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More than 44 years have passed since that extraordinary year when

Bangladesh was born. A whole generation has grown up since then, and
many of the people who played a role in the independence struggle hove
passed away. The events of 1971 fast receding into history, and before it is
too late I wish to set down the remarkable story of how the liberation
movement got underway in my home city of Birmingham.
I had arrived in England in October 1963 with my husband Azad Mohammed
Jaglul Pasha. My husband was a low student who was reading for the Bar at
Lincolns Inn, and I had just graduated in Social We!fore. We mode our first
base in Leicester, staying at my husband's brother's house. Almost
immediately I embarked an evening course in Sociology and Social
Administration at Leicester University. Then from September 1967 to August
1968 I studied Social Work at Swansea University. On llth January 1969 we
were blessed with a son, Touhid Al-Zubair Pasha.
A fair proportion of the Bengali working population in Britain at that time were
men who had served os seamen in the British merchant navy, then quit
seafaring after the war in response to the urgent demand for industrial
workers in England. Following the introduction of the 1961 Commonwealth
Immigration Act, which made the migration to Britain an attractive option,
many more migrants arrived from our homeland; like the seamen, most knew
no English and faced serious communication problems in their new
environment.
Under the leadership of my husband a handful of professionals in Leicester
decided to offer these factory workers lessons in English and literacy, on a
one-to-one basis. The late Mohbubur Rahman (Dolu) and Mukhlesur Rahman
(Tara) offered the living room in their house as a classroom. Adult education
classes were held there every Saturday afternoon from 4 pm to 7 pm.
We hold to fight for our Bengali culture outside as well as inside our own
community. At a concert organized by our Pakistani brothers at De Montfort
Hall in Leicester, our request for another song by the Bengali ghazal singer
Talat Mahmud was refused. And when, at the invitation of Azizul Hogue
Bhutto, we went to another cultural function at Digbeth Civic Hall in
Birmingham, only one song by the renowned Bengali artiste Hemanta Kumar
was allowed - our requests for further songs were turned down. It was an
offer that that we set up an East Pakistan Cultural Society of our own.
In 1969, there were only about o dozen Bengali women in Leicester. For the
sake of those with young children, we formed o new organization, the Asian
Mothers' Club. At that time, the much public debate was going on about race
relations and community relations. Some of the churches had set up welfare
programmes to help immigrant families. These included such initiatives as

playgroups for young children, English classes for mothers, courses of
introduction to British culture, holiday coach outings for families and so on.
The Asian Mothers' Club fitted in with this trend.
In December 1969, I got a job as a welfare officer with Birmingham City
Council, and we moved to Birmingham. We observed that large numbers of
Asian immigrants were employed in the city's numerous factories. Those who
came from Pakistan used to send money home through various Pakistani
banks which had opened brunches in Birmingham. One of the clerks at Habib
Bank was Azizul Hague Bhuiya. One of a small number of Bengali officers in
the banks, he had access to all the latest news from East and West Pakistan
and was a valuable source of information for the Bengali community.
A new chapter of my life had begun in Birmingham. As o government officer I
was now in a respected position. My husband Azad Mohammed Jaglul Pasha
had previously visited Birmingham for meetings and conferences and had
already formed a circle of acquaintances. Soon we had many new friends. Mr
Sabur Choudhury was one of those who lived with his family in Birmingham.
Mr Afruz Miah, a former merchant seaman. the owner of the Taj Mahal
restaurant in Birmingham city
centre was the president of the Pakistan Welfare Association, Birmingham. He
was a very active community worker who would always come to the rescue of
anyone in need of help, regardless of their race or religion. Newly arrived
seamen invariably got in touch with him for help in finding a job or a place to
live. One of the most important roles he filled was as a Muslim funeral
director -when someone from our community died he would see to all the
necessary arrangements, from official paperwork to preparing the body for
burial in either Britain or Pakistan. He was such a generous and helpful man
that he earned the nickname "Haft Tar (after a legendary Muslim social
benefactor).
While I was studying in Swansea the Birmingham manager of the United Bank
had been my financial guarantor. Naturally I kept close links with him and his
family after moving to Birmingham. Thanks to his wife I become a member of
All Pakistan Women's Association (APWA) and started attending their monthly
meetings.
Many of our Bengali friends from Leicester moved to Birmingham after us.
Often they would stay with us until they could find a house of their own. We
would have lively discussions with all our friends, frequently centred on the
recent history of our homeland: the Bengali language movement of 1952, the
rise of the United Front (which championed the cause of the Bengali East
wing of Pakistan) in 1954, the imposition of martial law in 1958, the
introduction of Basic Democracy in 1959, with non-party elections under the

umbrella of the martial law administration; the 1965 elections which
confirmed the Basic Democracy system; how veteran Bengali politicians like
Shahid Suhrawardy, Moulana Bhashani and A.K. Fazal Haque had been played
off against one another; and so on. Our circle of educated Bengali people in
Birmingham decided we must do more than just talk. We decided to take
positive action in support of the democratic movement in East Pakistan; to
publicize the situation in Pakistan as widely as possible, and galvanize the
members of our own community. Azizul Haque Bhuiya took overall
responsibility for these initiatives. Along with some of his friends (including
Ismail All Azad of Sylhet, Ali Akbar of Sylhet, Ganesh Chandra De of
Kishoreganj and Mustafizur Rahman Dipu of Dhaka), under the banner of
"East Pakistan Liberation Front", Mr Bhuiya started a weekly newsletter, which
was laboriously handwritten by Ismail All Azad, photocopied and delivered
house to house under cover of night. The newsletter was widely circulated in
the Small Heath and Aston areas of Birmingham, where there were large
concentrations of people from East Pakistan. However, it was also in demand
in other towns and cities. The main sources of news for the newsletter were
the BBC World Service, the Voice of America and All India Radio.
People from West Pakistan formed the largest ethic minority group in
Birmingham, so East Pakistani activists, in particular, the team involved in the
newsletter, had to watch their step. Open advocacy of East Pakistan's cause
could easily provoke a furious and violent reaction from West Pakistani
nationalists.
We had bought a house in Small Heath in mid-1970. As it was still under
construction, it was not until December 1970 that we actually moved in. In
January 1971 we held a combined house warming party and birthday party
for our son, inviting many old and new friends, colleagues from various ethnic
backgrounds, local councillors and government officers. In the course of lively
discussions, someone suggested we should open a branch of the East
Pakistan Women's Association in Birmingham. The very next week about a
dozen Bengali women gathered at my house to set up the East Pakistan
Women's Association (Midlands). Those present included Mrs Afruz Miah, Mrs
Sabur Choudhury, Mrs All Akbar, Mrs Rini Zaman and Mrs Khoyrun Nahar.
There were also some young women whose husbands were students. We
arranged to have monthly meetings, plus occasional get-togethers at our
office. Azizul Haque Bhuiya reported the founding of the Association in his
newsletter.
After the Pakistan national elections in December 1970, we overseas Bengalis
became very anxious. The Awami League in East Pakistan, led by Sheikh
Mujibur Rahman, had won an overall majority of seats in the national
assembly, yet the leader of the Pakistan People's Party in West Pakistan,
Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, was claiming the right to form a government. The military

President, General Yahya Khan, perplexed by this political crisis, was showing
signs of bias in favour of Bhutto.
The election results were as follows. The Awami League won 160 of the 162
seats in East Pakistan, plus all the 13 seats reserved for women candidates,
making 173 in total. The PPP won 62 out of 82 seats in Punjab province, 18
out of 27 in Sind, one out of 25 in the North West Frontier Province, and zero
out of four in Baluchistan, a total of 81. With 173 of the 313 seats in the
national assembly, the Awami League had clearly not only trounced the PPP,
its nearest rival but secured an outright majority.
In January 1971, President Yahya Khan went to Dhaka for talks with the
Awami League leader Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. Sheikh Mujib presented his Six
Point manifesto, which formulated the demands and aspirations of East
Pakistan in the framework of Pakistan as a whole. On 3rd March the president
announced that the national assembly would meet for its inaugural session in
Dhaka: the following day he ordered a postponement: then on 6th March he
announced that the sitting would take place on 25th March.
All kinds of rumours were circulating. According to one report, Zulfiqar Ali
Bhutto was saying that there should be two prime ministers, one for East
Pakistan and one for West. Then we heard that he had told President Yahya
Khan to forget all about the elections, and resolve the political impasse by
eliminating all the leaders and activists in East Pakistan. We also heard that
he hold threatened to 'break the legs" of any PPP member who attended any
session of the national assembly in Dhaka. Far away in Britain, we had no way
of gauging the truth of such reports.
On 7th March 1971, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman held his great historic rally at the
race course in Dhaka and loudly announced to Bengali people everywhere:
"This time the battle is for independence. This time, the battle is for our
freedom." From then on there was no turning back.
We heard that in Chittagong the fight for independence had already started.
Members of the Bihari colony there had been attacking Bengali civilians. And
when Bengali dock workers realized that shiploads of weapons were arriving
in the port they refused to unload them. As a result, many were shot dead by
the army. Throughout March 1971, tension grew. Back in July 1970, I had left
my job with Birmingham City Council to become a counsellor in the United
Kingdom Immigration Advisory Service (UKIAS). This had just been set up,
with a dozen offices in different parts of the United Kingdom and about 65
employees. I was the only Bengali counsellor. On Friday 26th March 1971 I
was at a seminar in our head office in London. At around 10:30 am I heard
that disturbing news reports were just emerging from Dhaka and Chittagong,
describing horrendous events which had unfolded a few hours before. My

colleagues were full of concern when they saw how much distress this
information caused me. I couldn't discover the full details until lunch time,
when I was able to tune into a BBC news broadcast. I heard that all foreign
reporters in Dhaka had been rounded up by the military authorities and
ordered to stay inside the Hotel Intercontinental or risk being shot. The BBC
correspondent could hear gunfire and tank movements all over the city. It
was known that a number of students had been killed in the various halls of
Dhaka University, including the women's hall. Nine university professors had
been shot by the army. Further details emerged in the London evening
papers: heaps of corpses were lying by the roadside in Dhaka, civilians had
been mown down by indiscriminate gunfire.
When the seminar was over, two English colleagues offered to escort me
home to Birmingham and, if necessary, stay with me. Later I heard that they
were following instructions from the UKIAS director John Ennals (brother of
Martin EnnaIs, the director of Amnesty International). When I got back to
Birmingham I found Imtiaz Ali, a loyal taxi driver, waiting for me at the station
with my car. On reaching home, I found the house crammed with people. A
meeting was about to take place. I quickly had a wash and a bite to eat while
Azizul Haque Bhuiya explained: "Sister, we had to hold this meeting at your
house. Nowhere else is suitable or safe. Thanks to your Women's Association,
many people trust this address." Looking around, I saw dozens of anxious
faces. some familiar and others not. One man had picked up my two-year-old
son and was weeping as he cradled him in his arms.
The bloody horrors of the night of 25th March were not confined to Dhaka.
Many other towns were also affected. Most Bengali people in Britain had by
that time realized that unpleasant events were about to unfold in their
homeland, but nobody in their darkest dreams had imagined such acts of
extreme brutality os were being committed by the Pakistan Army. All they
could do was stare at one another in helpless unbelief. At that time the great
majority of Bengali men employed in British factories were living a bachelor
life, having left the rest of their family back home; and now they were filled
with concern for the safety of their wives, children, parents and other
relatives. Distraught men went around consoling each other and sharing the
news.
Azizul Haque Bhuiya and Ismail Azad were busy contacting all the main
figures in Birmingham's Bengali community. Many of these had stayed at
home, having been too upset to go to work. Bhuiya himself was an employee
of a West Pakistani bank, so there was no question of his returning to his post.
A gulf had now opened between the East and West Pakistan communities in
Birmingham. There was quite a lot of coverage of the "East Pakistan crisis" in
the British press. The foreign news editors had known that trouble was
brewing and deployed reporters in readiness. In diplomatic circles over there

was a full understanding of what was going on. Nevertheless, Britain stood by
and did nothing while the slaughter of innocent civilians proceeded.
We in the Bengali community realized that it was up to us to make a fuss, to
publicize the situation and press for action. I let it be known that my house
was open to all as a meeting place. I have already mentioned the first big
meeting which had taken place on the night of 26th March. Now it was
decided that a public rally would be held in Small Heath Pork at 3 pm on 28th
March. The necessary permissions were obtained from the Birmingham Parks
Department and West Midlands Police. Arrangements were made for parking
the coaches in which some of the participants would arrive. My colleagues
David and John prepared a placard headed "S.O.S." It comprised a photo
showing a heap of civilian corpses and some text describing the barbarity of
the Pakistan Army operation and appealing to the British public for support.
Azizul Haque Bhuiya, Ismail Azad, Sabur Choudhury and Ganesh De designed
a leaflet in Bengali, which Johur All got printed overnight. On 27th March the
leaflet was distributed by volunteers in Birmingham. Intaz All and some of his
taxi driver friends rushed bundles of the leaflet to other parts of the Midlands.
Johur Ali and Misir All made hundreds of copies of the new Bangladesh flag
and little lapel badges bearing the slogan "Joy Bangla" ('victory to Bengal") in
readiness for the rally. Soon word of the meeting had spread throughout the
Bengali community in the Midlands and beyond. At about 2 pm on 28th March
coachloads of people began to arrive in Small Heath. The atmosphere was
electric. I led a procession of women from my house to the park, shouting
slogans all the way. We were escorted by Misir Ali, Imtiaz Ali, Abdul Hannan
and others. Many of us were carrying young children in our arms, for we were
unwilling to leave them behind. There must have been around three thousand
people at the meeting. Police had been deployed in considerable numbers, in
case of any disturbance. Like many British parks, Small Heath Pork had a
bandstand, and my contingent of women climbed onto it along with a number
of community leaders. From there we could see throngs of Bengali people and
British
policemen
all
around.

The meeting started with a rending from the Holy Quran, and a prayer for the
souls of the hundreds or maybe thousands of unnamed civilians who hod
already died at the hands of the Pakistan Army. Then the convenor of the
meeting, my husband Jaglul Pasha, started to explain the purpose of the
demonstration and introduce the various speakers who were about to address
it. At this point there was a flurry in the crowd; people started shouting and
running. Evidently someone had caused some kind of disturbance, and it
looked as if many of our demonstrators were intending to leave. Azizul Hague
Bhuiya quickly came up to me and asked me to say some words to the crowd,
as a Bengali woman and a mother, so as to restore calm. I suppressed my

nervousness and stood in front of the microphone with my son in my arms. I
said, "Bengali brothers and sisters, our battle has only just begun! We cannot
afford to lose heart so soon! Indeed, we have nothing to fear. Who can trouble
us here in England? What you must think about is your people back at home:
think of your children, your brothers and sisters, your parents, your relatives!
Imagine the tyranny, the bloodshed, the rape which is taking place! Already
thousands of people have stood up against the oppressors, and given their
lives to become martyrs. You must stand up tool Come back, join in this
meeting! We have work to do. We must draw up plans. We must move
forward. We must tell the whole world about what is going on. We must raise
funds to support our freedom fighters back home. Come on Help to save our
country and our countrymen! Come on!" My husband then added, "Donate to
the Bangladesh Fund! Donate your money! Donate your jewelry! Donate!"
Immediately I tore off the jewelry I was wearing and held it out for all to see,
crying, "Yes, come on everyone, donate!" The crowd was by now electrified.
Nobody thought any more of walking away. The demonstrators were now full
of eagerness, and many were opening their wallets and flourishing currency
notes. Volunteers collected the money that was offered and wrote down the
names and addresses of all donors. A considerable sum was raised. Later I
learned how the disturbance had begun. The West Midlands Police were
unable to distinguish between one brown face and another and had not
noticed that some Mirpuri and Punjabi individuals hold been infiltrating the
edge of the Bengali crowd. Angry words had been exchanged. a fight had
broken out, some of the West Pakistani men had brought out knives and
slashed Bengalis. This is what had caused panic in the crowd. The police had
then intervened and arrested assailants and victims alike.
That meeting in Small Heath Park was a significant landmark in the liberation
movement. It was one of the first public demonstrations in Britain openly
supporting an independent Bangladesh. We, the organizers of the meeting,
had put our reputations on the line - had the liberation movement failed, we
would have been doomed, we would have become hounded exiles on the
Pakistan government's hit list.
When I announced the opening of a Bangladesh Fund at that meeting and
donated my gold ornaments to it, I exposed my family to a real security risk.
From then on we could never feel entirely safe at our home in Small Heath.
However, our friends in the liberation movement took it in turns to guard the
house and look after my infant son while I was out at work. Intaz All used to
get my car out of the garage each morning and check that everything was all
right. At work, my Director John Ennals took special pains to ensure that I was
never threatened by Pakistani clients or exposed to risky situations. My
Pakistani friends were particularly solicitous and protective. Thanks to the
solidarity of all our friends, we were able to survive the painful year of 1971

without coming to any physical harm.
My house remained at the disposal of the community. The Bangladesh Action
Committee was founded there immediately after the historic meeting in Small
Heath Park, and remained at the forefront of the Bangladesh liberation
movement in the United Kingdom until independence was won on 16'h
December 1971. The Bangladesh Women's Association (Midlands) was also
formed, replacing the East Pakistan Women's Association, and was likewise
based in my house.