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|Migration Histories > South Asian > Settling|
The Jullunduri connection with Britain was first established through military service. Several Punjabi regiments, both Sikh and Muslim, served in France during the First World War, and after the close of hostilities they were shipped back to India via Glasgow. It seems, however, that not all who were destined to board the troopship actually did so. Spotting entrepreneurial opportunities ashore they went AWOL (Absent without leave), and stayed on in Britain. Many became travelling pedlars, selling clothes and trinkets from door to door, often on credit, throughout the highlands and islands of Scotland, and in some cases down into England as well.
Sometime in the late 1920s they were joined by specialists in this trade: members of the very small Bhatra Sikh community whose hereditary occupation back in Punjab had been work as pedlars. The Bhatras spread out from English seaports, and by the mid-1930s had also established themselves in many of Britain's larger cities. The Bhatras' success, as well those of the ex-soldiers who had been carving out a niche for themselves in Scotland, soon came to the attention of keen young Jat Sikhs in Jullundur, and by the end of the 1930s there appear to have been a roughly equal number of Bhatra and Jat Sikh pedlars operating in England.
The Second World War was no bad time to be a door-to-door salesman in Britain, especially if one was able to supply female customers with nylon stockings. And most of the Punjabi pedlars were in a position to do just that, thanks to their contacts with Mirpuri seamen sailing back and forth across the Atlantic. Nylon stockings were easily available in New York, and even a gross of stockings took up very little space; but nylons were virtually unavailable in Britain. The pedlars had a ready made distribution network, and found that huge profits could easily be made.
Nevertheless 'door-knock' - as the trade was called - was not to everyone's taste, especially given Britain's sometimes cold climate. As the Mirpuris had already discovered, labour shortages had at long last resulted in regularly waged industrial jobs being open to people of colour, and both Jat and Bhatra Sikhs began to move into industrial employment in Britain.
Creators: Dr. Roger Ballard
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