As the child of Muslim immigrants from Pakistani-administered Kashmir, also known as Azad Kashmir (AJK), the region where most British Pakistanis come from, I did not really think about identity much until a few years ago. I am sure I am not the only one to have gone through this. Every immigrant, or child of, or any close relation, has probably had to decide on their identity at some point. But during lockdown, it was something I started to focus on a lot. I was not raised with the stereotypical brown TV and film, and it was a part that I pushed away, along with the language. I am learning Urdu, the national language that everyone in Pakistan learns, but not my family’s mother tongue. What’s going on in Indian-administered Kashmir angers me greatly, as does Pakistani politics and its approach to Kashmir.
At the same time, however, I realise the privilege I have: living in a place where, despite the racism (and it is there), I am better off than I ever would have been in AJK. I am a member of the diaspora, so my views are not representative of people living there and I don’t claim to know everything about the situation, because it’s not my life.
As mentioned before, I used to push away the brown part of me. I went through various phases, from apathetic unawareness of it, to complete pushing away, to patriotic, to even wanting to get dual citizenship. Then there was the self-loathing phase. And then there was the odd mix of, “I like it, but I don’t like it.” Now I am at a point where I am comfortable with my identity. What I have settled on seems contradictory. The British really did ruin the sub-continent – but at the same time, my sensibilities, my language, everything, is British. I live in a multifaith and multicultural society where, for the most part, we can all learn from each other, disagree with one another even, but respectfully. The British actor Riz Ahmed puts it best. In an interview with Stephen Colbert, he said:
I felt like I had to qualify that I am British Pakistani, but now, in this day and age, this is what British looks like.