Yes it is true I confess it so
For my destiny was conceived
On the tip of “your” tongue
I know it now and I’ll admit it so
I’m a “Mirpurian”
From shit-street no joke!
Some say as ‘You’ lurk in our shadows
That in shit-street “oh bless”
Amidst terraces lumped together
Bedecked with golden gates and plastic lions,
resides a breed
of ‘rats’ and ‘mice’ and ‘incestuous beasts’
But why stop there my invisible ‘friend‘?
When injury demands “your” truth be declared
You my ‘Noble ‘Paki-stAAni’
Have incurred an insult too bold
That this ‘Mirpurian’ feign ‘Ummah‘-love’
Alas in shit-street ‘we’ devour none but our ‘own’
But we’re ‘wealthy’, you say
Riches and booty, ‘mansions’ and ‘white gals’
All thanks to ‘Mama England’ ‘JSA & Co’
In whose nurseries we sell our ‘maal’ at Her Majesty’s Pleasure
And pimp our child-brides to defray
the passage back to our barren hills PIA-style!
I understand your pain
And the scars etched onto your fine countenance
For you with ‘Thy’ royal lilt
And only a slight hint of a foreign accent
I offer my sincerest apologies
For “Pakistan”, “Her Crescent” and “Her Lovely Star”
[maal = ‘things’; street slang, ‘drugs’] [ummah = Muslim Brotherhood/Fraternity]
What was I thinking?
That from shit-street I could pretend to be other than “me”,
and to make association with dearest “Thee”?!
Woe upon me and my village ways
As you’re weighed down by foreign aid ‘Jihadis’ aflame,
Dining at the Savoy with begging bowl in tow
I’m so sorry I tarnished your good name
So fellow Brits listen up, “I’m a ‘Mirpurian from shit-street no joke”
I’ve no ‘culture’ no ‘language’ not even ‘roots’ of my own!
My ‘inbred’ cousins, they’re thieves, losers, a ‘race’ all of their own
Stop saying “Pakistani”?” “Kashmiri”? I’m “none of the above”!
I’m X and I’ve no box to tick, so welcome to Shit Street
With love, Paharian X “No Box to Tick”
So why did I write this poem?
This is my humble attempt at satire. A lot of British-Pakistanis, or at least a minority whose influence extends beyond their numbers, embody unhealthy attitudes towards members of the British-Pahari community – my community. We shouldn’t exaggerate their numbers to be fair to the rest of our brethren from Pakistan, outside Britain and in other parts of the Diaspora.
The label they use to identify our community is “Mirpuri”. No doubt, you have come across this “badge of shame” – or at least this is how it is deployed by those trying to lesson our worth through their own anxieties and insecurities.
But what on earth is “Mirpur”? And how did the name of a “district” become a defining characteristic of our identity?
The logic is simple. “Mirpuris” comprise of individuals from Mirpur (a place in ‘Azad’ Jammu Kashmir, Pakistan). Period!
This is akin to outsiders referring to the inhabitants of Telford as Telfordians, as separate from Midlanders, despite both identities never being used in this way by the communities of Telford and the wider Midlands. By definition, and logic, Telfordians are Midlanders, because Telford is in the Midlands primarily because of geo-administrative divisions beyond the agency of the people living in Telford or the Midlands. The people of Telford did not decide, one day to be called Telfordians, and neither did they decide for their area, however its borders emerged to be located in the “Midlands”. It is therefore understandable that both labels do not reveal anything about the ethnolinguistic traditions of such people.
As far as ethnicity goes, Telfrodians would simply self-affirm as the “English”. Coming from Telford or the Midlands, is not a substitute for their actual connections with their culture, language, people and history.
This is how the Mirpuri label is being deployed by British-Pakistanis, erroneously I add., even as they know absolutely nothing about the various territorial polities in the wider Pahari-Patwari region, a separate and distinct cultural sphere that spans Northern Pakistan and Jammu & Kashmir State.
This history predates the creation of Pakistan, the Princely State of Jammu & Kashmir and the emergence of the “Panjab-Plains” identity by centuries. For instance, as a region, the people who have lived on these hills have lived here for centuries, and historically had extended more westwards to areas that are now settled by Pashtun tribes.
In the years that followed World War II, the Pahari community of Jammu & Kashmir, or at least that portion of the Princely State that was being administered by Pakistan as “Azad” Jammu & Kashmir started to arrive on British shores. Immigration to the UK from this part of the world, what we would otherwise call the Western Himalayas, actually predated the large numbers who now came in search of work, at the instigation of the British government after World War II.
Many of these migrants came from Mirpur Division, one of 14 Districts of the old Kashmir State. In cultural terms, this area extended beyond the State, and includes the Pothohar Uplands, the Hazara Hills and the Pahari Ilaqah of Jammu & Kashmir, namely from Mirpur, Poonch, Muzaffarabad, and Riasi (Rajouri).
As a distinct ethnic people, we are shrouded in mystery, as we are routinely confused as belonging to separate but neighbouring peoples.
In the UK, Pakistanis from mainland Pakistan, what we would otherwise call the Provinces of Pakistan, started to call the Paharis of Mirpur Division, “Mirpuris”. Ever since those earliest of interactions in the UK, the label became a word of separation and derision. On the basis of an imposed and imaginary identity, our community is now being presented to outsiders negatively, outside our own agency, and in most cases, without our knowledge. The ensuing narrative is not only flawed but it is dangerous and amounts to vilification.
I have attempted to put some of these slurs in the form of a poem to show how cruel and crass such ideas are. Just type in ‘Mirpuri’ in twitter or google and you’ll see what I mean. A lot of young “Mirpuris” are fed up with this prejudice usually at the behest of individuals who are doing a disservice to the wider Pakistani Diaspora. And so they are fighting back.
But this doesn’t stop our detractors from insulting our ‘parents’, ‘grandparents’ and our more distant ‘predecessors’, the very pioneers who put food on our table, and worked long shifts in the engine rooms of merchant ships, in the dirtiest of factories in the dingiest of English ‘neighbourhoods’. Many of them took wives from the new communities they settled, and had families, a history that we have now become alienated from. In fact, a lot of our forbears from Mirpur, Poonch and surrounding areas fought in both World Wars, and travelled the world. Many were also recruited, proudly I add, into the Pakistan Army.
Our ancestors are deserving of respect, like any other community. They are not ‘less worthy of respect’ because of an imaginary identity.
We know that the parents of our Mirpuri detractors, from surrounding areas in Pakistan, our uncles and aunts, also worked in factories, foundries and textile mills, and drove buses, and worked as unskilled workers. We will continue to respect our elders, whichever part of Pakistan they came from, however disrespectful their children are to our parents. If some today want to re-imagine this history, that is their prerogative. They may even wear suits on their way to the Job Centre if this assuages their sense of social status and separation from us. But they shouldn’t reimagine this recent past, as upwardly mobile British-Pakistanis, try their utmost best to distance themselves from a heritage they think somehow lessons their self-worth.
For one thing, they are not ‘British-Pakistani’ Aristocrats’.
And when the racists, and the far-right call them ‘Pakis’, they get upset, their stomachs churning with the indignity of the ensuing slurs. When Islamaphobes insult Islam through crude misrepresentations of 1.8 billion people, almost a 3rd of the world’s population, they are aggrieved. They complain. They protest. They demand justice and fairness. They shy away into their bubbles, outraged at how cruel the world can be. And yet it never occurs to them, to not insult, slur and stigmatise our community through the same prejudices of the racists, fascists, nazis, and bigots, whose behaviour they find so threatening and appalling.
As British-Paharis, howsoever we self-identify in the UK, as Pakistanis, or from Azad Jammu & Kashmir, we should learn about our roots to “lands” now administered by India and Pakistan as Indo-Pak Administered Jammu & Kashmir, to appreciate, intellectually, emotionally, the extent of the dispossession of our forebears.
This history will keep us humble and stop us from becoming bigots. We will be able to empathise and sympathise with the oppressed peoples of this world, and the left behind communities of the UK. The Paharis of Jammu & Kashmir, like many other immigrant communities across the world came from the poor lands of South and West Asia, many of which have been disinvested through unjust and unfair policies.
Our grandparents, and forebears have literally given us our dignity back to pursue our own journeys without having to feel inferior to anyone, group, community or people. And yet their is not even a plaque to commemorate their achievements.
To say “Mirpuris” are inherently bad because of some imagined ‘social status’ as our peers remain ‘mute’ is to insult the memories of our forebears.
Put simply, Mirpuris are not “self-ghettoizing cousin-shagging Neanderthals.” This is how we are being described. You can check out the quote, as voiced by a Pakistani comedian courtesy of a book depicting Muslims, supposedly in a good light, minus us of course. The book is entitled Al-Bretania, My Country; A Journey Through Muslim Britain.
Our parents, and grandparents never gave up on us, and so we must speak up for them and the dispossessed lands they came from.
I’m Paharian “X” and I’ve no box to tick and I’m just fine with that!
“I offer my sincerest apologies”
“For “Pakistan”, “Her Crescent” and her “lovely Star””
And if my readers are offended by my attempt at satire, and they happen to come from the British-Pahari community of ‘A’JK, or the wider British-Pakistani community, then I ask them politely, and respectfully, to speak to their “friends” and “cousins” and tell them to stop insulting a community of almost 1 million people in the UK.
It is not us who are creating these dangerous cleavages. We are merely defending ourselves from the ensuing vilification. Find it in your heart to actually listen to what we are saying on this site, so we can arrive at a place where all people are treated with respect.
The poor children of Lahore, where income disparity between the rich and the poor is astronomical. When British-Pakistanis imagine Lahore, they don’t imagine these scenes.
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.