatched at their hands; an altogether gruesome fate awaited some of their women who were forcibly removed and then taken to the NWFP and Afghanistan. Some were fortunate in being reunited with their families in Indian-administered-Kashmir but others faded into the forgotten pages of history. Incidents of similar ethnic cleansing also took place in Hindu dominated areas where upwards of two hundred thousand Muslims were murdered.

The Portmir Foundation is committed to the recounting of Mirpur’s social history as objectively as possible irrespective of narrow ideological interests that seek to mediate this history through an expunged version that either supports the nationalistic or religious agendas of Pakistan or India. 

Although the Portmir Foundation is a secular non-political organisation, it will not shy away from taking moral or political positions in a strictly democratic fashion to further the cause of human rights and liberties crucially outside the platforms of political parties. The Foundation will however be respectful at all times to the religious sensibilities of its beneficiary communities.

© Copyright 2013 Portmir Foundation

All Rights Reserved

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