In 1962, in a small village, 10 miles away from Mirpur, in the Azad Kashmir region of Pakistan, a young man, with his wife, and small children sat, thinking about his future. Life was poor, the prospects were not good, but he wanted to be sure that his family and especially his sons would have the best opportunity in life. He needed to earn more money. Many of his close relatives had already sought work in England. He decided that he should join them for a brief period, leave his family in Pakistan, work hard, and return with his savings so he could secure a more prosperous future. The young farmworker from rural Kashmir took the significant step to move to England, and leave his wife and their baby, Jangir, in his home village.
Jangir remembers how his father described that experience to him, as he joined the other Pakistani menfolk in Derby. At the time, it was mainly men, who had done the same as Jangir’s father and left their families back in Pakistan. “They lived a simple life and shared a house with 8,9, or 10 people – they helped each other out”. England in the 1960’s was a different place, as the post-war boom was beginning to pick up and “jobs then were not difficult to get at all”. In fact the UK Government was encouraging people to come to work here.
However the dream of saving up a lot of money was not as easy as they thought. “It was a better lifestyle, they could earn more money, but things were hard in a different way”. The men had to return occasionally to see their families and might return for periods of 3-6 months, or up to a year. It was never their intention to settle in England and they didn’t want to lose touch with their loved ones, and the development of their children. After 10 years of this difficult lifestyle, Jangir’s father decided to bring the whole family to Derby. The thought was that, in a few years, Jangir and his brother would be able to earn money and make his father’s life easier – then they would return home. But Jangir’s first steps here as a 10 year old were frightening – “We were scared, with a lot of fear, we didn’t know where we were going” and getting used to it was not a quick process “…the first couple of years, I kept thinking, – what am I doing here, this is a different world!”
His first impressions were “it was very different coming from a village, living in a community where you knew everybody, it was a very different lifestyle… and the structure of the city, and the houses – it was very different from the houses we lived in – and we thought, ‘how are we going to get through this’?”
They first lived at Oxford Street close to the London Road Community Hospital where there were very few Pakistani families. “We had never seen a community that looked very different to us – I didn’t even know that people had white skin” There were no TV’s back at home in Kashmir. As a young boy his response to the English teenagers was unusual. However , a few years later when he met these boys at school they went up to him and said “We remember you, we used to come up to you, but you used to run away. I told them that we thought they were going to beat us up and fight with us….and he said, ‘No’, we just wanted to play with you and have a game of football in the streets”. From that time they became close friends.
During his teenage years he was always behind with his schooling as he came to England with no knowledge of the language. Although many children of migrants were in a Language school – it took him 3 years before he could speak fluently, by which time he had missed out on the other subjects. “I didn’t have a clue what to do – I didn’t know about Geography, History or Chemistry – I’d heard about them – but I had no idea what was involved with them”.
Fortunately for Jangir, during his school years in the 1970’s he didn’t experience much racism. He was a good sportsmen, and was bulky and physically fit but he took no risks “ there were boys who liked to think they were tough and we learned to keep ourselves to ourselves to avoid trouble”. But for others, “It happened , I saw other people who got involved in fights, kicked at sometimes, had arguments…”.
Despite all of his efforts he was not able to take any exams and left school with no qualifications in 1977. He was unemployed only for a matter of weeks and managed to get a laboring job in a woodworking factory in Derby. He progressed through the ranks over the next 11 years and then he was made unemployed as the company went into liquidation.
Although a difficult point in time it was the turning point in Jangir’s life. An opportunity arose in the Derbyshire County Council for people from minority community groups who needed to improve their education. This gave him a way to close the gaps that were left from his school years, get a reliable salary, and a change of career into Local Government. It gave him some insight into how community organisations and local politics worked and would serve him well in later life. Also at this time he got involved with the Labour Party.
Jangir liked the idea of helping to support the Party. He saw it as a way of learning about a range of issues within society and seeing how ordinary individuals can influence events. Slowly , from what he saw of others, he began to realize “ I can do things like that, I can make a bit of a difference”.
As he worked with more people, especially in the voluntary sector and became more vocal “ I started getting more encouragement – sometimes you doubt yourself, have you got the ability, can you do it? Are you bright enough? “. His poor education was always a concern, however as people wanted to hear what he had to say, his confidence grew. He began to form the impression that “I must be talking some sense”.
In 1996 the Council had available funding for Community Groups and Sahahra was established through the Pakistani Community Centre. This was a unique venture as it was created, as a day centre, for the elders.
“They never would think that they would leave their families – it was not acceptable to them that someone else should be looking after them. What’s the family going to think? It’s not in our culture. Pakistani elders are very proud people”
It’s a testament to Jangir’s vision that after 18 years, Sahahra continues with its work in its own building in Arboretum Park, staying focussed on its mission to look after the elderly men and women of the Pakistani Community.
Despite having a high polling involvement with the Respect Party, Jangir remained committed to Labour and was finally voted as a Councillor in 2011 for the Normanton Ward.
Jangir’s heart and home remains in Normanton and he has seen it evolve from those early days in the 70s…..for better and for worse. For him it represents the core of Derby’s multi-cultural community, with many religions, ethnicities, variety of shops and foods, and the historic Arboretum Park which is an important part of the district and Jangir’s childhood “…I used to come as a little boy. I used to hang around here for hours. I spent all of my youth in the park, since I was 10 years old”.
His plea to anyone is “ Come to feel Normanton – if they don’t come they won’t understand the place”. But he is also realistic to the fact that there is crime, anti-social behavior, fly-tipping and a generally poor reputation. In recent years as the ethnic mix has changed, particularly with more East Europeans, and Roma then the whole community has more challenges to contend with. Jangir is mindful that the difficulties associated with the integration of the Roma, in particular, is similar to those experienced by the Pakistani community in the 70s and 80s. I asked him about the perceived tension between the new and established groups. He recognized that there may be issues on an individual level due to cultural differences and “…they (Roma) don’t mix with other communities but in time when they get to know each other, and with the children going to school together – I don’t think it will be a major issue”.
He reflects back on the original intention of his father which was to make money and to give the family a better life back in Pakistan. But in the process of achieving that he didn’t expect that his family would learn to love this society and ultimately see this place as their home.
“Today, the new generation would say , ‘Britain is my country ,what’s different between me and you’. Our generation, we are now part of this society and feel that we are British, I’m proud to wear this badge [“Proud of Derby”] . Derby means everything for what it has done for me, this is my home. With our children, you can’t even have a slight doubt that this is where they belong, this is where their home is. I’ve spent most of my life here. I can’t even visualise some of the early bits of my life in Pakistan. Here is where my life started from .”
In the process of overcoming the challenges of emigrating, learning the language, and integrating into Derby life, his outlook has completely changed. Perhaps this represents an interesting optimism about the range of people who have settled in this city in the last few decades from over 100 different nationalities and that short term tensions may ultimately breed a more solid, diverse and well-balanced society.