The Portmir Heritage Foundation is a voluntary sector organisation founded in 2010 by British-Paharis to research, document and celebrate the cultural heritage of their forbears, especially as that heritage now unfolds in Britain.
This is our organisation’s primary goal.
What about your values?
Our endeavours are underpinned by values that give primacy to human dignity whatever a person’s background, beliefs or ‘identity’, self-ascribed or otherwise. These values feed into how we try to understand our cultural heritage in Britain. Like most people, we want to live in an equal and fair society, all the while we contribute our presence to enriching life in the UK and challenging bigotry and prejudice that undermines human dignity.
In Britain, British-Paharis have been subjected to unwarranted criticism on the basis of prejudice. We are unequivocal in saying that the ensuing characterisations, stereotypes, scapegoating and slurs are the product of tropes and anecdotes generated by British-Pakistanis – there is a sizeable body of knowledge that would demonstrate this to be the case.
We are not a political or religious organisation, and neither do we advocate for political or religious causes. We’re a broad ‘church’ though, and are happy for our contributors to express our shared values through their own ‘identities’ if the outcomes are shared ones.
Ultimately, we stand for social and political justice, freedom of conscience, fairness and equality in Britain, and in the lands of our grandparents through an intellectual tradition that can accommodate a variety of divergent lifestyles, not least ‘Muslim’ ones.
With particular reference to British-Mirpuris, a large subsection of the wider Pahari community from the divided State of Jammu & Kashmir and neighbouring areas, we would like to address the social issues that affect this particular demography.
Whilst documenting and celebrating our shared heritage, we will not shy away from critiquing and exposing social problems that exist within our communities and are rooted in attitudes that have no place in a free and open society.
Domestic violence, forced marriages, honour based crimes, and other social problems are indeed features of our communities, but by no means do these individual acts define the wider community or individual members. Moreover, we ignore these attitudes at our peril.
These behaviours are ‘learnt’ and symptomatic of patriarchal values that have no place in a modern society. Women should not be relegated to periphery positions within the extended family network. Those embodying such attitudes frequently find justification for their behaviour through feelings of community-solidarity and cultural conventions that normalise honour-based violence to redeem the illusory reputation ‘izzat’ (‘honour’) of ‘males’. Not only will we speak out against such vices, but we will contribute our voice to the universal fight to uproot the structural gender imbalances that make such crimes possible in the first place. We therefore actively encourage women to share their insights on our website, whether they are of Pahari ethnic descent or otherwise.
Islam is a beautiful religion like all world religions. The vast majority of Muslims are peaceful. We are therefore opposed to the radicalisation of our youth on the basis of extremist interpretations and politicised ideologies that have ironically not germinated from within the Islamic intellectual tradition, or the Pahari-cultural-sphere – the ethnic homeland of British-Paharis.
Popularly known as Political Islam or Islamism, this phenomenon has been greatly influenced by political thought with roots in a Europe torn asunder by social and political upheavals. The priorities of Islamism do not resonate with ordinary Muslims the world-over despite being couched in the symbolic language of ‘Islamic’ resistance whilst conveniently using Islam’s imagery. Movements associated with Islamism are therefore committed to obtaining state-power explicitly in the name of Islamic law whilst caring little for personal devotion to God. Devotion has always been the hallmark of a truly Muslim religious experience that can be easily accommodated within secular polities; Muslims have lived side by side with members of different faiths for centuries.
The chaos we see in the Muslim world today has resulted in the carnage of innocent people and the emergence of ISIS, the destruction of entire cities and the normalisation of violence in the name of Jihad. Militant Islamists and their less-violent cadre are now destabilising many societies. Their beliefs are not the beliefs of ordinary Muslims.
To blame ‘western foreign policy’ for the emergence of such groups is to have a myopic understanding of post-colonial regimes. This ‘misunderstanding’ feeds into political narratives that are dated, and have not produced their own intended ‘outcomes’. The West is not to blame for the chaos that exists in the Muslim world because there is no corresponding western identity that demands the elimination of Islam as the price of its own security; westerners are as diverse as Muslim communities.
Crucially, there is nothing in western foreign policy that influences Muslim extremists to destroy the Muslim heritage on account of it being non-Islamic. Muslim extremists are currently destroying Sufi shrines in many Muslim countries, blowing up Mosques of minority Muslims considered outside their brand of ‘orthodoxy’. They have killed religious personalities that disagree with them all the while Muslim states have been lulled into silence. These actions have not been influenced by western foreign policy. The 9/11 suicide bombers and their 7/7 counterparts were all radicalised by ‘Islamist’ teachings; western foreign policy is merely a convenient ruse for such outfits.
To live in a free, open and democratic society that guarantees the rights of individuals and minorities, we must challenge all those who undermine this vision.
Are you pro or anti-Pakistan?
We are often asked this question.
We are not ‘pro‘ or ‘anti‘ anything!
We don’t belong to a ‘tribe’ and neither are we ‘tribal’.
What we are opposed to is the unjust treatment of individuals and communities wherever they live and whatever their backgrounds.
In terms of our ethnic community’s connection with erstwhile Mirpur or Mirpur District, Pakistan-administered-Kashmir, we are unapologetic in exposing Pakistan Officialdom’s unjust occupation or administration of the territory especially when explaining why so many British-Paharis now live in the UK.
Pakistan maintains its control of Pakistan-administered-Kashmir ostensibly in the name of disenfranchised Muslims of the erstwhile State of Jammu & Kashmir whilst actively exploiting the region’s human and natural resources. Pakistan Officialdom has shown no concern for the welfare of the territory’s inhabitants, and is exploiting the region in the full glare of international criticism. This is not Indian propaganda, but the claims of international NGOs that have similarly criticised India for its policies in Indian-administered-Kashmir. There is nothing conspiratorial or outlandish about these claims. Pakistani writers, journalists, NGOs that have nothing to gain materially by voicing their concerns about how Pakistan-administered-Kashmir is ‘governed’ have reported on these unfortunate realities. They have also commented on the insurgency in Baluchistan, the problems in the tribal areas, the wealth disparity between rich and poor Pakistanis, corruption, state-patronage for the elite, discrimination of ethnic groups living on the fringe of the established political order.
Their writings can be accessed online and we encourage members of our community to read them.
According to internationally accepted corruption indices, the Pakistani State is recognised as being politically corrupt and unstable. We therefore offer our redemptive critique in accordance with our own values that give primacy to human dignity without advocating a political solution for Pakistan-administered-Kashmir, a political decision that can only be taken by those who live in the territory or are connected with its ‘Diaspora’ in the UK.
It is an openly acknowledged fact that the peoples of Pakistan-administered-Kashmir, in Gilgit-Baltistan and ‘Azad’ Jammu & Kashmir are third-class ‘citizens’ in their own ethnic homelands, their lands and resources are being exploited for the benefit of Pakistan’s ruling class and so it behoves organisations with links to the region to highlight the structural imbalance between Pakistan and Pakistan-administered-Kashmir.
As we are not a political organisation, we are not part of any political struggle to ‘liberate’ Pakistan-administered-Kashmir. We do not ‘advocate‘ for the territory’s accession to either Pakistan or India. We do not advocate for Jammu & Kashmir’s independence either, having witnessed the tragedy of partition and the huge devastation caused in its wake. We would like the normalisation of relations between India and Pakistan for the common good of all parties, India, Pakistan and Jammu & Kashmir.
We recognise in this respect that territorial identities are illusory. The priorities of a Nation Stare are not necessarily in the best interest of its ‘nationals’. Where a State exists for the benefit of its citizens, it makes sense to celebrate the corresponding territorial identity. In the absence of such well-being, the continued self-affirmation of such an identity is to embody a false-consciousness.
Outside the context of the ‘Kashmir Conflict’ and the injustices being suffered by the peoples of the region; Hindu Pandits, Muslim Kashmiris, Paharis of ‘Azad’ Jammu & Kashmir, the Balawar of Gilgit & Baltistant, and all the others, we offer nothing but goodwill to the peoples of India, Pakistan and Pakistan and Indian administered Kashmir.
We are therefore not anti-Pakistan, this would be contrary to our values. In fact we express solidarity with the oppressed and poverty-stricken peoples of Pakistan and the world. We believe the peoples of Pakistan are themselves victims of an hegemony that centralises power in the hands of a ruling class that cares little for the wellbeing of the ordinary citizen.
What’s your ‘take’ on ‘Kashmir’?
The term ‘Kashmir’ is misleading!
The Princely State of Jammu & Kashmir had been a multi-ethnic and multi-linguistic State with diverse religious communities throughout its 101 year timeline. Centuries earlier, the wider region remained ethnically diverse not least because it was the frontier through which many Central and Western Asians entered the subcontinent particularly through the mountain pass of Khyber. The Mughal designated ‘Province of Kashmir’, centuries before the emergence of Jammu & Kashmir State, was not ethnically uniform either. It included diverse linguistic communities including our own Pahari-speakers in the ‘Chibhal’ region, in the south-west of the new State. The towns of Uri and Karnah, now part of Baramullah District, Kashmir have always been Pahari-speaking areas.
After partition, the Princely State became contested between India and Pakistan and the internal demography has since changed as communities were forcibly evicted to Muslim or Sikh/Hindu majority areas. ‘Azad’ Jammu & Kashmir was forcibly depopulated of its non-Muslim inhabitants whilst many Muslims from eastern Jammu fled into neighbouring Muslim areas. Sialkot and Gujranwala are two cities in the Pakistan Panjab that have large communities from these areas; their origins are routinely confused with the ‘Kashmiris’ of the Vale. These communities are mostly from areas in the Jammu Province.
The term ‘Kashmir’ masks huge diversity and is therefore an unwelcome misnomer. It offers tangible benefits for those who occupy its ethnic space but little else to non-Kashmiris from the State. When the term first emerged as a shorthand for the entire State, it was on account of a colonial convention that was criticised in the early years of the State’s formation by a number of colonial writers. This was akin to the colonial British mislabelling the territories of the Sikh Confederacy that extended into many parts of the ‘Panjab’ as the ‘Lahore State’ because of their own ‘foreign’ terminology. It would have been a curious move on the part of the ‘subjects’ of the Lahore State to identify as ‘Lahoris’ – but this is how the international community refers to the diverse peoples of Jammu & Kashmir State by calling them ‘Kashmiris’.
On account of researching and appreciating this complex history whilst appraising the current skewed discourse on the ‘Kashmir’ conflict, we recognise the colonial legacy in how skewed representations of ‘Kashmir’ have become.
The majority of ethnic Pahari-speakers from the erstwhile Districts of Mirpur, Poonch, and Riasi (particularly from Rajouri), Jammu Province and Muzaffarabad, Kashmir Province do not identify as ‘Kashmiris’. ‘Kashmir’ for such people is ‘territory’ and not a corresponding ‘identity’. There is nothing to be gained by the continued use of the territorial shorthand as it does not reflect the insights, histories and cultural realities of the ethnic peoples subsumed within the State. In many ways it hampers how ‘our’ people are being identified giving succour to disinformation, anecdotes, tropes and factoids.
We take offence to being identified or labelled as ‘Kashmiris’, outside the context of the territorial conflict between India and Pakistan, as this is not our ethnic ‘identity’. Its continued use does nothing to help shed light on our rich cultural heritage. But, by saying this, we have profound respect and love for our ethnic Kashmiri brethren of the Vale, whether Hindu, Sikh, Muslim, Christian or of no faith, and with whom we share a divided State and heritage..
Our parents and grandparents, even those purportedly of ‘caste-Kashmiri’ descent have never identified as Kashmiris for us to now naively re-imagine our history because of political priorities of independence movements.
The caste-Kashmiri identity is similarly couched in dispossession and reminds us of a legacy that we should challenge. On account of the region’s social groups, the ‘Kashmiri’ label when applied to occupational caste-groups that weren’t part of the ‘Zamindar’ class (landed-groups) were cruelly stigmatised. Mindful of these unjust norms, we will actively challenge them, and we do not therefore subscribe to any form of caste-identity. We do however recognise that it is only a small minority of pro-independence actors outside the Vale of Kashmir who self-affirm as ‘Kashmiris’ in direct opposition to Pakistan, and we respect their endeavours for the political emancipation of our people in both Indian and Pakistan administered ‘Kashmir’. However, the overwhelming majority of our people have never identified as ‘Kashmiris’ ethnically-speaking, and this can be easily ascertained by simply talking to members of our community, both young and old.
The actual landmass associated with the Vale of Kashmir is no more than 2000/2500 square miles, out of a total landmass of approximately 84 to 86000 square miles. The old Province of Kashmir did not amount more than 9 to 10 percent of the State’s entire landmass. Although a majority in their own ethnic homeland, Kashmiris are a minority within the larger State. The communities divided between the Line of Control, the Indian-Pakistan de facto border are actually Paharis – very little is known about their plight and misfortunes.
These are our ethnic people.
To rectify the current imbalance in how the peoples and regions of the State of Jammu & Kashmir are being identified, we do not use the term ‘Kashmir’ or ‘Kashmir State’ as a substitute for the the erstwhile Princely State. We are mindful, that the Princely State was itself an imposition on tribal networks that looked elsewhere for their sense of identity, many of whom had never reconciled with the State not least those from Mirpur District.
Aside from stating this preference, we hope the people of Kashmir Vale all the best in their struggle against the Indian State for justice and accountability, as will as expressing our solidarity with the Hindu Pandits who have been forcibly evicted from their homes. The demands of all these victims for social and political justice accords with our values for human dignity. But, we have no enmity against the Indian Republic and many Indians are justly proud of their country’s diversity and peaceful traditions. We hope that the government of India can finally redress the grievances of ordinary Kashmiris.
We wish Indians and ‘Kashmiris’ from all over the Republic, health, well-being and prosperity.
We also recognise that pro-independence actors from our region have gained little by aligning their cause with the Valley Kashmiris, many of whose leaders subscribe to Valley-centric views of ‘Kashmir State’. In stating this, we are clear that the struggle for the independence and eventual re-unification of Kashmir State is not our struggle and it offers the ‘Paharis’ of Jammu & Kashmir nothing by way of equitable and fair treatment.
We are opposed to wasting resources and time to a cause that yields our people no tangible benefits.
Are you pro or anti-Muslim?
We are Muslims by virtue of our cultural heritage, but only on account of the forced depopulation of non-Muslims from our ethnic homeland in ‘Azad’ Jammu & Kashmir. We have profound respect for the religion of Islam that is currently being misrepresented by religious fanatics who are intolerant of Sufi Muslims and non-Muslims.
Some of our contributors are practising Muslims whilst others do not subscribe to Islam. We are committed ideologically to the primacy of free thought. Our associated contributors are free to live their lives in accordance with ‘beliefs’ that they freely adopt whilst extending respect and tolerance to the views of others whom they may not necessarily agree with. We are opposed to compulsion in every form whether religious, political or social, and which undermines the personal autonomy of individuals.
We are opposed to literalist interpretations of scripture, Muslim, Christian, Jewish that indirectly advocate hatred and suspicion as a means of normative interactions between people.
We recognise and acknowledge openly that our primary frame of reference is not based on medieval juristic interpretations of Islam, a tradition that we nonetheless respect and celebrate for its many intellectual achievements whilst pointing out its many deficiencies for modern societies. As part of our heritage-awareness campaigns we are committed to presenting the history of Sufism and Buddhism in our region especially as these movements prioritised humanistic aspects of their teachings as the chief expression of their faith.
The policies of the Myanmar government in its ethnic cleansing of the Muslim Rohinga is eloquent testimony that the peaceful religion of Buddhism cannot be conflated with unjust policies of military juntas or political actors. This is akin to blaming Islam for the actions of radical Muslims and extremists and we can categorically say that the Buddhist Monks of Myanmar that find justification in the murder of Muslims are no different to Muslim extremists who detonate bombs in civilian areas.
How are you about cultural heritage when you’re also committed to social agenda issues?
These two expectations are not in conflict as they are desired outcomes of the same undertaking.
We believe that our cultural heritage is important and must be documented and preserved for future generations in the UK. This is borne out of the realisation that we are indeed an ‘ethnic’ people with a cultural and linguistic heritage that makes us distinct from other ‘Pakistani’ and ‘Indian’ sub-groupings – ethnic or linguistic. Many of our people are simply ignorant of this cultural legacy and do not understand that they are connected with ancient peoples with celebrated histories that are today being claimed by numerous Pakistan sub-groups to the exclusion of the actual beneficiaries. Critically, neither Pakistan nor India is religiously, culturally or linguistically homogenous.
As a cultural heritage organisation we recognise that our forbears and ancestors included Buddhists, Hindus, Sikhs, Christians and people of no faith. On the basis of this self-evident truth we also recognise that our cultural heritage belongs to the non-Muslims of our wider region, and who, post-partition, have settled in India in the wake of communal violence.
We will therefore give a space to their stories in the spirit of rapprochement with a view of promoting social cohesion and harmony, whether in the subcontinent or here in the UK. We strongly encourage our ethnic counterparts to join our efforts to contribute their own experiences, write articles and comment on posts.
Here in the UK we are not merely settled as members of ethnic minorities but are proud Britons. We do not consider ourselves as a ‘Diaspora’ and our loyalties do not lie with peoples thousands of miles away. Britain is home to many divergent ethnic and linguistic groups, all of whom must express their divergent backgrounds in a shared Britishness that gives primacy to the English language and ‘values’ borne of the Enlightenment Tradition.
Multiculturalism is not necessarily a bad thing where we celebrate our self-evident ethnic diversity through shared values.
We believe this ‘pact’ is part of our social contract with the British People collectively, a value that we not only practise but also cherish and celebrate. Our celebration of our ethnic otherness will never be to the disadvantage of our national coherence and uniformity or vice versa. In this respect we recognise the fact that Britain has been a better friend to émigré Mirpuris than Pakistan withstanding issues of racism, institutional or otherwise.
Moreover, it should be borne in mind that in Britain we have never been denied the ‘right’ to rectify such wrongs and challenge the ‘State’, its various institutions and agencies in anticipation of a just resolution.
This single reality has been denied to ‘Paharis’ in Pakistan-administered-Kashmir who for all intents and purposes are third class citizens in their own homeland.
What do you hope to achieve?
Put simply, we hope to achieve ‘dignity’ for our people in particular, and for all people in general.
We cannot achieve this dignity without advocating for a free and fair society that values human achievements outside the narrow strictures of artificial constraints, political, religious or otherwise. A fair and just society can never be achieved without uprooting injustices and cruel practises that undermine equality for all. And so we recognise that with these rights come civic duties. We have opportunities in Britain to not only celebrate our culture but also address our problems through the assistance of a mostly benign political culture, denied to our ethnic counterparts in Pakistan-administered-Kashmir.
We owe it to this legacy as fortunate beneficiaries that we contribute our own struggles to the common good of all British people on a common humanitarian platform.