Pakistani diaspora in UK
During my recent visit to UK, I had a chance of meeting Mr. Niaz Abbasi, who is currently the elected Lord Mayor of Oxford, a city renowned for its world class historical university and its 37 colleges, all leading institutions home to intelligentsia and known for producing , interalia , the rulers, not only of UK but of countries the world over. Names include the current incumbent Prime Minister of UK David Cameroon, Tony Blair , Bill Chinton and others Benazir Bhutto and her father Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto read in the colleges of Oxford University. To be a Lord Mayor of such a city is a singular honour. Unlike Baroness Warsi who is born and read in England, Mr. Abbasi belongs to the first generation of settlers. His performance in the Party cadre won him councillorship and subsequent rise to the Lord Mayor position. When the Queen visited Oxford recently, Mr. Abbasi received her, wearing his elegant robe, which goes with the office of Lord Mayor. Mr. Abbasi is a practicing muslim and well respected person. He won his position in competition with local councilors. He attributed his success to the open and merit oriented working of political parties in his new country. It was educative to exchange views with him about UK and Pakistan political systems. According to him between UK and Pakistan political maturity the distance is as much as between the earth and the moon.
There are many other examples of people of Pakistani descent who have made a place for themselves in UK local government system or even in the parliament. According to news papers town of Walthamslow near London has elected a Pakistani descendent as Mayor who is one of the youngest men to occupy that office.
Coming to the diaspora at large, I got some mixed signals. The freedom to practice one’s religions, culture and customs has allowed them to adopt same way of life as in Pakistan. They have opened restaurants serving Pakistani food for middle class as well as for elite. Urdu TV channels including most popular ones are distributed by cable TV networks which keep them abreast on minute to minute basis about events in Pakistan. Local religious TV channels have also appeared broadcasting in Urdu and Punjabi. Mosques are in abundance. Some of the mosques are extremely spacious, well maintained and are over flowing with faithfull’s on Fridays for Juma congregation. True to Pakistani spirit, there are separate mosques for different sects. Halal food has been accepted as a brand and one can buy Halal meat from counters in the big super markets like TESCO and Sainsbury apart from muslim shops. At times one feels completely at home, In trains, buses and super markets you meet young men with beards and young woman with head scarfs. Studying in mixed British schools, you find increased number of girls with head scarfs. They are at peace with themselves or not? I am not sure. Some of the recent happenings paint not too happy a picture. A friend of mine hailing from Birmingham was to visit me but instead called to cancel the program. Two of the shops owned by him had been burglered previous night. On my enquiry he revealed that burglers were young man of Pakistani descent. Birmingham is the second largest city of Britain where every fifth person is a Pakistani. In recent days there was another gory incident involving a Pakistani house which caught fire. An elderly lady and her three young daughters suffered third degree burns. Questioning by police revealed that the house was set on fire by the head of house hold himself. Dejected by his failure to find suits for his young daughters, he resorted to such a cruel and inhuman action. They bring us to the social issues being faced by diaspora. About same time newspapers carried photo graphs of seven young men, six of them of Pakistani and one of Arabic origin who had been convicted of abetting teen ager girls to indulge in prostitution in Oxford shire. Unfortunately 25% inmates of prisons in Britain are reportedly muslims a disproportionately high figure.
This is not to say that otherwise Britain is free from crime, it is to highlight the point that Pakistani diaspora is not poised to reap full benefits from the opportunities offered by welfare state in UK. Whereas other communities like Indians are more than encouraging their younger generation to pursue higher studies in universities and colleges, Pakistani parents have other priorities. They believe in making quick buck by starting careers of youngsters in lower cadres of employment. In Oxford where a Pakistani Lord Mayor sits, the University, colleges can identify only a handful student from diaspora, whom you can count on fingers.
Then there is lingering challenge of senior citizen’s preoccupation which can keep them happy. No doubt National Health Service provides good health coverage but much more is needed. When young of family have gone for day’s work and children to schools, you see these senior citizens sulking around aimlessly on roads and in shopping malls, some alone some in small groups. A very few go to the library. Community centers for them are needed. One idea would be to institutionalize community activity of daily routine in the precincts of the mosques for which the Mullas need to be brought round. Such community activity can enable them to apply mind to solve some of the problems faced by youth regarding their careers as well as matrimonial affairs.
I hope leaders like Baroness Warsi will motivate and organize the community and take a lead to convince them to enroll children in universities, organize a viable non commercial system for arranging marriages and solving other problems of senior citizens. Community’s love for Pakistan is appreciated but they can become much more useful for Pakistan if they exploit the avenues of social uplift and higher learning open to them in UK and attain a better status in its multiracial society.
—The writer is former chairman Pemra, PTA, PTCL.