Anwar Ditta and the discriminatory border control system

The following is based on an excerpt from our book Race, Gender and the Body in British Immigration Control: Subject to Examination (Palgrave Macmillan). It discusses the case of Anwar Ditta, a British-Pakistani woman who fought the UK immigration control system for four years to get the authorities to allow her three children into the country. Only after a large grassroots campaign, combining anti-racists, trade unionists, feminists and other activists, and a series of blood tests arranged by Granada TV, did Ditta convince the British government that her children were indeed her own.

If you are interested, you can buy the book (slightly cheaper) here.

anwar ditta

The story of Anwar Ditta and her husband, Shuja Ud Din, is long and complicated (with the most concise narrative found in Paul Gordon’s 1984 book chapter, ‘Outlawing Immigrants’).[1] But the crux of the matter was that, in 1979, the British High Commission in Islamabad refused to give entry clearances to Anwar Ditta’s three children who were residing in Pakistan at the time, on the grounds that the authorities had doubts that Ditta was the biological mother of these children. Ditta, who was born in Birmingham but had lived in Pakistan since adolescence, and Ud Din, a Pakistani national, had both travelled separately to the UK in the 1970s and, after finding a place to live in Rochdale, requested that their three children join them. This began what The Guardian called a ‘Kafkaesque’ journey through the immigration control system that lasted over four years.

After settling in Rochdale and marrying in 1975, Ditta and Ud Din requested of the immigration authorities that their three children, who were living with their grandparents in Pakistan, be permitted to join them in the UK. In 1977, the children applied to the High Commission in Pakistan and were ‘interviewed’ by ECOs in 1978, along with Ud Din’s mother and sister since, as Gordon wrote, ‘the children were too young to be interviewed’.[2] In early 1979, the Home Office refused to provide entry clearances for the children, stating that it was ‘not satisfied that Kamran, Imran and Saima were related to Anwar Sultana Ditta and Shuja Ud Din as claimed’.[3] The reasons given by the Home Office did not relate specifically to the children, but were based on a ‘premise of suspicion’ of Ditta and Ud Din’s application.[4] As Gordon wrote, ‘the entry clearance officer at Islamabad did not argue directly that the three children were not those of Anwar Ditta’, but from the position that ‘the application was fraudulent’ and thus proceeded to ‘build up a case of apparent discrepancies in statements supplied on behalf of the children’ (our emphasis).[5] Gordon further explained that for the immigration control authorities these discrepancies were ‘sufficient to argue that the children were not those of Anwar Ditta and Shuja Ud Din’.[6]

The Friends of Anwar Ditta, a campaign organisation, reproduced the reasons given initially by the Home Office in a pamphlet it produced to publicise her campaign, arguing that the ‘Home Office arguments clearly do not stand up’ and were ‘not based on positive evidence’.[7] As the pamphlet showed, the reasons for the refusal all related to the details of the (admittedly complicated) backgrounds of Ditta and Ud Din, including discrepancies in the ages of Ditta when she married in Pakistan and when she later remarried in Britain, the fact that Ditta and Ud Din remarried in Britain in 1975 despite having a Muslim marriage in 1968 in Pakistan, discrepancies in the account of the marriage ceremony in Lahore (which by then had occurred over a decade prior), the fact that Ud Din admitted to overstaying his visitors entry clearance, and the fact that Ditta applied for a UK passport under her maiden name although she was married under Muslim law. The pamphlet categorically addressed all of these supposed discrepancies raised by the Home Office, stating that the reasons were ‘all irrelevant’ and that ‘none of them disprove the fact that [Kamran, Imran and Saima] are Anwar and Shuja’s children’.[8]

The Home Office argued that there were two women by the name of Anwar Sultana Ditta, with a pamphlet by the Anwar Ditta Defence Committee (ADDC) citing this ‘extra-ordinary suggestion’ from the statement provided by the ECO handling their case:

It appeared that there might be two Anwar Sultana Dittas, i.e. One who married Shuja Ud Din in Pakistan in 1968 and the other whom Shuja Ud Din married in the United Kingdom in 1975.[9]

Gordon also identified that the ‘official line was that the children were those of her sister-in-law’.[10] The Home Office did not have to substantiate these claims as the burden of proof rested on Ditta and Ud Din to prove that the children were actually hers. Ditta’s course of redress was to appeal the Home Office’s decision and her case was sent to the Immigration Appeal Tribunal, where it was heard by the Adjudicator, C. P. Rushton, in April 1980 and a decision was handed down the following month.

Leading up to the date of the appeal, a campaign around the Ditta case began to emerge, first under the Friends of Anwar Ditta, then led by the ADDC. This committee, which included people from the Asian communities in the North of England and the legal fraternity in Manchester, as well as from the labour movement and the anti-racist movement, mobilised quickly and began a campaign of letter writing to politicians, the media and potential supporters of Ditta, alongside the publication of several pamphlets and flyers and arranging public speaking engagements by Ditta.

Even before the Tribunal meeting with the Adjudicator, Ditta’s case came to be focused on an appeal to the body as the facilitator of ‘the truth’ because her testimony and documents were not believed by the authorities. A leaflet published in late 1979 said that Ditta had suggested that ‘a blood test would establish that she was the mother of the children’, but reported that ‘the Home Office replied: “There is no need to go that far”’. The leaflet argued that there was a need to go this far, as the Home Office had used blood tests in another case, when trying to deport Abdul Azad. An article in the newspaper of radical leftist group the Revolutionary Communist Group at the time also highlighted another case in which the Home Office employed blood tests – that of Afzal and Shemin Mohammed – writing:

The Home Office used blood tests to try and prove Afzal Mohammed was not the father of his two children, that he had engaged in a marriage of convenience and that he should be deported. Because of the large amount of public support Afzal Mohammed received, the Home Office has so far failed to deport him, but the case shows quite clearly the lengths the British state will go to deport someone who is black.

Screen Shot 2014-10-03 at 8.39.51 pm

Momentum built behind the campaign, with a large march held in Rochdale in March 1980, before the meeting with the Adjudicator in April of the same year. At times the campaign organisers seemed confident that enough evidence had been gathered to make a successful case. The ADDC leaflet claimed that ‘[s]olicitors say that the evidence is so conclusive that it need only be presented at the appeal to prove the case’. But this was not so. After the Tribunal met in April to hear Ditta’s case, the Adjudicator presented his decision in July 1980 (this was delayed from May), which upheld the original rejection by the Home Office.

In accounting for his decision (reprinted by the ADDC in numerous pamphlets and leaflets), the Adjudicator stated that the ‘oral testimony could be sufficient to tip the balance in the appelants [sic] favour’ (our emphasis), but that he deemed the witnesses in the case to not be credible, stating, ‘[t]he parents of the appelants [sic] have on their own admission on several occasions lied to, or deceived, persons in official positions both in the UK and Pakistan’. The Adjudicator thus based his decision on the ‘credibility’ of the adult witnesses in the case, as well as on the long and complex history of Ditta and Ud Din’s marriage and immigration status; however, the decision was supposed to ascertain whether the children could enter the UK as Ditta’s children. As an ADDC bulletin from February 1981 stated, ‘[t]he only issue relevant to the case was whether Anwar was the parent of the three children’. In an article for the New Statesman, David Holmes cited the Adjudicator as saying that the documents outlining the relationship between Ditta and her children were ‘too few in number to outweigh the deficiencies in the oral evidence’, but pointed out that ‘in a rather careless sentence’, the Adjudicator actually referred to Ditta and Ud Din as ‘the parents of the appellants’ (our emphasis).[11]

Screen Shot 2014-10-03 at 8.42.00 pm

A letter sent by the ADDC to potential supporters stated:

The adjudicator not only disregarded the available evidence, but also launched a most scandalous racist attack on the parents and their witnesses. He repeatedly questioned their ‘credibility’ on matters which had no bearing whatsoever on the case in hand. His racist slurs and abuse were intended to subject the family to a personal trial for nothing more than the fact that they have stood up and fought for their rights.

The Adjudicator’s questioning of the credibility of the family and their witnesses was evident in his statement (replicated in this flyer on page 3) that he ‘could not accept that Anwar Ditta and Hamida Rafique [Ditta’s sister] were simple Asian village women’ and his ‘finding’ that ‘[a]lthough they left the UK in mid-childhood’ and were ‘lacking in education’, the sisters had ‘an excellent command of English and were far more westernised and sophisticated in their demeanour than the average member of the immigrant community’. This statement could be taken to suggest that Ditta and her family could not be believed because they were educated immigrants and were therefore presumed to be more devious and calculating than the ‘average’ South Asian migrant.

The Adjudicator concluded that he ‘[could] not find that the appelants [sic] have on the balance of probabilities discharged the burden of proof upon them’, and thus dismissed the appeal. However the burden of proof did not technically lie with the applicant and the balance of probabilities was supposed to weigh in favour of the migrant, unless the authorities had overwhelming proof that the applicant was being dishonest. But in Ditta’s case the Adjudicator explicitly stated that the burden of proof lay squarely upon the potential migrant and that it was up to the applicant to prove their desirability to the authorities.

After the Adjudicator handed down his decision, the next course of action available to Ditta was to appeal this decision, but leave to appeal was denied by the Tribunal in September 1980. This meant the only avenue left open to Ditta was to appeal to the Minister for Immigration, Timothy Raison, for his consent to allow her children to enter Britain. The ADDC argued that a strong public campaign would be necessary to convince Raison of such. In a letter to potential supporters, the ADDC stated: ‘The adjudicator’s decision demonstrated that there can be no justice or democracy by appeals to the British state. These can be won only with the support of the black community, the working class and the socialist movement.’

With her testimony disbelieved, Ditta once again turned to the physical body in the hope that it would reveal ‘the truth’ and that the authorities would accept this, rather than Ditta’s words, as convincing evidence. In an ADDC pamphlet, she pleaded:

I am willing to give a medical test. I am willing to give a skin test. I am willing to go onto a lie detector to prove that they are my children. I’m not telling them any lies, why should I tell them lies? Why should I claim other peoples [sic] children?[12]

By December 1980, the ADDC had collected further evidence to submit to the Home Office, with the help of Labour MP, Joel Barnett, which, a press release stated, included ‘a report of a medical examination of Anwar Sultana Ditta, [and] evidence relating to the authenticity of fingerprints on identity cards obtained by Anwar whilst in Pakistan’, amongst other items. However, the ADDC announced that in January 1981 ‘the Home Office wrote back to say that this was not enough’. In a letter from Timothy Raison to Joel Barnett (written after Ditta’s children were finally allowed to join her), Raison stated that regarding the evidence presented in December 1980, he acknowledged that there was ‘fresh relevant material’, but ‘was not convinced that it was sufficient to justify overturning the decision confirmed by the appellate authorities’ and that the case would be reconsidered after blood tests were conducted (to which the Home Office had refused to agree in 1979).[13]

In early 1981, Granada Television’s World in Action paid for blood tests to be conducted on Ditta and her three children in Pakistan. The press statement by the ADDC described this as ‘a final effort to prove beyond all doubt that they are related as parent to child’. On the same day on which this press statement was released, the reports of the blood tests were received by Raison, who publicly stated:

I now believe that there is the substantial new evidence which I invited you [Joel Barnett] to submit to justify reversing the original decision. The entry clearance officer will be instructed to issue entry clearances to Kamran, Umran, and Saima to join Anwar Ditta and Shuja Ud Din.[14]

Raison cynically added, ‘I regret that it has taken so long to bring this case to a conclusion and hope that the children will have happy lives here’[15], as if it were not the fault of the Home Office that the case took so long to conclude.

Ditta’s children joined her in Britain a few months later, but this was a special case where the appellant had claimed victory over the British state. There were a significant number of other cases in which families had been separated by the immigration control system who did not have the fortunate outcome that Ditta had. With Ditta’s case finally reaching a positive conclusion, migrant rights campaigners hoped that the decision in this case would increase pressure on the government to alleviate the strict nature of the controls system and believed that Ditta’s case would highlight the difficulties that immigrants faced when trying to enter the country. As The Times wrote, ‘[t]he case has raised serious doubts about the fairness of procedures being used to screen would-be entrants to Britain’.[16]

In the House of Lords, Lord Avebury asked whether the Home Office would conduct blood tests on Riaz Ahmed ‘whose application to join his father made originally on 15th February 1972 was refused on the grounds that the entry clearance officer did not believe that the relationship was as claimed’. The Conservative leader of the House of Lords, Lord Belstead, replied that ‘[i]t is not our practice to conduct blood tests to establish relationship for the purposes of the immigration rules’. He added, however, that it was ‘open to an applicant for entry clearance to submit whatever evidence he [sic] wishes in support of his [sic] case’, even though Belstead would have been aware that these tests were too expensive and too difficult to conduct for many migrants from South Asia. Lord Avebury further asked whether the Home Office or the British High Commissions in South Asia would ‘arrange for blood tests to be carried out by a doctor nominated by the High Commission for this purpose’, in cases in which the ECO had doubts about the relationship of a dependant applying to join a parent in the UK. In response to Lord Avebury’s question, Lord Belstead stated that the government had ‘no plans to arrange for blood tests to be carried out’.

In a letter to Willie Whitelaw in January 1982, Chief Medical Officer Sir Henry Yellowlees warned against the use of blood-typing to test blood relationships. Yellowlees advised that there ‘would be considerable practical difficulties in undertaking such tests as routine’ and further pointed out that ‘a definite risk of hepatitis exists’.[17] He concluded that he ‘could not recommend the adoption of blood-typing in the present circumstances without a review of the staff and facilities which would be used’.[18] In 1985, a report by the Commission for Racial Equality (CRE) also warned against blood tests to establish kinship becoming a common practice, arguing that, ‘[w]hile tests of a very sophisticated kind can sometimes show a high level of probability that a claimed relationship exists … they will often leave considerable room for doubt’.[19] The CRE was concerned that if these tests were to become common practice, they would ‘add to the costs and difficulties of the procedures and only rarely be of positive benefit either to applicants or ECOs’.[20] One of the possible outcomes of such a scenario would be that the Home Office might come to rely solely on evidence gathered from the physical body of the applicant, and thus deem all testimony and documentary evidence to be irrelevant. An article in The Guardian in 1999 claimed that the ‘advent of DNA testing means [that Ditta’s] case won’t happen again’, but it is likely that in the current climate DNA testing is relied upon by the authorities in lieu of other evidence presented by potential migrants.

What the Anwar Ditta case reveals are the extreme lengths to which the British immigration control system has gone in the past to deny the credibility of a migrant’s testimony and the authenticity of documentation provided by applicants from the developing world. It thus appears that only the physical body is to be believed by the authorities.

Ditta addressing rally in 1979 - from Tandana archive
Ditta addressing rally in 1980 – from Tandana archive


[1] Paul Gordon, ‘Outlawing Immigrants 1: Anwar Ditta and Britain’s Immigration Laws’, in Phil Scraton & Paul Gordon, Causes for Concern: Questions of Law and Justice (Harmondsworth: Penguin 1984).

[2] Gordon, ‘Outlawing Immigrants 1’, p. 115.

[3] Cited in Anwar Ditta Defence Committee, Bring Anwar’s Children Home: Stop the Forced Separation of Black Families, ADDC, Manchester, 1980, p. 7, SC/C/N/27/1, Steve Cohen Collection, Race Relations Archive, University of Manchester.

[4] Gordon, ‘Outlawing Immigrants 1’, p. 123.

[5] Gordon, ‘Outlawing Immigrants 1’, p. 123.

[6] Gordon, ‘Outlawing Immigrants 1’, p. 123.

[7] Friends of Anwar Ditta/Manchester Law Centre, Bring Anwar’s Children Home! The Case of Anwar Ditta & Shuja Ud Din and Their Three Children Kamran, Imran & Saima, Friends of Anwar Ditta/Manchester Law Centre, Manchester, 1980, p. 9, SC/C/N/27/2, Steve Cohen Collection, RRA.

[8] Friends of Anwar Ditta/Manchester Law Centre, Bring Anwar’s Children Home!, p. 9.

[9] Cited in ADDC, Bring Anwar’s Children Home, p. 7.

[10] Gordon, ‘Outlawing Immigrants 1’, p. 125.

[11] David Holmes, ‘Anwar Ditta’s Battle for Her Children’, New Statesman, 22 August 1980, p. 7.

[12] Anwar Ditta, ‘The Case of Anwar Ditta in Her Own Words’, in ADDC, Bring Anwar’s Children Home, p. 6.

[13] Letter from Timothy Raison to Joel Barnett (press release version), 19 March 1981, IRR 01/04/04/01/08/01/05, IRR Library, London.

[14] Letter from Timothy Raison to Joel Barnett (press release version).

[15] Letter from Timothy Raison to Joel Barnett (press release version).

[16] Peter Evans, ‘Woman Wins Fight to Reunite Her Family’, The Times, 20 March 1981.

[17] Letter from Henry Yellowlees to Willie Whitelaw, 14 January 1982, HO 418/33, NA.

[18] Letter from Henry Yellowlees to Willie Whitelaw.

[19] Commission for Racial Equality, Immigration Control Procedures: Report of a Formal Investigation (CRE, London, 1985) p. 41.

[20] CRE, Immigration Control Procedures, p. 41.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: