Monday, 16 November 2009

Pakistanis in Britain: The Second Generation

Alison Shaw’s study of the Oxford Pakistani community was published a while ago, 1988, and the third generation of British Pakistanis is now grown up and quite the handful. Still, her information on the attitudes of her subjects toward us is worth reading -- and some of those attitudes, I think, cannot easily be dismissed as unjustified. Also important is the explicit contrast Shaw draws between the Pakistanis and the English in the levels of support they can expect from family and their wider communities.

From Alison Shaw, A Pakistani Community in Britain (Blackwell Ltd., Oxford, 1988):

Tariq had been seeing Rubina regularly for about one year without his parents’ knowledge before deciding to ask his father’s permission to marry. Despite their initial disappointment at their son’s intentions because they were already arranging a good match with a relative’s daughter, Tariq’s parents agreed to speak to Rubina’s parents. They rejected the proposal and so Tariq and Rubina decided to elope and get married elsewhere. When Rubina returned home to tell her parents of her marriage, her enraged father took her back to Pakistan, where, several months later, she was married to a relative.

When incidents like this occur, it is common for western observers to view them as evidence of the clash between cultures which they expect the second generation will inevitably experience as a result of being brought up and educated in Britain. The assumption is that because the second generation have been at school in Britain and imbued with western values, they will reject a culture which is seen to deprive them of many fundamental liberties, such as choice of career and marriage partner.
Have there in fact been any such changes in attitude among the second generation educated in Britain? Are they less likely to comply with their families and biradari over participation in family and community events and over arranged marriages?


[…] the attitudes to marriage and respect for the biradari of those born here are not easily distinguished from the attitudes of newly arrived Pakistanis. Indeed, a rebellious attitude may be found among fiancés from Pakistan. For instance, Jamil, brought over to marry his cousin, soon deserted his new family for the delights of London, whereas Pervez, who was born here, readily agreed with his parents’ plans and married his cousin and now works in the family shop. This range of experience and backgrounds is an important feature of the present generation of young adults in the Pakistani community. It means, for instance, that when there is conflict over education, work or marriage, it is likely that conservative pressures will be exerted over the second generation not just by parents but by their peers as well.

[Additionally] the young adults of the community always include a substantial proportion who have only recently come from Pakistan. The preference for marriage within the biradari, ideally with cousins, means that marriages are still being arranged between Britain and Pakistan and girls and boys from Pakistan are still joining prospective husbands or wives in Britain. It is therefore likely that the young adults of the Pakistani community will always include at least some who have not been born or have not been to school in England.


[…] These young men are westernized in that they are fluent in English, interested in western music and Sport, and comfortable in English company, where they move with a sophistication that their parents lack. What does this imply about their attitudes to their family and biradari?

It is striking that young men such as these retain very strong social and financial links with their families; even those who live and work away from Oxford come home whenever they can and hope to get work locally when the opportunity arises. These young men tend to spend their leisure time with each other and their peers within the community rather than with English friends and also participate in family and community social events. Rather than regarding themselves as financially and therefore socially independent of their families, they contribute their earnings to the joint family budget. For instance, Khalid’s salary has enabled the family to take out a mortgage on a third house near the house in which the whole family at present lives. The plan is that when Khalid marries he will move with his wife, parents and unmarried siblings into the new house, leaving his married brother and sister-in-law and their growing family in the first one. Mohammed Ali has used his salary to help his sister and her husband to buy a house; Zahoor gives his parents the balance of his earnings after meeting his own living expenses and Akram hands his earnings to his mother. In other words, although these young men have successfully broken out of the circle of semi-skilled and manual labour, their attitudes to the family and views of work are essentially the same as those of their fathers before them. They consider it their duty to earn money for the benefit of the family, even if this means spending time living away from home, as their fathers did when they first came to England. Significantly, these young men said that they had chosen their particular careers because these are ones which gave them skills that would be useful in Pakistan were they to return there. As will be discussed below, these young men also accept that their parents will arrange or have already arranged their marriages.


[…] Many young Pakistani schoolgirls themselves (like many white British girls too) see a career on the one hand and marriage and family life on the other as mutually exclusive, and consider that a career has little value in comparison with the advantages they have at home. Indeed some girls are confident that within their culture they have many opportunities that their English peers are denied and that they choose their lifestyle as freely as most other girls do. Several girls have commented to me that they find condescending and offensive the attitudes of teachers who assume that the girls must be experiencing conflict between school and home. Most girls leave school because they see their role within the community, in the years before and after marriage, as a more attractive proposition than the opportunity of qualifications and a career that school offers.

Moreover, it is important to note that, contrary to the popular belief that Pakistani girls are forced into early marriages, most girls who leave school at 16 do not get married straightaway. Many girls who leave school take on responsible positions within the family and community before marriage. Kaniz, Raila and Fiaz spent the first few years after leaving school and before they got married at home, where they took on a large proportion of the household tasks, looked after younger siblings, worked in family shops where, as fluent English speakers, they had an important role, or returned for lengthy visits to relatives in Pakistan. Girls who work in family shops may continue to do so after marriage. Shakila, who left school at 16, worked in her father’s shop, where she served at the till and dealt with large grocery orders, and since her marriage at 17 she has been working in the shop that belongs to her father-in-law, who is her mother’s brother. Her unmarried. cousin, who also left school at 16, also helps in the shop. Similarly, Farida, who left school and got married at 16, works in the shop that is owned by her father and his brother, now her father-in-law. Her presence in the shop has enabled her husband and mother-in-law to run the family’s second shop, bought at the time of the marriage. In the evenings after school and at weekends Farida’s younger cousin also works in the shop. She is excited at the prospect of having a larger part in the running of the shop and says she can hardly wait to leave school. She shares with many of her white teenage friends a dislike of school and impatience to start a family; unlike them, however, not only can she depend on a large network of biradari members to help with childcare, but she also can expect a relatively responsible role in the family business and participation in the full extent of lena-dena relationships, and hence a say in biradari affairs. In this respect she has more to look forward to and is better provided for than many of her white contemporaries.


[...] Most young men have much the same attitude to women and sexuality as their fathers; there has been no obvious change due to school, feminism, or the supposedly liberalizing influence of the west.

[…] Men and woman should avoid all contact with the opposite sex, apart from their spouses and immediate kin. For women, in most people’s view, this involves confining activities to the home. Men and women should also dress modestly. Men should cover the area just below the navel to the knees, whereas women should cover their hair and their bodies to the ankles and the wrists and conceal the shape of the breasts. Young women themselves hold these views of purdah, emphasizing that it is to protect men. Shabnam, who was eight when she came to Britain and is now in her twenties, said, ‘Especially before marriage, but also after it, women should not reveal their legs, should tie their hair, should cover their heads and chests with a scarf and should not wear make-up. This stops men from succumbing to temptation.’

It is believed that despite these preventative measures men do succumb to temptation and it is held that both men and women will then be punished by God. In practice, however, the woman is considered more blameworthy, for she is regarded as the temptress. A young married


woman gave this account of the punishments for failing to follow these rules:

The Prophet Mohammed was out walking one day when he saw a woman in torture, hanging by her hair, but still alive. A little further on, he saw a woman being hung by her breasts and then he saw a woman being put into a huge fire, screaming. Horrified, he asked Allah, ‘Why are these women being tortured like this? Please let them go free!’ But Allah replied, ‘The first woman used to tantalize men with her hair, the second used to reveal her breasts to strange men and the third slept with a man who was not her husband. That is why I cannot set them free.’

At the same time it is considered that women must be protected because they are the dependants of men. As one mosque committee member, whose views were shared by many younger men, said:

If you have something valuable, you keep it safe. If you have a diamond you lock it in a case. You don’t leave it for anyone to take. A woman is like a diamond. She is precious. You should keep her inside the four walls of your house. She should look after the house and children, and you look after her. Inside the house, she is in charge. My place is outside.

The corollary of this is that a woman who is ‘outside’, among men, unprotected, is ‘free for anyone to take.’ Western women in particular appear to break all the rules of purdah. They are regarded as sexually promiscuous, moving freely from one man to another, behaving and dressing in order to provoke men. A woman out alone is in effect asking for sexual relations with a man. Rape, young and older men have insisted, is always the woman’s fault, because it is the natural result of a woman dressing provocatively and being out alone. In this view, western women are simultaneously exciting and despised for having no sense of shame and being ‘used by more than one man; like prostitutes’. As the mosque committee president quoted above said, ‘Women are exploited in English society. They are like toys for men to play with. They are cheap. Women are out on the streets, in shops, on the television. They work like slaves for a pittance in factories, in shops and as cleaners. There’s no respect for them.’

The same man’s wife showed what she thought of English women by pulling her shalwar tight across her buttocks, loosening her hair and swaying her hips, in imitation of how an English woman attracts a man.

These views constitute a general stereotype of English women, but are not confined to them, for the same is thought of women within the Asian


community who are known, or suspected to be, sexually promiscuous. Asian girls who go to college, or work, or cut their hair short, or wear western dress are assumed to be very ‘modern’ and to have several boyfriends, like English girls. The rumours that circulate about them are based on the same prejudices with which English women are viewed; indeed, such girls have been slandered as desi goris (literally, ‘home-made white women’). One man regarded the Asian women he had slept with as ‘no better’ than English women.

What these attitudes amount to is that the same double standard held by many first-generation men is now held by many men of the second generation. A man’s own wife, sisters and daughters are regarded as, and expected to be, pure and chaste, while all other women are regarded as potential sexual partners. Many married men who do not expect their wives to go out in mixed company go themselves to attend mixed gatherings where they socialize with women. Pre- and extra-marital sexual affairs are generally kept hidden from all other family members. Moreover, many second-generation men, like the first generation before them, believe that because most English women do not share Islamic moral values, there is no contradiction between upholding the Muslim community’s moral values on one hand and taking advantage of women who do not share these moral codes on the other. Izhar, for instance, is an unmarried twenty-two year old who has recently applied for his father’s brother’s daughter to


come to England as his fiancee. Unknown to his family, he has had a number of English girlfriends:

The point is, English girls don’t mind; there’s no restriction for them. In fact, they chase you and laugh at you if you don’t go with them. It was like that at school: the girls chasing men. I know I shouldn’t have, it’s against our religion, but how could I refuse? It’s natural for a man to feel like that; you can’t really avoid it. I blame the western system. I was in a mixed school and it was too free - all the boys thought about was the girls, and all the girls thought about was the boys.

Izhar is not unusual in his attitudes and behaviour. Almost all of the unmarried men among the young adults surveyed above have had clandestine relationships with English girls, yet do not feel that this contradicts their acceptance of an arranged marriage or the Islamic moral code. It is tacitly accepted by most men and women that men will have girlfriends because ‘men are like that’ and because English girls are easily available, yet parents avoid discussing the subject of pre-marital sex, unless to condemn it, and the sons keep their relationships hidden from relatives and people who know them in the community. However, one mother, unusual for her bluntness, admitted that she had encouraged her son to find a girlfriend:

When he first started at university, he kept on asking us to arrange his marriage as soon as possible. I was worried, because I thought it would be better for him to wait about five years, until he was qualified and had got a job. After all, he is only twenty, and when you marry, it’s for life. We talked about it, and it seemed that he was worried about sex. All his friends had girlfriends or were married or getting married. So I told him he should enjoy himself first, before he gets married. A boy should have some experience, and there are plenty of English girls around.

Incidents like those involving Rubina and Jamila are therefore only public versions of what goes on, and is even expected to go on, in private. The difference, however, is that when a sexual relationship with an Asian girl becomes public knowledge everyone else, including the men who have English girlfriends, becomes morally indignant, for they have to be seen to be upholding the community’s values. Jamila’s brothers and their friends, who included boys like Izhar, were furious when they heard of Jamila’s elopement; they retaliated by assaulting her boyfriend’s brothers. One of the assailants said, ‘Jamila is like my sister; she could have been my sister - it’s my duty to take revenge on him for his insulting us like this.’ When I suggested that the speaker was just as guilty because the English girl he went out with was also someone's sister or daughter, he said:


That’s different. The difference is, English people don’t care. The girls don’t mind; you tell them you can’t marry them, you’re just passing your time, and they don’t bother. They’re just passing their time too. If their brothers or fathers got angry, we would understand, but they don’t bother. Mostly, they are not even living in the same place. How can you respect men like that? They just say it’s the girl’s choice, it’s her life, and that’s what the girls say too.


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