Tuesday, 3 November 2009

Pakistanis in Britain: Early Years

More from Alison Shaw, A Pakistani Community in Britain (Blackwell Ltd., Oxford, 1988), again touching on the economic, and ultimately evolutionary, advantage of extended-family and ethnic networking common to south Asians, rare among us, and also covering some of the issues relating to intermarriage covered in a prior post. Emphases in bold are mine.

Pakistanis in Britain - Early years

What was the effect of the British environment on the aspirations, values and activities of the ‘bachelor status’ Pakistani men who first came to Britain in the late 1950s and early 1960s? The range of possible ‘western influences’ is very wide, but many of the relatives in Pakistan of the migrants who came to Britain and some of the migrants themselves feared that life in Britain would exert a potentially corrupting influence over the newcomers. They had, and many still have, ambivalent attitudes to Britain. On the one hand, it was regarded as a rich country where a man can earn huge sums of money after only a few month’s work; but on the other hand, it is a land whose people are lax in their moral standards, particularly their sexual morals. Various myths prevailed which were generally associated with the fact that English people eat pork, the meat of a beast with no sexual shame, and drink alcohol to enjoy its intoxicating effects, both activities being forbidden in Islam. One myth was that every Englishman would carry a bottle of whisky upon his person and encourage any newcomer to have some; another was that every English woman, being sexually promiscuous, would try to seduce any Indian or Pakistani man who might be out wandering on the streets. No doubt these preconceptions were reinforced by the fact that most Pakistani men first arrived in Britain without their wives during the 1960s, the decade of the mini-skirt and the contraceptive pill. To what extent were there grounds, in the early years of settlement, for fears that the men would succumb to these particular western influences?


By living in multi-occupation lodging houses, often sharing a room with many other Indians and Pakistanis, the men were able to circumvent the discrimination which they encountered in seeking accommodation with white landlords and which forced prospective tenants back into houses owned or occupied by Pakistanis. But migrants also continued, and in some cases chose, to live in such conditions because despite its discomforts, living with other Pakistanis in multi-occupation lodging houses had the advantage of offering a man a cheaper way of living than would generally have been possible were he to rent his own room. A man who worked as many as 75 hours a week as a labourer, by taking all possible overtime, would have little time, energy or opportunity to do anything other than work; often the houses in which the men lived were no more than dormitories. Men working on night shifts would share beds with men on day shifts and further reduce their rent. In the early 1960s, a man could in this way earn between £12 and £18 a week, spend £2 per week on lodging and food and save the rest. By keeping expenses to a minimum, some men were able to save as much as £500 in one year. Apparently Indians in London were even able to save from their unemployment benefit and national assistance benefits when they were out of work. Indeed, saving itself became a source of status among migrants. A man who saved large sums of money for the benefit of kin at home gained considerable status among the relatives and friends with whom he was living in Britain; on the other hand, if a worker saved less than £25 a year, he would be ashamed to admit this to others. There was therefore also a moral pressure from relatives and fellow villagers which tended to ensure that migrants continued to live frugally, save and remit money home. To do otherwise would involve a loss of face.


Saeed was one of the few Pakistanis who continued to be employed at the COD (Central Ordnance Depot) after the transfer of the Didcot depot to Bicester had taken place, for most of the Pakistanis were employed there on a short-term basis for a relatively low wage of between £6 and £7 a week. These men then found employment with the Post Office, the hospitals and the bus company where they would earn between £10 and £13 per week. During the 1960s, the quota for black and Asian bus drivers and conductors was gradually increased following the pressure exerted by local voluntary organizations to end racial discrimination by local employers. Later, following the passing of the 1965 Race Relations Act, the quota was abandoned altogether. A number of men also obtained work in foundries outside Oxford, at the paper mill in Sandford, and at the Mother’s Pride bakery in Osney which became a major source of employment at this time. Subsequently the bakery closed in February 1982 and the paper mill closed in January 1983. While some men moved to other cities in response to reports of work opportunities elsewhere, two kinship groups of Mirpuris, one from Sheffield, the other from Bradford, came to Oxford specifically to work at the Osney bakery; one group settled in east Oxford; the other settled in the ‘Mirpuri’ area in Osney.

The most significant change in employment opportunities, however, took place at the British Leyland (or BL, now known as the Austin Rover Group) car factory in Cowley. From after the war until 1965, there had


been an unofficial colour bar on the employment of black and Asian workers at BL. Several Pakistani men described an incident at BL which led to the end of discrimination on the grounds of colour. The incident involved a West Indian who had obtained work at BL in 1964, and was the first black to do so. White workers apparently refused to work alongside the West Indian until an English convener (Bobby Fryer) told the white workers to hand in their notice if they objected to working with a black. The white workers gradually returned to work. Finally, a deputation from the Oxford Committee for Racial Integration successfully ended this form of discrimination at British Leyland.

From 1965 onwards, West Indians and Pakistanis were employed at British Leyland, at first for menial tasks as assemblers, painters, cleaners and storemen. Most of the Pakistanis who were working at the COD in Bicester moved to British Leyland at this time, not necessarily because they preferred the type of work available, but because British Leyland offered wages twice as high as those paid by the COD. By moving to British Leyland, Saeed for example, who had been a store supervisor at the COD, accepted a job as a semi-skilled labourer for financial reasons. […]

As opportunities of work increased, the Pakistani settlement gradually dispersed from west and central Oxford towards the east and south of the city.


[…] Not everyone moved from west Oxford. A number of Mirpuri ex-servicemen, for example, who bought houses in Osney in the first phase of migration, continued to live there (the area is now predominantly Mirpuri), while their former non- Mirpuri tenants bought their own houses in east Oxford. The first Pakistani grocery which opened in 1962 remained on Walton Crescent in Jericho until the mid-1970s (though changing hands seven times), before being moved to the Cowley Road. The second Pakistani grocery, which opened on Walton Street in 1964, is still there. Nevertheless, the new nucleus of the settlement gradually consolidated in east Oxford.

One reason for the residential shift was that the increase in the numbers of Pakistanis who came to Oxford in the early 1960s created a shortage of available rented accommodation in Jericho and west Oxford. Landlords would give priority to their own relatives or fellow villagers in the allocation of rooms. [recall that this sort of thing was labelled 'discrimination' when practiced by White landlords (p.34), the author offers no such value judgement here... fellist] At the same time certain parts of the old city centre, such as the old Victorian properties in Paradise Square in St Ebbes which contained one particularly notorious multi-occupation Pakistani lodging house, were being demolished by the City Council’s programme of slum clearance. Rather than move into a council house in accordance with slum clearance proposals, the Pakistani owners preferred to sell and buy a house elsewhere. The settlement dispersed in the direction of east and south Oxford mainly because cheap houses were available in these areas of the city. East and south Oxford have been officially described as ‘stress’ areas, which are overcrowded and lacking in modern amenities. During the 1960s terraced houses, lacking bathroom facilities and with outside toilets, could be bought for between £3,000 and £4,000 in east Oxford. Many


Pakistanis subsequently made use of City Council improvement grants which were available from 1954 as part of the Council’s urban renewal scheme to assist the improvement of owner-occupied properties in these areas.

From tenancy to house ownership

The shift in the location of settlement coincided with a move from tenancy in multi-occupation lodging houses to owner occupation. Typically, men who moved to east Oxford during the 1960s bought houses there which they paid for outright. The money was raised in several ways. Sometimes, by pooling their savings, relatives embarked upon joint enterprises in property ownership (or shopkeeping) at an earlier stage than was usually possible for an individual. Such houses were often collectively owned though usually registered in the senior relative’s name. Subsequently, as men decided to buy their own houses many of these joint arrangements ceased, the house being sold and shares apportioned out; sometimes this involved disputes over shares in the property.

Men also obtained interest-free loans from fellow migrants or former landlords and with money saved in rotating credit associations called kametis. The principle of a kameti is that every week or month all the contributors to it would pay a given sum, say £5, to the organizer and each week (or month) one person in turn would receive the total, which, if there were 20 contributors, would amount to £100. These methods of raising money enabled men to pay for their houses with cash rather than by taking out mortgages.

There are a number of reasons why Pakistani men did not take out mortgages on houses at this time. Firstly, the ownership of a house is a source of status: it was a way of demonstrating one’s freedom from dependence on a landlord or patron and was also a means of demonstrating one’s superiority to those Pakistanis who were still dependent on landlords, unable to buy their own houses. Little or no status is attached to paying rent or living on ‘borrowed money’, and very few Pakistanis are council house tenants; in fact, a substantial number of men in the present community own four or five properties in Oxford. A second reason for purchasing their houses with cash was that most men were unfamiliar with the procedure for acquiring mortgages. Many of those who did take out mortgages in the late 1960s said they would have done so earlier had they known how to, and complained that some of those who had bought their own houses with mortgages had withheld this information from fellow migrants who were tenants, in order to continue to make money from rent and to exploit their position as creditors. It might be argued that some


Pakistani men did not take out mortgages on religious grounds, because according to Islamic law the giving or receiving of interest is prohibited. Usury is forbidden and the correct form of loan is that given or received without interest. In theory, if interest is accrued on money kept in building societies or investment accounts, it should be given in alms to the poor and needy. However, those who have taken out mortgages were not inhibited by such considerations and justified their actions by saying that they had been compelled to pay interest for financial reasons. Perhaps the major reason for buying a house outright, rather than with a mortgage, was the perceived financial advantage, for a house paid for outright is regarded as a major investment which is easily capitalized. This was important because it meant that when a house was sold the owner would have a lump sum which he could take back to Pakistan or invest quickly in another property or in a business. This is still the major reason for the emphasis on owner occupation and completing full payments on a house as soon as possible.

‘Western influences’

During the 1960s there was therefore an increase in the range of economic opportunities, a shift in the location of the settlement and more men became house owners. Gradually, too, some migrants became less dependent on kin for welfare and assistance, more competent in spoken and written English and more familiar with procedures for obtaining mortgages, employment and welfare. Financial independence and competence in English brought a man status in the eyes of other migrants, especially in so far as they enhanced his ability to save money for remitting to Pakistan; they did not necessarily mean that a man’s allegiance to his original purpose and cultural values was weakened.

For some men, however, adapting to life in a western society involved changes which were not so well thought of. Some men succumbed to the ‘corrupting influences’ of the British environment as their relatives feared they would. While few men in the community today, especially those who hold positions of authority in the mosque or the welfare associations, would admit that they themselves had English girlfriends or visited prostitutes or went drinking during their bachelor years in Britain, accounts of migrants’ activities at that time and the rumour and gossip prevalent in the community today suggest that in fact these activities were fairly widespread. Several men spoke about the prostitutes who used to visit particular multi-occupation houses. One man recalled how he asked a prostitute who had come to his lodgings how much money she wanted, gave it to her and told her to go away. Others were not so scrupulous, but while their activities were not openly approved, occasionally spending time


with a woman or even drinking was tolerated and by some men considered necessary to satisfy the needs of men here without their wives. These activities were acceptable, or rather, overlooked, because they involved no commitment and were therefore not seen as conflicting with migrants’ original intentions.

However, regular drinking and extravagant spending of money were disapproved of, because they interfered with a man’s obligation to remit money to kin in Pakistan. A yet dimmer view was taken of a relationship with a girlfriend that appeared to be serious or long-term; kinsmen and villagers would exert pressure to ensure that the man concerned would ‘toe the line’. This might include threatening to withdraw assistance, ostracism, or actually summoning the leader of a Welfare Association or the imam. Amjad was one of the men thus threatened:

After a year or so of living in England, I became one of the lads, although it upset my cousin. I moved out of that crowded house we were all living in, and rented two rooms of my own in a boarding house in Cowley. I wanted to be more private and independent. I had a sports car at that time - one of those with a roof that opens up. The girls loved it; they used to hang around waiting for me. Then one girl got a bit serious - she was a good girl you know and I used to visit her parents, and her grandparents; they were good people and made me welcome. My cousin didn’t like it at all, and my brother warned me, if I got serious, he’d write home. But Younis from my village didn’t bother - in fact, he was like me in those days. Don’t say I told you. Eventually I married the girl, but by that time even my brother, who I’d helped come to England, wasn’t speaking to me.

The arrival of women and children

From about 1964 a major change took place in the Pakistani settlement as wives, children and young brides began to join the men already settled in Oxford. Most Pakistani women came to Oxford between five and fifteen years after their husbands […] and a few men are still waiting for their wives and children to join them.


This pattern is reflected in the city of Oxford electoral registers. There were no Pakistani women recorded on the electoral register of 1961 which showed there were 34 Pakistani (including Bangladeshi) men in five houses. Nor were there any Pakistani women shown on the electoral register for 1963, which records 130 men (one with an English wife) in 26 houses. By 1966, there were 274 people occupying 59 houses. This local pattern is similar to the nationwide picture of the dates of arrival of Pakistani women in Britain.

Several aspects of the arrival of women and children have puzzled observers. If migrants regarded living and working in Britain as a way of earning money to improve their living standards in Pakistan, then why should they bring non-working wives and children to a country where living expenses would leave little money available for saving and sending home? Furthermore, if families are concerned with maintaining their cultural and religious values and improving their social positions in relation to Pakistani society and culture, why should they risk exposing Muslim wives and daughters to what is regarded as the corrupting influence of British culture?

Some have argued that the arrival of women and children in Britain indicates that migrants stopped regarding living in Britain as a means of improving their position in Pakistan and instead became committed to making a permanent life here. One factor is said to be the effect of the immigration controls of 1962 and after. Their implementation made it increasingly difficult for adult men to enter Britain, but men already here were entitled to be joined by their families. In other words, the creation of a permanently settled population from a transient one is considered to have been an unintended consequence of the immigration controls.

However, the fact that migrants have been joined by their wives and children does not necessarily mean that they are committed to life in Britain. Also, it is not necessarily the case that the immigration controls played a causal role in creating an apparently permanently settled immigrant population. The absence of controls, or even the imposition of much tighter controls (as in the case of Turkish migrants to West Germany) is associated in other countries with a similar demographic result.

An alternative explanation is that some migrants, in keeping with their original intentions, were trying ‘to re-create the earlier situation of male-dominated chain migration within the constraints of immigration regulations’ because ‘bringing the whole family to Britain enables the man to ensure that he can be replaced by his son when he wants to return to Pakistan’.

There is some evidence for this view. As it became more difficult for adult men to enter Britain, some families adopted various strategies for bringing boys or young men into the country. In several cases men


brought over ‘sons’ who were in fact brothers’ sons or other relatives’ sons and in some cases boys’ ages were inflated in order that they might qualify for entry unaccompanied by their mothers. This was after the 1965 regulation which continued to permit the entry of wives accompanying children under 16, but removed discretionary rights for children under 16 to join relatives other than parents and for children between 16 and 18 to join their fathers without being accompanied by their mothers. Habib explained why families were brought over as follows:

The 1962 controls were supposed to stop us coming in, but they left loopholes because you could still bring in your son or a brother’s son and say he was yours. The Government soon realized that this was a loophole and stopped it by saying that children had to come with their mothers. That is why we brought our wives over.

However, if Pakistani men viewed calling their wives and children to Britain as a means of getting a second generation of male wage earners into the country, how do we explain the fact that the majority of Pakistani wives have remained in Britain? Although many Oxford Pakistani women have, since they first came to Britain, made one or more return visits to Pakistan of several months duration, often leaving school-age children here and taking younger children with them, they do not expect to stay in Pakistan permanently, at least while their children are at school in Britain. Only two women have returned, apparently permanently: one left a son in Oxford in the care of a daughter-in-law and the other returned taking all her children with her.

A different interpretation of the arrival of women and children is suggested here. The fact that the Pakistani settlement in Oxford had developed on the basis of family links and common village of origin meant that information about a man’s activities in Britain reached his relatives in Pakistan via letters home from fellow migrants or via men returning to Pakistan for holidays. The family in Pakistan would then take action to ensure that a man’s activities in Britain did not permanently hinder him from fulfilling his obligations to his relatives. In most cases, this involved arranging the marriage of a man who was a bachelor or arranging that a married man be joined by his wife and children. Although the head of the household generally took the formal action this required, women themselves had a direct interest in ensuring that a man continued to fulfil his obligations to his kinsmen, for his failure to do so threatened their own position in society.

Amina, Amjad’s wife (for in fact Amjad, who had married his English girlfriend, already had a wife) told me that initially she did not believe the story spread by villagers returned from England and mentioned in letters


from other villagers settled in Oxford that Amjad had married an English girl. Eventually, however, this was confirmed in a letter from Amjad’s brother who was living in London at the time. Amina then resolved to go to England herself. She borrowed money for the fare from relatives (including Amjad’s mother; his father was dead). She brought her children with her to Oxford and lived for almost a year in the same house as the English wife, who by then also had a child. But eventually the English wife left and the child remained with Amina. The English wife made one return visit to see her child, several years later, accompanied by the English man with whom she was living. Recalling the visit drew some scathing comments from Amina about the English woman’s scruffy jeans, her slovenly ways, her loose morality and her lack of interest in her child. Amina is still suspicious of any English woman who visits her home and although Amjad now expresses shame for his ‘misdemeanour’, and has strict attitudes towards the upbringing of his daughters, Amina feels she cannot entirely trust him and is reluctant to go back to Pakistan and leave her husband in England.

Several other married women stated explicitly that they had similar reasons for coming to Britain. Zafar’s wife Zahida said that as Zafar’s remittances became irregular and she was having to depend on kin for financial support for herself and her children, she became worried that her husband had married again, for she had heard that some men had done so. Other married women said that they came to England to ensure that their husbands did not forget that they had duties as husbands. All married women, even those who weren’t as explicit as Saleema or Zahida, said they thought a man and wife should be united after several years of separation. ‘It’s no good for a man to live alone,’ women would say, ‘his wife should be there to cook chapatis for him.’ They also said that children need a father to discipline them. Even some of the single women whose marriages were arranged at this time realized and accepted that one of the motives behind the arrangement of their marriages was to keep a check on their husbands’ activities. Imrana’s recollections of her thoughts and feelings before her marriage to Ijaz were echoed by several other young brides who came to England at this time:

You want to know how I came to be living here? Well, you might not think so now, but when Ijaz was first here, he got into bad company and his uncle was not much better. It is not surprising really, men here on their own. And he was only 19 at the time. But soon his parents got to hear that he had an English girlfriend: at least, that’s what some people from his village were saying. His parents were very worried. They had started to build a new house with the money he had been sending back. Other people got to know too, and his parents thought that because of it they would have trouble finding a girl for him to marry. A man’s family loses respect that way you know. So his parents came from their village in Jhelum to our city and spoke to my parents. Our families are the same caste - Pathans - but we


are not relatives; my father had known his father for some time. They said their son was returning for the marriage. You know what they did? It was his mother’s idea. They sent a telegram saying an uncle had died. It wasn’t true, but it brought him home straight away. Before the marriage, women in our neighbourhood used to talk to me about what England was like. They said there was no control. Men drank alcohol and went with women and no one bothered. They also made remarks, not directly, but I knew, about my husband’s behaviour, hinting at what sort of man he was. I don’t know how they knew. Perhaps they were jealous that I was going to England. Anyway, it made me very frightened about the marriage and I could hardly eat for weeks before it. But I couldn’t refuse this marriage. My parents had decided and were so proud to have a daughter going to England. I couldn’t shatter their hopes. But since I’ve been here, as far as I know, my husband has been a good husband to me.

In most cases, the effect of the arrival of wives was that the relationships with English girls eventually if not immediately ceased. Amjad’s English wife was not prepared to live as a co-wife, and no doubt Amina made her feelings about the situation clear during the year that they lived together. Several men and women said that most marriages or liaisons with English women ended because the women would not conform to the ideals expected of a Muslim wife; they were too independent. In one case, however, in which a Pakistani wife joined a husband married by Islamic law only (thus avoiding bigamy) to an English woman, an effect of the first wife’s presence was that the English wife started to conform to the ideals expected of a Pakistani Muslim wife. She now wears the traditional Panjabi shalwar-qamis, comprising baggy trousers and a long tunic top and covers her head with a dupatta (headscarf), behaves demurely in the presence of her husband’s kin, avoids speaking to unrelated men and only leaves the house to go shopping or to visit the doctor. For this she wins a certain approval from other Pakistani women, including the co-wife. She is considered very respectable as a white woman who has rejected English ways and Christianity.

Even when a man who had an English girlfriend or wife was not joined by a wife from Pakistan, the arrival of Pakistani women and children exerted a moral pressure that often broke the relationship. In some ten or a dozen cases where marriages with English women have lasted, the couples comprise a separate circle of friends which is not entirely independent of the community but is nevertheless regarded as morally on the edge of it. The belief that all western women are promiscuous and unfaithful continues to affect the way in which the English, or in some cases, European, wives are viewed. Pakistani men, speaking about the English wife of one prominent ex-serviceman, have remarked ‘all the men had her in the old days’; as a result, her husband commands little respect, because


perhaps the greatest insult to a man is to imply that his wife has been with other men.

Not surprisingly, men have given differing reasons for the arrival of women and children from the one given by women. It is possible that some men, like Habib, did regard calling their wives and children to Britain as a means of bringing sons into the country, though it seems unlikely that the majority of men, especially the unmarried men, made such conscious long-term plans. Men also spoke of the advantages for their wives and children of the superior health care in Britain compared with Pakistan which has no National Health Service. Others also greatly valued the educational facilities available in Britain and some men explicitly said that they had brought their families to Britain ‘for the education’. From the point of view of the women, however, the fact that they felt they would have an important role to play and on arrival found that this was indeed the case is important in understanding why women have stayed in Britain.

It cannot be assumed that because Pakistanis are now living in Britain permanently, fundamental changes in their values and intentions will necessarily take place. Indeed, given the intentions of migrants’ relatives in Pakistan and of wives joining their husbands in Britain, it is more appropriate to ask whether, and how, over the years, the arrival of women and children has contributed to ensuring that obligations to kin continue to be fulfilled and that the culture is maintained in the new environment.

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