Mrs Badrun Nasha Pesha
Interview date: 18 _ Sep _ 06
Interviewed by: Jamil Iqbal and Ansar Ahmed Ullah
Mrs. Pasha was one the founding members of Birmingham Action Committee, a sympathetic supporter to the War of Independence. She is a courageous woman who donated her entire matrimonial jewellery, after she delivered a passionate speech in front of thousands of supporters, in a demonstration where the flag of Bangladesh was first raised in Smallheath Park.She also witnessed the panic which broke out when Pakistanis attacked 13 Bengalis at that demonstration.
I came to this country in October 1963. I have been involved with Bangladesh Liberation Movement from the very beginning. We were getting the news from the then East Pakistan (Bangladesh) since 1969 when the unrest and when the provincial autonomy was demanded by Sheikh Mujib after the election in 1954. I wasn’t involved in politics, when I was a student in the then East Pakistan. But we were very much concerned about the prospect and the future of the East Pakistanis. That’s why we the people at that time, my husband, his friend circle, whoever we came to this country, we have been naturally very much concerned and very much worried about the future of East Pakistan. However after the election, in 1970, when Sheikh Mujib won the full election and the National Assembly was supposed to sit, that was postponed several times. So we used to get all this news from India and also Voice of America, and also BBC World Service. That was the background of our involvement in the movement. Those who came from East Pakistan in the late 60s, we were very much concerned about the future. We have been gathering in Birmingham especially in my newly bought house in Smallheath, 52 Wordsworth Road. Few of us was always gathering there and discussing about the politics and the future of East Pakistan.
I was a government officer in Birmingham City Council in 1970, I was the Welfare Officer and then I left the job and went to UK Immigrants Advisory Service, I was an Immigration Counsellor. I was the only Bangladeshi Immigration Counsellor at that time. So I used to see not many Bangladeshi people but it was mainly the Pakistani people who were coming and trying to bring their families to this country and also they were trying to bring their relatives and others on employment vouchers or visitors. That sort of work I was doing at that time and I was very much mobile attending the court, adjudicator’s court and detention centres in various port of England, especially Heathrow, Dover, Birmingham and all the places I used t o go. So I used to meet a lot of friends and I used to find lot of friends there and lot of people were discussing the issues of East Pakistan at that time.
On the day of 25th March, I was actually in London attending a seminar “UK Immigrant Advisory Service”. On the lunch time we got the news of the disaster that happened in the then East Pakistan that is Bangladesh. So many people were killed and the women students in the Rokeya Hall were raped and it was not only the Dhaka city that was surrounded by the Pakistani army. Chittagong and in other cities as well, the Pakistani Army surrounded the students hall and most of the prominent university teachers, lawyers and the doctors and so on. When I returned to Birmingham in the evening with my two colleagues, my director John Analsa, who is the brother of Martin Analsa of Amnesty International, suggested me not to travel by myself. Somebody should escort me, because of the upheaval going on in East Pakistan. Something might happen to me, because I have got lots of Pakistani clients. So he was very much concern about my security and return journey to Birmingham. When I arrived with my two colleagues John and David to the station, one of my friends, Imtiaz Ali, collected me from the New Street Station and when I arrived home I found my house full of people.
I was living in Leicester, I studied in Swansea University in 67-68, I came to Birmingham in 69. By this short time we made so many friends. When I found so many of my friends in my house, I was rather amazed. Then I came to know that prominent community leaders like late Afroz Miah, who was the President of Pakistan Welfare Association, Jamshed Ali, Sabur Choudhury and other people were in my house for a meeting on the issue of Bangladesh. The leaders decided to have a meeting in an independent place, and they proposed my husband to provide the place and my husband agreed. So they were having a meeting in our house. They had continued the meeting for the whole of the day. They asked me if I do mind or if I am upset. I said, “No, I am not, you all have the right to come to our house and try to feel comfortable and whatever we can do, we will do”. We could have been black listed, we could have been attacked or our future could have been doomed and ruined. We never thought of that side of our life at all.
My two English friends also joined in the discussion and they also helped the committee, because they already had decided that they will have a meeting in Smallheath Park and that meeting will be called as ‘Shapath Shabha’, meaning that we are having an oath to liberate our country.
They told me all the representatives in the UK had a discussion and they will be coming by coach. So it really happened on 28th of March 1971.
Q: Is it true that the whole movement of independence of Bangladesh in the UK was started from Smallheath?
Yes it is. But the background goes quite a long way. In 69, 70s all the time Sheikh Mujib used to visit the country and used to visit all the prominent community leaders in Birmingham, London and so on. Our main representative was Mr Afroz Miah, he was the prominent member of Birmingham and he was the one who was keeping in touch, attending meetings and informing us what we should do. They organised the meeting. It was a well-organised meeting. About three thousand people attended the meeting. The point was that, it started in the afternoon at three o’clock. I was surprised how they got the permission to have a meeting in such an open place. Birmingham City Council gave the permission and they were so kind and generous. So many police were employed on the Sunday afternoon. The police and the authority couldn’t distinguish the Pakistani and the Bangladeshi people, all the Asians looked the same.
My husband was selected as the President of Birmingham Action Committee for Bangladesh liberation movement. When he was opening the meeting, a big noise came from one corner of the meeting. All the people were standing and listening to the speaker, leaflets were being distributed like, ‘Save our Soul’, ‘Rape of Women at Rokeya Hall’. Within two days people gathered and arranged all these things. They were written in Bengali and English. Everybody felt that we needed British people’s support. And to create the support, we produced the documents in English, and we discussed in English.
Suddenly when the meeting was going on, a big noise came from the front of the meeting. And fighting broke out and 13 people were injured and lots of them were bleeding and they had to have stitches and dressings, so the ambulance arrived and police took them to hospital and there was a case filed, which was going on for about 4-5 months about this incident. Birmingham Action Committee did bear all the court expenses. We won the case eventually.
At first they were saying that the Bangladeshi people started the fight, but we did not. The Bangladeshis were listening to the speech, and at that time they had been attacked and some of the Bangladeshi came to rescue the people who were attacked. We did had a good solicitor who did all the jobs free of charge. The fight was between the Pakistanis and the Bangladeshis. They attacked us with knife. There were mainly minor injuries, nobody died or received serious injuries, but lot of them needed hospital attention.
The people were running away from the meeting and Azizul Huq Bhuiyan, who was the convenor of the London Committee, called me and said, ‘Bhabi, it is your turn to call the people back to the meeting’. My husband also told me to go to the microphone and call the people back to the meeting. Than I went to the microphone and addressed the people, “Don’t go, we have just started the independence movement. Think about our brothers and sisters in Bangladesh, think of your mother, think of yourself, if you were in the same position, what could you have done? This is what we need to get free from, so let us start the fight. Our movement has just started, so we can’t go back and we can’t escape. Let’s do something, and what do we need? We need the money. Firstly we will have to decide how we can help our brothers and sisters, those who have engaged themselves in the liberation movement. We have to help them.” I donated my jewellery whatever I was wearing at that time. Everybody returned to the meeting after my appeal, and most of them listed their name with the amount of their contribution being announced. They were all saying, I am sending this money, and a huge list came to us. I can’t remember the total amount of the donation. Representatives came from London, Northampton, Luton and even Scotland.
Mr Abu Sayeed Chowdhury was the leader in the UK. He was collecting all the money and when Bangladesh became independent, he gave the money to Sheikh Mujib. That was the first donation from abroad not only in UK but also from the world. Because it was only 28th of March and nobody could have thought of it three days ago. 25th was the Black Night, 26th is the Declaration of Independence, and 27th was our preparation day, and 28th was a Sunday so we had the meeting on 28th March 1971. It was a miracle that we were able to organise a meeting in a short time. Afroz Miah was the leader in Birmingham and we were new comers here, we were living in Leicestershire. Actually my husband was in London, studying law. I was studying in Swansea University, I was doing social administration.
Q: Please tell us about any other incident between the Bangladeshi and the Pakistani people in Birmingham.
We had the incident of stabbing in our first meeting. The other one was on the Edgbaston Cricket Ground. We had demonstration and argument with the Pakistani people. We didn’t have any fight on that day, but we had lots of arguments. Some of the Pakistanis were quite friendly with us, I had a quite good bunch of Pakistani friends, they were very good and the said, “Just think, what ever you do, we don’t discourage you but be careful”. I used to drive and as an Immigration Counsellor I used to go to many places and ports. At that time we didn’t so many Bangladeshi people here in UK. Bangladeshi people, who came here, were living as a single person. Two years interval, they used to go back to their country and again come back after one year and so on. This was the life pattern of the Bangladeshi people in the UK. After 71, they started to bring their family into this country not before.
Q: Were there any Bangladeshi women present in the 28th March meeting?
Yes, Bangladeshi women were also present in that meeting. From my student life, I was a sort of organiser. I used to form little committees and groups. When I was doing my degree course, I was a teacher as well. At that time in Jamalpur, I organised an organisation called APWA (All Pakistan Women’s Association). That was my student life’s thing. And then when I was a studying Masters in Social Welfare, I was a member of International Labour Organisation. So I had a bit of foundation, back home as a student. When I came to this country, I was struggling to get my qualification in this country again. When I came to Birmingham there was already the All Pakistan Women’s Association, so I joined the APWA. That was 1969 when I came to Birmingham but in middle 70s, we decided to form EPWA (East Pakistan Women’s Association). We had a bit of foundation there. I was 31 years old then. There was a bit of break down during the Language Movement. When I was going to any meeting, they were all talking Urdu, not English. So I felt isolated. And some of us started thinking of a different organisation. The activities were sort of recreational, like children and woman were sitting together and talking about some thing. So, we formed the EPWA, we could talk in our own language.
Q: Were you ever confronted by any Pakistani, as you went to so many places?
No, I wasn’t, I was highly respected everywhere I went. I was appointed as the Welfare Officer in Birmingham City Council. We didn’t have many Asian people. I was a mainstream officer. But when I joined UK Immigrant’s Advisory Service, most of my clients were Pakistanis. I didn’t have enough Bangladeshis only one or two I got later on. I never had any problem, on the contrary I had the good advices from them, to be careful, and they also told me, “What ever you do, don’t spoil you future”.
Q: What feeling did you have about the Pakistanis, when the war started?
I think, living in Birmingham, I must say, the Pakistani people living here in the UK, did not like the torture, killing and mass killing going on in the East Pakistan. They were feeling sorry for those who were being affected. On the other hand they were ashamed for whatever President Yahya and Bhutto was doing. Every body was very much supportive and a lot of Pakistanis were supportive as well, I think.
Q: What was the main function of EPWA during 71?
When the liberation war started, we had programmes every month. There were lots of activities we used to run, because our main job was not collecting money. But our main job was getting the British public on our side. So we used to hold exhibitions of photographs and film of the atrocity going on in East Pakistan. We went to different cities showing the photographs and the film. we had mina bazzar different places, when there were mass gatherings. We used to prepare food and sell them to the people coming to the gathering. We used to show the people all the pictures and the paper cuttings and so on. We were organising the demonstration as well. We had positive feedback when people used to come and see the exhibitions. Many British white people and the MPs (Mr. John Stonehouse and Mr. Peter Shore) were helping us a lot. Roger Goyen was actually a teacher and teaching English in Bangladesh, he was in Bangladesh, he was a social worker and he went there for work. He was helping everything before the Liberation War. In 70 he joined in school and in 71 he joined the Birmingham Action Committee. He was fluent in Bangla and he could also write Bangla very well. We were organising and showing the films in Leicester, Northampton and Nottingham and so on. We used to call our organisation Bangladesh Women’s Association of Midlands. We collected the films from BBC journalist Simon Dring and we used to show the films by the projector. We still have the films.
Q: How was the support of the white people?
They supported us generously, we have an organisation Women for Peace, I am the ambassador of the organisation now; they called us and wanted us to give a briefing.
Q: Can you tell us any of your memorable events during that time?
On 16th December of 1971 we organised a demonstration and a camp to recruit volunteer fighters for liberation of Bangladesh, because the war was becoming quite heavy. There were lots of fights in all areas of Bangladesh, the Agartola, side and the Assam side and Calcutta side of Bangladesh. There were people in Birmingham who started to recruit young people who wanted to be volunteers to go on the battlefield. There were queue for the selection and recruitment. There was an English barman, who came and said, “I want to fight for Bangladesh liberation movement”.
There were two programmes on that day, one was for the recruitment of the freedom fighters and one was demonstration by the women. That was quite interesting for us and we couldn’t believe that white people were ready to fight for Bangladesh.
Q: Did you really believe that the white guy would go to Bangladesh to fight?
Yes I did believe. He was working somewhere in Birmingham, and he must have been somebody’s friend.
Another event was the demonstration during the cricket match. When the Bangladesh cricket team came to Edgbaston Cricket Ground, I went to the cricket ground dressed with a red blouse and a green sari and wearing the Bangladesh’s flag. Then the reporter came from Bangladesh and I was telling him that, this is the first time I have come to the Edgbaston Cricket Ground since 1971, I came here in 71, with our women group and other people in the demonstration. And this year it is so nice and so happy that I am supporting the Bangladeshi cricketers as an independent country.
Q: When you first got the news of independence of Bangladesh, how was your feeling and what did you do?
We were so relieved and happy, we were over the moon. We couldn’t believe it. Everybody was telling of the Republic of Biafra, they were fighting for such a long time, everybody was saying that these people are making their own life miserable, Bangladesh won’t become independent so quickly. It would take at least ten years. Look at Biafra, so we were getting scared. My husband and I were labelled, because our home was the office of the Bangladesh Action Committee My son, Tauhid, who was two and half years old couldn’t go out. We couldn’t allow him to go out in a park or anywhere, even with somebody. The fear was that, he could be attacked by someone. I used to drive the car and the car was checked everyday by two other people. They were taking the car out and confirming if everything was all right. We were very much protected by our own people, our house was protected as well by the people. Everybody was told to come with somebody whom we knew. Our house door was opened for twenty-four hours, but it was guarded. It was scary going out alone. In a group it was OK, but not if you were alone, but I still used to go to my office and so on. But my director John Analsa made it clear that I must be protected. So life was very hectic, for the whole nine months. It was not for only me, it was for all the people who were living in the country and especially for those who were separated from their family. We couldn’t receive any letters as well. They were not coming to us directly. Lots of my cousins were living in Karachi. Some of them were students. So they were disconnected from their families and they used to write to us and we used to write to them. So we were receiving letters for other people as well, from Karachi, Islamabad and so on.
Q: When was the first time you went back to Bangladesh after the liberation?
I went to Bangladesh in 1972. We were on our way to Bangladesh when Britain recognised Bangladesh. We were at that time in Delhi. We were there for three weeks.
Q: Have your participation and works ever been acknowledged by the Bangladesh Government or the Bengali community here in the UK?
They (children) don’t know in details, all the books are in Bengali. Whenever I have a chance I talk about how much sacrifice we made as a family. My husband has passed away, how much he has contributed. That is what I say, but we have nothing in black and white. I received one crest from Bangladesh High Commission.
Q: Tell us about your husband?
He was the chair of the Birmingham Action Committee. He contributed quite a lot. He was studying Bar at Law. He was in the final year and he fortunately or unfortunately had completed all of his classes in Lincolns Inn, he came to this country as a student to study Bar at Law. He was studying law in Karachi. He had a good bunch of Pakistani friends as well in Birmingham and London as well.
When we moved to Birmingham, we became quite known to the Bangladeshi community and also the Pakistani community. My husband was known to many of the Bengalis, whenever Sheikh Mejia used to come to Birmingham, they used to invite him and he had met Mejia once or twice. That’s how my husband got more involved with the movement.
On the 26th march 71, he was having discussion with the community leaders all day long and I was in London that day and he made the decision to make the house as the office of Bangladesh liberation movement. If the independence of Bangladesh was not achieved, imagine what would have happened. But he didn’t think of it, he was thinking of the liberation only. They had family involvement in politics. They were involved in both Muslim League and Awami League. So they were very much political family. They were also involved in the Language Movement in 1952. We all were involved and we were not thinking about the cost, which could have to be paid for this. We contributed to the movement and we carried the movement on and on. We had a flow until the 1971. I was not old enough directly participate in the movement in 52, but we used to follow it. And I was never involved in any political party; I was very much a social worker. My husband was involved in direct politics, because his family was politics oriented and he was studying law and he was not planning to stay in this country for long. He was planning to go back to Bangladesh.
He did go back to Bangladesh but he returned back to UK and joined the Birmingham City Council as a social worker in 73. He worked as a government officer. He died in 1983. If he was alive, he could have written a book.
Q: Do you have any message for the young generation of today?
Yes, I must say whatever your root is, don’t forget your root. If you need to go back, go back ten generation and find out that your forefathers belong to Bangladesh, the then Bengal, the then East Pakistan and then Bangladesh now. It is a beautiful country and very nice country. People are very affectionate. They have love and warmth. Visit Bangladesh regularly. I tell my children to visit Bangladesh regularly, become close to them. Bangladesh is one of the poorest countries in the world, but if you go to Bangladesh, you don’t see the country that poor. It’s progressing, but not everybody unfortunately. But still they are making good progress. Don’t forget your root. Learn Bengali. Learn as many languages as possible. Bengali is quite a rich language in the Indian subcontinent. So don’t forget, we do have a history of Nawab Siraj-ud-Daulah. We have history of Tipu Sultan. We have history of Sheikh Mujib now. I think my children are proud of our contribution in 1971. Most importantly my children are very proud of Bangladesh. We all tried our best to teach them Bengali, so we started Bengali classes in 1978 organised by the Bangladesh Women’s Association. Mr Roger Goyen was the role model for those who wanted to learn Bengali. If he could learn Bengali, you can learn Bengali. And if he can learn Bengali culture, you can learn Bengali culture as well. I am really proud of my children, both of them can speak fluent Bengali, they can read well, they can’t write that fluently. I think they are contributing to Bangladesh, because we have set up Sarkar Pasha Welfare Trust in Bangladesh in October 2002 with the intention that we will have health service for the poor and the disadvantaged people. We will open an English medium technical school and college for them. We have got in mind of an orphanage as well. Both my children have become very much involved with it. My daughter is a doctor, she contributed half of the year organising this. My son is married.