Campaigns in the UK

During the liberation struggle in 1971, a large number of Bengalis were residing in the UK. These Bengalis had provided huge financial and moral support to the freedom fighters and supported the Liberation War of Bangladesh.

In August 1969, Bengali settlers in Birmingham formed East Pakistan Liberation Front. Its President was Abdus Sabur Choudhury and Secretary was (late) Azizul Hoque Bhuyan. There was a fortnightly publication called Bidrohi Bangla published by Mr Mustafizur Rahman. This spread the news of Pakistani military action on the 25th of March 1971. There was a gathering in Birmingham Smallheath Park attracting over 10 thousand Bengali residents. In the gathering, the East Pakistan Liberation Front was abolished and a steering committee was formed under the leadership of Justice Abu Saeed Chowdhury.

Meeting in front of Trafalgar Square with Justice Abu Syed Chowdhury
Photo: Courtesy of Janomot Newspaper

The steering committee members were Mr. Azizul Hoque Bhuyan, Mr. Kabir Chowdhury, Mr.Monowar Hussain, Mr. Sheik Abdul Manna and Mr. Shamsur Rahman.

With increasing media coverage of the group, there was an increased awareness of issues facing Bengalis in East Pakistan. This helped foster support for the Bangladesh's liberation movement. Given the role played by British Bengali activists, their roles were significant in the independence of Bangladesh. After all because of those movements and demonstrations western media, activists and governments went against Pakistan and helped Bangladesh's liberation. Bengalis in Britain played a significant role in the independence of Bangladesh.

Following increasing intimidation of Bengalis, as well as the postponement of the Pakistani National Assembly (Pakistan's Parliament) on the 3rd of March 1971, given the overwhelming support for the Awami League in East Pakistan, the liberation movement in London took action. The London Awami League, supported by the Student Action Committee, gathered at Hyde Park on the 7th of March and organised a demonstration outside the Pakistani High Commission to coincide with the now famous Dhaka Race Course Rally in Bangladesh. Over 10,000 people came to listen to MPs and other speakers. Memorandums were submitted to British Parliament and other political bodies. Bengali students took over the offices of the Pakistan Student's Federation at Chesham Place (London) and established it as their temporary base. Once news had spread about the atrocities of the night of 25th March, when tens of thousands of people were massacred in East Pakistan by the West Pakistani forces, articles were written in the British press. Meetings were held in many places to organise support including the former Ganges Restaurant in China Town, Dilchad Restaurant, Artillery Passage in the East End of London. Advertisements were sponsored through these efforts in the Times and Guardian. They also launched the 'no aid to Pakistan campaign' and sent relief missions to the refugee camps.

Medical team with ambulance in 1971 (Photo from Mrs Kulsum Ullah)

Given that a multitude of groups which had been formed to support the cause of Bangladesh, attempts were made to bring all the groups together and co-ordinate action. Delegates from the many Bangladesh Action Committees, coordinated by a Central Steering Committee, were sent to conferences all over Europe, the Labour & Conservative Party conferences in Oct 1971, the Trade Union Congress, the annual World Bank meeting, International Law Conference and any number of meetings where intellectuals and politicians gathered. They lobbied MPs, Parliament, Student Unions, and Embassies to recognize Bangladesh. There was also instances of boycotting events or and seminars which were attended by Pakistani representatives, such as in Birmingham where the Pakistani cricket team had come to play, were boycotted and demonstrations held.

Help was organised for the survivors of the genocide through donations. On the 30th Oct 1971, a mass demonstration was held outside Claridges Hotel, London where Mrs Indira Gandhi, Indian Prime Minster was staying. She was requested to recognise Bangladesh. By the 3rd Dec 1971, India finally complied and recognised Bangladesh. The Pakistani military started losing the battle and on the 16th Dec 1971 surrendered to the joint command of Bangladesh and Indian coalition forces.

Concern and attention now turned to Sheikh Mujibur Rahman who had been imprisoned for declaring the independence of Bangladesh on the tragic night of 25th March 1971. Demonstrations were held at Trafalgar Square on the 1st of August and at Hyde Park on the 10th of Dec 1971 demanding Sheikh Mujibur Rahman's release. This was finally granted in January 1972.