Are Mirpuris Misunderstood in the UK?

The British Mirpuri Diaspora faces a lot of myths, so DESIBlitz seeks to cast a light on a lesser-known and misunderstood community.

Are Mirpuris and the Mirpuri Diaspora Misunderstood?

The Mirpuri aspect was heightened in these crimes

Despite being around 60-70% of the British Pakistani population, there is little awareness of Mirpuris and the Mirpuri diaspora in the UK.

Something that all South Asians will relate to is that there are stories and traditions that are often shared but not widely known. Many histories became blurred, especially post-Partition.

Such is certainly true for the Mirpuris and as a result, there are a lot of stereotypes about this community.

Amongst these misconceptions are trivial narratives that can quickly get into darker territory.

There are a number of negative stereotypes that exist against the Mirpuri diaspora which can have real consequences in terms of hate crimes.

The aim of this article will be to not only dispel negative stereotypes but also inform of the history of British Mirpuris, bringing light to a much-hidden and under-discussed group.

The Background of British Mirpuris

Are Mirpuris and the Mirpuri Diaspora Misunderstood?

The Mirpuri diaspora consists of people from the Mirpur district and the areas around Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK).

AJK as a region of Pakistan is known to have some element of self-government.

The UN officially calls it “Pakistan Occupied Kashmir”.This has aided in the erosion of the “Jammu” part of AJK, which was historically a larger portion of AJK than Azad Kashmir.

In Mirpur’s history, there appear to be a lot of nuances and alleged misconceptions in the historical narratives, including that all Mirpuris are Kashmiri and want independence.

Due to the way the histories were handled, it is difficult to know fact from fiction. Though we can say for certain that the modern Mirpur district is smaller, with Bhimber and Kotli separated.

The creation of the Mirpuri diaspora technically started with migration to Mumbai in the 1920s.

But it was the second wave of migration that ensured more migration outwards would occur.

This was due to the construction of the Mangla Dam in the 60s when agricultural land was flooded.

It is difficult to state just how large the consequences of this were. The older Mirpur city was economically devastated.

Though the Mirpuri diaspora exists worldwide, the largest group is British Mirpuris.

They are also the largest proportion of British Pakistanis, with that previously mentioned estimation of 60-70%.

It became difficult for many to justify remaining in Mirpur when it was easier to just work in other places and earn more. Britain even had subsidised work permits to encourage migration.

In the UK, chain migration occurred, and now we have multiple generations of British Mirpuris.

Mirpuris reside mostly in Bradford, though they also live in and around cities like Birmingham, Manchester, Leeds, Luton, etc.

Whilst Mirpuris have been a part of the British public for many decades, there are many stereotypes that persist through online forums posts and conversations.

Some examples are that Mirpuris have a preference for Mirpuri/Potwari over Urdu, alongside stereotypes of violent tendencies and cousin marriages.

This article will first handle the comparatively lighter stereotypes, before delving into the more harmful ones.

Mirpuris are Punjabi and Prefer Potwari to Urdu?

Are Mirpuris and the Mirpuri Diaspora Misunderstood?

The stereotype that Mirpuris are just Punjabi comes from language. People in this region of Pakistan speak a dialect of Indo-Aryan origins.

It’s known by two popular terms: Potwari and Pahari, sometimes Pahari-Pothwari.

Whilst it has some links with Punjabi, it is not the same. Punjabi itself has a wide variability, and some forms are very different.

To make matters even more complicated, Mirpuri exists as a dialect of Potwari, specific to Mirpur in Pakistan.

These dialects, under the Pahari-Potwari complex, have mutual intelligibility.

There is actually a fascinating dispute over language, which we see with discussions over the poet Mian Muhammad Bakhsh.

He deliberately wrote in Potwari, Pahari and Punjabi so that he could be understood by everyone around him.

Whilst there are people who wish to lay claim to him in their specific regional heritage, it cannot be definite, as Bakhsh was using wide language purposefully.

There seems to be a disdain for other languages and dialects, as Urdu became the dominant language in Pakistan.

Urdu, as the common language of Pakistan, is seen as the formal and dignified language to speak.

This was alongside English, which is still a dominant language alongside Urdu.

In contrast, Mirpuri/Potwari are seen as comparatively simplistic, and of a lower-class tongue.

A 2012 study by Uzma Anjum and Ahmed F. Siddiqi has demonstrated that these negative attitudes have become prominent when looking at three generations of Pothwari speakers.

Pothwari is seen as not helpful for social mobility.

The opposite negative reaction exists too, as a conversation with online activist Marium Jeelani revealed.

She spoke about a friend who was “not seen as Punjabi enough for speaking Potwari”.

Socially Conservative & Cousin Marriages

Are Mirpuris and the Mirpuri Diaspora Misunderstood?

The myth that Mirpuris are extremely socially conservative stems from an understanding that Mirpur is very tribal.

Many believe that it is an especially patriarchal community that maintains involvement in a caste system. This is through a disproportionate practice of inter-family marriage.

The stereotype that Mirpuris are extremely conservative is also one that is hard to substantiate, but it’s said that the Mirpuri diaspora is continually adherent to biradari (caste system).

This narrative should have disappeared but did not, due to the specific forms of cousin marriage, involving a family from Pakistan being married to a family member in the UK.

Biradari is a form of the extended family unit, and whilst cousin marriages placed importance on conservative values, it is not something that exists solely for this reason.

Family is seen as important amongst British Mirpuris, and it is true that Mirpuris do keep strong ties to the homeland, but this is to the benefit of Pakistan.

One way this occurs is through remittances, which have helped to transform New Mirpur.

Cousin marriages in particular are not a practice confined to Mirpuris, though there has been a 2009 study that argues the rates are high amongst British Mirpuris.

As a result, it argues that this has slowed down Mirpuri integration in the UK.

In 2014, research by Allison Shaw found that there are a lot of complexities regarding the practice of cousin marriage.

She found there are many different factors involved such as socio-economic, cultural, political, emotional, etc.

The problem is that the 2009 study is out of date, and not only is there a much larger British Pakistani presence, but attitudes towards cousin marriages are also shifting.

Younger British Pakistanis aren’t as keen on the practice, but they are not judgemental of those who do marry within families.

If we’re speaking about British society more broadly, 1/4 of all cousin marriages occur amongst the white British population.

It is made to seem as though it is uniquely practiced amongst Mirpuris and the Mirpuri diaspora, and that they are all marrying their first cousins.

Cousin marriage in this specific context is always viewed as negative, despite the fact that it is widely practiced across Pakistanis of all backgrounds.

Tied into this is the perception that Mirpuris disproportionately are involved in forced marriages and honour killings.

The Harshest Stereotypes

British Mirpuris Linked to Terrorism

Are Mirpuris and the Mirpuri Diaspora Misunderstood?

One of the most harmful of the stereotypes appears to be how Mirpuris are labelled as extremists or terrorists.

Whilst this ties into being seen as of lower education, there are other aspects of this.

In 2005, three of the 7/7 bombers were incorrectly attributed as Mirpuri in a report from The Guardian.

This information was not verified at the time and is now confirmed to be false.

But at the time there was a need to ‘explain’ where this violence supposedly came from.

The damage was done, the first real exposure of Mirpuris to the wider public was being falsely labelled as “terrorists”.

The term ‘Mirpuri’ is even used as a word or tone to express disapproval or criticism in many South Asian spaces.

British Mirpuris and the Grooming Gang Myth

Are Mirpuris and the Mirpuri Diaspora Misunderstood?

British Mirpuris have had very little coverage in the British press, and when they have, it has not been particularly positive.

One such example of news coverage is the narrative regarding so-called “Asian grooming gangs”.

Other similar terms like “Muslim grooming gangs” and “Pakistani grooming gangs” exist too.

This myth claims that there are “grooming gangs” consisting of Pakistani men disproportionately targeting young women to sexually abuse them.

Grooming gangs is a colloquial term that does not at all exist in the legal and social frameworks.

This is because the actual crime that is being referred to is known as “child group sexual exploitation”.

In the UK, there have been many high-profile cases of this crime.

Some of the most well-known incidents which had British Pakistani offenders were the cases in Rotherham and the Oxford grooming case of 2013. As described by The Guardian:

“Eight members of a ‘predatory and cynical’ gang have been jailed for grooming and sexually assaulting vulnerable girls as young as 13 in Oxford over a seven-year period.

“The men plied five victims with alcohol and drugs and groomed them using flattery and by giving them a sense of belonging by the gang.”

The Mirpuri aspect was heightened in these crimes.

This gets tied into the myth of Mirpuris being extremely socially conservative, and it is due to these “rural, patriarchal societies” that this occurs. This myth too persists in South Asian spaces.

A Pakistani news report from 2016 even praised a separation of “Mirpuris” from “Pakistanis”, as the ‘true’ perpetrators of grooming gangs.

The problem is, the narratives regarding British Pakistanis/Mirpuris completely disintegrate to any scrutiny.

Research by Dr. Ella Cockbain and Dr. Waqas Tufail found that not one ethnic group is disproportionately offending in these cases.

If anything, at 36% the largest group of offenders is white men.

Despite this, a simple Google search can reveal that this particular understanding of so-called “grooming gangs” is dominant.

Many online forum posts also share and spread this harmful understanding of British Mirpuris.

Whilst no one wants to pretend that the Mirpuri community, and the Mirpuri diaspora, don’t have issues, Mirpuris appear to be sidelined as the ‘problem’ Pakistanis.

We should also be able to discuss unfair narratives without casting a net on Mirpuris.

It is also incredibly hurtful to see racism, Islamophobia and classism against Mirpuris be so casually prevalent.

With fewer direct investigations, the truth becomes muddled.

Mirpuris, diaspora or otherwise, should not feel ashamed of their own identities. Now more than ever, Mirpuris should be making their identities clearer.

Murthaza is a Media and Communications graduate and aspiring journalist. His include politics, photography and reading. His life motto is "Stay curious and seek knowledge wherever it leads."

Images courtesy of Instagram & Facebook.

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