Book Review: Punjab to Bradford: Life Stories of Punjabi Immigrants in Bradford

Punjab to Bradford: Life Stories of Punjabi Immigrants in Bradford. By Ramindar Singh and Kashmir Singh Rajput. Privately published (, 2013
204 pp.  ISBN: 978-0-907734-71-10.  £10.00.

Available at Bradford Libraries

Dr Ramindar Singh MBE

This book presents the lives of 44 Punjabi migrants who came to Bradford in the 1950s and made the city their home. With only a few pounds to their name they came here with great hopes and some with good academic qualifications. They were obliged at first, however, to take up unskilled work on the buses, in mills and foundries, finding their qualifications were not recognized in Bradford. They suffered much discrimination too, until opportunities arise where they could use their knowledge and skills more appropriately.  Local colleges, particularly Bradford Technical College, played a significant role in making this transition possible. It was good to find, too, that most of their children became well-qualified and successful in their occupations. As seen with other migrant groups, early arrivals often gave room in their homes to new arrivals, in spite of difficulties it caused. This of course had a substantial effect in promoting community cohesion. The reunion of families when wives came to join their husbands and find work themselves outside the home, must have contributed significantly towards social mobility of their families.

This book gives personal accounts of how the early Punjabi immigrants in the 1950’s coped with their frustrations, humiliations and discrimination.  After an editorial introduction explaining how the book was compiled, there follows an account of the Punjab and reasons of why migration occurred, and its process.  An account is then given of the development of the development of the Punjabi community in Bradford.  The main part of the book contains the stories of individuals who left their homes and families in the Punjab during the 1950s through 1970s to seek their fortunes in vilayat (England).  At the conclusion of these accounts there is a chapter entitled: Reflections of life through Mehfil (informal gatherings). Topics covered here are: Community spirit and mutual support; Understanding local people; Learning new work norms; Duality of conduct; Life in a male dormitory; Entertainment; Women’s position and experience; and Utopian Vilayat vanished.  Finally there is a useful Glossary of Punjabi words and phrases.

In their Conclusion, the compilers note how the Bradford that the 1950 pioneer migrants experienced is no more, and that their children and grandchildren experience a very different world. Reminiscences such as those here are important in keeping the heritage alive. Something, of course, which is true of all cultures, whether migrant (from overseas or other parts of Great Britain ) or even non-migrants. This book is a valuable contribution to Bradford’s social history.

Dr Singh is a former Bradford College lecturer, JP, and deputy chairman of the Commission of Racial Equality. He is author of The Struggle for Racial Justice: From Community Relations to Community Cohesion in the Story of Bradford 1950-2002. K.S.Rajput was a senior education officer with Bradford Council. Bob Duckett

Review reprinted from the Bradford Antiquary, 2016, courtesy of the Bradford Historical and Antiquarian Society.


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