I can recall quite vividly my first foray into the world of “anti-Mirpuri” dribble-dribble that still goes on in the world of social media.
It began like this…
People everywhere want to learn something about their past. I did too. I was born in the UK. The first member of my direct family to come here was my maternal grandad. He was an ‘army-man’, fought for the British during WW2 and was involved in the military operations against the Dogra Forces of the Princely State of Jammu & Kashmir. This is what my dad tells me. These were tribal incursions aided by the newly formed Pakistan army. My grandmother passed away, and so my grandad got married again and re-settled in what is today Pakistan. He passed away in 1984. I was a young child at the time, and I accompanied his body to be buried in the ancestral graveyard.
And so what about the rest of the family?
It’s pretty much more of the same. Dad had other uncles and cousins who fought in the war and joined the Pakistan army when it was first created from the regiments of British-India. My dad’s dad died in Baluchistan working on the railways. These guys were an industrious lot, they left their villages in search of work, and travelled thousands of miles. Decades earlier, I’m told of relatives who worked on the British merchant ships docked in Bombay, this was the norm back then, and most of the people from our area, or the wider area around Mirpur sought greener pastures elsewhere. The more adventurous “jumped ship” and ended up in the New World. One of my dad’s cousins settled in America, years before any of them came to the UK. He was there for about 12 years, got ‘deported’, no one knows why, on transit to the UK he ‘jumped ship’ again, and made a life for himself in Britain. This is much earlier than the 1950s and so he had the automatic right to reside in the ‘mother country’ as a ‘British’ subject of the Empire.
Okay, so we can get snippets of a ‘history’ from the personal stories of our forebears.
But this doesn’t tell me anything about my distant past. Like most people, I want to know something about the ‘history’ of my ‘people’, the origin of their ‘culture’, their ‘region’, ‘language’. Who exactly were our distant forbears and where did they come from?
I tried asking my parents but their anecdotes about distant ancestors are of no use as the history is too personal. I’m getting tied of the “…there were 4 brothers, and one turned Muslim, and we come from his progeny” story. Almost every British-Pahari I’ve spoken to has been told the same account, it’s either four brothers or two brothers! And aside from academic books on history, and you need to be pretty discerning to know exactly what you’re looking for, the only other resource is the internet.
And so what do most people do?
What would you do?
What did I do?
I typed ‘Mirpur‘ into Google. I thought I was being smart. Like most ‘British-Paharis’, my parents were from the area called ‘Mirpur’, well much further north in the hills, and so I thought this would be a good place to start.
And what came back?
Dribble-drabble. Yup. I’m speaking of soul-destroying characterisations of who the “Mirpuris” are, what they’re not, and how bad they are! It’s just endless ‘hate’. Now, hear me when I say this. No Mirpuri, no matter how self-hating, is going to write endless reams about how bad his or her ‘people’ are, however ‘illiterate’, ‘uncouth’, ‘violent’ or ‘corrupt’! No people speak about themselves in this self-deprecating way. It’s always ‘individuals’ with a bone to pick who behave like this, venting and spurting out their hatred against ‘others’ they dislike. The internet gives them anonymity, and they feel they can stay things they would never say out loud except to like-minded peers in private. They make a couple of false social media profiles, and they’re off spurting their hatred and offering false commentaries about our collective misdemeanours.
But, there’s another reason why I know it’s not Mirpuris producing this dribble. Our parents have never imagined themselves to be ‘Mirpuris’. As weird as that sounds, it’s true. There’s never been a Mirpuri ‘identity’ for us to go around speaking about in this way. Even our parent’s forebears didn’t go about their business self-affirming as ‘Mirpuris’. After the 1947 partition, most of them said they were ‘Pakistanis’ and thought nothing of it.
Before the emergence of Pakistan in 1947 and ‘Pakistan-administered-Kashmir‘ some three months later, they would say that they were ‘Riyasati’ which simply meant that ‘they belonged to the State’. I’m speaking of the Princely State of Jammu & Kashmir, this was a separate ‘territory’ to lands that we take for granted as British India. It was part of the British Indian Empire but it wasn’t part of the British Raj. In other words, our forbears were governed by a different set of rulers whom they absolutely loathed, but, were themselves under the yoke of British colonialism. The British coined the term ‘Native Princes‘ because they were, supposedly indigenous to their ‘native’ lands, the insinuation was clear though – the British Indian Empire had only one Monarch who wore the British Crown. There were approximately 565 Princely States, the number actually varied but Kashmir State was one of the largest Princely States.
The Brits loved creating ‘terminology’ though.
And they were experts when it came to creating abbreviations and shorthands. To give you an idea of this proclivity, they used to call the territories of the ‘Sarkar-e-Khalsa‘, translated by them as the ‘Sikh Confederacy’ as the ‘Lahore State’. The Sikh Rulers for their part, did not view or call their vast territories the ‘Lahore State’. In our case, colonial officers called the territories of the ‘Dogra Raj‘ translated by them into English as the ‘Jammu Kingdom‘ as ‘Kashmir State’. Kashmir became shorthand for the entire State. It became tedious for them to say the full formal name of the State or its shorter phrase, so they started to say ‘Kashmir’. This was a massive territory of more than 85 to 86000 square miles, of which the Vale of Kashmir (‘Vadi-e-Kashmir‘) was no more than 2500 square miles. Even the larger Province – Subah-e-Kashmir – was no more than 9000 square miles. It was even said of the Vale during the late 1800s, that approximately 40 percent of the population was non ethnic-Kashmiri speaking, so this should give you an idea of how diverse the people were. It was from this ‘State’ (‘Riyasat’), but not the Vale, that our grandparents have their roots. The Brits inadvertently created a new trend. Whenever foreigners asked our forbears about their ‘place of origin’, they would variably say that they were ‘Kashmir Mulki’, (natives of Kashmir country). A foreigner or non-native of the territory would have been described as ‘ghayr-Mulki’. This is a complex history that I won’t bore you with, but suffice to say, the way we understand labels today weren’t necessarily understood in the same way in previous centuries. It has a lot to do with power-dynamics – ‘power‘ being the operative word, and not the preference or discernment of individuals, ‘experts’, clans or tribes.
So where did the term ‘Mirpuri’ come from?
It has its origin in the interactions between Pakistanis in the early years of migration to the UK. It was coined by people from mainland Pakistan to identify the bulk of the people from ‘Azad’ Jammu & Kashmir. This area was ‘fought over’ by Muslims who lived in it, with the help of the Pakistan army, covertly of course, and annexed to Pakistan as an autonomous polity which 70 years on, is still in a state of limbo, not technically part of Pakistan, not even a Province of Pakistan, but an ambiguous territory with an ambiguous identity controlled by Pakistan.
The people of the polity were being increasingly identified as ‘Azad’ ‘Kashmiris’. It was members of the mainland Pakistan communities that started to identify the ‘Riyasatis‘ and ‘Kashmir Mulkis’ as either ‘Mirpuris’ or as ‘Kashmiris’. It was from this pool that we had the first remnants of the dribble-dribble that I mentioned earlier. Over the years it has been seeping online, and has now became a fixed feature of the conversations about Mirpuris. A lot of impressionistic ‘writers’ and ‘social commentators’, from outside the British-Pakistani community, rely on this body of knowledge when forming their opinions about Mirpuris.
But, obviously not all Pakistanis behave like this. Trust me, most of them are ‘alright’. They’ve got more important things to deal with then spurting out rubbish about Mirpuris. A lot of Pakistanis find such comments objectionable and offensive. We’re dealing with a minority of British-Pakistanis whose influence is sadly beyond their numbers. That’s the unfortunate reality of the internet and social media. But, you can almost sniff them out by second-guessing their ‘backgrounds’, and by that I mean purported self-affirming ‘backgrounds’. These are not your villager-type ‘Pakistanis’ although quite a few British-Pakistanis with village-backgrounds like to think of themselves as belonging to this group.
So who are they?
They’re your ‘Urbanites‘, the ‘citified’ ‘Pakistanis’ that are keen to point out that British-Mirpuris are from villages despite the majority of us being born in Britain, in areas more diverse and affluent than the Pakistani equivalence. It’s not about the social reality of the claim but about the illusory ‘identity’ they ascribe to us. Because they speak ‘Urdu’ with their parents and grandparents, most of them having consciously adopted the language as non-native speakers, they like to think of themselves as a genteel class of highly ‘educated’ people whose parents were similarly a notch or two above our simpleton ‘grandparents’. In their warped mind ‘we’re’ ‘commoners’ because we don’t share their ‘identity’, or refuse to forsake the language of our forebears and pretend we come from the loins of an altogether different people. There’s nothing wrong with being ‘common’ by the way, and ‘they’ are no less common than millions of ordinary folk whether in the UK or abroad.
But in their minds, they’re cosmopolitan! They’re progressive! They’re the “Bees Neez“! Of course they are lots of things. They don’t eat chapatis with their hands any more, they use knives and forks – well, they would, if they could! Okay, I’m being facetious. But I get the feeling they hate everything about the rural lives and dialects of their forebears.
If they didn’t, they would never say half the things they say about ‘Mirpuris’.
The phrase that comes to my mind when I think of their attitudes is ‘delusions of grandeur’.
Why do I say that, you’re probably thinking?
Okay, when you do think of Pakistan as a country, what do you think of?
Be ruthlessly honest and ask yourself, what exactly comes to your mind?
It’s definitely not a genteel class of people that own a coveted piece of real-estate ‘heaven’!
When you think of Pakistan, you don’t think of ‘nobles’, fashion icons, or intellectuals of international fame. If Pakistan had any of these personalities, and they absolutely exist, they either being harassed in Pakistan, or they’ve already packed their bags and left! What does come to mind is poverty, corruption, instability, insurgency, and other negative ‘images’. I mean let’s face it, if you’re not from Pakistan, what are the chances of you holidaying there any time soon? Lots of destinations come to mind, Turkey, India, America, Britain, France, Spain, these are just a few, but you can bet your last dollar that Pakistan isn’t the first choice for seasoned globe trotters.
Pakistanis complain themselves that their country has an image problem. They incessantly complain about this!
So how can we tie the image of a ‘suave‘ class of citified-Pakistani ‘toffs’ with the international image of Pakistan, a country that has a serious problem with its reputation? International investors wouldn’t touch the country with a barge pole, it’s so corrupt that you can’t do business without having to pay bribes. The last president of Pakistan was called ‘Ten Percentor’ for a reason, he demanded kickbacks from every government contract he awarded to the highest bidder irrespective of how costly the contract was to government coffers. As long as he got paid, he didn’t care. Apparently, he is a billionaire.
The new prime minister, who was also a former prime minister, exiled from the country and then returned is also renowned for being corrupt. He is another billionaire, believe it or not. He is daily cursed by the poor and dispossessed ‘citizens’ of the country. And yet he still calls the shots, or at least those that he’s allowed to call. The rest are called by unelected army chiefs who have the power to dethrone ‘elected governments’ at whim.
And yet Pakistan presents itself as a democracy to the chagrin of real democracies everywhere.
What I’m saying here is on account of what Pakistanis say about their leaders daily, in their papers, on their television shows, in the media, on the streets, in their private conversations, on the internet. The army allows them to do this so long as the army is not criticised. This is not to say that everyone in the army is happy with the current direction of travel; lots of prominent army generals, in office and returned, politicians like Imran Khan fighting on an anti-corruption mantra, intelligence service operatives, academics, journalists, senior ranking officials in the Bureaucracy are all unhappy with the current malaise that characterises the governance model.
They are a microcosm of the wider society, and constantly criticise the State for its many failings, even as they have to self-censor for fear of falling foul of one or another arbitrary rule.
Despite this, a lot of Pakistanis still want to compete with their arch rival ‘India’. “If Pakistan is corrupt, India is corrupt too“, they say flippantly. If India accuses Pakistan of orchestrating terrorist attacks in India, Pakistanis accuse India of doing the same thing in Baluchistan. They completely become oblivious to the insurgency in Baluchistan. It’s not Indian propaganda, many Baluch want out of Pakistan because of how they are being treated by the elite. Ordinary Baluchis have no problems with the hurdled masses of Pakistan.
So both countries are destabilising one another, right?
But why do businesses want to buy and sell things to India even locating their personnel there? Why are so many global businesses eying up Indian markets for a slice of the cake? Because you can trade in India according to ‘rules’ without running the risk of paying bribes to the ‘people’ who run India. India has been keenly addressing issues of political corruption and social inequality, as it doesn’t want to fall on the wayside like Pakistan. India has a problem with corruption, a massive problem, but the politicians and business community there want to stamp it out. Confidence in markets is based on stability and clear rules of engagement. In countries run by ‘mafioso’, the laws are arbitrary, and you can’t hide from the ‘thugs’ when things get bad. Pakistan is a good example of this. In India you can operate commercially without middle men squeezing you, these are the sorts of parasites that are actively destroying Pakistan.
They have had free reign for decades.
But, even as we try to make sense of Pakistan’s ability to fend for itself, its natural resources, how it generates money from its commercial and service sectors; when we look at the government’s expenditure figures, we’re left with the disconcerting thought that tax receipts alone are not enough to pay for the most basic of government services. The country literally lives off foreign aid, international grants and loans to survive, a lot of which get squandered through ‘kick-backs’, ‘corruption’ and massive ‘bribes’. Pakistan’s economy in GDP terms is massive, and has a lot going for it, but, sadly, given how the country accumulates taxes from the rich and powerful, leaves a lot to be desired for.
A lot of ordinary Pakistanis depend on remittences from their oversees relatives, who left Pakistan because they had no future in their villages or cities, and now they’re helping to feed huge populations that live on the fringe or margins of an established elite. The actual amount of tax the country generates, again not to be confused with the size of the economy, can no way sustain its balance of payments without foreign assistance. And most rich people avoid paying taxes. And yet it’s the rich that benefit the most from international funds earmarked for the poor whilst the poor continue to die unnoticed in a country where there is no real sense of shared fraternity. You could fall of your motorcycle in Pakistan in any of the major cities, get trampled by oncoming traffic, and you’ll be lucky if someone stops their vehicle to come to your aid. This is the Pakistan of the rich. You would have to be insane to come from the hurdled masses of Pakistan insisting that you wave the Pakistani flag on ‘independence day’.
Pakistan is a rich-man’s club for parasites. Everyone else is a spectator.
Most patriots would be stupid if they knew all along that they’ve never had a stake in their country’s future.
I love the idea of martians too – but I wouldn’t die fighting for the idea
Countries are not just drawings of borders on a map though. They’re not abstract things. They are living organisms. Countries are peoples, institutions and structures. And we can compare and contrast them using all sorts of criteria. Thriving countries are rich, prosperous and free. Their citizens have a good quality of life because they are governed by like-minded people, who are not corrupt, selfish and nepotistic. They tend to be safe spaces for women and minorities – a good litmus test. In these countries, the laws actually amount for something. Elections mean something. And people, generally-speaking, are not treated with contempt. Every so often they celebrate their national culture and are justified in doing so. If you want to migrate there from another poor country, you would be pretty stupid to speak ill of them. The saying “don’t shit in the plate from which you eat” is an apt one, and for good reasons too.
Pakistan stands in stark contrast to all this.
It lives off foreign aid from countries its ‘media’ and conspiracy superstars blast for being ‘unconscionable’. America gives Pakistan billions of dollars every year, a lot of which goes to the military, and not necessarily out of any good will. But, from the likes of domestic critics who hate America but still want to emigrate there, we have people who like to attack Mirpuris for being ‘primitive’ and ‘treacherous’. In the UK, they see themselves as the authentic Pakistanis and they’re very keen to point out that “Mirpuris” aren’t really Pakistanis, or at least not like them.
But, why do they do this?
Because they believe “Mirpuris” are giving ordinary Pakistanis a bad name.
Let’s test this proposition through the scenario of a dialogue. I have always wanted to write a script!
British-Pahari; what have British-Mirpuris done to have given ordinary Pakistanis a bad name? Why do you hate them so much!
British-Pakistani; well, hmm, let me think, hmm, yup, they don’t speak Urdu but a shitty language called Mirpuri that has no script, and…
British-Pahari; so that makes them ‘less-cultured’ because they choose to speak the language of their parents, grand-parents and great-grand-parents whilst you actively speak a language that has no roots in any of the native lands of Pakistan? And they’re ‘backwards’ and you’re ‘progressive’? Tell me again, what language did your parents and grandparents speak before you consciously switched to speaking Urdu?
British-Pakistani; I have always spoken Urdu. My parents migrated to the ‘Panjab’ from Urdu-speaking areas in India. They made huge sacrifices for Pakistan!
British-Pahari; so your language was imposed upon other ‘peoples’ in their own ethnic homelands so Pakistan could give you a safe ‘space’ all the while you poke fun of the indigenous languages of Pakistan?
British-Pakistani; nope it’s not just that. Mirpuris are villagers. They are rural people. Their values are stuck in a time warp, and they keep pushing us back from progressing forward. And…
British-Pahari; how did you work that out, give me some concrete examples?
British-Pakistani; hmm, because you know they’re into honour crime and all sorts of nefarious activities!
British-Pahari; and of all the cases that have been reported in the British and Pakistani Press that involve honour crime, how many involved people from Mirpur or living in Mirpur?
British-Pakistani; I would imagine a lot!
British-Pahari; You ‘imagining’ all this doesn’t make it true. Show me the evidence; show me where you got your proof from; show me the datasets that distinguish ‘honour-criminals’ by place of origin? Prove to me the “Mirpuri’ connection?
British-Pakistani; I just know because that’s what happens in villages!
British-Pahari; so that would mean that the majority of rural Pakistan, most of Pakistan is rural by the way, and most of the cities are overgrown towns, has values stuck in villages? Mirpuris make less than 0.3 percent of Pakistan’s population, but they’re the bad guys in Britain, remind me again, for what exactly?
British-Pakistani; no, no, you’re not following. Mirpuris are benefit cheats! They’re drug dealers. They’re pedos!
British-Pahari; okay, how do you know that? Where exactly did you go to interrogate such stats? Which government agency did you rely on to assimilate such information?
British-Pakistani; everyone knows they scam the benefits so they can build mansions in Mirpur.
British-Pahari; so these ‘everybodies’ got their information from where again?
British-Pakistani; it’s a fact, they live off tax-payers, they are poor, uneducated, unhealthy dimwits living off disability benefits. How else would they get money to build massive mansions in a part of the world that no one gives a shit about?
British-Pahari; in the same way they purchased their houses in the UK through hard toil and labour. Mirpuris have never come to the UK illegally because their pioneers came to the UK well before the 1960s. When restrictions were introduced later, they relied on their sponsorship networks which upsets you because you don’t have uncles and aunts and grandparents who can sponsor you. Not that you were a highly skilled person, and Britain was dying for you to come over. And to sponsor people you need to show an Immigration Caseworker that you can provide for your dependents, that you have an income and a suitable place to live.
Besides, you don’t like the idea of ‘poor’, ‘uneducated’ ‘peasants’ – in your warped imagination at least – who have no desire to speak Urdu, ironically, having more money than you, to the extent of building fancy Mansions in Mirpur which they then offer for free to people to look after? In my mind that’s a form of social housing. How come this aspect of their generosity is never praised not least because many people flock to Mirpur from the Pakistan mainland to live in such houses sometimes even with a monthly stipend!
Call them idiots by all means if that assuages your sense of business acumen, but don’t call them criminals.
I mean you probably lived in a council house in the UK, and now you wear a three-piece suit when you go to work in the local take-away! It’s not nice being insulted, I know your pain!
We don’t like being insulted either.
British-Pakistani; Mirpuris are sex-groomers in the UK! Read the papers dude!
British-Pahari; okay, of the 1 million or so British-Mirpuris in the UK, how many, as a percentage are sex-groomers?
British-Pakistan; I suspect a lot!
British-Pahari; you’re a suspicious git, aren’t you! But tell me, where did you get your facts from as there are no data-sets that give us such information. Just tell me, of all the sex-groomers convicted of these despicable crimes, from where exactly did their parents or grandparents originate from in District Mirpur?
British-Pakistani; There are more Mirpuris in Britain than ordinary Pakistanis so it’s natural that they’re going to commit most of the crimes.
British-Pahari; of course it’s natural because you hide yourselves behind the cover of your small numbers and then it becomes easy for you to deflect attention away from the ‘ordinary Pakistanis’ because you never once considered Mirpuris genuine Pakistanis. Otherwise you would have done some soul-searching and not been eager to tarnish the reputation of ordinary individuals because of a bogus label. But to take your logic, lots of Mirpuris lived in the Beeston area of Leeds, they were said to be the majority, and yet the parents of the three Pakistani suicide bombers came from Pakistan not Mirpur, ‘Azad’ Jammu Kashmir. So where does that leave your statistical determinism?
British-Pakistani; oh whatever! What about cousin marriages? You’re telling me the children of Mirpuris don’t suffer from congenital diseases? You’re all a bunch of self-ghettoising cousin-shagging neanderthals!
British-Pahari: more than a billion people on earth marry their cousins. Most Pakistanis are married to their close cousins from both cities and villages. It’s a practise that needs to stop not least because some children born of these unions have harrowing life conditions. Genetic counselling is the way forward, something that many British-Paharis are now advocating in their communities. But, why are you so reticent about this problem in Pakistan? As for cousin shagging neanderthals, would you have called Muhammad Ali Jinnah the founder of Pakistan, a cousin shagging neanderthal? What about Islam’s most holiest personalities?
British-Pakistani; you’re an Indian agent and Mirpur is a shit hole so who cares!
British-Pahari; of course it’s a shit-hole because when you can’t win an argument you always attack the integrity and identity of the person making the argument. But, if Mirpur is Pakistan’s shit-street, return the Dam to her people and all the money that goes to Pakistan through Mirpur. It’s in the billions of pounds my friend as reported by academics and your own press. Pakistan flooded our lands and robbed our dispossessed villagers of their thriving communities. You didn’t care because as far as you were concerned they were all a bunch of docile peasants! Those we’re our grandparents, and I can assure you for every action there’s a reaction so every-time you want to smear our reputation by being our ‘unlikeliest of representatives’ in the UK don’t be surprised when we speak back.
But just so you know, I don’t know why you’re defending Pakistan when the ‘real elite’ in Pakistan, nope, you’re not one of them, couldn’t care one iota about you. You’re just a pretentious idiot who likes the idea of Pakistan, but knows nothing of its reality. The next time you get locked up in some foreign wilderness, you’ll be kissing your British passport and entreating ‘God Bretannia’ to save you. It won’t be the white crescent and star that’ll save you then! I can guarantee you that much.
British-Pakistani exists the scene. British-Pahari feels bad about the whole exchange.
If I was to sum up this bigotry, I would say it is on account of self-hatred. Now I’m not a psychologist to hazard this opinion as a fact. But, I find it odd that you have people online who want to express an opinion about ‘Mirpuris’ for everything that’s wrong with Pakistan. Aside from the smears, if Mirpuris are indeed ‘primitive’, it is on account of coming from cultures that spread across entire swathes of India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran, etc. Poor people live everywhere and they are some of the nicest and unpretentious people you’ll ever meet. And yet the Pakistanis whose parents were similarly ‘villagers’ having come to the UK as ‘unskilled workers’ want to re-imagine their history in accordance with their modern priorities and dare I say anxieties.
But there is a wider point, if indeed British-Mirpuris are primitive why would anyone want to express an opinion about people who are ‘powerless’, have no ‘social prestige’ and little ‘privilege’? This proposition needs no advocate, just do your own google search and type ‘Mirpuris’ to understand this sense of outrage. Perhaps things are changing. But, as I hope to show through a sample of online comments, this trope-telling has become a defining characteristic of the one-sided rivalry between mainland Pakistans and British-Mirpuris.
We know exactly from which ‘direction’ this hate is coming, and from which quarter.
Ultimately, I think it’s because Mirpuris remind British-Pakistanis about their true origins. Before some of our pompous ‘Pakistanis’, and its only some of them, started to consciously change everything about their humbler origins, they were more ‘real’ and less ‘fake’. I guess I’m talking about their grandparents and parents who never forgot their own life stories, or the sacrifices they made when they let everything ‘familiar’ behind to give their offspring a better future. It is on account of not knowing their heritage, and the bogus associations they want to make with people who have nothing in common with them that they have become the butt of international jokes. As for Mirpuris, we should take heed and learn something of our own heritage so we remain connected with the past of our forbears and their culture of dispossession. We have absolutely nothing to be ashamed of on account of their sacrifices, and that’s the reason why you’re in Britain reading this post in English.
Comments not related to this post will be deleted accordingly including all comments that are ostensibly propagandistic or divisive and which seek to create animosity between communities. Please extend courtesy and respect to those whose viewpoints you may not necessarily agree with. The Portmir Foundation seeks to create dialogue between members of the British-Pakistani and Azad Jammu & Kashmir communities, and the wider society.