I was probably one of, in Bradford at that time, one of very few Asian children in the school,.... there were pleasant recollections of singing songs and things like this in assemblies, you know, which was, which was quite nice, but er ... my main recollection of that school was that having told the school that I was a Muslim and I couldn’t eat meat because they didn’t provide Halal meat at the time that on one particular occasion a teacher took sympathy with me, because I was purely eating vegetables, ... she took pity on the diet that I was on and decided to force feed me a sausage. – So that was, that was [laughs], quite a traumatic experience really because, you know, having been told by my dad that we couldn’t eat meat and things like this that, I was force fed a sausage at the age of six in infant’s school. Not quite the sort of things that you expect in schools these days, but I just couldn’t understand her reasoning behind that, it just made me ill [laughs], you know, I was, I reacted quite, sort of, vigorously towards - you know, physically, so I was sick, because I was being, I’d been, force fed this sausage at school.
When I went to Farsley Farfield and you know, the most wonderful thing happened to me there because I was actually, welcomed and felt to be made one of the, one of the boys really, ... the headmaster at the time .... he asked me what I was called. I generally went by Jani Rashid ... and we wrote it out, spelling it J-A-N-I. The Head teacher decided that you know, the way that I pronounced it, it should be spelt J-A-N-I-E, and when he looked at it he, sort of, said, ‘well, Janie sounds like a girl’s name, maybe we ought to change that’, so he changed my school records from ‘Jani’ to ‘Johnny, so I became an English boy at that time, you know. ... But in hindsight you look at these sort of things and, and the Goodness Gracious Me sketch, you know, came to mind recently...
But you know, my whole, sort of, character was changed, you know, because he’d changed my name from ‘Jani’ to ‘Johnny’ when, you know, I was still six years old,
School, like most kids was always a challenge, meeting new people, constantly starting all over again. Not knowing the language, didn’t actually help, and a lot of the times people, we got into fights I would say purely because we couldn’t understand what was being said to us, verbally. But, I suppose, the body language said quite a lot to us and hence the reason there was quite a lot of violence around. And I remember whenever I got into a fight at the junior school I always took my shirt off because there was this thing about, well if I got my shirt dirty I’d get another crack at home, for coming back, you know, white, clean shirt going into school and coming back with all muck on it
We were very conscious of the fact that we had to be together because we couldn’t get on the buses
....we were attacked as we were going on buses, we were attacked when we got off buses. And the only way we could survive was to meet lots of friends from other schools. Perhaps that’s why so many of us are still in contact till this day.
I know we faced quite a lot of racism even the ones born in this country ‘cos there was some girls who didn’t want to sit next to us, things like that, but we just put it down to bad manners and sometimes we complained and sometimes we just let it go.
You know...first very important...that not all white children were rogues...I think that many many white kids were forced into fighting their own friends. I mean that happened with a very very close friend of mine who really didn’t want to join the white kids when we had a full-fledged battle in the school, it was virtually every white kid on one side and all the Asian kids on the other side and that happened in my school. All the netting was torn down and some of the fences were broken down.
..and in our classrooms, I still remember very clearly I learnt to speak English and I was still learning English...I had to get one of my uncles...you know he said to the teacher, I could speak English now, I could read it...why do I still have to remain in the stream learning English?
I mean the only direct racism I had actually was from the institutions, the educational institutions, because I remember when there was a sudden influx of lads from India. Up to that point no teacher had ever decided that my English was significantly weak and that I needed any kind of extra tuition or remedial tuition. Suddenly all these Indian kids arrived and I was told, “Oh, you have to go with them. You need the ..”, “But I speak English”, “No, no, you have to go with them” ..... Amongst these children I learned how to play gulli-danda, to play korada kabaddi which is kabaddi without the wrestling. ...... And I learned to play marbles and so on with Indian rules, you know, and I would never have learned them if they hadn’t sent me off to learn English.
And I noticed in Bradford that they had what was known as immigrant classes, and the first thing that happened to me was that I got put in an immigrant class as soon as I came into Bradford, and generally these were, you know, the children who had come from abroad recently and were all sorts of ages, so people in this class were in different chronological age, so there were much older children in the school in the same class, and essentially they put me in the wrong year group. When they looked at my report they just dumped me in this immigrant class, saying ‘oh here’s some other Asian boy that’s come to school’, type of thing.
Well most of the girls that I remember in my group were asked to not be involved in the O Level class groups, we were put in the CSE groups, even though you know, we felt and some of the girls parents that we could do O Levels, and I think that’s when you started to become aware of the, that there was all this racism.
Growing up as an eight year old in Bradford, some interesting things happened to you. The first thing that we faced was bussing, of course, and that was the education policy in the kind of late 60s early 70s to actually disperse Muslim communities because I was strongly in the Muslim community there, but it was really the Black or Asian communities at the time. And so I had a seven mile journey as a four and a half year old to school, which is unheard of today, and you could go up quite a famous road in Bradford, Lumb Lane, and could find something like fifteen buses that would bus literally hundreds of Asian children to all parts of Bradford.
I remember coming home one day after a history lesson at school and sharing the information with my father about what I’d just been taught that day and my father, sort of, corrected me, not because he was that educated in historical facts of India but - his own experiences. And I was taught in my history lesson how good the Empire was for India, and ‘we built the roads for the uncivilised people out there’ etc. When I came and shared that with my father, my father says, ‘well most of the roads were already there’, right, ‘some roads were built by the Raj, but they weren’t built for the benefit of the Indians, they were built so that they could get the stuff out of India a lot quicker’, right, ‘and more conveniently’, and as far as civilisation is concerned, you know, we were running around in silks when this lot was still in animal skins! So, I went back and shared that information with my school history teacher. I wasn’t very popular with the teacher after that.
I remember it was nearer Christmas and we were doing stuff in the class to make things and stuff for Christmas. One of the kids said to me, “Oh, go back to the jungle”, or whatever. Something like that. And there was this teacher, and it was interesting, I don’t remember any of the names of all the other teachers but I always remember him. On one level I was quite frightened of him ‘cos he was always quite strict and red-faced, Mr Wilkinson, and I remember him, kind of making a really big issue of it … He stopped the class and he said that, “I’m not having any of that”, and he said to this kid, this white boy who’d said it to me, he said, “Oh, you know when we were still in caves and we didn’t have a language, Shanaaz’s people were in silks and had languages and, you know, discovered all sorts of things, and you know, she doesn’t come from a jungle”. And I suppose that stuck with me because it was somebody standing up for me.
There was one particular guy whose name was James - was the sort of school bully basically – he decided to call me a ‘monkey’. So first of all he started sort of calling me a ‘monkey’, and then he started calling me a ‘Paki’, erm, and then a ‘blackie’. And being a bully, he’d sort of managed to get other school children, you know, to sort of, call me names and that culminated in a fight, eventually, and it was in fact a student teacher that stopped the fight, and you know, he’d obviously had problems with this bully as well, because his remark to me was, you know, ‘next time I should hit him harder’.
Well most Friday afternoons, but particularly sort of end of term or holidays, last day before the holidays were the very common Paki Bashing days….
I think what maybe inspired us to change a little bit was that there was a particular English teacher … and he was saying he would be giving out certain things, you know, results. And we said, “Well, can’t you give them out today? We might not be sort of here on Friday”. And people were a little bit more open with him I think. And he said, “Well …” He took three or four of us to the side and said, “I know exactly what’s going on, you know. And I know why you won’t be here, but … You could ask why school doesn’t do anything about it but I’m not …” “But I’m more interested in you, what can you do about it? ....
And I think that really, that really kind of inspired us that, “Well actually do we need to take a different approach?” you know. And we did....
And I think that Friday afternoon we did go back to school. We didn’t actually stay off school and there was about four of us who went to the local shop and he was on his own actually walking towards the shop. .... We kind of reached a point where we’re literally a yard away from him and he stopped. And we stopped. And he did say, you know. “Get out me way you fucking Pakis”. And we looked at each other and said, “We’re not going anywhere. If you want to walk either through us or you can walk round us. It’s your choice today.” ... And he did, after about a minute’s stare, he did walk around us and actually, sort of, you know, head down and just walked off. That was the most liberating experience I think. Something I will never ever forget.