The immediate thoughts which sprung to mind when faced with the word ‘history’ were recollections of sitting in a high school classroom making notes on British monarchs. However, it is only after following the dictation of the National Curriculum, I found myself with a genuine interest in learning about history – only this time, it was about my own history. Like a lot of young people descended from immigrants, I found myself feeling increasingly alienated and confused regarding my identity – I felt unsure as to whether I could class myself as being ‘British’, I tried to define what ‘home’ was and realised that, whilst I could name the various monarchs in near perfect order, I knew very little about where I was from – Kashmir.

I had spent most of my teenage years as the only non-white member of my friendship group and, despite being raised in a multicultural area, I went to high school in a predominantly white town. I didn’t bring up culture or ethnicity simply because I attended the kind of school were slurs like ‘Paki’ were thrown around more often than footballs at break time. Being labelled as a ‘coconut’ by the Asian cliques and struggling to find anyone in my own friendship group that understood my struggles with coming to terms with my identity, I simply repressed any feelings of curiosity which stemmed from a desire of belonging.

It was less than a year ago, after moving out to university and meeting people of a similar background to myself, that I began to search for an answer. I did what most people tend to do; I rummaged through pages of google, read numerous articles and tried to keep myself awake whilst scrolling through a seemingly endless Wikipedia page on the history of Kashmir. I’m what’s referred to as a ‘third generation’ migrant, meaning that two previous generations of my family have lived in this country and I don’t have any immediate family members born in Kashmir to turn to for answers. The first and only time I visited Kashmir was in 2002 for my Grandfather’s funeral. Understandably, I don’t have many memories aside from my uncle trying to drive his car up the narrow road winding around the Kashmiri mountains.

Unbeknownst to me at the time, Kashmir was, and still is, a disputed territory nestled between Pakistan, India and China. The part that I was visiting was located in Pakistani administered ‘Azad’ Kashmir (‘Free Kashmir’), whilst the southern and southeastern parts of the region make up the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir. A little research led me to find that, even before India and Pakistan gained independence from Britain in August 1947, Kashmir was hotly contested. Under the partition plan provided by the Indian Independence Act, Kashmir was free to accede to India or Pakistan. At the time, Kashmir had a predominantly Muslim population and Hari Singh, the Hindu ruler at the time, decided the state was to stay independent. Because of the Muslim majority, Pakistan, an Islamic republic, sought to claim Kashmir. Hari Singh countered this by asking India for military help and signing the ‘Instrument of Accession’ which made Kashmir officially part of India with some autonomous privileges. This resulted in the Indo-Pakistani war of 1947 which was followed by numerous other wars in 1965 and, most recently, the 1999 war.

It felt odd to read about a conflict in a land so directly related to me whilst sat five thousand miles away. Delving deeper into the history of Kashmir led me to understand that Kashmiris on both sides are still, to this day, experiencing immense oppression. A documentary called Inshallah Kashmir, which can be found on YouTube, provides a rare insight into the life of Muslims living in Jammu and Kashmir. Ashvin Kumar, the creator of the documentary, describes it as a ‘series of counterpointed testimonies and the heartbreaking coming-of-age of ordinary people’. Admittedly, it was harrowing to watch, reduced me to tears on multiple occasions and stayed with me. However, it provided me with a much needed understanding of how a conflict which arose in 1947 still, to this very day, is claiming innocent lives and tearing families apart.

Interestingly, around the same time I watched the documentary, I came across a quote by the 19th century British historian Sir Walter Lawrence – “The valley is an emerald set in pearls; a land of lakes, clear streams, green turf, magnificent trees and mighty mountains where the air is cool, and the water sweet, where men are strong, and women vie with the soil in fruitfulness.” The renowned beauty of Kashmir, as recounted by Lawrence, harshly contrasted against the reality faced by those trapped in a land that appeared to stand frozen in a tension that predates them. I was left feeling grateful for my life in Britain whilst I also grieved for the land my ancestors left behind and my fellow Kashmiris on the other side of the border.

Trying to make sense of the information I had gathered, I discovered that, like my own family, sixty to seventy percent of ‘British Pakistanis’ in England have origins in Azad Kashmir. I realised that my identity conflict can’t be unique – that this exact dilemma must be faced by many other children of immigrants who are unsure of where they belong. I reached out to my homeland in a bid to make sense of my fragmented identity with the hope of finding where I belong. However, I found that Kashmir, like myself, is a fragmented land enduring an ongoing and persistent conflict rooted in differences of identity, religion, language and culture. Ultimately, this journey of self discovery, through learning about the history of my homeland, left me feeling a responsibility to understand Kashmir and to ensure that I remain in touch with my Kashmiri identity. Which is difficult for Kashmiris who often get told they’re either Pakistani or Indian. In fact, recently an Indian coworker told me that there’s no such thing as a ‘Kashmiri’. Ultimately, all identities are relational – only making sense when you compare it to something else, but one thing I know for sure is that cultural history, whilst important in forming part of my identity, doesn’t define me and also stems from people, not from a piece of land divided by an arbitrary line drawn in the war rooms of military generals.

MODERATOR

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, Gilgit Baltistan, Indian-administered-Kashmir, and their wider societies.

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4 COMMENTS

  1. I’ve read your post. It gives us a good insight into how you came to this fork in the road, and why you’re contemplating issues of identity. I really enjoyed reading it.

    Not fitting in or having an ‘identity’ imposed on you because of some ‘minority’ or ‘outside’ status given the peers you were associating with, has lead you to ask wider questions about your background. Many like you, as third generation ‘migrants’, I note you didn’t say ‘Briton’, would concur with your insight about how we have all become alienated and confused. It seems we’ve been unable to shrug off our immigrant roots given the propensity of ‘white society’ (a nebulous concept) to remind us of our ‘foreignness’ – “ah, but where are you really from?” This statement is loaded even as the person asking the question seems to think it is perfectly reasonable to ask such a question. It doesn’t make the person a racist, or lacking in benign intentions, it just proves how ingrained such attitudes are – people are perceived “foreign” because of the legacy of race myths.

    For us, it opens up a world of subtle prejudice, as I doubt a ‘white’ person (however we imagine ‘whiteness’), who like you, a third generation ‘Briton’, would ever be asked this question. And I don’t think ‘London’ would appease such curiosity either. So you start to probe a ‘past’ that you’re connected to even as you have no direct experience of it, and I guess this is how many of us are initiated into the sorts of questions we start to ask ourselves.

    We need more youngsters from the community to write about their own experiences. There are no right or wrong answers, just honest ones. Please submit your submissions to info@portmir.org.uk.

    • Pakistan is something else. All these deluded British Pakistanis that want to fly Pakistani flags even though they are from Azad Jammu Kashmir are something else. I will never allow myself to be a victim to propaganda ever again.

  2. Not everyone from Pakistan is deluded Myra? If you dont want to fly a Pakistani flag, you have that right. Good for you! But if someone else from Pakistan, from Mirpur, who feels Pakistani wants to fly the Pakistani flag in Britain on Pakistan’s independence day, they also have that right. You do not have the right to call them deluded!

  3. Isn’t the point of this website to give Pakistanis or Kashmiri, however you want to identify, from Azad Kashmir a platform to express their views, opinions, experiences, without censure or following herd-mentality? So stop insulting your fellow citizens for feeling or wanting to be part of Pakistan because that’s how they feel. I understand why you feel the way you feel, and I appreciate your personal experiences behind anti-Mirpuri comments by fellow British Pakistanis. I concede the point, these “haters” are from Britain, and no where else. You need to put this down to moral failings on the part of the individuals or groups who behave like that. They also attack other ethnic communities in Pakistan, Kashmiris from your part of the world are not the only victims of such crass caricatures. Urdu speakers make fun of Panjabi speakers and belittle their language, Pathans were routinely attacked by other communities for being “primitive” and “socially backwards”, Urdu speakers have been attacked for being “cowardly” and “fake”, Patwari speakers have been attacked for being “Pindus”. There are slurs for almost every community in Pakistan. Everyone motivated by prejudice or with a-superiority complex or even ‘personal anxieties’, behaves like this.

    The thing is we all know the slurs are not true!

    However, I need to point out, as it has already been pointed out by the writers here who seem to be opposed to political and social injustice, and are not necessarily against the idea of Pakistan, a lot of Mirpuris ARE happy with the idea of Pakistan, as are other regional communities in Azad Kashmir. You can’t blame Pakistan because of the political elite who run Pakistan or the hatred of some British-Pakistanis against different ethnic communities. Racists and bigots exist in all societies and not just merely in Pakistan.

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