Remembering the Japanese Occupation

Singaporeans will be familiar with the 15th of February. It is remembered as the day the British surrendered Singapore over to the Japanese, beginning a period of Japanese Occupation in the colony.

While the fall of Singapore is often also commemorated with the sacrifice of Lieutenant Adnan bin Saidi and the Malay Regiment who defended Singapore to their death, I recently came across a rather unexpected anecdote relating to a lesser known person from Singapore’s history.

The said person is the former head of Singapore’s Special Branch – a Pakistani by the name of Ahmad Khan. His story which I reproduce below, was taken from the National Archive’s Oral History Interviews.

What truly is amazing about his story is the role of ‘providence’ – how often does the course of a person’s life change drastically because of a small deed done for another person? In the case of Ahmad Khan, he was at the wrong place at the wrong time, but saved because someone else was at the right place at the right time…

Happy Total Defence Day to all…




Newcastle 1 Man Utd 0

Today I take a break from discussing my thesis, heritage, history and simply bask in the joy of my favourite football team getting three precious points from one of the most disliked teams in football..

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That’s Matt Ritchie, scoring his first goal for Newcastle this season. That’s incredible, for one of Newcastle’s most consistent performers last season in which he scored 16 goals in all competitions (12 in the league). And what a game to break his duck, against Manchester United no less!

Last November when Newcastle took the lead away from home through Dwight Gayle, I knew better than to celebrate prematurely. You bask in the happiness when you can, but as a Newcastle fan, you’ve pretty much accustomed yourself to believing that some things are too good to be true. A Newcastle win, against Man Utd, away from home? Well, Paul Pogba made sure that didn’t happen – as the Toon were thumped 4-1 in the end.

And just as I was about to sleep and tell myself it’ll all be over sometime when Mike Ashley sells the club, a dear friend – who I have not heard from in months – decides to check on how I was doing, apologising for the defeat. Well, he is a Man Utd fan. And I sensed that he was full of glee that his team won. So gleeful that he couldn’t wait to gloat over the victory. I was pretty annoyed, not so much at the defeat but at his sheer joy in rubbing salt in my wounds. To gloat over a hammering of Newcastle is pretty much like kicking a half-dead man when he’s down. Apparently, he didn’t realise that Newcastle’s entire first team did not cost as much as Pogba himself!

So yesterday, as I tried to catch bits of the match amidst putting the restless and crying 14-month old son to bed, I was simply awaiting the moment where Man Utd would put the ball at the back of Newcastle’s net. I didn’t think it would be a repeat of the 4-1 mauling, but I didn’t think that they’d get any more than a draw. 1-1 maybe. I mean, let’s face it – Pogba, Lukaku and now Sanchez? But when the score remained 0-0 at half-time, I could sense a little optimism in the air. Come on ah Newcastle! my cousin sent me a message…

The second half was when I soon realised that Newcastle may just about keep a clean sheet! And who would be the architect of that but Florian Lejeune – tracking back superbly to deny Sanchez an open goal! The Frenchman may not have had the strongest of starts to the Premier League, but he looked assured on the ball and commanding off of it. If he keeps up this level of performance, 8 million pounds (a ninth of what Liverpool paid for VVD – sorry Liverpool fans, I just had to…) would seem a bargain!

And then, less than 10 minutes later, Chris Smalling decided that he would like to pretend being a forward and fake a ridiculous foul in front of the referee in Man Utd’s own half. I mean, seriously, what the hell was that Chris? And that needless dive of course contributed directly to Newcastle’s goal. Who else but Shelvey (who Smalling tried to ‘frame’ in the first place) to float the ball into the edge of Man Utd’s box as the away side were left watching when Lejeune (again) rose to head the ball down for Gayle to superbly heel in the direction of Ritchie. And if you’ve followed Newcastle last season, you know that if there is one player who will deliver, it is Matt Ritchie. And he did, calmly and spectacularly slotting the ball past de Gea into the bottom corner of the net. Well done Matt! That’s how you hit the target, Joselu!

Then Man Utd brought on the former Wallsend boy Carrick (his first game since forever) and Mata and the latter proved to be a thorn in Newcastle’s game. If there was a way back for Man Utd, it would have been through Mata. Man Utd kept up the pressure. And it was through Mata’s corner that Martial had two glorious chances to score. But he didn’t. (I don’t watch many Man Utd games but does Martial look so dull all the time? Come on dude, smile a little..) Gayle and Yedlin both blocked his asal main rembat shots.

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Towards the end when Man Utd heaved and tried to break down the Toon, they simply couldn’t. Dubravka had an amazing debut in goal. Diame continued his resurgence in front of the defence. And Shelvey.. Shelvey was everywhere! It was as if the ghost of Lotthar Matthaus possessed him just before this game. His defensive positioning, his tackling and his distribution were excellent. It’s almost like he’s starting to focus on the pitch (would you believe that?)

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And when the match ended, I threw my hands in the air, jubilant and beyond belief! What a way to end a winless run of eight matches at home? Against second-placed Man Utd. Sure, Newcastle were criticised for their approach against Man City at home recently, but you couldn’t say the same this time around. Yes, 35% possession does not speak much about their dominance during the game, but when it mattered, they delivered. They attacked, the made the most of a set piece situation (seemingly a hall-mark of Benitez’s Newcastle) and they defended with heart.

And the best thing about this is that I slept soundly yesterday and Facebook seems awfully quiet on a Monday morning – just the way I like it…

A Socio-economic and Cultural Perspective on Pakistanis in the Netherlands

Waqas Butt, “A Socio-economic and Cultural Perspective on Pakistanis in the Netherlands” in Pakistani Diasporas: Culture, Conflict and Change (2009), Oxford University Press: Karachi.

One of my favourite chapters – and its contents pleasantly surprising for its interesting discussion on caste (or quom).

According to a Pakistani sociologist, Hameed Tigha: ‘the social status of every Pakistani is determined by his ancestry, economic resources, occupation, education, sex and caste’ (Tigha Hameed 1978: 47). Ancestry, caste and occupation are very closely related with each other, because usually the occupation of the ancestor determines the caste or quom, of a person…

Some anthropologists equate ‘qoum’ with ‘caste’, others with ‘clans’ and still others with occupation. [Here, he quotes two anthropologists – Barth (1965) who studied the people in Swat; and Eglar (1960)] The general meaning of the word ‘quom’ is tribe, sect, people or nation. Both of them describe how each quom is named and membership of quom is achieved by birth which is not changeable. (p. 301)

There are some cases when the change of profession or class has enabled some families to change their quom names… A rise in economic status or change into a better occupation may lead to a change in status group membership, although this is not always immediately accepted by others. (p. 302)

Three of my informants in the Netherlands during my fieldwork admitted that they were working as a sweeper or cleaner. They are all male and belong to the highly ranked quoms in Pakistan, namely Arain, Mian and Awan. These quoms were positioned second and third on the ranking system of Barth (1965, 1981) and Ahmed (1977). A Pakistani from the Sayyed quom which is on the top in both the ranking lists came across me when he was working as a sweeper…

…the jobs of waiter, dish washer and carrier are considered to be low ranking jobs. But in the Netherlands many respectable Pakistanis from high ranking quoms do these sort of jobs. In the Netherlands, they consider work as a job, and their attitude to work has nothing to do with their quoms. (p. 303)

These excerpts are definitely to be cited in my thesis when dealing with caste. Speaking of caste, I cite Ibbetson’s definition as explained in Bayly (1997):

For Ibbetson, the Punjab contains at least four distinct manifestations of ‘caste’, once again overturning the idea of the dim ‘colonial’ taxonomiser forcing all Indians into the same stereotyped jati or varna classifications. These four different forms of caste in Ibbetson’s analysis may be summarised as follows: (1) caste as a bond of blood association; (2) caste as an homogenising designation for immigrants; (3) caste as a Bhramanical measurement of rank for those opting into the game of competitive status-marking; (4) caste as an occupational or trades-guild classification. (p. 210)

excerpt from Susan Bayly, “Caste and ‘Race’ in the Colonial Ethnography of India” in The Concept of Race in South Asia, edited by Peter Robb, published in (1997) by Oxford University Press in Delhi, India.

Social Life (Language)

The social life of migrants is in someways similar to that of Pakistan. Urdu is thought to be the language of the elite and Pakistani parents tend to speak to their children in Urdu rather than their indigenous language, Pakistani immigrants in Netherlands also follow suit and hardly teach their local languages to children… These figures clearly show that majority of the Pakistani immigrants in the Netherlands with a Punjabi mother language are changing their language because of their social conditions. They know that Urdu is the language of the Pakistani ruling class. Urdu is a language of the rich and the use of this language enhances their social status. (p. 306)

It is worth noting that in cases where second-generation Singaporean Pakistanis had migrant parents (both from Pakistan and speak their native languages to one another), Malay was used to communicate with their children instead. I argue that this is a conscious decision on the parts of their parents to give their children a head start in a foreign environment while increasing their prospects of an enhanced social status. Language then can be seen as a social capital invested in their children in order for them to survive in a new environment.




Multiculturalism, Religion and Identity

Munira Mirza, “Multiculturalism, Religion and Identity in Pakistani Diasporas: Culture, Conflict and Change (2009), Oxford University Press: Karachi.

The argument put forward in this essay is that the rise of religiosity represents a major shift in political life; it is not simply the continuation of traditional religious beliefs in Pakistan, nor is it a re-branding of old anti-colonial struggles. It is rather an expression of the new politics of identity, which has transformed the individual’s relationship to society. Being a Muslim today and practising one’s religion is something quite different to previous generations. It needs to be understood as a politicised reaction to the alienation of the contemporary world, which is globalised and depoliticised. (p. 275)

Although my interviews did not touch much on religiosity, I do get a sense that there are those within the younger generation who are (1) more religious than their parents and (2) are more in tune with a global religious identity (yes, the Ummah) than say an ethnic identity. I argue that for some of them, a lack of ethnic identity has resulted in a vacuum which is filled by a religious identity. For this reason, some of these interviewees are part of certain schools of thought and tariqahs which arguably offer some sort of common religious identity.

Religion as Identity

In our research, over half of the respondents, who articulated a high level of religious belief, said that they were more religious than their parents. Many of them explained this by pointing out that their parents had arrived in Britain as poor migrants and probably had less time to reflect on spiritual issues. Some also mentioned that their parents were actually disapproving of their increased religiosity, preferring their children to concentrate on educational achievement and getting a good job. (p. 275)

Personally, I grew up in an environment that fore-grounded religiousness as compared to ethnic consciousness – and look how that turned out. A desire to know more about my heritage has led to this. There are at least two other interviewee said the same about their parents. Their parents stressed more about religious consciousness and less (if any) on matters of ethnicity and heritage, leading them to seek answers about their ethnic identity when faced with questions about their origins.

Now I wear the headscarf to say, ‘yes I am a Muslim and it is an important part of my identity and it shouldn’t be threatening to you…” – Female interviewee from Birmingham.

This religiosity is not driven by social mores or their belonging in a community, but from a personal commitment or sacrifice that requires public recognition… The religiosity of younger Muslims is therefore much more centred on the self and the individual’s relationship to God, rather than the wider established community. (p .276)

Finally, this extract below (though referring to the context of anti-western sentiment) can be applied to individuals attuned to their ethnic culture have turning towards religiosity – because they find certain cultural practices counter to Islam.

But at a deeper level, the turn towards religiosity suggests a profound unease with the wider social framework and its values. (p. 282)

Migration – Ritual Attrition or Increased Flexibility?

Cora Alexa Doving, “Migration – Ritual Attrition or Increased Flexibility? A Case Study of Pakistani Funerals in Norway” in Pakistani Diasporas: Culture, Conflict and Change (2009), Oxford University Press: Karachi.

This chapter begins with one of my favourite recounts:

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I shared this with my most informative research participant, Uncle MS with the following words, “A short yet enlightening account on the ritual arrangements of a Pakistani in Norway back in 1973. It sets a contrast to the Muslim society our early forefathers settled in – something we may perhaps take for granted.

His reply: “Yes, especially when they went to a country with no Muslim presence. It would have been very challenging. In Malaya, they did not have to contend with these challenges because the indigenous people were fortunately the Malays [who were Muslims].

The most important duties a community has towards the dead can be summed up in four points: ritual washing, enshrouding of the body, funeral ceremony with prayer and the funeral itself. In addition to this the time between death and burial consists of many more Pakistani traditional ceremonies [including the] Khatam-e Quran ceremonies. The goal of the ceremony is to recite the whole of the Quran. The household has previously obtained the Quran divided up into 30 separate sections (siparas). When people arrive they are given a booklet from which they silently read. In this way they manage to get through the Quran during the ceremony. When this is done a platter with fruit is placed on a sheet on the ground. The chapter al-Fatiha is read and afterwards everyone prays dua (supplication) to bring peace over the dead. The most important khatm-e Quran ceremony is held the third day after the burial and is completed with a meal distributed to the poor. (p. 215)

I have attended a few funerals of some Pakistani elderly, and I have not come across such practices. Usually, the tahlil and doa selamat are recited instead. These are ritual practices among the wider Malay society in Singapore which Pakistanis have noticeably adopted as well.

Transnational Rituals

On the occasions when the ritual is completed in Pakistan, one or two members of the closest family usually travel with the body, although the funeral itself is organised by family members in Pakistan. Once in Pakistan, the body is usually delivered by the airline’s transportation branch to the family. The house will be full of friends and family in mourning. The dead person’s face will be looked at here. The coffin is then carried to the cemetery where an imam will lead the janaza prayer by the grave. Parallel to the rituals carried out in Pakistan, the remaining family in Norway will perform quran khwani, a ceremony which is held both on the third and fortieth day after death and which consists of readings from the Quran… (p. 222)

The Meal for the Poor

A ritual which forms an important element of a funeral is that of arranging a meal for the poor three days after the burial. On this day, poor people and beggars collect outside the home of the family to receive a meal, showing their gratitude by praying for the deceased… An important point here is that the meal is not simply a gift to the poor, but a gift which entails a return favour in the form of prayer… (p. 223)

The Meaning of Place – The Grave as a Metonym of the Migration Process

Metonym = A word, name, or expression used as a substitute for something else with which it is closely associated. In this case, the grave (whether in Pakistan or Norway) is used as a substitute of the entire migration process.

Although we will not know for sure, I believe that most Pakistani migrants who passed away in Singapore are buried in Singapore – whether the have families here or otherwise. However, commonly in old age, these Pakistani migrants express their desire to return to Pakistan to pass away and be buried there. What accounts for this desire?

When asked why so many are buried in Pakistan… they stress that the country of burial is the country where the main part of the family lives; where parents live is particularly important… The importance of the presence of the family has at least three elements: the family has to have a chance to see the deceased face as a last farewell; the funeral has to show respect for the older members of the family; and it is important to be buried in the country where the majority of the family lives. (p. 229)

I think in the context of desiring to be buried in Pakistan, there is more than just the desire to be with family, because for many of these migrants they have settled in Singapore for decades. Perhaps then it is a sense of nostalgia that drives them?


Religion, Gender and Identity Construction amongst Pakistanis in Australia

Nadeem Malik, “Religion, Gender and Identity Construction amongst Pakistanis in Australia” in Pakistani Diasporas: Culture, Conflict and Change (2009), Oxford University Press: Karachi.

Australia – Pakistan: Historical Links

According to the other view forwarded by Syed Atiq ul Hassan, the history of Pakistani migrants can be divided into three phases. The first phase (1860-1930) is the one in which the British (and later the newly ‘federated’ Australia) brought cameleers from areas (Sindh, North West Frontier Province, Balochistan), that became Pakistan after 1947. The second phase started after the Second World War. In this phase, it was mostly students and professionals who came to Australia under the Commonwealth Scholarships and the Colombo plan. And the third phase started from 1973 when the White Australia Policy was abandoned and professionals were able to migrate under a points scheme (Syed 2003). (p.167)

… The cameleers that came in the first phase are represented in most written records, according to Syed, as Afghans (Syed 2003). The reason for this, he argues, may be because the majority of them came from the Northern Frontier, close to what is now the Pakistan/Afghan border. Amongst them were also those Afghans who were settled in the areas, which are now part of Pakistan. According to Syed, around three thousand people came to Australia from the northern parts of the Indian subcontinent between 1860 and 1930, the majority from present-day Pakistan. (p. 167-168)

… if we follow Syed’s argument, that most cameleers who are popularly known as Afghans in Australia, were from the areas that became Pakistan after the partition of [the] Indian subcontinent, the question arises whether we should consider a number of Australian born Afghans as Pakistanis as well. (p. 169)

The Afghan Cameleers have always fascinated me since a friend first introduced me to them. I have been to Australia numerous times, and what’s nice is that they are indeed recognised for their contributions to Australia. The above-mentioned Syed describes them as ‘pioneers in the development of the Australian infrastructure.’ They were also responsible (to an extent) for bringing Islam to Australia.

One of the themes discussed in this chapter is the construction of identity. And something we must bear in mind is that identity is constructed with different reference points. What do I mean by this? Take for example, if someone migrated from Pakistan to Singapore in the late 1990s, he will easily identify as Pakistani because the national identity of Pakistan had been around for over five decades. But if someone migrated from the Punjab – specifically the part of that became Indian Punjab – in 1940, and his family had to move west to Lahore, what does that make him? Similarly, I have had people refer to themselves as Afghans or as having Afghan ancestry when their forefathers came from the Northwest Frontier Province of Pakistan. So really, in that sense, identity is fluid and it is constructed with different reference points.

Identity Construction

There are many sites of identity construction for the Pakistani diaspora in Australia. However, three stand out as the most important to both external sources of differencing and internal self-identifying: Islamic religion, patriarchal family traditions, and the gender relations that are so often implicated in religious and family matters. (p. 169)

What about the sites of identity construction for the Pakistani diaspora in Singapore? In my research thus far, the three that stand out are: (1) ancestry and heritage (2) language (3) culture. I will be discussing them in my thesis.

Family Traditions and Identity

…based on Berry’s formulation of a two pronged strategy of ‘cultural maintenance’ and ‘contact participation’ of diasporic communities, it is observed that Pakistani women are mostly supposed to adopt the former strategy and men the latter. Women are usually expected to maintain the cultural traditions within the family and men to establish contact with the wider society. (p. 173)

From interviews, I find that what happened in Singapore is somewhat the reverse. Migrant mend tend to socialise within their male migrant communities – with some interaction with locals at the mosque or as colleagues. It is their wives who interact with the wider society – primarily the neighbours. This is true for both Pakistani and non-Pakistani wives.

With regards to religion,

As mentioned elsewhere, most Pakistanis are not orthodox Muslims and do not engage in the ritual practices of Islam. In most cases, this is even true for those women who accept the traditional gender roles. Religion is usually rediscovered by men as part of a diasporic revanchism [revanchism = a policy of seeking to retaliate, especially to recover lost territory] that involves maintenance of patriarchal family values and gender hierarchy. It is commonly observed that Pakistanis at times become more religious abroad than they were in their own country. Men advocate religion within their families to justify gender roles. While this might be true in their country of origin as well, advocating religion and justifying patriarchal family traditions through religion becomes even more important in a western society. (p. 174)

The unique thing about Singapore and Malaya (as compared to the UK and other parts of the western world) is that there are Muslims in the host society. The pressure to be in an endogamous marriage is lesser, as long as there is a potential spouse from the same religion. The effects of such mixed marriages will be explored in my thesis as well.

On the whole, it can be argued that the process of identity formation lies in-between the needs to relate to the new culture whilst maintaining the actual or newly perceived patriarchal family traditions… the families in which both men and women have integrated well into the wider society have to face community pressure. They are seen as westernized and away from their own culture… Such families are therefore at times isolated from their own community. They have more interactions and relations with Australians than Pakistanis. Community pressure, therefore, also impacts upon the integration process of identity formation of individual immigrant families… (p. 176)



Kinship Obligations, Gender and the Life Course

Kaveri Harriss and Alison Shaw, “Kinship Obligations, Gender and the Life Course: Re-Writing Migration from Pakistan to Britain” in Pakistani Diasporas: Culture, Conflict and Change (2009), Oxford University Press: Karachi.

Male Labour Migration

From men’s narratives it would be easy to imagine it would be easy to imagine migration as a harmonious collective decision, as indeed the household migration theories of the early 1980s assumed… Significantly, too, these decisions were often made without regard to the views of the women of the ghar and wider family – particularly wives, but mothers and other female relatives – who would also have to endure the emotional turmoil of separation and subject their households to upheaval due to the absence of the migrant. (p. 111)

Generally speaking, we don’t think much about the emotions behind a migrant forefather’s migrations – and one reason for this is because it is hardly discussed. In reality, there is much that is suppressed. Imagine simply – for many migrants, there never was a chance for them to see their parents again after leaving their homes. Off-hand, I can recall at least three stories in which mothers of migrants suffered emotional and psychological trauma after their sons left. The fact that migration stories are often one-way (told by the migrant from his perspective) there is a lot that remains unsaid. Additionally, I believe there is a gender expectation for men not to talk about separation and emotions. All the migrant males I spoke to never talked about how they felt leaving, and even when subtly probed, they never revealed their sadness. In comparison, women  interviewees tend to be more open in their feelings of being uprooted and resettled.

With regards to chain migration and the changing idea of biraderi,

Men’s opportunities for migration were thus shaped by their gendered roles as producers, and by their access to migration networks. Male networks, mostly consisting of male kin or friends from the home village or town, formed the bedrock of early migration and settlement, providing the information and contacts needed for travel, accommodation, employment and starting up business… Within male networks, the ideology of biraderi that motivated flows of mutual aid and reciprocity between ‘brothers’ enabled chain migration to develop, giving rise to the patterns of local kinship that characterise most Pakistani settlements in Britain today… Indeed, the important of fictive kin has prompted a semantic shift in the notion of the biraderi in the context of migration to Britain. British Pakistanis sometims talk of biraderi to refer to those people who come from their home place, regardless of their clan, caste group or notions of blood. (p. 112)

And the reason why few women migrated from Pakistan,

The ideology of purdah or female seclusion means that Pakistani women have been less involved in labour migration than women from other parts of South Asia, such as Kerala and Sri Lanka (Ballard 2004; Mooney 2006). Female labour migration is constrained by Pakistani women’s limited public roles in education and outside employment, and a relative lack of access to migration networks. (p. 113)

Family Reunion

After being sufficiently ‘set’, pioneer male labour migrants generally marry or call over their wives and children. This represents a shift in orientation towards Britain as a place of temporary residence, where they would work and earn money for their families back home, to one in which they are sufficiently rooted to settle. (p. 114)