Cataloguing the archive of Anwar Ditta by Project Archivist Jane Speller
Work has begun cataloguing the archive of Anwar Ditta. A collection which traces the extraordinary story of one woman’s 6 year fight with the Home Office to allow her three young children right of entry into the UK.
As Paul Gilroy eloquently describes in his seminal book, There Ain’t No Black in the Union Jack: The Cultural Politics of Race and Nation (1987), the double standards of British imperialism fostered the sense that Britain was the Mother country whilst nationalists from Winston Churchill to Enoch Powell strove to place the citizens of the Commonwealth at a distance and to ‘keep Britain white’.
Anwar Ditta was born in Birmingham in 1952. Aged 10, she was sent to Pakistan to live with relatives. Anwar married Shuja Ud Din in 1968 and they had three children. Shuja came to England in 1974 and a year later Anwar joined him. The children remained with family in Pakistan while the parents secured work and a home in Rochdale, Greater Manchester.
In 1962, 1968 and 1971, British immigration legislation changed, introducing three laws increasingly restricting migration from the Commonwealth.
The immigration laws did not affect Anwar, but her children had to apply to enter the country. In September 1976, Anwar and Shuja applied for their children, to join them. Both parents were interviewed by immigration authorities and in May 1979, the Home Office refused the children entry on the grounds that they were not satisfied that the children belonged to Anwar and Shuja. Anwar and Shuja appealed the decision in June 1979. Anwar attended an anti-deportation meeting at Longsight Library in South Manchester and decided that the only way to be reunited with her children was to campaign. In November 1979, the Anwar Ditta Defence Committee (ADDC) was formed.
Anwar’s appeal to the Home Office was heard on 28 April and 16 May 1980. In the intervening weeks, the ADDC organised rallies and demonstrations in towns and cities all over England – many of which Anwar spoke at or attended in person. The incredible reach of the ADDC campaign is evidenced in the archive, not only in the ADDC campaign material and letters lobbying MPs, but also through the support of black power groups, far left groups, trade unions and women’s groups. There is a fascinating array of campaigning ephemera from these groups, many of which no longer exist. These include the Asian Youth Movement, the Indian Workers’ Association, Women Against Imperialism and the Revolutionary Communist Party. Legal support came in the form of lawyer and anti-deportation campaigner Steve Cohen at the South Manchester Law Centre and the Rochdale Commission for Racial Equality. H. Cohen and Son Solicitors were employed to take the case forward. On 30 July 1980, the court announced that the appeal had been rejected and the case was declared closed on 30 September 1980.
The election of Margaret Thatcher in May 1979 and her government’s right wing policies fostered the growth of neo-Nazi groups such as the National Front and the British National Party. The hate mail Anwar received is indicative of this wave of racism.
Late 70s and early 80s Britain was the locus of thuggish violence against non-whites. Black youths in metropolitan areas were made emblematic of a specific kind of criminality and lawlessness and were targeted by the police via the Sus law. Asian women were subject to ‘virginity tests’ at Heathrow airport. The archive shows us how Anwar’s campaign intersected with the many other campaigns of the time where individuals were being unfairly targeted by the State – the Bradford 12, Nasira Begum, Cynthia Gordon and Nasreen Akhtar were a handful of the many cases supported by the ADDC and Anwar.
The pivotal moment came in March 1981, when Manchester based Granada Television featured Anwar’s case on their current affairs programme World in Action. The documentary included the taking and analysis of blood from the family – a test they had always volunteered to undergo. The tests showed conclusively that there was a parental match. The Home Secretary relented and after 6 long years of separation the family was reunited.
The summer of 1981 was a shockingly violent one for black communities in urban areas from Moss Side to Brixton, as riots and protests exploded. Anwar’s fight was over, but she continued to campaign tirelessly for others. Anwar was not alone, as anti-racist and anti-imperialist groups campaigned for change and sought to prevent young people from embracing racism. It is no coincidence that the single topping the charts in July 1981 was Ghost Town by The Specials, released on the 2 Tone label. Ghost Town’s sparse lyrics encapsulate urban alienation, industrial decay, unemployment and the violent mood on the streets of Thatcher’s Britain.
Cataloguing the Anwar Ditta archive presents issues in terms of complying with the Data Protection Act 2018. Specifically to protect the identity and privacy of those named in the archive whilst still facilitating research access to this important collection. The Windrush scandal of 2018, explored on BBC TV by David Olusoga in The Unwanted: The Secret Windrush Files, shows how the ‘hostile environment’ for black British immigrants has been 70 years in the making, reinforcing the importance of record keeping practices whilst showing us that we still have a long way to go.