Nazia: My father, he was in this country during the second world war. From him, we got our courage. He gave us a very good education. In fact, in my village home, there were only 2 tin-shed houses, everybody was saying (to my father) you are an army officer, you have money, why haven’t you got a building? My father said there was no need for a building: I am giving my children the best education. Bharta Shori Homes was one of the best English medium schools; that’s where we (3 sisters) got educated. That’s the best achievement in my life, and my father sacrificed that for me.
I came to this country after marrying Mr Rashid. I had my first daughter in 211 Banks Road, which was quite a well-known house during the 1971 period because lots of people used to come to our house. Misir Ali used to live opposite me; he was the one who raised the flag on 28th March. Mr and Mrs Pasha used to live in my house because they were a student at that time. They moved from Leicester to my house, and after a few months they bought a house, 52 Wordsworth Road in Small Heath. At that time life was tough, not like today. Nobody had cars, no mobile phones. We were all very young at that time. I was only 18 years old. Everybody was young at that time, Mrs Pasha, Mrs Khaliq, Mrs Islam, Mrs …., Mrs Khan, a lot of them passed away now. You can imagine that time, looking after the family and then the Bangladesh war started. Very quickly 1969 went, and 70-71 came. In 1971 we moved to Sladefield Road. At that time everybody moved. Within 8 months, lots of people moved (houses) at that time.
Time went so quick after 69, 70 then 71 came. After 1971 we found that time just flew from our lives.
At that time we were very young and we had lots of courage. We used to receive news from the BBC. There used to be a Pakistani radio office in Moseley, which was called Jhonkar Radio of Pakistan. We used to hear lots of news from there.
Question: Tell me a bit more about 1971.
Nazia: 1971 was a miracle in our lives. It was like a sweet dream and bad dream. We used to wake up in the morning, I had only one child, I used to leave her with my neighbour, Colin, and rush to the Small Heath Park. Small Heath Park was the meeting point for all the Bangladeshis in Birmingham. As soon as we heard the news (7th March) and the speech ‘ get ready to fight with whatever you have’ we did exactly that after West Pakistan started to fight in Bangladesh. Every day, even weekdays, there used to be 3-4 hundred people at the park. We used to hear the news from the park; some people had radios. Slowly things started to get serious as we started to get the news from East Pakistan. We had demonstrations. Mr Rashid used to arrange the coaches. He got sacked 3 times from work, after explaining to the boss he would get the job again. They used to say we can’t give you the job again Mr Rashid. But he used to explain, look I can’t just sit and do nothing, this is what’s going on in my country, and he used to get the job again.
We used to do the demonstrations at London Hyde Park, under Mr Toni Haq; he made an emergency Midland’s Women’s Association. I was the treasurer, Mahmuda was the secretary and Mrs Khan used to be the president. There were 12 of us. At that time lots of our sister-in-laws were English because the men used to marry English women. They were very nice and very friendly, so Rita Khondhokar, Mrs Miah, Tone Haq’s wife was with us, Sheila Haq. We used to collect a little money everyday. We made samosas, went to the Bull Ring, sell samosas in front of the church. Three times we did the hunger strike there with Mr Joglu Pasha, he used to come with us. There was a demonstration at Edgbaston Cricket Grounds. There were nine of us from our group that went from the Women’s Association with Mr Mustafizur Rahman and Mr Rashid. I took my passport with me (to the city centre), I was the only one, and I burnt it. All my friends were saying ‘Allah, why did you do that? Will you not go back home?’ I said, ‘Yes, I will go, but I will go back to Bangladesh, not Pakistan.’ Then we got our voice heard by the world.
The West Midlands Police were very helpful at that time. Sometimes incidents happened in Small Heath Park, because all the surrounding areas had lots of Pakistani shops and people. There were no Bangladeshi shops, it was a little scary at that time. One incident happened at the Small Heath Park, someone tried to stab a person. West Midland’s police were so helpful at that time; a few of us were pregnant at that time, so the police used to escort us home. It was dangerous for us at the time, so they used to drop off us at home. Those things I will never forget.
One day we went to Hyde Park, a few of us always had to stay back away from the crowded areas because we were expecting (pregnancy). At the time I was thinking, I was 18 years old, I went there for the demonstration for the independence of Bangladesh; crying, shouting, it is like a third world war to me. I think the Bangladeshi community people in Birmingham (about 10,000 people) at that time did something and everybody is a freedom fighter. Everybody did something, whether it was even 10 shillings, 2 shillings. I used to get £1 child benefit at that time; I used to donate 1 shilling of it and do my shopping with the rest. Like that everybody used to give. I remember Afruz Miah (he used to own the first restaurant, Taj Mahal), he used to give the bag of rice, onion, cooking oil to Mrs Pasha’s house who lived near the park. People used to come from a bit far like Wolverhampton, Leicester, so he used to give them food for them; they used to be here all day, and there were no fast food shops except for fish and chips. Those things are like Hollywood, Bollywood cinema which we did at the time.
In 1971 after 4 months I got a letter from my father asking me, ‘please, please, send your brother some money.’ My brother was a major in Quetta in Pakistan. They never used to give them money or food. So Mr Rashid and I arranged £40 with great difficulty; we wrapped it up in newspaper and sent it to him at his address, but he never got it. Some other Pakistani officers took it, but he got punished for it; they beat him for 7 days. One of his eyes is still blind, and they said, ‘freedom fighter, your sister in Birmingham, London’ and they beat my brother. These sorts of things happened at that time. I lost 3-4 relatives in Moynamoti in Comilla.
After 7 months, we got the news that we got our independence, we got our Bangladesh, we got our flag, we got our language back and we had our independence, we were free from them, and we are the people of Bangladesh. That was the most beautiful thing in the world. When I look back, I think I am the daughter of Bangladesh, I am a wife of Bangladesh and I am a mother from Bangladesh, and my children are Bangladeshi. It’s the most beautiful thing in my life. My children are proud of that. My children like Bangladesh. We are very grateful to people like you who take our interviews. We didn’t save lots of papers because we didn’t think it was so important.
Question: Where were you on the 28th of March?
Nazia: We were always with Mr Tozammel Tony Haque, he was the leader of our group. There were 4 or 5 groups in Birmingham because there were so many people it was not possible to speak to so many people all at once. On the 28th of March we got up, Misir Ali who was always close to us and Mr Afruz Miah came to our house and told us we were all going to Small Heath Park and gathering. After the raising of the flag on 28th March at the park, Mr Rashid, myself, Mr Mojibur Rahman and Mr Tozammel Tony Haque went to the Gulistan Restaurant in the city centre in a black taxi. We were the first ones, and I was the first woman to sing the Bangladeshi National Anthem. That was also a very happy day of our lives. March 28th – I will never forget. We are proud, Birmingham did the first flag raising. It was a historical day in our lives.
Question: You mentioned your brother, and your family from Comilla. When did you go back to Bangladesh?
I went to Bangladesh in 1974, I lost my father at the time. My children were very small. As soon as I reached Bangladesh, I hadn’t seen my father, he passed away before, my mother who was brave and from Calcutta said, ‘You are a mother of a freedom fighter because you were pregnant at that time, your child is a freedom fighter too.’ Comilla was badly affected. My auntie used to have a cottage industry (Jahanara Cottage Industry), and they burnt it down. My mother used to hide the bamboo and give it to the young freedom fighters. At night she used to supply them.