Racist murder of London Bengali worker in 1978


Catalyst: Altab Ali's murder sparked protests in the Bengali community. Photo: Paul Trevor

By Lynne Walsh in England:

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Preview: Forty years on, Altab Ali is not forgotten

LYNNE WALSH looks forward to an event marking the racist murder of a young Bengali worker in London

MAY 4 marks the 40th anniversary of the death of Altab Ali, an immigrant clothing worker who came to Britain as a teenager and laboured in a clothing workshop in Hanbury Street off Brick Lane in London.

The day Ali was killed in 1978 was the day of local elections. There were 50 seats in Tower Hamlets, with the National Front [neo-nazi party] fielding 43 candidates.

They had been organising in the area for a few years regularly, with a paper sale at the corner of Brick Lane and Bethnal Green Road and a bookstall selling Did Six Million Really Die?

A book by a National Front member, denying Adolf Hitler’s mass murder of Jews.

They frequently terrorised the local Bengali community.

In the last few years, Tower Hamlets council has officially recognised Altab Ali Day locally and organised a memorial event with local groups.

This year’s includes the one-off performance of a scene from a very moving play written by Julie Begum to be performed in Altab Ali Park late in the afternoon of May 4 and the same evening at the Rich Mix on Bethnal Green Road.

Begum, the writer of The Altab Ali Story, is chair of the The Swadhinata Trust, a London-based secular Bengali community group that works to promote Bengali history and heritage among young people and she has started a crowdfunding campaign to finance the production (see below).

The trust has been operating since November 2000, offering seminars, workshops, exhibitions and educational literature to young Bengalis in schools, colleges, youth clubs and community centres in Britain.

The heart-breaking story about the death of Ali oscillates between a village in Sylhet in Bangladesh and a flat in East London and it dramatises the fateful moment in 1978 when his mother is given the devastating news.

Ali regularly writes letters to his family back home with descriptions of life in a foreign land, but everything changes with the arrival of an ominous envelope from one of his friends.

The anger conveyed in the letter and the impact of this senseless murder live on for his family and the community at large.

It was the catalyst for a mass anti-racist movement in the Bengali community, the first ever seen in Britain, culminating in a demonstration of 10,000 people marching to Downing Street via Hyde Park with his coffin.

To contribute to production costs of the Altab Ali Story, please visit spacehive.com/thealtabalistory#. Details of the event at Rich Mix are at richmix.org.uk/events/theatre/altab-ali-story.

This 2016 video from England says about itself:

The Altab Ali Story: Play

The Altab Ali Story
Written by Julie Begum
Director: Mukul Ahmed
Dramaturge: Patricia Cumper
Producer: Pauline Walker

Cast
Mother: Saida Tanni Dabir
Miah/Postman: Delwar Hossain Dilu
Grandmother: Tonni Khan
Altab Ali: Porag Hasan

This heart-breaking story about the death of Altab Ali oscillates between a village in Sylhet, Bangladesh and a flat in East London and dramatizes the historic moment in 1978 when his mother is given the devastating news. The airmail letters to his family back home with descriptions of life in a foreign land are keenly anticipated but everything changes with the arrival of an ominous envelope from one of Ali’s friends.

This senseless murder is the catalyst for a mass anti-racist movement from the Bengali community; the first ever seen in Britain, culminating in a demonstration of 7,000 people marching to Downing Street via Hyde Park with his coffin. Though airmail letters are no longer a primary means of communication, the anger conveyed ‘par avion’, and the impact of this senseless murder live on, both for his family and the community at large.

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