Pakistani Diasporas: Culture, Conflict and Change

Published by Oxford University Press: Karachi

Edited by Virinder S. Kalra (2009)

Introduction by Virinder S. Kalra (p. 1-14)

According to Talbot and Thandi (2004), twelve million people were displaced during the Partition process and this remains the largest migration in modern history. The broad implications of Partition are still being explored, but it is possible to speculate that this initial mass upheaval left a psycho-social sense of dislocation that makes subsequent migration easier. (p. 1)

While this may be true and useful in explaining migration out of Pakistan post-Partition, colonial migration from the Punjab and NWFP pre-dated the Partition. And what about provinces that were not directly affected by Partition migration – the NWFP, Balochistan, Kashmir. How do we account for out-migration from these places?

In crude terms, the argument follows that in a situation of capitalist expansion, people, considered as labour, move from areas of excess to those of demand…

Though Dr Ballard has written a great deal on migration from South Asia, his major contribution to the debate on labour migration from Pakistan has been to highlight the fact that there is a concentration of emigration from certain parts of the Indian sub-continent and these areas cannot necessarily be defined as those with the greatest excess of labour or of the highest levels of poverty. (p. 3)

We will explore Dr Ballard’s article in the next blog post.

Though this is a general piece with an overview of migration by Pakistanis to Australia, one of the central arguments made by Malik relates to the critical role of gender in the formation of identity in the diasporic context. It is the control of women’s bodies and their expectation to perform certain gender roles that are at the heart of the maintenance of Pakistani identity for migrant communities. (p. 6-7)

Yes, I knew I was on the right track when I decided to explore gender within my thesis. Something unique about the Singapore context though is that the spouses of Pakistani migrants were local or localised, so how did that affect the household? These mixed marriages did not always allow these migrant husbands to maintain patriarchal hegemony in their households.

Critical to any understanding of diaspora formation is the way in which identities, often taken for granted and assumed static, become challenged and thrown into flux. Hyphenated forms of identification, as in the case of British-Pakistanis or British-Muslims, often push towards the emphasis of certain aspects of identity and the neglect of others. Fore fronting British in these hyphenated identities may indicate may indicate some primary identification to the former and less to the latter…

One of the key changes in identity politics that has occured in the Pakistani (and broadly South Asian) diasporic context has been a shift from national to religious identifications. (p. 8-9)

What about Singaporean-Pakistanis? From my research, a large number of children were born to Pakistani migrants in Singapore during the 1940s and 1950s. While their fathers may see themselves primarily as Pakistanis in Singapore, their children grew up arguably with new sets of identities. To an extent, some aspect of Pakistani culture and identity would have been inherited, but as children growing up in a developing Singapore, they would be able to see themselves as Singaporean-Pakistanis. And what about the all-encompassing Malay-Muslim identity some related to? Could they then be described as Malay-Pakistani? Could there be more than one hyphen? Truthfully, my interviewees probably see themselves as Singaporean-Malay-Muslim-Pakistani (in any of those order.) And again, going back to what was cited on page 8, do any of these identities take precedence over another? Pigeon-holing individuals and their experiences into a set of two identities, held tenuously by a hyphen seems a tad bit harsh, don’t you think?

And I think there is something to that. There was one person I approached, who seemed rather integrated into the Malay-Muslim community and even arguably among the Arab-Muslim community, but when I spoke to him, he had so much to offer – names of his father’s peers, where they were from, where they worked, the communities they lived in. It was astounding. And this was a common theme I gathered doing my interviews – that there is this much experience and memories suppressed because there is no relevant outlet since there is hardly a Singaporean-Pakistani community in Singapore. And because there is no Singaporean-Pakistani community in Singapore, Singaporeans of Pakistani arguably see themselves part of the larger Singaporean-Muslim or Malay-Muslim community.


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