This section looks at the setting and historical context of the novel Anita and Me by Meera Syal.
The Black Country
The Novel is set in the fictional town of Tollington which is in an area known as the Black Country. The Black Country is in the West Midlands to the north and west of Birmingham, England. The name Black Country originates from the nineteenth century and is due to the effects of industry when black smoke clouded the skies and black soot covered the communities in the area. During this period the region had become one of the most important parts of the Industrial Revolution in Britain being a major producer of metalwork, Machinery and goods which were mass-produced by the iron, steel and copper industries. Coal mining took place in hundreds of pits throughout the Black Country, producing coal required to power and heat factories and buildings such as iron foundries and steel mills.
Less than a hundred years later, by the mid-twentieth century, the industries that the area had become dependent on were now in decline. The closure of coal mines throughout the 1960s created high unemployment for the men who had worked there. The decline of the manufacturing industries was made worse in the late 1970s and early 1980s, with over 300,000 jobs lost. Men who were now unemployed expected to find work in factories. However, they found that many of the jobs were performed by women. World War II had shifted women’s roles in society, with many women finding jobs that were previously unavailable to them. World War II had also devastated the country and its population. The Government focused on rebuilding the country quickly and encouraged immigration from Europe and Commonwealth countries such as India and Pakistan. Some people resisted the changes to their communities and were prejudiced against immigrants who were perceived to be responsible for the lack of jobs.
Historical Events in India
India gained its independence from Britain on the 15 August 1947. At the same time, parts of India were partitioned off, mainly for political and religious reasons – West Pakistan (now Pakistan) and East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) were created. The new Pakistan was to be a Muslim state while the main religions in India would be Hinduism and Sikhism. Hundreds of thousands of people were relocated, many against their will, to the country that was of their religion. Many people were angry and resistance caused violence and bloodshed in the regions. Partly due to the turmoil of partition there were many people who preferred to move Britain rather than relocate to live in an independent India or Pakistan. The British Nationality Act of 1948 granted the right to live in the UK for all those people who lived in colonies of the Empire. It is through this act and subsequent legislation that Meena’s family came to, and stayed in, the UK. There were direct benefits to Britain as the country had suffered many losses of life during World War II and many industries experienced a shortage of workers. The post-war establishment of the National Health Service meant that the UK needed more and more qualified staff and more importantly qualified to British standards and in British practices. Doctors and nurses from the British Empire were the perfect solution. Also, during the 1950s and 1960s, a large number of South Asians settled in the industrial towns of the West and East Midlands and the North to work in their factories and textiles businesses. Due to increased concern about the large numbers of former colonial citizens relocating to the UK the Commonwealth Immigrants Act was passed in 1962. This put more limitations on immigrants and prioritised qualified and educated professionals working in education and healthcare.