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This International Women’s Day, we’re paying tribute to Anwar Ditta – an immigrant, a loving mother, a protector, a courageous woman and an anti-racist fighter.

She was an inspiring and fearless woman who took on Britain’s immigration laws in order to bring her three children home from Pakistan and reunite her family in Rochdale.

Anwar was born in Birmingham. At the tender age of nine, complications in her parents’ marriage soon found her and her younger sister living in Pakistan with their grandmother. By the time she was 15, she married her husband Shuja and quickly started a family.

In 1975, Anwar left her children in Pakistan with her relatives to join her husband in Rochdale – their permanent residence. A year later, Anwar and Shuja applied to the Home Office for their three young children to join them. Little did they know the challenges they were going to face in bringing their children to the UK. After the initial rejection of her application in 1979, Anwar made it her mission to fight the Home Office and the British immigration laws until her children were by her side. She was subjected to abuse from officials and faced many difficult challenges, but that did not deter Anwar from fighting.

She worked tirelessly attending meetings for her voice to be heard, struggling for support from her local MP.

A distressed Anwar soon realised she had to do more. She set up the Anwar Ditta Defence Campaign from home and made headway with support from her family, local community and other freedom fighter groups, made up of people from all backgrounds and religions.

At the appeal her claims were referred to as “lies and deception” (Rochdale Observer, 2 August 1980) and suggestions were made that Anwar’s sister-in-law Jamila (residing in Pakistan) was the true birth mother of the three children. Valid documentation was provided to prove this was not the case, but to no avail.

In February 1980, it was reported in the Rochdale Observer that Anwar Ditta and her husband were prepared to go to jail if the Home Office could prove that her claim to be the mother of the three children in Pakistan was false.

It was thanks to the World in Action television programme, who approached Anwar wanting to cover her story here in Britain and Pakistan, that the destiny of Anwar’s three children changed. The documentary aired in March 1981 and showed Anwar’s lawyer, Ruth Bundey, collecting blood samples amongst other evidence in the form of documentation. It was the blood testing that turned the case rightfully in the family’s favour.

The Home Office had been proven wrong and had no choice but to overturn its wrongful decision. In April 1981, Anwar and Shuja were re-united with their three children Kamran (11), Imran (9) and Saima (8). History was truly made that day for the Ditta family, and an emotional Anwar’s efforts finally paid off.

Anwar shared her struggles and painful experiences with others. She talked about the abuse she faced from members of the public who would verbally attack her on the streets and shared that the hate mail she received crushed her. This made her defiant and she decided to help other families experiencing similar situations by educating them.

Anwar sadly died on the 16 November 2021. She is remembered for her victorious campaign, justice and fighting back hard against the discrimination she received from the immigration laws of the 1980s.