We organized individual campaigns with a very clear cut objective of exposing through the plight of the individual the plight of the community, We didn’t think we were social workers, we weren’t paid to do this.
We were virulently opposed to the Immigration Laws....I think it was in 1980...we organised massive movements of people to the demonstration in London, to a point, you know, where, I think, we took about thirty coaches from the area, and we always had a slogan, you know, ‘Labour/Tory both the same’, you know, ‘both play the racist game’, you know. And the situation’s not changed really, situation’s not changed.
We were giving leaflets out, knocking on doors, organizing demonstrations, petitions, going down to London and doing whatever really, to cause problems and bring the plight of these people out into the open.
I think AYM must have supported well over two or three dozen campaigns in Manchester, because we began, what did they call it? A Campaign Centre of Britain in relation to the immigration laws; but Anwar Ditta’s campaign was very significant.
....The Anwar defence campaign was important in a sense that it began to attract huge attention from all over, and Anwar Ditta was invited to go to a conference in Europe, and me and Qabir spent the whole night in my office printing leaflets for her to take it, so we managed to not just make a national impact we internationalised the defence campaign in Europe and elsewhere.
I was born in Britain. Birmingham. Lived in Rochdale and Manchester. My parents separated: they were divorced. The children were given to the mother by court, but my father, you know like my mother gave my father the daughters and my father sent us to Pakistan. I was about 11. And when, we both … My mother didn’t know that we were going to go to Pakistan. I got married in ’68. I got married in ’68. I was 14 then. I was 14.
And after I got married, my husband and me, we lived in Jhelum. Kamran was born in 1970, Imran was born in ’72, Saima was born in ’73. My husband he went to Kuwait. From Kuwait he went to Denmark, Germany. He couldn’t find work. He ended up in England. And then I came here in 1975. And after that it was just one thing after another. It was very hard. Looking for a house. Staying in one bedroom, you know, one room. And then when I went to the solicitor that you know, my husband’s an overstayer, they said, “You have to get married, because your Pakistani marriage in 1968 , it doesn’t count”. So we went down to the registrar and that was the beginning of my hell life where we put down spinster and bachelor. And that’s, you know, where the mistakes started and when I applied, went for the children … the answer was that, “These are not your children”. Then there was a public meeting about Nasira Begum’s deportation and I went down to that public meeting... and there was a question at the end of the meeting, “Has anybody else got a problem”. And I just stood up and told them “Yes, I have got a problem. I’ve got three children that were born there, and they’re not allowed.”
People from that, Nasira Begum meeting came to Rochdale.
... and from there the defence committee was formed.
… The first ever picket we did was in front of the Conservative Party, on Drake Street. And from then on it was just non-stoop. The campaign just grew, and grew, and grew. I was just an ordinary housewife. I was. Didn’t know anything from outside, or what was going on, or how to do things. But it was all the support. From everybody. It wasn’t just like one sector of the society. You name it – it’s like from Labour Party, Tory Party, Liberal Party, Asian Youth Movement, Revolutionary Communist Group. And I’m still really grateful to them. I can never forget.
Oh, it was a long struggle. .... What actually happened the first time was that I lost the case in Islamabad. I was told to do an appeal. I was interviewed for about four hours. My husband was interviewed for about an hour and a half. The result of that was that, “We don’t believe her. You know, whatever she’s saying, we don’t believe her”. Then I was given a right of appeal. .... Basically the Home Office was saying, “There’s two Anwar Dittas. One that married Shuja in Pakistan, and one that married her in England”. And we had to prove, you know, that I was the same one. So that was a big task to prove. By that time my dad got involved. He came to give a statement as a witness. My aunty gave a statement that, you know, “I went to Pakistan. Anwar was there”. I had to get a signature test, gave fingerprints to the police to verify an identity card that I had made in Pakistan. Photographs had to be tested. We gave that. Then I had to err, give a medical internal examination; had to go through a gyno, had to prove that I’d given birth to more than one child. You know, all these sort of things are very hard to forget. It’s very hard. [CRYING] And then I was told that, you know, I had to give blood tests. So we said, “We’ve got nothing to hide”.
I know I’m Black. I know I’m Asian. I know I was born here, but I was never accepted. Otherwise I wouldn’t have had to go through what I was going through. So every time they turned me down it made me more stronger with the campaign. People supporting me, backing me. And that is something that I’ll never forget in a sense that people believed me. Government never believed me, but people believed me. And they stood with me side by side, despite what the newspapers said or the Government said.
At that time Granada television, World In Action got involved, and there was a reporter called Jane Layton. She did all the research and, you know, she came to me and said, “Look. World in Action is willing to do a film, a documentary. They’ll go to Pakistan. They’ll do all the research. And we want you to tell us the truth. Are they your children? We’re still going to show the documentary. If they are not your children, if you are telling lies, we still going to show that documentary.” And I says, “I’ve got nothing to hide. They are our children”. ... So, they went to Pakistan, they saw the midwife who delivered my children, saw the priest who married me in 1968, met other people in the street, filmed the children, got blood from my sister-in-law and my brother-on-law, and then they got blood from my three children that were born there. At the same time we had to give blood in the hospital in London; me and my husband and the youngest daughter that was born here. ... World In Action got the (blood test) results, from the London Hospital, and the programme was shown. Joe Barnett (MP) came to see me, he phoned me first and said Anwar, I want to come to see you, got some good news... and he brought the letter from the Home Office, and he said to me that, you know, Anwar, you know, you’ve won the case. You know the children are allowed.
Universities, college, err, law centre meetings, law society meetings, public meetings, demonstrations, student union meetings. There was support groups everywhere in England – you name it. And I used to go everywhere. ...My husband used to come back from work, make the dinner, go in the car, feed him while he’s driving, going down to Liverpool, speaking at the meeting there. You name it, and you know, I’ve been everywhere. ... The campaign changed me ... one thing is that I became much stronger. ... Until today, I do support a lot of campaigns, and I still want people to fight for their rights, and not to give up. ...If I would have stayed in the four doors, nobody would have known about Anwar Ditta, or my children, I would never have my children here. And that’s the same thing I want to say to people, that if you are telling the truth, you go through a struggle, don’t stay inside. Go out and tell others, there’s a lot of people there that would support you and help you.
...Every time they turned me down it made me more stronger with the campaign. People supporting me, backing me. And that is something that I’ll never forget in a sense that people believed me. Government never believed me, but people believed me.
In terms of my immigration work around the same period, we strove I think in those days to personalise the cases as much as possible, and of course cases such as Anwar Ditta, a mother separated from her children, was very easy to personalise and became a very emotional and distressing case, and Anwar herself was such a strong woman that, like many of those who I’ve dealt with over the years, strong men, strong women, they insist on one hundred percent attention to their cause, and quite rightly so, and they direct, in a way, a tireless response. They have to and all credit to them for doing it. I always say that I’ve learnt more from my defendants or people at the centre of immigration cases, than from any book.
The facts behind the Anwar Ditta case were these: Anwar had been born in this country, I think somewhere near Birmingham, and when she was a teenager she was sent back to Pakistan by her parents to have a bit of an upbringing there, which was fairly normal, and when she went back, again still fairly young, she met and fell in love with Shujah who became her husband, and they had children in Pakistan, and later, maybe when they were in their twenties, I think, Shujah applied to come over here to work and successfully obtained work over here, quite properly, and then quite properly sent for his wife Anwar, who in fact didn’t have to particularly come as his wife because she had been born in Britain and she had the right to be here anyway, but she came to join him and then, perfectly naturally, they applied to be joined by the children that they had had in Pakistan. Whilst waiting for that process Anwar had a fourth child, but there were three children left behind. The Home Office said that these were not the children of Anwar Ditta born in Britain, but there must be another Anwar Ditta in Pakistan who must have been Shujah’s first wife by whom he’d had three children or they were somebody else’s children entirely and this was a sort of falsification of trying to bring over children that were not children of the couple. It was a complete and totally reprehensible and racially stereotypical set of assumptions, and quite, quite wrong. World in Action became involved and financed a team, small team of a presenter and so on to go to Pakistan, I went with them and we tried to trace every aspect of Anwar’s period of time when she’d been in Pakistan to authenticate that time, and the fact that she’d had children, and we traced the midwives, for example, who had helped her give birth and we took affidavits from them. We traced the Imam who had married Shujah and Anwar, and the final piece, and I can’t even remember all the different pieces of evidence, but one final piece of evidence that we found was her identification card in Pakistan which has to bear a thumbprint, which she’d left behind because she didn’t really need it in England where she’d been born but it happened to be still in her family home, and of course it was still her thumbprint, so in a way the Home Office case, the more you analysed it became absolutely farcical, that Shujah would have had to have discovered in Pakistan not just another young woman by the name of Anwar Ditta, but another young woman who had happily been born in Britain and who had an identical thumbprint to the one who was now by this time back with him in Rochdale, and the whole was nonsense and thanks to World in Action’s funding, they charted a small plane and took to the British High Commission I think it was Rawalpindi then rather than Islamabad, the Imam who married the couple who came with his goat and the midwives and everybody else, and they all came with these sworn affidavits, which they laid on the desk of the British High Commission, and all this was filmed, and then we arrived back with other bits of evidence, and then the World in Action programme was finalised and it was shown on television and it just gave the lie to such a ridiculous nonsense on the Home Office part, and the morning after the programme was shown there was an announcement that Anwar’s children could now come, which they did.
Now these days, of course, it is so much more difficult because with asylum cases we now have bodies of law which define persecution, which define this, which define that, in so many different ways that the personalisation of an individual and the way to try and humanise an individual plight somehow gets lost, and you get stuck with Court of Appeal decisions, and House of Lords decisions, I’m thinking of the present plight of the Zimbabweans, for example, where you have to struggle to get an individual through in any kind of humane way, but in those days, these kinds of cases were not, were not so numerous and lent themselves, I think, more to individualisation.