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Majority of British Pakistanis are actually Kashmiris (who speak Pahari)

Karamat Iqbal

Since 1991 our schools have been gathering ethnicity data. This has helped us to know how many children were from which ethnic group and what language they spoke. The exception has been children whose origins lie in the disputed territory of Jammu and Kashmir. Their ethnicity and language have both been recorded incorrectly, as Pakistani and Urdu respectively. According to the most recent government data, there are 374,031 or 4.5 per cent (the largest of the non-White ethnic groups) of children in English schools who are of Pakistani origin. It has been estimated that of this number as many as 70% are Kashmiri (see Shaffi, 2022). But change is afoot. The 2021 Census has created the category ‘Asian – Kashmiri’. It is important for the education system to keep abreast of this new development. 

The root cause of the miscategorisation of the Kashmiri community (and its language) goes back to 1947 when Pakistan began to administer (some say occupy) the disputed territory known as Azad Kashmir. Although the dictionary definition of the word ‘Azad’ is free, the people affected are far removed from this ideal – the Pakistani government, its army and the intelligence services control all aspects of political life while all the key government posts are held by people from Pakistan. Furthermore, anyone who wants to take part in public life in the territory has to sign a pledge of loyalty to Pakistan. As Human Rights Watch (2006) has stated: ‘Azad Kashmir is a land of strict curbs on political pluralism, freedom of expression, and freedom of association; a muzzled press; banned books…’ 

The problem of miscategorisation has been compounded by the fact that all the Azad Kashmiris travelled to Britain on a Pakistani passport, and when asked by schools and other authorities responded that they were Pakistani and gave their mother tongue as Urdu. Some British Kashmiri parents and their children still respond this way, which adds to the confusion.

‘The problem of miscategorisation has been compounded by the fact that all the Azad Kashmiris travelled to Britain on a Pakistani passport, and when asked by schools and other authorities responded that they were Pakistani and gave their mother tongue as Urdu.’

Over the years, educationalists and researchers have used accurate categories for the community and their language, when working with Pahari-speaking children. Drury (2000), for example, studied the early childhood language practice of three Pahari-speaking girls over a whole academic year. Robertson (2006) studied the parallel literacies of five Pahari-speaking children over a two-year period and explicitly distinguished their mother tongue from Urdu. While Rosowsky (2010) researched the wider situation of Pahari, drawing attention to the hostile social context for the language both in Kashmir and in the UK. 

At the time of arrival into the UK, the first generation of Kashmiris did not bother about how they were categorised. However, as they settled they began to care. From around the 1970s, the community has campaigned for recognition of its identity and its language (see Rehman, 2022). A number of the community’s researchers and writers have also strived for recognition. This has been the case especially with the younger generation. Ali (2007) focused on implications for educational attainment and Hussain (2014) made a case for the recognition of the language, pointing out that ‘Pahari is the second most common mother tongue in the UK after English’. Meanwhile the confusion continues as to what label should be used for the language. Nazir (2020) wrote about this ambiguity: ‘Is it Mirpuri? A dialect of Punjabi? Pahri? Pothwari? Apni Zaban [my language]?’ There are even two poets from within the Kashmiri diaspora who have added their voice to the recognition struggle. Zafar Kunial (2018) has weighed in with these words: 

Some say it’s Pahari – ‘hill speak’ 

Others, Potwari, or Pahari-Potwari 

Nabeela Ahmed (writing on Facebook in 2022) is much more definite as to which label should be used. She has allowed the language to speak for itself: 

Neither am I a dialect of Punjabi 

Nor of Dogri, Pothhari 

And neither am I limited to Mirpur 

I am Pahari 

Looking at the recent census, it would appear that the efforts of the Kashmiri community are nearing fruition. We await the statistics in the near future which will give us some idea of the numbers of our citizens whose origins lie in Azad Kashmir and whose language is Pahari. It is suggested that the Department for Education facilitate the gathering of schools data using the new ‘Asian – Kashmiri’ category from the recent census and use Pahari as the label for the community’s language (instead of inaccurate labels used currently such as Urdu, Mirpuri or Punjabi). 


Ali, D. (2007). Recognising the Kashmiri community in the UK: Implications for education attainment. Race Equality Teaching, 26(1), 26–32.

Drury, R. (2000). Bilingual children in the nursery: A case study of Samia at home and at school. European Early Childhood Education Research Journal, 8(1), 43–59.

Human Rights Watch. (2006). ‘With friends like these…’: Human rights violations in Azad Kashmir.

Hussain, S. (2014). Missing from the ‘minority mainstream’: Pahari-speaking diaspora in Britain. Journal of Multilingual and Multicultural Development, 36(5). 483–497. 

Kunial, Z. (2018). Us. Faber and Faber.

Nazir, F. (2020, November 11). Language homes: Pahari-Pothwari and English. EAL blog.

Rehman, S. (2022, June 1). British Kashmiri recognition and inclusion campaign: A quick overview. Daily Parliament Times.

Robertson, L. H. (2006). Learning to read ‘properly’ by moving between parallel literacy classes. Language and Education, 20(1), 44–61.

Rosowsky, A. (2010). ‘Writing it in English’: Script choices among young multilingual Muslims in the UK. Journal of Multilingual and Multicultural Development, 31(2), 163–179.

Shaffi, S. (2022, May 26). Sabba Khan and Maisie Chan triumph in Jhalak prizes for writers of colour. Guardian.