Biradiri – Pakistani Castes


‘Biradiri’ meaning kinship and family affiliation is held as an important value in the Pakistani community. The concept of castes was brought to the UK by the working class in Pakistan, instilling the feudalistic mindset in their communities and children. The participants we spoke to strongly opposed the concept of a caste system, stating it is not something stipulated in Islam but a South Asian cultural tradition, which is itself heavily influenced by Hinduism.

Some British-Pakistanis feel a family name almost forms their identity. Pakistanis were accused of following a pattern of voting based on ‘Biradiri’ values across the North West of England and using it for personal gains. The concept is more familiar and used by the 1st and 2nd generation of Pakistanis in the UK, the 3rd generation of Pakistanis have integrated better into British society allowing this generation to devalue their kinship. The caste and kinship system is against Islamic teachings and Imams need to encourage this to their congregations.

Participants felt the caste system has been a divisive force destroying community unity both in Pakistan and the UK. The caste system is rooted into Pakistani culture to the extent that it has become discriminatory. The caste system has covered society in a way that prevents social mobility and normalises feudalism. One of the participants describes a situation where a local man in the UK was very active in his community. During election time the community refused to vote for him as he had no well-known extended family in the UK.

Caste, specifically lineage, has become a matter of pride in the Pakistani community. Some Pakistanis interviewed argue that those Pakistanis who accept ‘Biradiri’ (wider family ties/kinship) as being beneficial may as well be renouncing their Islamic faith. Participants agree that through education and the true teachings of Islam, pride in caste can be filtered out through the generations.

In order for that to happen, it is imperative that the younger generation have the ability to be more assertive. The way to ensure that the younger generation be more outspoken and speak out against injustice would be to facilitate spaces for open debate and training in effective verbal communication. The younger generation must be empowered to speak out and be encouraged to join political parties and grassroots organisations in order to gain confidence and have an input.