Ruqyia was born in Karachi, Pakistan in 1937. When she was ten, after centuries of combined Indian State and British Crown rule, full power was returned to the Indian people. The aim of Partition was to divide India into two separate nations – India and Pakistan. It took just two months for the dividing line to be drawn and 12 million refugees were created overnight. Pakistan was now an independent Muslim country comprising two states – East and West Pakistan. They lay 1500 miles apart, with India and its Hindu population in between. The resulting panicked mass migration was marked by violence – around one million people are estimated to have been killed. During this time Ruqyia’s mother died, and the family moved from India to the new Pakistan.
Ruqyia attended primary school but there was no high school in the town where she lived. Her father obtained a transfer to Gujarat to ensure that she could attend high school there and she was the first girl in her family to do so. This enabled her to go on and study for a degree.
Ruqyia came to the UK in 1967, and to Accrington in 1970. She worked in the Prestige factory in Burnley for a year before starting to run classes at home, teaching Urdu and Punjabi to children from the local Asian community. From this small beginning she went on to teach English to the adults for the local authority. The Urdu classes became so successful that Ruqyia was able to buy a house with another lady from the Asian community, to run the classes in. This move was not popular within the Asian community and some of the men tried to persuade Ruqyia and her friend to stop teaching, offering to buy the house back from them. However Ruqyia persevered, in time becoming a community worker and a bilingual support assistant in a local primary school.
The interview with Ruqyiya was conducted in August 2021 by Nasra from the Aawaz Centre in Accrington.
This transcript has been edited for ease of reading. Click on the audio icon to listen to the original interview in Urdu with Zulekha Dala from the Aawaz Women’s Centre. An audio English translation is also available.
I came in 1967 and lived in different towns, three, four years. Then I have moved into Accrington in 1970. And since then I have lived in Accrington.
My date of birth is first of January 1937 I was born in Karachi in Pakistan.
My dad used to work on the railway in Karachi. Then he transferred from Karachi to Lahore. So we moved from Karachi to Lahore. In 1947 my mum died, we went to see my grandma when Pakistan and India became two separate countries (Partition). And we have seen some difficult times as well. When we came back from there, we started living in a city called Alamosa in Pakistan, where I had my secondary education, and I completed my matric qualification, which is not equivalent to GCSE in here, but near to GCSE.
When I completed my matriculation there, then there was no High School in that town. There was a high school in the next town. So then because I never used to leave my house, I started crying. I used to miss my mother and my mum and dad and my brother and sisters so then my dad got a transfer from Alamosa to Gujarat, for me (to continue my education).
So when I got an admission in high school, in that other town, I used to get a train in the morning and used to take around 20 to 25 minutes to get into college. So, my dad used to give me advice. “When you are in the train, just lock the door inside and don't open until you get (out at) your station.”
And at that time, it was only me who used to go to college. At that time, boys used to go to college but girls, girls did not get permission to get to go to college. So it was only me who used to, I was the first one to go into the college for higher education. So I completed my F.A. qualification from there.
There was around, we were around 9-10 ladies together who have completed the matric qualification. And then I started going to the college for FA qualification. I used to get the train there in the morning and there was one incident, where they have found a body on the road. A lady's body and I got very scared. So I told my dad, and he got transferred into another town.
Yes, there was a lot of other ladies in that town who used to go college at that time. So there was a quite a lot of ladies were attending college as well with me. And then when I completed my FA from college, I studied BA qualification privately. So I studied at home and completed my BA in the private education.
When I came in here in Accrington, there wasn't a lot of ladies who was working at that time, but I worked as well. And I worked in the factories. My husband had another three children from his first wife and I used to get a lot of problem at home. So I started, I thought I may start working. So I applied for a job in a factory and I completed a form and they said, you can come tomorrow for a job.
That was the Prestige factory (in Burnley) where they used to make pressure cookers. I used to put a handle to the pressure cooker. I used to do that. It was my job role to put a handle on the pressure cooker. There weren’t any (other) Asian ladies who were working in the factory. There were English ladies working there, but I was probably the only Asian lady who worked there.
I worked in the Prestige factory for around one year and then I finished that and then I worked in another factory as well. I worked around three years in that factory. Then I started teaching children Urdu and Punjabi from home. I started working from home, teaching children Punjabi and Urdu.
When I started teaching children from home, I had a quite good number of children and girls who started coming to me for learning Punjabi and Urdu. So one English lady found out that am educated and I teach children. So she came to me one day at my house and said,
“I'm starting English classes, and the (Asian) ladies don’t come and learn English. So if you co-operate with me, you can ask the ladies to come and learn English.”
So I started asking children that I taught, “will your mum or sister come also and learn English?” So it was quite hard work and I struggled a lot at the start because ladies didn’t like to come out and learn English. I used to go and do a lot of Outreach work, go to people's houses and ask the ladies to come and learn English. So it was difficult.
I think it was a like a kind of new thing for them and it was a like new step for them to come out and learn English. So that's why they were a little bit hesitant as well. So I did a lot of outreach work and used to go to people's houses and convince them to come out and learn English.
They used to go to, there was a hall in Charter Street where they used to go and attend the classes. My children used to help me a lot. They used to prepare me like a lesson in English which I used to deliver. And they used to make me a model and lesson plan and I used to deliver to the ladies. I think it was around five or six ladies who started joining English classes.
Then there was a rule came out that all the nurseries should have one bilingual staff. And then I found out there was a job in nursery, Springhill Nursery. So I applied and I got this job. So I started working there as a bilingual assistant.
I worked in a nursery as a bilingual staff, and the head teacher was very nice. After a couple of years, when that had teacher had retired and a new head teacher came, I had a little bit problem with the new head teacher. Because she used to go, “Why you don't go and work in another school?” so she wasn't very happy with me.
And then I started working in another school as well. So I think after that there was law came into place that every school and nursery should have a bilingual staff. Before this law came, I would just work there as a bilingual staff, but when the law came in that every school should have one bilingual staff, then they asked me if I wanted to come back into their school so that and I said, no. I was working in Spring Hill. I said, no, I will just stay here now.
I worked for around 10 to 12 years in schools and nurseries as a bilingual staff. It was a part-time job.
They (the other Asian ladies) said to me “Because you know English a little bit and you know the English language, that's why you have got the job. We don't know English language. So we are finding it difficult to get into employment and you know the language that's why you have got the job.”
I have done a lot of community work. There was one (Asian lady working) who used to work in a railway. And there was one lady who was a social worker. So if our ladies who had a language difficulty or had any problem like divorce, I used to go with them as an interpreter and translate for them.
I helped a lot of ladies and was providing a lot of personal support to ladies. I used to go with the ladies for all kinds of appointments and for translating. Yes, I have done two courses. I had two training courses at that time. And one was in Chorley.
There was one with my friend, she helped me as well. And she used to pick me up and drop me as well. So, she helped me a lot with, to get this training. If she hadn’t helped me, I wouldn't be able to do any community work.
I really enjoyed working in a community and working in school, they were nice people as well. When I used to work with the ladies, they used to respect me and because I helped them as well a lot. I provided them with a lot of help and support. They used to respect me. So I really enjoyed working with different people. And also, at that time, we did not have phone facilities, so we used to write a letter to our family members in Pakistan. So ladies and families who lived in here, they used to come to me for writing a letter in Urdu. So I used to help them to write a letter to their families in Pakistan because they were not able to read and write in here, even in their own language, their own mother tongue, they were not able to write, so I used to help them to write letters as well.
And I had a quite nice time. I had a quite good memories and a nice time with the ladies and with the community and I enjoyed living here in this community.
No, my husband did not really like me working outside (the home). He wanted me to stay at home because he was from a village in Pakistan. So he didn't like me working and I don't know really what really problem he had, but he didn't like me working or like me owning any money.
Then I bought a house for £600 with another lady who lived in the community called Mrs. Farooq. Because I used to get a lot of children who came to me, little girls and children, to learn Urdu and Punjabi, so we bought a house and I started teaching children from the house. One man (her husband?) came to me and gave me £600 and said, “You need to stop teaching Punjabi and Urdu to children.” I really don't know what problem he had, but he didn't really like me working outside. Yes, he had different thoughts to me.