6 Kashmiris In UK parliament, Again

SRINAGAR: “We are here because you were there”, was the typical street response of the Kashmiri immigrants in Britain to racial cries over their settlement. It was suggestive of the fact that area colonized by the UK witnessed emigration to the erstwhile great empire.

But that was once upon a time. Now the Mirpuri Kashmiris are part of the British society for many generations now. Mirpuri is the second most spoken mother tongue in UK. In the just concluded elections, they have retained six berths in Britain’s 650-member House of Commons. All politicians who were reelected in 2015 were re-elected and they all had improved their tally. A majority of four of them are from Labour Party and two from Conservatives.

(A Labour MP from Bradford West, Naseem Shah aka Naz Shah.)

Of the six lawmakers, re-elected in the snap polls, the most written about is Naz Shah (Naseem Shah). She won Bradford West for Labour party, wresting the seat from George Galloway of the Respect Party. She had improved her tally in the second election while holding the seat. Her family hailed from Chakswari in Mirpur.

Considered a very strong woman, Naz faced a crisis at the age of six when her father eloped with his 16-year old neighbor in Bradford. Her mother Zoora Shah later remarried but they have severe conjugal crisis. He failed to adequately protect her family or give them economic security forcing them to live in abject poverty. Naz had been sent to Pakistan at the age of 12 as her mother felt she could be abused by her step-father. Then in 1993 when her younger sister was facing the same tensions, Zoora, her mother poisoned her husband Mohammad Azam. She used arsenic to get ride off him. For the murder, she was given 20 years in jail. With the support of the women support groups, she managed reducing her mother’s punishment to 12 years but by the time she was out of jail she had completed 14 years.

Naz at a very young age was forcibly married away in Pakistan. But she managed to get out of it and fly to London to support her sister and jailed mother. She did menial jobs to manage their survival and gradually got social recognition that eventually paid her by making it to the House of Commons, last week, for the second time.

While a few Kashmiris had settled in UK before India’s partition but the mass migration from Mirpur took place in early 1950s. Researchers say there were two compelling factors. In Pakistan, Islamabad had invested massively in Mangla dam to secure its water resources and improve its energy generation. The dam displaced scores of villages and a conservative estimate put the dispossessed at around one lakh.

British was facing a severe labour shortage. Trying its bit to reconstruct from the ravages of the World War, UK was particularly facing a crisis in textile and engineering sector. A liberal visa regime helped. Some of the British contractors associated with the Mangla dam also supported the idea and the migration started. Most of the emigrants used the compensation money they got for dispossession to travel to UK. Initially they were shuttling between Mirpur and Yorkshire – the main town where their second home in Bradford was, but later 1970s saw a stiff visa system. For some, it was really difficult to retain their jobs once they returned from home. That led them to invite their families and the settlements started.

With the passage of time, this population – now estimated to be more than half a million, could not be kept away from the political system. They started from smaller engagements with the Conservatives and the Labour and gradually improved their political positions.

In 2015, they were six: Naz Shah, Imran Hussain (Mirpur), Shabana Mahmood (Mirpur), Nusrat Ghani, Khalid Mohamood (Dadayal) and Rahman Chishti who family is from Muzafferabad. In fact five of them are from Mangla Dam region. In the last week’s polls, all the six are back.

(Shabana Mehmood, Labour MP from Ladywood, Birmingham.)

Shabana Mehmood is a high profile Labour lawmaker who retained her seat, Birmingham Ladywood, the multi-cultural central seat in the Birmigham city. This was her third consecutive win from this important parliamentary constituency.

A barrister, Shabana is the daughter of the Birmingham Labour Party’s chairman who hails from Mirpur in Pakistan administered Kashmir. She had graduated from Lincoln College, Oxford, where she studied law. Born and brought up in Small Heath, Birmingham, she was with her father in Taif, Saudi Arabia between 1981 and 1986 as her father, a civil engineer, was working there. Post University, she completed the Bar Vocational Course at the Inns Of Court School of Law and practised as an employed Barrister before joining politics. Shabana is one of the first Muslim women and also the first Asian women, to be elected to Parliament.

(Labour MP from Bardford East, Imran Hussain.)

Imran Hussain won from Bradford East for the first time on Labour party mandate in 2010. Last week he retained the seat for the third time. His ancestry is from Pothi village in the periphery of Mirpur. After he retained the seat, his village went into instant celebration. A lawyer and the deputy leader of Bradford Council, Hussain was defeated by George Galloway in the 2012 by-election in Bradford West, but has now succeeded in unseating Liberal Democrat David Ward. He was the first in his family to attend university and describes himself as “Bradford through and through – it’s where I was born, raised and still live now with my wife and kids”.

(A Coinservative MP from Gillingham and Rainham, Atta-Ur-Rehman Chishti.)

Atta-ur-Rehman Chishti, who is known as Rehman Chishti is a Conservative Party politician and was re-elected from Gillingham and Rainham, a Kent constituency, for the second time in 2015. He retained the seat third time in a row and improved his vote share. He is the son of Abdul Rehman Chishti of Muzaffarabad, Zulfikar Ali Bhutoo’s Federal Adviser on religious affairs. After Bhuttoo’s was overthrown, Chisti left Pakistan in 1978 and was appointed as an Imam in a mosque. Thirty years later his lawyer son is in the House of Commons.

(A Labour MP from Perry Barr, Birmingham, Khalid Mehmood.)

Khalid Mahmood, the Labour Party politician has been in Parliament since 2001 and has retained his Perry Barr seat of Birmingham in 2015 and now in 2017 too. A graduate of UCE Birmingham and a former engineer with a trade union background, Mahmood, whose origins are from PaK was a City Councillor from 1990–1992. Mahmood in 2013 was part of the campaign against the decision by Birmingham College to ban students wearing veils. During his political career, he got bad press in 2009 when he was accused of living in a five star hotel with his girl friend at the Parliament’s expense. Despite all this he retained his seat. In the last week election, he has improved his vote share.

Besides, Nusrat Ghani Shah aka Nus Ghani was elected as a Conservative Parliamentary candidate for Wealden for the first time in 2015. She retained the seat in 2017 too with an improved vote share. Her father Abdhl Ghani served as a school teacher in Kashmir in the 1960s before the family migrated to UK. Ms Ghani was educated in state schools in Birmingham and then at Cadbury Sith Form College and the University of Central England. She joined the Conservative Party in 2009, in response to David Cameron’s call for a wider range of people to offer themselves as candidates.

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