Alhaj Dabir Ahmed
Question: Where were you before 1971 and how did you reach Birmingham?
Answer: My name is Dobir Ahmed. My father’s name is Alhaj Abdul Khalik master. My village home is in Jagannathpur in Bangladesh. I reached London through Heathrow Airport in December 1967. From there I travelled with a Pakistani driver, I reached my uncle’s house at 148 Victoria Road. I came with another young boy, his father sent me in a taxi to my uncle’s house. My uncle didn’t know that I was coming so that’s why I used a taxi to come here. Initially, I stayed with my uncle.
After some days, I started my first work at Shahjahan restaurant. The day was in two shifts. During the daytime, I used to go to lunch, and then I used to get time off from 3 to 6 pm, and then I used to work from 6pm to 12am. By the time I got home, it used to be 1 am sometimes 2am. After a few weeks, my uncle used to ask me how it was going. But I never replied to anything. So he probably thought I didn’t enjoy it. So he told me, it’s ok you don’t need to go to work, you stay home. So I left the job. Afterwards, my maternal cousins, and aunts used to live in Kidderminster, so I went with them.
Then after a while, my uncle took me to a restaurant in Manchester. I stayed there with some other relatives. I didn’t have any money. I used to stay with relatives, they gave me food and somewhere to stay while I watched and learnt about the job with them. After a few months, another relative came to pick me up because they needed some staff in their restaurant. It was still in Manchester. They asked me to work for them. I met some other people there too, so I was happy. I started my first paid job there. After I worked a week, he paid me £5. I got accommodation, food and also £5. This was my first ever earnings. I enjoyed myself and worked for about a year.
Thereafter I came back to Birmingham again and started working at a Selly Oak, Ajanta Restaurant. After that, I continued working in many other restaurants. That’s how my work life started.
In 1970 an election was held in Bangladesh and firstly I want to remember: ‘’The Father of our nation,’’ Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rehman; four leaders of the nation Tajuddin Ahmed, Syed Najrul Islam, Captain Monsur Ali and Kamruzzaman; I want to remember the Bengali military leader M. A. G. Ataul Goni, Abdus Samad Azad; 30lakh martyrs and all who died for the nation in 1952 as well.
Awami League won the 1970 election led by Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. In March 1971, Pakistani politician Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto along with President Yahya Khan did not want to hand over the power to Sheikh Mujibur Rehman. Sheikh Mujibur Rehman tried hard and then united all Bengali people at Ramana Race Course in Dhaka and gave his valuable speech. In the speech, Bangabandhu informally declared the independence of Bangladesh, proclaiming: ‘The struggle this time, is a struggle for our liberty. The struggle this time is a struggle for our independence.’ Operation Searchlight was the codename for a planned military operation carried out by the Pakistani Army in an effort to curb the Bengali nationalist movement in former East Pakistan on 25 March 1971. On the night of 25th March, the Pakistani military began a violent crackdown to suppress the Bengali opposition.
On that night Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman declared the independence of Bangladesh and sent it to Chittagong Awami League leader Abdul Hannan by telegram. At 1.30 a.m. Bangabandhu was arrested by Pakistani army and transferred to Karachi. After that, Abdul Hannan read Sheikh Mujibur Rahman’s speech from Kalurghat Betar Kendra.
In 1971, Birmingham was the centre of all Bengali people and all awareness campaigns and protests were started from Birmingham to other cities. When Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was arrested, at this time in Birmingham Afruj Miah, Jamshed Miah, Tony Haque, Sabur Sodri, Tunu Miah, Johur Ali, Habib Rahman all got together and called for an immediate meeting to identify what should we do now. Then they called for a meeting at night 1 a.m. at 52, Wordsworth Road, Birmingham in the residence of Jaglu Pasha. They called the meeting at night because the restaurant workers could not attend any other time. I reached on time with Chand Miah uncle. In this meeting, it was decided to arrange a protest meeting on 28th March, at Small Heath Park. I informed my friends to attend the meeting. We were given the responsibility as a youth, to insure everything runs smoothly.
On 28th March the meeting was held and around 8000 to 10000 people attended. At 12 pm some Pakistani people started criticizing us at Coventry Road and a collision occurred between us. Some of our people were injured then and the police arrested some Bengali and Pakistani people and took them to the Digbeth Police Station. Police controlled the situation and the meeting continued. All Bengali people were committed to helping Bangladesh, but we needed funding. At this time Mrs. Pasha, who was on stage or somewhere nearby, gave her gold necklace/chain (that she was wearing) as a contribution to the Bangladesh fund. Seeing Mrs Pasha, others were influenced to raise funds and so contributed too, and so that’s how the fund raising started. Then the Birmingham Action Committee was formed, the president was Jaglu Pasha and the secretary Azizul Haque Bhuiya. Then they asked me to build up a youth organisation, and so in response to this I called for a meeting and created an organisation named ‘Bangladesh Youth Organisation’. The president of that organisation was Alam Nur Raza Choudhury, and I was the general secretary. That’s how our committee work started. At that time under the guidance of the Bangladesh Action Committee, we were asked, when the needs arose, to help gather people for meetings, for protests, when travelling to Trafalgar Square, Hyde Park, organise coaches etc. – this was our responsibility. After that, ties and badges were made, and we took them and sold them to restaurant customers. We were told what price to sell them for, however, the customers used to pay much more than what we asked for, some £5, some £10. This is the way we used to raise the funds and send them to the Action Committee. Then we wanted to do something for our organisation. So we planned to show a Bangla film and the money we got from this would be given to the Bangladeshi fund. But the problem was that we didn’t belong to any hall to show the film. Then Mr. Tapa, a friend of Raza helped us to show the film at ABC Hall, Stratford Road. English films were shown there. We had to go to London to make a payment to hire the hall. The name of that film was ‘Monihar’. It was a Sunday when the film was shown. Some Pakistani people interrupted us and asked us not to show that film. We tried to protest against them and a collision occurred between us. Police came to that spot and stopped them, and the film continued to be shown. Police helped us a lot during this time. In this way, we continued collecting funds.
In the meantime in 1971, the Pakistani cricket team came to play at the Edgbaston Cricket Field. Tony Haq asked me to protest against them. It was a way to get coverage for us and spread the news about the atrocities in Bangladesh. Then, with about 200-300 people, we went there and protested against the Pakistani cricket team to ‘go back.’ There is video coverage of this on YouTube. This is how we continued our activities.
In 1971, when Pakistan surrendered with approximately 93000 soldiers, we were very happy but still, we were worried about Sheikh Mujibur Rahman as he was still in Pakistani prison then.
We only had All India Radio and BBC Radio to hear news about Bangladesh. There was no way to get news about our relatives. In Britain, at that time there was only one Bengali newspaper named ‘Jonomot’ (Editor was Wali Ashraf, and Assistant Editor was Anees Ahmed). This newspaper used to sell in different cities and towns. Jobur Khan knew the reporter, he used to distribute the newspaper to some Bengali and Pakistani shops. I used to go with him to deliver a few papers. Bengalis used to rush to get the papers. Bengalis were very excited to read this newspaper, and to know about the update on Bangladesh. The funding I was talking about, people kept back only what they needed for themselves, and readily gave the rest of their salary to the fund. So many people helped like this.
After independence, Bangabandhu was released from prison in Pakistan, and landed on 9th January at Heathrow Airport from Pakistan. President Edward Heath (British prime minister) was at Gambia. Somehow he knew about Sheikh Mujhibur Rahman, and he returned to meet him in the lounge at the airport. Bangladesh had a mission, which was the responsibility of Rezaul Karim.
I need to talk about something else first. After the start of the liberation struggle, our Justice Abu Syed Choudhury was in Geneva. When he came to London, he came to a meeting in Coventry. By his guidance steering committees were formed in cities across England. He didn’t get involved with the steering committees, instead, he worked from behind the scenes. Through steering committees when protests or meetings were arranged, all the steering committees and their communities used to get involved and gather for the meetings/protests. I remember a demonstration was held at Trafalgar Square, where we took full 50/60 coaches from Birmingham to attend. Then there was a speech given in Birmingham, given by Bhuiya in Bengali, Tony Haque delivered it in English. This is how wherever there were meetings we all used to be involved together.
Going back, Sir Douglas Home, the Foreign Minister, went to receive Sheikh Mujhib at the airport. Sheikh Mujib was staying at Claridge Hotel as a guest. We decided to meet him at the Claridge Hotel. With the help of Ujir Alom Shaheb, who was a Bengali driver, five/six of us reached in front of Claridge Hotel, there was a lot of Bengalis and we started slogan ‘Joy Bangla’.
Sheikh Mujhib held a press conference. But before that, when Edward Heath was in Gambia, after he heard Sheikh Mujib was in England, he left his other duties and returned to England. He then invited Sheikh Mujibur Rahman for a meeting at 10 Downing Street, around 4 pm. The meeting happened at 10 Downing Street, and Edward Heath asked Sheikh Mujhib what help do you want from Britain? (We heard all this through the papers). Sheikh Mujibur Rahman replied I wanted to go to my homeland as soon as I can. Please arrange this for me. Edward Heath arranged for Bangabandhu to be sent to Bangladesh on his own Royal Airforce plane.
A press conference was then held at Claridge Hotel by Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. At this conference, Sheikh Mujib appealed for help for Bangladesh.
Then he became the Prime minister of Bangladesh and made British High Commission in Bangladesh, and the name of the advocate was Syed Advocate Sultan Ahmed. He appealed for help. Then we sent the money from our Youth Committee fund to the British High Commission. I had £920 of funds left. We decided to give this to the High Commissioner’s appeal. Myself, Sofir Ahmed, Raja Shaheb, Alom Nur Raja Choudhury and Habibur Rahman Master went to the London High Commissioner’s Office to hand over the final funds ourselves. Recently, I have already written two books about the liberation war. We did what we could.
When we first came to England, when our customers used to ask us where we were from, I used to say we were from the Indian East Bengal. When we used to say East Pakistan, they never used to recognise it. But now I am proud to say that I came from Bangladesh. I am proud to have my own identity. I am hopeful and pray for the development of Bangladesh.
My request remains personally to Sheikh Hasina to recognise the overseas Bengalis who helped the liberation struggle, and who took part in it, and we have made an application too, that Sheikh Hasina award those that are still living, with a recognition of their contributions. I finish with this request. Assalamu alailkum.