26 May 2024

The man at the front

The man holding the banner on the front left of this #Kashmir march in #Glasgow is my father, Zia Ul Haq Qureshi, from #Wah, #Taxila, #Pakistan.

At the age of 35, having been in the country a few months, he joined other Pakistani immigrants to protest, despite being warned that they would lose their jobs on the Glasgow buses if they didn't show up for work on that day. However, they chose to protest.

Sadly, those who should remember conveniently forgot how he aided their progress, instead chasing after recognition and colonialist awards. He made things happen and stood up for the voiceless. He dedicated his time and resources to supporting education, Palestine, and Kashmir and bringing renowned writers of #ghazals, #Sufi poetry, and the arts in #Scotland and #Pakistan.

In 1965, the newly married Bashir Ahmed (who later became an MSP) arrived from Pakistan with his wife, Naseem, and stayed with us for six months until they got settled, they were given the only bedroom in our "house", the rest of us children slept in the alcoves of the kitchen and living room with one or other parent, as well as on the floor. My parents would not have let someone sleep on the street. He cared deeply, evident in his relentless efforts to help his community, instilled in him since his upbringing.

In 1971, at the age of six, I was allowed to stay up late into the night to prepare for a protest demanding the release of prisoners of war in East Pakistan. The excitement of helping my father and his friend, Uncle Shah, as we stapled hundreds of cardboard banners in the kitchen of the top-floor flat in St Andrews Road. I barely understood the protest messages I was writing in black marker pen from our shop, but I knew we were doing something good and right. My mother made hot tea and parathas, my five other sisters slept through the nights work. It wasn't until years later that I realised some of those imprisoned soldiers were close family members, who held senior positions in the Pakistan Army. They had been tortured. Bhutto arranged their release. I remember the parcels we sent to the POW camps, containing egg powder, soup, and chicory coffee. That was the politics in our home, what was going on back home, in the place that no one would tell you to go back home.

More often than not, those who truly make a difference in this world are overlooked by archives, galleries, and history books. Their acts of humanity go unnoticed and uncelebrated.

Money or status were never driving forces for my father. Despite the hardships and blatant racism, he remained dedicated to the causes he believed in, even when our family faced desperate poverty. He looked past his own difficulties and leaned out to help others. And they were immense. Life as a Pakistani immigrant presented countless challenges, and the scars of those struggles remain.

Robina Qureshi