Asian or Asian British Groups


The main period of migration for the Asian community to the UK has occurred since the Second World War, and the patterns of migration strongly influence their current positions.

The major waves of migration were not of course the beginnings of a relationship with Britain. This migration formed part of a long tradition of historical links between the former colonies and Britain. Many of the migrants or their relatives had served in the British Army in the Second World War.  Particularly in the Punjab there existed a lnog tradition of natives serving in the British Army whilst both Gujaratis and Bengalis had long traditions of sea-faring.  Many of the merchant ships in the British Navy were manned by Sylhetis from present day Bangladesh.

During the post-war period of migration, potential immigrants were faced with both negative factors which made people want to leave their countries of origin, and positive reasons specifically to come to Britain.

Negative factors:

Social and economic disruption following partition of British India
Limited employment prospects in East Africa.

Positive factors:
The desire to have a better standard of living
The perception that employment prospects and the educational system were better than in their countries of origin
The desire to provide a better life for their children.

The Indian group

Total population in Britain: 1,051,844
Proportion of all people in Britain: 1.8%
Source: Census 2001, Office for National Statistics; Census 2001 General Register Office for Scotland

Indian is the largest ethnic minority group in Britain. The group may include people whose place of origin, since partition of the Indian subcontinent, has been in Pakistan or since division of Pakistan, in Bangladesh. Slightly less than half of the Indian population (45.9 per cent) was born in the UK, a third (34.6 per cent) in India and about a sixth (16 per cent) in Africa.

The Indian population is not homogenous; it contains a variety of regional and religious groups including Indians from Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania who came to Britain as British passport holders in the 1960s and 1970s to escape 'Africanisation' policies.

Patterns of migration

There has been an Indian population in Britain since the 18th century. Mini-waves of migration occurred when sailors recruited into the British Navy during the First World War settled in the East End of London and in the 1920s when single males from the Punjab settled in London and other industrial areas. The largest wave of migration was in the 1950s and 1960s.

Migration from Indian subcontinent peaked in the late 1960s and early 70s
Indian people came mainly from Punjab (mainly Sikhs) and Gujarat (mainly Hindus), from a variety of origins. Some from farming backgrounds with little formal education and others from towns and cities with vocational or degree level qualifications.

The division of the Indian subcontinent along largely religious lines in 1947 led to violence and disorder in which millions died and 13 million people fled from their homes to seek safety with their own religious majority. In Britain the combination of post-Second World War reconstruction and a growing British economy had led to labour shortages. Migrants from Punjab, Gujarat, Sylhet, and Kashmir in particular travelled to Britain, some attracted by the advertisements placed in Indian newspapers, to work in short-staffed factories. Where these workers settled was largely dictated by the demands of the economy.

This is reflected in the distribution of the Indian population in Britain today. It is less concentrated around the capital than are some other ethnic minorities, with large populations in the West Midlands, East Midlands and South-East. Leicester in the East Midlands is home to a particularly large population of people of Indian ethnicity (72,000) who comprise 25.7 of the total population. It is predicted that by the time of the 2011 Census it will be the first city in Britain with a majority non-white population.

Also, a considerable group of people who first migrated from the Indian subcontinent to East Africa (Kenya and Uganda), then came from Africa to Britain in the early 1970s (often referred to as African Asians).


The languages spoken by Indians in Britain tend to reflect their regions of origin. Hindi with English is India's official language, but is largely spoken by north Indians. Hindi is the lingua franca of the Indian subcontinent and is also the language of the film industry (Bollywood).

Sikhs from the Punjab speak Punjabi. Although it has a different script, Punjabi shares many common elements with Hindi and has a common ancestor with Sanskrit. The same is true of Gujarati and Bengali. Indians with origins in the state of Gujarat are likely to speak Gujarati and this is often the language of East African Asians in the UK.

Gujarati stems from the state of Gujarat. Gujaratis are mainly Hindu (quite a few Jain) and more traditional and orthodox than their Punjabi counterparts. Again, the written script is different and there are also less verbal bonds than between Hindi and Punjabi speakers. The majority of east African Asians now in the UK are originally from Gujarat and may also speak Swahili

Indians in Britain may also speak Marathi, Multani, Sindhi and Tamil.



Roughly half (45 per cent) of Indians in Britain are Hindu. Sikhs make up a third (29 per cent), Muslims a sixth (13 per cent), one in twenty Christian, (5 per cent) and there are also Indian Buddhists and Jains. For the purposes of the Race Relations Act 1976, the courts have ruled that Sikhs, unlike other religious groups found in India, also constitute an ethnic group.

Age and sex profile

Post-war migration from Indian was at first overwhelmingly male, family reunion and mortality has cancelled out any imbalance and the population is now split evenly between men and women. The age profile of the Indian group is younger than that of the White British, but older than that of the other ethnicities in the Asian group, with the majority in the age bracket 20-50.

The Pakistani group

Total population in Britain: 747,000
Proportion of all people in Britain: 1.3%
Source: Census 2001, Office for National Statistics; Census 2001 General Register Office for Scotland

Patterns of Migration

Pakistan was created in 1947 by the partition of the Indian subcontinent and, until 1971, included East Pakistan - the territory that is now Bangladesh. Mass migration from Pakistan began in earnest in the 1960s and was characterised by single male migrants of working age.

Pakistani people came mainly from rural areas in Azad Kashmir and Mirpur. The first generation is far more of a homogenous population than Indian migrants, typically holding few formal qualifications

Two factors contributed significantly to the migration, the partition of India along religious lines led to widespread violence and internal migration as people fled to either Pakistan or India dependent on their religious affiliation. Muslims were moved from wherever they lived in India to Pakistan and all Hindus and Sikhs who were resident in the new Pakistan moved to the country then known as India.  The 'partition' as it is known has been a constant reason for community segregation within the UK over the last 40 years.

It is thought that many displaced Pakistanis traveled to Britain in the years after this. In the 1960s the creation of the Mangla Dam in north-west Pakistan led to the displacement of a further 100,000 people in Pakistan and many villagers used the compensation money to travel to Britain to find work.

Many Pakistani people in Britain worked in mills and factories when they first arrived and the community has been seriously affected by the decline of manufacturing industry in these areas

In 2001 40 per cent of the Pakistani population was born in Pakistan and 55 per cent were born in the UK indicating much of the growth in the ethnic group has been the result of births rather than immigration. The largest concentration of Pakistanis is in London with large populations in the West Midlands, Yorkshire and the Humber and the North West. This reflects the distribution of the first wave of migrants who settled in major industrial centres where they were most likely to find employment.


Urdu, essentially the same language as the Hindi spoken in India, but written in Arabic script and influenced more by Persian-Arabic vocabulary, is the main language of the Pakistani population in Britain. Some speak Punjabi. The state of Punjab was divided during the partition, and as a result there are Pakistani Muslims who speak Punjabi.  The latter language is also spoken by the Punjabi Sikhs, because the Punjab region was divided during partition.


The largely Muslim character of Pakistan is reflected in the religious makeup of the Pakistani community in Britain with (92 per cent) stating their adherence to this religion.

The Pakistani community is the most religious and orthodox of the Islamic communities, following the laws of the Koran very strictly (although there are always exceptions to the rule).

Age profile

According to the 2001 Census the Pakistani population has a youthful age profile with 35 per cent under the age of 16 and only four per cent aged over 65. The sex distribution for Pakistanis up to the age of 65 is typical of the population as a whole, with an even distribution between genders, but after 65 there are more men than women (55 per cent compared with 45 per cent). This may be a reflection of spousal age differences, with men tending to be older than their wives.

The Bangladeshi group

Total population in Britain: 282,811
Proportion of all people in Britain: 0.5%
Source: Census 2001, Office for National Statistics; Census 2001 General Register Office for Scotland

Bangladesh was formed in 1971 from an area that since 1947 had been East Pakistan. Before partition, what is now Bangladesh had been part of the Indian region of Bengal. Although some migration occurred before 1960, the first major wave of arrivals from Bangladesh began in the mid-1960s and was mainly of working age men. The majority came from the rural area of Sylhet in the north-east of the country, and today many Bangladeshis in Britain still speak a distinct Sylheti dialect, which gives them a strong cultural identity. Traditionally their core values centre around the family, community and business.

These first male migrants tended to wait longer than their Pakistani and Indian counterparts before bringing their families to the UK and it was not until the 1980s that there was rapid expansion in the population as wives and dependants began to join their husbands in Britain. The result is that some older men have been in Britain for 20 or 30 years, while their families may have arrived relatively recently, with the peak phase of migration in the 1980s. Their family backgrounds were, and still are, in landholding or farming. Like the Pakistani population, they were less likely to have formal educational qualifications than Indian people

A large number of the early Bangladeshi migrants settled in East London, where they worked mainly in the garment industry, and today about three quarters of Britain's Bangladeshis still live in East London Borough of Tower Hamlets. In 2001 just over half (52 per cent) of people in this group were been born in Bangladesh and 45 per cent in Britain.

According to the 2001 census, the majority of the Bangladeshi population within the UK resides in London. Approximately three quarters of the population live in the Borough of Tower Hamlets, with smaller communities in areas like Camden, Newham and Westminster.


Nine out of ten (92 per cent) Bangladeshis classify themselves as Muslim, a similar proportion to that among Pakistani British.

Age and sex profile

The Bangladeshi population is one the youngest in Britain with 38 per cent aged under 16 and only 3 per cent aged over 65. The median age for Bangladeshis in Britain is 21, the lowest for any ethnicity with the exception of Mixed, which reflects a range of factors including the high proportion of women of childbearing age, their recent immigration to Britain and a preference for larger families.

There is also a marked disparity between the numbers of men and women at older ages, with men out numbering women two to one at age 65 and above. This imbalance could be due to the tendency for men to marry women younger than themselves and to emigrate before their families.


The main language spoken by Bangladeshis, Bengali, is also spoken by people from the Indian state of West Bengal. It is one of the widest spoken languages in the world according to the number of speakers.
The Other Asian group

Total population in Britain: 247,470
Proportion of all people in Britain: 0.4%
Source: Census 2001, Office for National Statistics; Census 2001 General Register Office for Scotland

The category 'Asian - Other' was introduced in the 1991 Census to account for those members of the community that felt that the current classification did not cover them - these include the following groups:


Of people classifying themselves as Other Asian, 31 per cent were born in the United Kingdom, 24 per cent were born in Sri Lanka and 16 per cent were born in a Middle East county, mostly in Iran (7 per cent) and Iraq (4 per cent). People born in Europe, North America, South American and Oceania also described themselves as Other Asian.

The choice of ethnicity among Other Asians was generally the same as country of birth with 34 per cent specifying Sri Lankan, 17 per cent specifying a Middle Eastern country and 13 per cent stating they were British Asian. The number of people identifying themselves as Asian British or Asian English was 32 per cent among Other Asians born in the UK and it is likely that most are second and third generation descendents of Pakistani, Bangladeshi and Indian migrants.

People who describe themselves as Other Asian live in all British regions with over half, 133,058, in London and sizeable concentrations in the North West, Yorkshire and the Humber, South East, and in the East and West Midlands.

Age and sex profile

The Other Asian population is largely of working age (71 per cent), with about a quarter (24 per cent) under 16 years of age, and 5 per cent aged over 65. The age profile varies according to the place of birth, with only 42 per cent of UK-born Other Asians of working age, while those born in other nations tended to have between 60 and 92 per cent of people in that age group.

The Other Asian group has slightly more men than women (55 per cent), with the gender difference considerably greater among those born in Iraq and Nepal (where men made up 62 and 69 per cent of the Other Asian population respectively).


The religious affiliation of the Other Asian group is varied, with 37 per cent Muslims, 27 per cent Hindus and 13 per cent Christians. There were also small numbers of Sikhs, Jews and people with no religion.


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