An important new drama by Neil Biswas, to be broadcast on Channel 4 next week, shows how the lives of members of the Pakistani community of Mannigham were defined and destroyed by the Bradford riots of July 2001.
The riots were the worst outbreak of street violence on mainland Britain in a generation and involved over a thousand people in a night of pitched battles with the police, following a racist attack on an Asian man in the town centre. But, till now, the impact on the local Pakistani community has been largely ignored.
Hundreds of young Muslim men, almost all first-time offenders and many in the midst of university studies, received sentences of between four and six-and-a-half years for their involvement, despite handing themselves in to the police and entering guilty pleas.
In Bradford Riots, to be broadcast on Thursday 4 May 2006 at 9.00pm on Channel 4, the story of one family’s experiences of the riots is told. The drama is closely based on the actual experiences of rioters. Writer and director Neil Biswas spent a year researching Bradford’s Pakistani community and visiting prisons to speak to some of those convicted. The strength of the film is its faithfulness to both personal and political narratives, without reducing the one to the other.
The film revolves around a single family that is painfully torn apart as events unfold. There is the university student Karim, who begins his Saturday afternoon in the library. But as circumstances weigh heavily against him, he ends up in the midst of the violence; his own tragic fate is thereby sealed. There is his elder brother Faisal, a devout Muslim, who is dubious of the company his younger brother keeps but whose life is also taken over by events beyond his control. There is Faisal’s wife, Shazia, for whom the meaning of the riots hits home in the experience of being ostracised by formerly friendly white acquaintances, when she picks up her son from the nursery. There is Karim and Faisal’s father, Azad, a former mill worker whose old-fashioned faith in British fair play leads him into too readily handing his son over to the criminal justice system.
Ironically, it is Karim’s friend Aki, a local ‘bad boy’ and drug dealer, who is the most perceptive about the new ‘us and them’ mood of the post-riots situation and the ruthlessness with which the police and courts will pursue the rioters, especially after September 11.
With a thumping soundtrack by Asian Dub Foundation, Bradford Riots is an important document of one of the defining events of the decade, showing the real life stories behind easy talk of ‘community cohesion’ and Britishness.
From Oldham to Bradford: the violence of the violated – IRR analysis