4000 Miles to Home: The Role of Women

May 13, 2015 Bradford Civic Society

4000 Miles to Home: The Role of Women

Bibi Parkash Kaur: A figurehead in the Kang household, and also an elder to many of the new daughters and wives that started to become more prominent following the 1962 Commonwealth Act.

Part III: The Role of Women 

Introduced by Gurj Kang 

“Women served to reinforce the familial control they would have within the Punjab.  The arrival of women also brought about the end of an all-male migration pattern and a change within housing tenure, with families initially living in the same houses but having a room each to wanting separate accommodation.

“The concept of the Mother is strong within Punjabi culture as the bedrock of the family, and a figure of veneration, which is clear with the sheer number of portraits that exist in the collection of Bibi Parkash Kaur. 

Extended Families: Close bonds formed between the new arrivals and the elders. The elders were not necessarily determined by age, but also through the length of time they had been in Britain, and the influence that they had within the community and employment circles. Here Bibi Parkash Kaur is pictured with the small children of close friends, and her experience and knowledge of being able to access services and essentials for childcare in a new culture and environment was crucial.

Bibi Charan Kaur: An Auntie of Akbal Singh Kang, this was a photo taken on request. It shows very powerfully a female contingent that felt proud to be in Britain and were embracing, and being empowered, through their cultural explorations.

“The role of the Mother was also a key transformation to many, with childcare involving an adaption to new methods of healthcare, services, and even clothing to help them assimilate and have the best advantage.  From the pictures seen, it is also clear that there was a real enthusiasm in pushing the children forward in embracing this new life, and all of the new services and amenities available.

“In addition to maintaining the household, the arrival of women helped to re-establish the significance of tradition, with their dress being the traditional Punjabi suit, whereas the males would observe western dress.  Within the home, they also brought about the greater proliferation of Punjabi foods and for many the observance of cultural and religious practice.

This photo, taken as Sarwan Singh would be leaving to travel, shows the Family gathering and coming to see him depart, but as a unit, Bibi Parkash Kaur is seen as the only female within a community that was still fashioned by its originally dominant male patterns of migration.

In the middle of the family line-up, the photograph perfectly captures the role that women played in establishing a functional, stable and pragmatic family unit.

“Also the women were economically active, and Bibi Parkash Kaur worked at Ridella dresses in Harris Street, Bradford.  The role that women played in being workers represented the cultural openness of the Punjabi’s and their ambition to grow economically.  Not all families were as open and some would have felt that certain working environments would have been unsuitable for their wives.  In these cases, concentrations of workers tended to form where women had shown to have succeeded in finding work.  Within this time, this would have been in employment with an already established female workforce.

“It is important to recognise and reinforce the hardiness, the strength of character and the pragmatism as major contributions of these women in cultivating the successful integration and growth of the community.”

The Wedding Milni: A picture taken at a Milni (Meeting) of sides at a Wedding. It is clear from this picture that it depicts a period later on, with a greater concentration of Women now in the UK, but also importantly their importance of their role in shaping the community and its identity, through dress and helping to accommodate traditions in their new Yorkshire home.

The Waiting Row: Taken on a wedding day, as wives and children happily await the return of the Bride and Groom following their formal marriage.


Next time: we see what life in the workplace – the mills and warehouses of industrial Bradford – was like for members of the newly-settled community.