Home Oral History Interview - Councillor Saleem Siddique

Oral History Interview - Councillor Saleem Siddique


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Audio recording of an oral history interview with Councillor Saleem Siddique.


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Q. Where were you born?

SS. I was born in British India in a place called Hisser (?) which is part of the area now I think near Delhi which is the capital of India.

Q. When were you born?

SS. The 12th July 1939.

Q. Can you remember the house you were bought up in?

SS. Well point is since my father was a government servant and was employed in a Canal department, irrigation in part of India and Pakistan is Canal are the best one. He keeps on moving from one place to another. Since he was a middle ranking officer he was being moved more regularly than the junior one.

The days I remember are from 1946 when I was about seven, it was time when the Independence of India movement was at its peak and already Lord Mountbatten was sent as governor general of India. As Muslims we were supporting the Muslim League in the creation of a part that would be called Pakistan, the majority. The basis of the partition was where there is a Hindu majority, will go to India, with the Muslim majority, will go to Pakistan. Princely state which was quite an ingenious method of British Colonial Rule to have some of the part more direct rule than others, were called Princely states, and at a certain time they were even smaller than Hackney is, and the population was maybe one tenth of Hackney, but they were called Prince and other ones. Princely state will be decided where the majority is Hindu will go to India, majority of Muslim, irrespective of ruler.

Q. So at that time were you living in a majority Muslim area or majority Hindu?

SS. Majority Hindu because that is part of now India the capital. The time I remember is at a peak because my father, although a government servant, kept his neutrality, but obviously in spare time used to be active in the movement which was for pro - Pakistan and from my early days I remember that I had a political upbringing. I was born in politics, so to say. And that way my, although I was seven or eight years, but my political knowledge and others were far greater than perhaps a child of twice my age or

Q. Can you remember anything about your school life?

SS. Yes I may say as a Muslim I’m in the middle of my family. We are nine brothers andsisters who are living. I’m in the middle - three brothers and one sister up me, three sisters and one brother down me at present. At that time I was the second youngest, I had a younger sister than me. My father had the desire that I should learn Qu ran, which mostly in Muslim household is required that children should live, like you in your experience with the Jewish Orthodox, when that they should go to Jewish School. It used to be with the Christian also too, but they were only sent there but with the Muslim that you should go and learn the Quran and one of the cherished desires of parents is that their children should have the ability to memorise as much part of the Quran. My father first wanted me to learn that knowledge and for the first few years instead of going to my primary school as normal, where my other brother and sisters went, I went to religious school where they were teaching but at a stage he decided my progress would take a little longer than he anticipated I went to a primary school. But because of the learning of the Arabic, which is part in comparison to the language Urdu which I speak, is quite similar and is actually most of the words are quite common between the two. I had this ability that instead of going into school the first year and second year I could have passed the exam quickly to reach to the third year and compensate for loss of two years. That way I have not lost in life as such, but have thanks God, the grounding of learning religious knowledge at the earlier age than my other brothers and sisters even had.

Q. What was school like?

SS. It was, because most of the school at that time were single sex what we term here, even at primary stage I went to a boys’ primary school which was run. Because at that time although the school were where the Hindu, Muslim and other religious children were educated simultaneously. But I went to a…like in comparison to a Hackney Free and Parochial. It is run by a religious organisation but it is not a religious school. It is a common primary school like a secular one, but run by a religious organisation which means that I had extra coaching for the cultural and religious side.

Q. Did you enjoy school?

SS. Yes I always. My family, although when you say it, tribes? is not the one, we have an extended family like uncles, aunts and others, living together sometime in the same place and others like it used to be in the East End with the whole family. My father’s house was always famous for its educational surroundings. Some of the times even after the creation of Pakistan and moving into part of the Punjab in Pakistan, people travel as far as 500 miles to come and stay in our house, to have the.., because either the parents were not in a position to continue or the circumstances were that they found it that its good school there. When I appear in my exam in the school leaving which is equal to the GCSE like over here, now (‘0’ level in the previous one), I had two cousins of mine who came from a distance to study. We were going to the same
school together.

Q. So you grew up in a home with a lot of children together around you. Did you play any particular games?

SS. Well that’s - if I ever complained in my life, my father had a notion that playing outside with ‘common’ or ordinary children would spoil what he intended us to do. In the school I tried to play football, but couple of times I injured my toe and never liked to play anything. Or I played cricket with cousins and others in the street or in the field. But never liked. I have always had the habit of reading. MI sorts of literature, and our parents encouraged in that way. Even I had the habit, while coming back from the school having lunch, and reading the newspaper. And certain times I got so absorbed that I forgot what I was doing, you know to read the newspaper or something. Always had interest in that way, I mean in Pakistan because English still is the language, I mean its an official language, I read more, I think, novels and drama of Shakespeare and novels like from Dickens and other than students do here of equal age and status.

Q. That’s very unusual for a little boy, to be indoors.

SS. Yes, I always had certain times, as a kid you want to. Your parents thinking you are reading something to give to give you some secret insight. I had a magazine for example, not dirty in that way, but like a ... you know now because of the so many unrestricted publications in this country, certain magazines, maybe meant for children that you can see 16, 19 that way the different, 21 . But they are not ‘morally” as approved . I’m saying morally again in inverted commas which you take from the religious and cultural side. And I wanted to read something that was harmless, you know, nothing in that way, pornographic. But not supposed to be at that time when you are studying your work. I tried to look through and somebody from the family walked in and I just hide it. But have always had the habit - even still now, when I be, maybe 12 o’clock I like to read something before I go to bed.

Q. When you were younger did you have a clear idea what you wanted to do - career wise?

SS. Not at the high school level, but when I was entering to my further education, I had a desire, on the basis of my mother’s inspiration, which I say it has contributed towards my attitude to life to help others. What brought me into politics, what I do, always has been...To give you a small example, I was about 10 or even less and I used to go to school at different times. In Pakistan certain schools start different times and I used to do the home shopping for my mother, you know for the whole, days shopping. Because of the atmospheric, lets say climatic condition, we do not like to store more. But at that time it was the fresh - brought daily I used to go to do the shopping and one of our neighbours who was - she was a widow - and had limited means at her disposal money wise, used to come and ask my mother can I come and do her shopping. Normally, her shopping was in such a small quantity that I felt.. .for example if I’m buying a kilo of meat and she asks me only to buy 2 ounces I felt to ask a butcher to give me two ounces of meat for her - you know, you understand what I mean? Or a half a pound of potatoes of something like that at. And one day I refused to do her shopping and my mother asked me, ‘Saleem, let me ask you a question’, and I said, ‘Yes mum’, and she said, ‘Put me in her place and you are her son and if I’m asking and you as her son refuse - How will I be feeling? And that gave me the - always in my life, now I’m 54 plus, I remember that attack which I told you, prompted from my upbringing, that to help someone who is in need of my help, has been carried. I always remember that she taught me in a very polite but firm way that I should not look down upon those who are in need. And always be ready to help.

Q. So when you left school how old were you when you left school?

SS. About 17.

Q. So what did you do then?

SS. I went to do my, like ‘A’ levels, and then in A levels I wanted to go for medical studies, but since being oversubscribed always in every country I was unable to get into medical school. Then I went to do my BSc - double science which I did. Now I decided that instead of going to medical college, after spending 2 years extra, which will mean, that I’ll be always 2 years behind graduation, I went to do my masters degree in Organic Chemistry. That’s why I became an Analytical Chemist back home. Which in turn - I’ll tell you how I came over here if you want me to say?

Q. Yes.

SS. I worked one year as an analytical chemist then Her Majesty’s Government, of which Enoch Powell was one of the ministers, was encouraging ex colonial countries to send people to work. It was quite common. But my intention was not to come and work here - I came here to study. But one of the ways of entering the United Kingdom was to apply for a work permit to come and work. Which will give me, although my family was in a position to provide me money, but it would have been at the expense of some of their hard earned money to be converted into sterling to be sent. I thought now is my time to self-support me. I came and worked two years, -just under two years as a chemist in this country. Then applied for study place for my research, which I got and had a chance of earning part time, teaching in the same college where I was studying myself Because of the restriction of academic council, I can not work more than 6 hours. I used to study full time and do that teaching part time.

Q. Before you came to this country what had you heard about Britain?

SS. Well, its a mixed feeling about Britain before I came. Britain was famous for its hard qualities, you know, Magna Carta, struggle for liberation, in the First World War and Second World War against racism, xenophobia and others. Simultaneously some of the Women’s movement, Acts of Parliament, you know. So many things which although the colonial powers were Portuguese, Spain. Dutch, Britain, France - but as a person from an ex colony, I say among the whole colonial powers, Britain was the best colonial master. There were two things: because of the desire of being a free country and freedom of speech - most of the colonials like governor general and viceroy in India ruled ruthlessly - but when they crossed beyond certain boundaries there was even a protest in this country. And there are two reasons in the 18th century, Lord Clive who was the governor general and chief of the East India company was accused of acting brutally and misbehaving with the ladies which I don’t want to repeat here. The second thing is the massacre at Amritsar, you must have heard, when Lord Dyer and (?) have brutally massacred so many thousands of people.

Nobody knows exactly that’s why I’m saying so many thousands. And he was, both were prosecuted. And there was a, you know, people were shocked that although that’s a colony that His Majesty’s Government Officer behaved that way, which they cannot think of over here. I mean that sympathy has never been in France, and will never be. That’s why if you go to India, Pakistan or Bangladesh, you will be Memsahib, you know Mem, is the French madam and Sahib is for Mr or Sir - normally because of the nature that the master was known as Sahib, the female part also continued Sahib. Its still respected that way, people who travelled to India or Pakistan you can ask independently they praise the people, it’s not in any way an inferiority complex - it’s the genuine desire to keep friendship.

Q. I went to Delhi last February and it was like that - people were so polite.

SS. Yes, sometimes the Sun, Mirror, Today put all those things, whether its BBC or ITV they portray it in such a bad way. But you are more safe walking in the city of Delhi or Karachi. Or even in comparison to Indian or Pakistani women you will find it more safer. Its not like America, you know, Miami and you are walking and you are mugged because you are an outsider, I mean that was the feeling. On the other hand I remember, not I remember, I read that we were the masters of India, when I say we, I mean the Muslims were the rulers, Moguls and others. Because when you say ‘we’ you include because part of the same culture, religion and nation. And you were forced, not by fighting straight but by manipulating, divide, rule, all sorts of things. You lost everything and once you have lost, you have not been treated equally. Had British rule been fairly equal to all the nations of India we would not had so much call for creation of Pakistan and others as we were. Because obviously it was in the British interest to treat the others side for, you know, because they were thinking that by their co operation, they will be in a position to rule India more then. Because Muslims legitimately have cause for concern and grudge of losing something.

Q. Did you know anything about how the country was?

SS. Yes I mean in that respect, all educated people who have the English one, actually I tell you I was only 8 when I was reading a publication by Macmillan’s, used to own Macmillan and Greens and Co., it used to be a subsidiary which used to publish for India and others - ‘sun is shining’ or something. I could not imagine at the age of 8 how important it is to have sun when I see it every day. The knowledge is there, the information but actually certain times in parts of India and Pakistan, and more in India than Pakistan because India is a big country, people may be knowing more about Birmingham, Bradford, Southall and London than they will be knowing if you are in Goa about, Delhi maybe not, about some place in UP. or something. Because the lack of information - printed material is not there - films are not there, or when they are there they are made badly. Same thing goes about Pakistan. Certain people may not know about the (?) because they haven’t seen, they haven’t been but they know about the scenic beauty of the Lake District as well as Colorado State or you know, the French Riviera, or you know that way.

Q. How did you get here? What was your journey like?

SS. Well it was straight - I mean, say, I lived about 542 miles to be precise from Karachi, which was at that time, the main airport. I travelled by PTA, the national carrier which was normally the condition for the, you know exits, and visa. Either you travel with British Airways or PTA because they have the reciprocally. I came with PTA and came with sufficient money for some times to pass. T knew a friend who will arrange for me accommodation. It was 31st August 1963. I arrived. Only thing is that I never thought that some of the buildings will be so, you know dark. I mean with the pictures and others, you always see Buckingham Palace or the Big Ben or other ones. The second thing is now the weather, atmospheric changes has been so much. As soon as I arrived it was rainy season. Which made me, you know, that monsoon comes and goes. But it’s not, here it’s a continuous monsoon.

Q. Even in August.

SS. Yes.

Q. So you stayed with friends at first?

SS. Yes, I think for a week or so, for a week. One. I don’t know - I’ll give it because you are asking, sometimes you like to tell. It reminds me again. A friend of mine who was about to complete his study here. I knew his name through writing, because he was a very good writer. He used to write ‘a letter from London’ in a fortnightly good publication. Without sensationalism, it’s not like ‘letter from America ‘ by Alistair Cooke. It used to be about people who come from back home, here, conditions here, political and others here to give that way, two pages like A4. He was just finishing his chartered accountancy course and was about to leave. He said he had a good house near Herne Hill, and he said its empty if you like to stay - only thing -when I come, please open the doors for me because I’m leaving the keys with you. I said yes. I stayed I think maybe a week or so at his place because he was transferring that property to one of his friends. Either sold it straightaway or you know, that way. And then I keep on applying. One of the most I should say, discouraging thing for the first few weeks was that I used to buy Telegraph which was old thruppence because it had just gone up from 2 1/2 pence to 3 or 2 pence to 3. It used to be copper colour coin. And when I used to apply for all, you know which were related to my qualifications, some used to say lam highly qualified and job is for junior. And some used to say I had no London or United Kingdom experience- not required. But there was a courtesy I don’t remember if I replied 100 times at least I had 80 answers back. Very short but those to whom I have phoned, certain times they used to be phones, I got the answer. Very rarely I experienced were people hostile in any way. I mean they might have, once I rang or once I wrote with my name Saleem Siddique. They thought it’s not - But there were not apparent any discrimination or others. But I still appreciate that they had the courtesy of answering which these days no one can expect. The other thing is that a friend of mine who was doing his bar, advised me that instead of trying that way, I must apply for a junior job and be ready to accept anything because ntil and unless I’m geared to working here... Which I always, you know, be grateful although he left 65, 70 - more than 29 years he’s not here. He was just completing his bar, I still find that I’m grateful for his good advice and it helped me. I became a senior technician although it was below my qualification in a chemical firm near Barking and while I was there, someone advised me that I should get registered with the Executive Register they used to be near Farringdon. I don’t think they exist anymore. They used to register only medical doctors, engineers, dentists and chemists. I think maybe one or two that way. Only they used to have for example for a chemist, they have a fortnightly you know, publication coming to - if I was analytical chemist to the attention of those who produce medicines. They send it to pharmaceutical companies. Those who wanted to a chemical testing one, they will send it to - you know.

Q. So did you have to pay them for doing that?

SS. No, no, it was part of the Department of Employment of that time. It used to be one. Because as I said Her Majesty’s Government wanted more people at a reasonable cost from overseas qualifications so that there is no money spent on their education. And I got... I came in September you know, to be precise, here and I think November, I was working for a pharmaceutical company, through them. The only thing is when I went for the interview, for that firm which was manufacturing chemist. That they produce for example, if Boots want some medicines, instead of producing at their own factory they will produce, there it will be tested according to Boots standard and will be packed for Boots you know they will manufacture. They had a company, they had quite a strong connection with South Africa, Australia and I think, somewhere in India also. And when I went to give my interview the gentleman was in a real typical muddle aged ‘Shires’ person with a big moustache and heavily built and he asked me all questions. And at the end, he told me because I don’t have London experience, I’ll be paid £100 less than the (It was a very much £100 in 1963) the rate the Royal Chemical Society used to be if you, are qualified with BSc you get... I said will let me ask a single question ? He said ‘Yes of course’ I said ‘Had London experience been a qualification, I would have gone and acquired it, had it been a commodity, I would have bought it. But since it’s only acquired through working, I don’t know how you will be you know, asking me that I haven’t got it, because I haven’t worked anywhere’. He laughed and said ‘OK. Lets put it that we’ll renew it in 6 months time, which means that I’m losing only £50 at that time. I told him one more thing that please because, on my faith and cultural background, I must tell you something. He said What?’ I said, my intention of coming to this country is not to work only, but to acquire a further education. I may be applying to some, and might require either a part- time release, or may leave it after. But I will inform you in time. He said ‘I’m grateful that you informed us. We will let you know’. They looked, because they had two earlier Pakistani chemists earlier and one was already working with them. And they had a good opinion about Pakistanis that they are worth they money they are paid or more, you know that way. They offered me the job. And I worked for about just under 2 years till I got my admission fixed in one of the parts of North East London University near Stratford. But in the meantime they were very kind and I’ll always appreciate that when I asked them to give me one day off because part of requirement for my hill time was that I occupied the seat that they allotted me - so that the department can say that they have a hill capacity. And I used to go one day. But I compensated because I thought, ‘If I’m taking money for 5 days work, I must compensate them for 5 days worth - working longer when I’m not required to’.

Q. During the 4 days you were there.

SS. Yes, 4 days I completed that way.

Q. So when started studying again hill time - again what was that like going to an English College.

SS. It was OK. Only one thing in the beginning was because, once you have left studies your attitude to life is completely different than you are going back. Now I was already 4 years away from studying that way and have a quality of leisure - coming after work, sitting watching television, speaking or going out with friends and you know, it took a little time. But because of my family way - no sorry family background - that if you decide to work, you should finish it. I did, you know made myself, you know, that I should fulfil my commitment to my studies. Only drawback remained that when , at the time , I was about to submit to become a doctor, my father fell ill and very seriously since he was 6000 miles and I had been 5 years away, 5 1/2 years away, it was a question that either I see him or not. I left the country. When I went back it was quite much of an upheaval. This was in 1970 I went. Upheaval back home and the situation was so that my family asked me not to come back. Because the Pakistan was passing through break up of the Pakistan and then the creation of Bangladesh, I stayed two years, In the meantime, although you know every marriage is arranged... .its. Even the boy and the girl when they meet or partners decide to get married, it’s arranged. Otherwise there is no - you know. Well my family said that I’m already about 28, 29 1 should get married. Which is, I mean, I said OK.

We were still living there when the landlord decided because of his expansion of family and his brothers arrival who was at a different place, they need a bigger place, they wanted to sell. He asked me if I could leave I said yes, legally it was required by our contract that he would serve me a notice, which since I was registered with the housing needs one. They told me they could not offer me Haringey. At that time GLC, the old GLC was there and they said we can recommend to you to GLC. And would you like to move to Hackney. I knew Hackney from the papers or coming couple of times from North London to city and especially East London where there are mosques and other one. But I said yes and especially my wife had this intention if we continued living with them and forced them not to, you know leave vacate our place, the judge would have given us still 6 months to stay. Which was the Rent Act. But it would have created displeasure for the landlord and us. The second thing is each time you walk in, you feel as if you are under tense. I mean within, I think, from their notice to within I think 2 months. We have been able.. ..Hackney offered us a place in Kingsmead, now you can imagine. My wife said that we accept it in comparison to long time staying in Haringey which was judging from peoples’ opinion, was better area than Hackney. But we were of the opinion that, number 2, you make the area rather than area itself The second thing is that she wanted peace of mind for me for me and my children.

Well I mean there was one added factor which my wife enticed me also. She said we have 2 rooms there, separate kitchen, of ours but sharing bath. We have 4 rooms here our own bath and our own, you know kitchen. No one can come us and tell anything. Which. And have faith since that day I say, in 85’, 85 when I was attacked in my own home physically by 3 people, I had a knife, not very deep wound, but flesh wound. My wife had her hand cut with the glass and others - in Kingsmead. We had the offer to move - because I knew all the councillor in my work with the ILEA and chair of tenants association so many were known to me - we had the offer of going away. But my wife had asked that we don’t take the offer of going away because my children are going to local school. Want our daughter to go to Clapton Girls School. We moved from Kingsmead to Clapton Park which is less than 100 yards between the 2 we are in the same area. (Even after that) I mean it’s because she said it could happen anywhere. Thanks God - I mean we are not free still from racial and other abuse as such in my position - but we take it as a part of life.