Women's contributions

Bengali women migrants in the UK played a vital role in supporting the Bangladesh War in 1971. Though the Bengali community was not very big during the 1970's, nevertheless a significant number of these women were fully involved within the Bangladesh's liberation movement; offering and extending support in so many different ways.

Many of these women took part in various demonstrations, collected money and goods. They created some extremely successful fundraising events alongside their husbands, family members and on most occasions with the help of their community. The passion, drive and attitude that these women demonstrated were actually quite different from the conventional Bengali family customs and cultural traditions of the migrant family. They were enormously independent, and through our research we gathered that these women were also entirely comfortable, confident and quite often compromising their family commitments in order to fully participate in the movement. During the late 1960's early 1970's a lot of these women were in their early twenties and were new comers to England. The majority were not just young activists they were often newly married, with children or heavily pregnant. They were wives they were mothers and their commitments varied from maintaining their household duties, occasionally balancing this with part-time or full-time jobs and yet generating the time to organise and participate in demonstrations and campaigns. Occasionally they would have the support from family and neighbors so enabling them to leave their children behind however the harsh reality was that this luxury was not always available and often they were required to take their children along with them.

Yet these family obligations the cultural traditions did not prevent them from taking an active stand and fighting for justice. They demonstrated an immense amount of tenacity, patience and bravery in overcoming their various obstacles. The nationalism and the call of their national freedom compelled them to break these barriers.

Two pioneering women organisations in the UK were very much proactive during the time of the Bangladesh Liberation War in 1971. One of them was The `Bangladesh Women Association UK' based in London and another one ` Women Welfare Association Midland' was located in Birmingham. Through these organisations hundreds of women participated in various demonstrations and campaigns to raise awareness and help the Bengali people.

The first women's procession in London was on the 3rd April 1971. Although many male participants from different organisations participated in the demonstration; this march also successfully gathered more than two hundred women; and what was more incredible was that these women attended the entire procession with their children gripping tight to their captivating placards and yelling their slogans:

  • "Not a penny not a gun, Yahya, Bhutto Tikka Khan"
  • "Stop stop genocide, Recognise Bangladesh"
  • "World Power act for humanity"
  • "Liberation Army, we are with you".

This procession was widely covered by the media. It began at Embankment and ended in Hyde Park where the women handed over a memorandum to 10 Downing Street and also to various embassies including the American Embassy.

In support of Bangladesh liberation struggle, Bengali women also took the initiative to collect money for the freedom fighters, engaged with NGO's such as the 'Red Cross', and 'Save the Children.' They got the support of British MPs and university students, sent several telegrams to the first ladies of the world and attended various meetings, gatherings and engaging in mass communication. In order to attract the attention of the media and the general public the women went out wearing saris. On 14th May 1971, during the debate on Pakistan in British Parliament a significant number of women showed opposition. When America provided two ships of arms and ammunition to Pakistan, one Razia Choudhury carried out hunger strike in front of the American Embassy. To raise funds they organised coffee morning, fairs, jumble sales, film showings, cultural functions and collecting donations, selling Pan Supari (Beetle nut and leaf) along with various other Bengali food.

Women carried out many activities to raise funds and public awareness including: cultural shows, dance shows, music and drama events.

Women in London and Birmingham also organised a hunger strike in different places to attract the media and international attention. Some of the women, during that time were heavily pregnant yet commenced with the hunger strike putting their physical health at risk.

Many women could not attend public events but raised money and donations.

Mrs Pasha said, `Those who cannot come to the demonstration they were still in the background, they were making samosas and pakoras for us and we collected it and then sold it'.

The significance of non Bengali women was just as valuable as the Bengali women. Some of these women traveled to Bangladesh themselves to offer their assistance to. Others were heavily involved in the UK movement.