Question: Where were you before 1971?
Answer: Well, I could start from the very beginning of my young childhood when I was a student in Naogaon, where I was born. My recollection of my childhood was that I always believed that the society at that particular time, there was something wrong about it. Because I remember going to school, when a little young boy the same age as me was carrying my books and bag. When I went to school I went in and he couldn’t get in, So I thought there was something wrong, why he couldn’t go? So I came back and asked my mother, I said why Abdul cannot go to the school that I could. And my mother said well, he’s very poor, his parents are very poor, because at that particular time, you had to pay for education, you have to even buy books, you had to buy paper and writing pads, you had to buy pencils, pens, everything, so obviously my mother said… he couldn’t go. So I said, can you not help to get him to school? And she said well, I could help, but there are others, many many like him. But at least I’m helping him to, you know, feed him and so on in my house and giving him a bit of money for his parents. So I thought that particular incident, that I remember very vividly, and I thought there was something wrong about society, why he should be deprived because he’s not responsible for his sort of birth and all that.
Anyway, so I began to think that society must change. And then I grew up gradually, and I believed in progressive politics, which was the hope that the whole society’s structure will change and that people will live with equal opportunities and so on. So I, in ‘52, I was only in Class 8, but you know in those days I had a lot of double promotions those days. You don’t have it now, because now in Britain as well as in Muslim countries in the world, the children are actually put in the order of chronological age. But those days, if you are doing well then you actually missed one class and moved on to the next one. Anyway, so I was in Class 8 and I was young. But I heard on the radio that some of the students were killed because they were demonstrating peacefully in Dhaka for the right to speak Bengali, and to have Bengali as one of the state languages of Pakistan. And it actually made me very angry and bitter, and I thought something has to be done.
And then I called, I talked to some of my classmates and all the students were older than me, and we decided that we ought to do something in terms of a demonstration or protestation against the murder and the wanton aggression that was inflicted on the students in Dhaka. Anyway so we did that and that actually made me very conscious that we need to do something about the right of the Bengali language in its rightful place, and that Bengali although at that particular time was one only member, that Bengali-speaking people was the highest number in the whole of Pakistan, because you had a homogenous language, Bengali, whereas in West Pakistan there are many languages, you had Pashto, you had Punjabi, Sindhi and all that. And although we were majority at that time in East Pakistan, and our language was spoken by majority people of Pakistan, and yet, the language was not recognised. I remember 1947, ‘48, things were different, and people were struggling and fighting, demonstrations and meetings and so on, and they’re all about oppression on people and so on. A lot of people are taken into prison and so on.
So, yes, I grew up and then I went to college, to Rajshahi, and then to university, and then still I carried on, continued to be active in student politics, both in college and in university, and then in Dhaka as well, Dhaka university. I was elected vice-president of the Student Union because at that particular time the two organisations which are quite a sort of known and quite famous, one was the Students’ League, and the other was the Students’ Union. The SU was more progressive, both of them were progressive organisations, but the SU was [more so]. So in other words, we were supporters of Maulana Bhashani if you like – although Bangabhundu was originally with Maulana Bhashani, they used to work together. That’s when I also knew Bangabhundu, at that time when I was in Dhaka, and I met him many times because he was the forerunner of the movement that was taking place in East Pakistan for not only the language but also our own civil rights and so on.
I was vice president and of course, I became very involved with the Iqbal Hall, which was very active at that particular time with left-wing politics and so on. Then I was taken to prison as a security prisoner with Bangabhundu, and I was with him for six months, so we were together sharing things, playing bally ball and so on. I reminisce a lot of memories of staying in the prison with him and many others. Then after six months – there was no habeas corpus, it was detention without a trial, and there was no trial – after? months it was renewed, and we were not again to the magistrate court or the court or anything. So after that six months, I was released without any condition and then, at that particular time, not only was I the vice-president of all the Students’ Union, but I was also the national president of the National Union of Students, for the whole of Pakistan. And this was the first time that somebody from East Pakistan was the president of the NUS of the whole of Pakistan.
So there was a conference in Canada, in Quebec, and because I was the national president I was in prison, but the letter was waiting for me to go and attend. So I got in touch with the organisers, and they said your ticket has already been sent, you can go to Pan-Am and get a ticket and then you can fly. And then all expenses will be borne by us. And so I said, how about anybody else from West Pakistan, they said it’s up to you to decide. There was a guy who was the chairman, from West Pakistan, but he was playing a foul game because he already wrote to the organising committee that I was in prison in Dhaka under the government of the day, which was Ayub Khan, and that I shouldn’t be allowed to leave the student community in Pakistan. So I actually told them that he was playing a foul game and that I’d rather that he didn’t come. So they said all right, you will be the only one to represent the whole of the Pakistani students community, which is both East and West Pakistan.
So I went to Quebec, and I attended the conference. And I actually got a resolution passed by the conference, which was an utter condemnation of what was happening in Pakistan, led by Ayub Khan, so it was in the newspaper and all that and so on. Then I was warned by Mohammad Ali Bogra, who was then the Foreign Minister, before that he was the Prime Minister, and indeed, I must say this, that when I came out of the prison then my passport was seized, taken, impounded by the government so that I wasn’t allowed to go anywhere else So I got the ticket and everything to go, to attend the conference, and I got in touch with my brother, who was a friend of Mohammad Ali Bogra – they used to know each other well, because I’m from Naogaon, and Naogaon to Bogra is about six miles distance. Anyway, so he actually got in touch with Mohammad Ali Bogra, and it was he (Mohammad Ali Bogra because he was the Foreign Minister at that time) who intervened, and in fact, he rang the Iqbal Hall Students’ Union telephone number and spoke to the Provost. He said he wanted to talk to me. So he talked to me and he said look, I managed to get your passport, you can have your passport back, for a limited time, six months, and you must return, and while you are in the conference, please, do not say anything against the government, because then you’ll not be able to come [back].
But of course, I didn’t accept that. I had this resolution passed unanimously at the conference, that justice was denied to the students, and many students were still in prison at that particular time, as I attended the conference. So that of course was in the national newspapers and so on. And then Mohammad Ali Bogra rang me through the High Commissioner in Canada, and they found out my number where I was staying, because after that I came to Montreal, instead of Quebec, and stayed with friends. And he said, don’t go to East Pakistan, don’t stay if you can, because you will be immediately persecuted and arrested, and so on. So it was that led me to ask, to search for some kind of scholarship so that I could actually study at McGill. McGill was one of the best universities in Canada, and I actually wanted to do a PhD in economics. So I got myself admitted, but then the problem was the scholarship, so I found this scholarship as well, temporarily, and then they extended it. So while I was there in Canada, there were few students, very few students at that particular time, and we actually demonstrated against the government of Pakistan. And also at that time there was this quarantine thing, between the USSR and America, with the Cuban Missile [Crisis], so I also organised something that we should stop all this because we wanted peace and all that, and if there was a confrontation between two powerful nations, there would be an enormous impact on the whole world.
Anyway, I was active, wherever I was I was more or less active. And then I had a lot of calls from some of my friends who are studying law in London, and they asked me, they said if you do your PhD you’ll go back and you’ll be a lecturer, or an overseer, you’ll not have any immunity, you’ll not be able to do much politics, so I think you ought to do some kind of professional thing like, being a lawyer or a barrister, then you can actually do the politics. So that prompted me, because my cousin was in London studying bar at law, and some of my old friends that I was in, like Zakaria Khan Chowdhury, who is no more, he was also active in England, and he was from Baniachong. Anyway, even people like Modud and others, he is also no more, and … they were my contemporaries, they were all talking to me trying to influence me to come. So I did, finally I decided to come and give up my PhD at McGill University and came to London.
So when I came to London I was studying law, I got myself admitted to the Inner Temple to be a barrister. And I kept my dining terms, you see in the bar at law you have to dine – 100 years ago, 200 years ago there was no examination, what used to happen is mood discussion; somebody talks about things and so on, you listen, and the most important thing was that you had your dinner in front of the judges or the royalty and see whether you can actually use the cutlery properly, while you are eating soup, whether you are making noise and so on and all this. This is on the basis of that. Etiquette, the mood discussion, the debates that you took part in, based on this 100 years ago. So anyway that tradition was kept to have to dine terms, so I kept the dining terms as well as I could in the first part, I passed all the papers except one in the first part. But then I came to Birmingham because it was very difficult to, I couldn’t get any money from Pakistan officially, because first of all I was in prison, as a security prisoner, as a political prisoner, and secondly that anyone who was studying law, the bar at law and all that, the govt wouldn’t give any foreign exchange – it was very difficult those days to get foreign exchange. So what I did was, I organised some of my people that I knew, in London, and I said well lend me some money and I will pay you back and all that. So finally I just couldn’t carry on like this, so I thought I will do some part-time job. And Birmingham was advertising for teachers, supply teachers and part-time teachers and all that. So I decided to come to Birmingham to do some supply teaching.
So I came to Birmingham and did supply teaching, started doing it, and by that time I came to know people like Afroz Miah, Sobor Chowdhury and people like that. Particularly Afroz Miah and Solab Miah, then Jumpshed Miah, all these kinds of guys who were later participants in 1971. AKM Hoque, all these kinds of people. And they insisted that I should go for some kind of community involvement because I was the only Bangladeshi teacher in the whole of the United Kingdom, I’m talking about 1963, 1964, and then Afroz Miah in particular wanted me to be chairman of the National Federation of Pakistani Associations in Great Britain. Again he’s no more he passed away many years ago. And Motin is also from Manchester, and they wanted me to be the chairman, they were all involved. So I wouldn’t, I said I’m here temporarily and I will work for about 6 months, I’ll save some money, and then go back to London and finish my studies, and I’ll be called to the bar. They wouldn’t have it. They kept on saying well, yes you can do it, but please we want you to do it. And those days, there were very few people – first of all there are one or two doctors, not many, but they are not interested in politics or community work. But then because they found out that I was involved back in Bangladesh, also in London in the student groups demonstrating against Ayub Khan and all that. So finally I gave in and then I had to go, they took me to different places, in the UK to introduce me to these people so they can vote for me, and finally, the election took place, and I was elected chairman of the NFPAGB, the whole Pakistani community in Britain. So that gave me tremendous exposure. My idea was, that if I stay in the UK, I would like to be known to people so that when the progressive movement, the demonstration, whether it is against the government or whether it is against racism, in this country, then actually those people will respond because they will know me. So that was one of the temptations, one of the motivations if you like, which led me to accept and accede to the request that these people were making. Particularly, AM was very much keen, and he was the one who took me in his car remember to different places. Anyway, so that was it.
Prior to 1971 as you ask me, what else did I do? I actually – in Britain, when I came – I very much got involved in the anti-Pakistan government the Ayub Khan government movement. So almost every month we used to have demonstrations and so on in London, against Ayub Khan and against the High Commission in London, and I remember that at that particular time, I came to be known to many people and so on, even Walsall, West Brom, so I formed the Pakistan Workers Association (PWA), along with the Indian Workers Association (IWA) because they are a fraternal organisation. Then we had this coordination, the Kashmiri Workers Union (KWU) and then Jagmohan Joshi and Avtar Jouhl of IWA, and PWA. So three organisations were working for hand in gloves. Anyway, we were very close to each other and so on, we had solidarity between the IWA and particularly us, and we all used to organise the anti-racism movement and so on. So I got involved when the others were pushing me.
So I became the chairman of the campaign against racist laws, then the campaign against racism and fascism, CARD. Then immigration aid unit, I was chairman, which was based mainly in Lozells with the international law centre and so on, so all these kinds of organisations, families campaign. So I was very much involved with the anti-racism movement in this country, demonstrations, picketing here and there, we were doing it together. And often we used to go to London, against the immigration Act, some of them were racist so we actually had to fight against those immigration acts, so we were with the IWA and so on. So, very active on this front, as well as the East Pakistan front against Ayub Khan. So we used to go to London outside the High Commissioner’s office and demonstrate, and give them – even people like Sibcut Bhaudri who was a barrister, and QC, he was my vice-president, he died two-three years ago, last year I think. He was a QC, a lawyer and Pakistani you see, and vice-president of the PWA. And Zakaria was there and various other people. So we did that on two fronts: those involved in fighting in Britain against racism and fighting against the despotic, the military oligarchy. So we carried on.
Question: Tell us more about 1971
Answer: What actually was happening at that particular time was that these people who are senior to me, they actually had a tremendous affection for me, and of course, I was a teacher at that time, the only Bangladeshi teacher and all that, and involved in other things and they were there, the anti-racist movement and so on. But there were also others, who were actually opposed to what I was doing, and when I organised buses and coaches and so on to different places, because we had a branch in West Brom, branch in Walsall and so on, and people organised the coaches to send the morning so they would get together in Small Heath Park, by this road… Waverley Road. So we used to actually, the coaches used to get together, assemble, all over the place from Waverley Road, they used to go all over. And then some coaches were half-filled when they came to Waverley Road, I asked what happened, and they said some people went in the night and talked to them and said if you go to the demonstration, your possessions will be taken away, and you’ll be stateless and so on. So many people were frightened. And then those were the people who are opposed to what we are doing.
So I had the advantage in that people knew I was already active, and so on and in many places, I was fighting against the police, I remember one incident when [taxi driver, lived in Balsall Heath], he was living in Hall Green, 3 or 4 roads away. At about 5 o’clock in the morning, two or three cars came outside in the morning outside my house and immediately I woke up because all of a sudden the doors are shutting, everything is quiet, and then they rang the bell and I thought I was in trouble, I didn’t know if they were going to attack me or not, but then I looked through the window and I found Wasir Ali. So I was very angry, I told them why five o’clock you are knocking at the door, and when I looked at Wasir Ali, his face was bloody and all that. So they came in, I said what happened, they said Handsworth Police – Thornhill Road, very famous police station – they were taken, and they were beaten up by the police. So I said when, they said about 12 o’clock – we went to many leaders in Birmingham we said no, they wouldn’t dare, do anything against the police – the only person who could do it is you. So I said fine, I’ll do whatever I can, so anyway I send them to the hospital, in order to get the certificate, the injury he sustained, and how it could have happened. Then the next morning I went to, Sheila Wright because Sheila Wright was the MP at that time [the early 1980s?] in Handsworth, and then I went to Dennis Howell for his support, I talked to Roy Hattersley so I could get the support of different MPs, that they will take up the particular case. So these are the kind of events.
All right, so when I was doing the anti-racism movement in Birmingham there was an article that came out, my interview, in the Birmingham Post. The full article with my picture. At that particular time, the National Front… John Tindell… they were going to have a meeting at Digbeth Civic Hall, a long time ago when Bangabandhu came and spoke, so I give a statement that these people are committing a crime against humanity, and they have no right to use the Civic property. And so it came in the paper, so I had several telephone calls saying that I will be killed, my family will be killed, and our house will be burnt. And so I had to get in touch with the police and they came and guarded my house for two-three days, and then, I called a meeting again at Digbeth Civic Hall – their meeting was cancelled – and when I went, the people came to the meeting, and the police came and said they had information that a bomb has been planted in the hall, so we need to do an investigation. So all the people were taken out of the hall and, actually, it was kind of fake news and so on. But another friend of mine, an English friend, John Plummer, and had a blue sports car, and I had a blue Capri, which is also a sports car, so we parked together in the same side road by DCH, both are blue, so after the meeting we came out, and his car was completely burnt down, his car was down, so obviously, he didn’t have an enemy, they actually targeted me, my car and so on because both of them are blue, they thought it was my car. So these things happened.
So when the 7th March came and before that, I was already involved in the liberation struggle. That I believed that East Pakistan cannot stay with West Pakistan because of the subjugation, and the oppression that the government, the ruling class, was actively imposing on the people of East Pakistan. So it was already in my perception that Bangladesh, East Pakistan, cannot stay because the existence of East Pakistan, or the concept of Pakistan, is an aberration, of any decent perception. That two wings divided by India, 1000 miles, can unite together and become one country because of just religion – it cannot be. Because if just one religion, then all the European countries should be one country rather than different countries. There is the question of culture, language, very much important language, and culture. Religion also, but culture, language and so on. So I always believed that one day it will happen, East Pakistan will be an independent country, because there is no way that the people of East Pakistan could stay with the government of West Pakistan, which was always dominating.
Anyway, so when the 7th of March came, we were prepared for it. And when Bangabondhu made this historic speech, which is very very powerful, and we heard it, and we read it, and then we knew that something was going to happen at that time, we sensed it, that there will be something. Then the 25th March came, and I remember there was a crackdown in East Pakistan by the West Pakistan armed forces. And anyhow when it happened, we got united, it was spontaneous, and of course, I was very much involved. And Azizul Bhuiya, who became secretary of the Action Committee, was my secretary of PWA. And he used to say when he used to organise meetings, against racism and for the people of East Pakistan, he used to say that he has got two leaders, Maulana Bashani and Tony Huq.
But others were not all that involved, because of the, there is propensity, there is a tendency that whenever a government is in power, even now, then many people support that government because they get benefits, they get invited by the High Commissioner, they get this and that, to the government party. So when the BNP comes into power, the BNP have more influence than others. So this is the nature, at that particular time, there were many people who wanted to be seen as a supporter of the govt of Pakistan. So but, something happened, after 25th March, then the people actually became united, the Bangladeshi people, the Bengali speaking people, they became united. And it was a spontaneous response, all the people of Bangladeshi, here in the UK in particular, and in Birmingham that they responded to any call that is made, in order to get together, to mobilise, to protest and so on. The primary purpose of the course was to raise funds for the liberation movement, freedom fighters and all that, to actually internationalise it, nationalise first of all in order to get the support of the British government to recognise Bangladesh, and that’s why a lot of the slogans when we went in front of Downing Street was Recognise Bangladesh, Bangladesh. That was on all the slogans.
From 26th March we became very active, we started having meetings in the night, during the day everywhere, and there was a tremendous support, tremendous response, that people came to the meetings and so on. And at that particular time, the people who used to work in the factories, they used to get the wage packets, they had their names on the top, brown kind of envelope I think, the money was in there, and some of the people didn’t even open the weekly salary, weekly wages they used to get, and they give it, donate it to the fund for B, the liberation struggle and so on. So from 26 March, we became very active, and we decided to hold a huge public meeting, in Small Heath Park. In those days of course, now if you want a meeting or demonstration, you have to have the police permission and all that, those days you didn’t, you just had it. I remember, going back to the anti-=racism movement, we had a meeting in Digbeth Civic Hall again, and we were demonstrating against the state bank of Pakistan and the PIA, Pakistan International Airlines, because they were… and Joshi came, Joshi was a formidable public speaker from the IWA he was the general secretary, and he came and spoke, and then people got excited because he actually compared the state bank of PK with colonialism… he went to talk about colonialism how operation was at that time, during the time of the British Raj, and Jallianwala Bagh, and so on, and there are some people, Pakistani people, and his speech was so fiery, so inspiring, that some of the people stood up and said …? Pandemonium in the hall! There were about 500-700 people. And this was a meeting that I called, he said do you want a demonstration, I said I haven’t got the placards or flags or anything, he said, never mind, we can go, I said where? Against Evening Mail! Because the Evening Mail is another organisation that is against the pro-establishment and all that. Anyway we went, so there was this kind of spontaneous response that you had on the 26th, 27th, people were coming in, talking about it and so on.
On the 28th of March, which was a historic day, and that, we gave a call to all the people by telephone and through leaflets and so forth, that a big rally will take place in Small Heath Park, and that people should assemble. The main intention was, to actually take an oath of allegiance to Bangladesh, and saying that we will carry on no matter what happens, until Bangladesh is liberated, and we will continue to help the liberation force, with funding, with international opinion, creating public opinion for the support of the liberation struggle.
Question: Did you know that you were creating history? Did you understand?
Answer: I expected it, because of the work that we did previous to 8th March or 25th of March, for years we were fighting against Ayub Khan’s military dictatorship, and then Yahya Khan. When Yahya Khan came, some people actually thought he was the Messiah, that he actually saved all of Pakistan. We thought otherwise, we thought he was another one who will actually destroy Pakistan, and that he will also be the one who creates some kind of oppression in East Pakistan, to East Pakistani people. So I organised a demonstration immediately after Yahya Khan came into power, and I organised, I went to different areas and so on and declared that this man was going to be a disaster for East Pakistan.
But I got support, the people were – it didn’t happen overnight, some of us were working for years in order to actually create some self-consciousness among the people, saying whatever is happening in East Pakistan is something which is intolerable and it’s not acceptable, and something has to be done. So the people were prepared, they had a consciousness about what was happening in East Pakistan, the oppression that was going on, the cultural oppression in terms of language and all that, the economic oppression, social oppression and so on. All these things, people are beginning, are prepared to actually know what was happening. It didn’t happen overnight.
And the whole concept of the struggle in East Pakistan, and the march, didn’t happen just one night, it was a developed process of many years of hard work, some of the politicians, like Banga, and others like him, actually worked. Without those, and without the students of the language movement and all that, the language martyrs were the vanguards of this kind of revolution that happened later on. So the people here also, with everything that happened in East Pakistan, reflected here as well. We knew what was happening in our land, so people were more or less ready.
And so we knew that we had a lot of people and so on, and people from different cities also turned up, because it was the first big public meeting to express. But the main part was small, to take the oath of allegiance, and then we didn’t think about raising flag, it happened spontaneously, it happened automatically. I remember, that at that particular time in 1971, it wasn’t like most organisers have got a microphone, a loudspeaker system, PA system, in those days hardly there were any. The only person that I knew who had the public address system was Dick Knowles, who was the secretary of the Labour Party, and at election time he used to have this one on the top of the car, and sometimes I went in there car with him, to the campaign, and spoke going round and all that. So I knew Dick Knowles had this public address system, and Dick Knowles become later the leader of the Birmingham City Council and was also knighted, so Sir Dick Knowles. So I rang him, and I said look, Dick, I need your – he was a family friend because his wife used to teach with me at the same time, so – the fantastic guy actually – so I told him, I said this is happening I need your support and I need your solidarity with us, and I need you to bring that PA system and actually install it in the park. And he said yes, he will do it. So he was the first non-Bengali guy that I approached, until the 6th and the 7th right, who actually responded. He was the guy who actually brought in the PA system, he installed it with his car battery, the car was right there, he went away, and he said I will come back to your meeting, and solidarity.
Question: Do you think Birmingham played a big role?
Answer: Birmingham was the forerunner, Birmingham was highly organised, highly organised, in terms of mobilising people and so on, that’s why, it was possible in Birmingham on 28th March to have thousands of people turning up because we were the focal point in the whole of the UK at that particular time. Lots of people now say they have done that, they have this and so on, but Birmingham was the one which actually organised this particular event, which is part of the history because that was in that meeting, not only that I took an oath, of allegiance to Bangladesh, and took that oath that until Bangladesh was liberated we’ll continue to fight, we’ll never give up, but also the flag of Bangladesh. first time outside Bangladesh was raised, so this is the history, we are at the moment to get it recognised by the government of Bangladesh. This event of 28th March has been recognised, has been acknowledged, and has been registered by High Commission in London, saying, on record, that yes I on behalf of the High Commission agree that this was the fact the first time in the history of Bangladesh struggle that the flag of Bangladesh was hoisted outside Bangladesh in Birmingham. There is history. But we are trying to get the govt of Bangladesh to recognise this, we are continuing our struggle, we’ve now succeeded with the High Commissioner to admit that it is the case that the flag of Bangladesh was first raised outside Bangladesh in Birmingham.
Now what we did was, after that 28th March, I in particular, I was given the responsibility to go around to different universities to talk to the students, to canvas their support. I was given the task of getting in touch with members of parliament whom I knew, because of my connection with the Labour Party, because I was at that particular time quite active within the Labour Party, with people locally and nationally. So I knew all the MPs in Birmingham, and I remember in the time that John Stonehouse and Bruce Douglas-Mann, I knew them before that, and in fact Bruce Douglas-Mann, one of the two MPs who went to India and saw with their own eyes what is happening, he came to address a public meeting, Bruce Douglas-Mann… and raised funds here. So we had a meeting in the town, big hall, there were thousands of people there, and we collected a lot of cash. So I remember, he said I’m not going to take the responsibility for this, will you please take me to the police station. So we went to Digbeth police station, and he actually gave the money to the police and said this is the amount of money, I’ll collect it tomorrow because he was staying with me in the house. So we went out, Bruce Douglas-Mann came and stayed with me, that house in Endsleigh Road? Overnight. And then, I was responsible to go to churches to talk to church leaders and church meetings and so on, I was responsible for go talking to different Labour Party branches, in Handsworth and Solihull and all over the place, in Hall Green, when they had special meetings I went and spoke to them. I went to the different universities – Leeds, Manchester and so on, somebody will take me after school, they came to collect me at 4 o’clock and took me to let’s say Manchester, already arranged, and I went, and I spoke, and I came back midnight and then went to school the next morning. And also Quakers, I remember going to Quakers meetings and talked to them and so on. So in many demonstrations, we have had students, various students, we had Quakers, we had people from the church, we had vicars in dog collars and so on, walking with us in the streets of Birmingham or in London, together, so there was this solidarity which was shown. And then IWA also came and supported us and so on, and even the Kashmiri workers union, they came and joined us.
We decided that the Pakistan cricket team was coming to play a test match at Edgbaston, and we thought it’d be a good opportunity to actually organise a demonstration against not the team, but against the government, but they are representing the country Pakistan. And we said, you might have seen this little video, saying “Pakistan is dead” in that sense that there is no East Pakistan with it, so Pakistan would be all on its own, there’s no concept of Pakistan anymore, I said it what 50 years ago. But we actually organised this outside the Edgbaston cricket ground, on the corner of Cannon Hill Park, you know Cannon Hill Park, on the other side, opposite the Edgbaston cricket ground, on this side of the Cannon Hill Park, by the entrance to Cannon Hill Park. And there were many went on hunger strikes on that day, and many people came, passers-by and so on, saying what is happening, and we had the opportunity to explain to them that this was happening, genocide was taking place, a pogrom is taking place, a mass killing is taking place, but the Pakistani colluding forces and so on. So yes, that was a great success and, of course, some of the people burned PK flag and so on. So I was there, I didn’t do the burning understand, because I was speaking most of the time, and shouting, and addressing the, and all that kind of things, but there are others who did and there are some women also did it as well. We had the women’s organisations, Mrs Rashid was involved, Mrs Bhuiya was involved, and various others, there was another women whose husband was working for the bank, and she was the chair of the women’s organisation. So they went into the city centre and then campaigned for Bangladesh, raising money, in the little tins, something like that and passed them on to the treasurer and so on.
So Edgbaston was also an important factor because that was also, you know the whole television crew was there taking the picture of the playing the game. We needed the national video there and particularly the television covering cricket and all that.
There was no sense of belonging to any political party there at that time. Unlike now because either you are Awami League or BNP or Jatiya Party or all that, there was no such thing then. There were individual allegiances like, for instance, I because of my progressive politics I supported originally Maulana Bhashani and then Bangabandhu, because he was the one actually leading the whole movement, but other than that I was not a member, never was, never will be any member of any political party, I never want to join any political party, ever, in Bangladesh. But I was a member of the Labour Party. But anyway, there was no question of any allegiance to any particular political party as it came, it wasn’t Awami League, it was recreated by the Awami League at that time, Ghos Khan and others, they were also not, they were Muslim Leaguers before, and they became.
One of the things I talk to Bangabondhu, it’s in my book, when he came to London in the night, the next morning at six o’clock in the morning he rings me and he, my wife, he telephones my wife, Sheila, so she answered the telephone, she looked at the clock and seen six o clock and she said who are you, ringing so early? So he said, well, tell him I’m his brother. So, Sheila felt that my brother is ringing from Naogaon, and those days it was so difficult to get a line, you had to wait one day or two days, called trunk calls in those days. So I said ...[Bengali]… and then I took it over and it was him. He wanted me to go to his hotel, and gave me the address, so we went. And at that time I remember, sorry to say, that I went to a bank because Mujib knew then, he was not very well off. … used to come, his wife, used to come to sit every day with all the ladoos and thinks like that, and all these things that he used to like, but Bangabondhu never used to eat alone, he used to share and all that. And I knew that, because most of the time he was in prison, right a political prisoner, and he didn’t come from a political family, so took 300 pounds, a lot of money in 1971, and I took it and I thought I’ll give it to him or buy him something, or babi something. And I went and saw this 5rrrrr hotel where he was staying, and all these guys, including Ghos Khan I knew – because I had to fight those people when I was fighting against Ayub Khan and so on, and at that time there are this few people who are very much against me and they said there are 3 people who are to be killed: one is Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, one is Tariq Ali, he’s. Marxist, and me, Communist Tony Huq. To some of the people I was a communist, Tony Huq, so some of my supporters didn’t understand what it meant, he said if anybody, there was a … guy who used to have a knife with him all the time, and he used to say to B if anybody calls him TH communist I’m going to kill him! There’s nothing wrong with being called communist, because a Communist is like this; he said, but they say Communism is bad? So anyway, this was the kind of thing that happened. And all these people that I’ve worked with, there are young people who used to work in the factory, there are people who used to do a bit of study part-time, and so on and all this, and I used to work with all these people, they were with me.
I must tell you this, which is very important: there is not only I alone, there were a lot of other people who made a tremendous glowing contribution, including some of the older people like Afroz Miah and others, but also people who – Azizul Bhuiya and others, Mr Pasha, people like them and so on – and also there is another guy, Dipu, was with me. He was young, very articulate guy, educated guy, and he was with me all the time. And he was a few… years younger than me, but he was very articulate, and he was one of the speakers. In Small Heath Park, there were only three people who spoke – I was the main speaker; Azizul Bhuiya because he was the secretary, he spoke; and then Dipu. And Mrs Pasha came in because it was arranged that she should come in and say that I’m going to give all my necklaces and bangles all this, that was to inspire and motivate people and so on, but she was not a speaker. The speakers were Dipu, I and Azizul Bhuiya, and that’s it. But then, it was a very satisfying kind of meeting, we were very pleased with the way the thing went on, and there was no squabble among the leadership or whatever, so it was good.
Question: How do you see 1971 in hindsight?
It was something as I said earlier on that I was expecting, something like that. Actually, we expected a revolution, a socialist revolution, and many of us were actively planning for it. We often talked about going and fighting in the and so on, at a young age, there’s a kind of idealism if you like. People like Zakaria Miah and I used to say, and a few others, we used to meet up, we used to say that our role would be to go back and actually fight for a complete revolution, we didn’t say Bangladesh or anything at that time, but to fight for the people of East Pakistan.
And talking about the fight for the people of East Pakistan, we also had the East Pakistan House, which I was a founder member, and I was a founder member, Zakaria was a founder member, in fact, Zakaria was the one who took the initiative, because he knew a lot of people in London, rich people and so, and the money was needed, and I was a founder member. And I used to go to London; outside London, I was the only person who was a member of East Pakistan House, so I used to go there.
And there is something else also, that when Bangabandhu was taken to prison and then there was the Agartala Conspiracy Case, we thought that his life was in danger because it was rumoured that he was an anti-state element, he was arrested for sedition, and that he will be hanged to death. And so we organised a meeting in London, a press conference. Not a lot of people came. We had a press conference in Zaru Miah’s Green Mask Restaurant, Miah was the first MP for Britain; Bangabandhu took him from Hobigonj. And we decided to have this Sheikh Mujib defence fund, and I was a joint convenor with Zakaria. The two of us were convenors of that SM defence fund. In those days, of course I was young and things I could do then which I cannot do now, I used to go to, there was a Wilmott-Breeden and the BSA, most of the Bangladeshis used to work there, in Small Heath and Tyseley (I don’t know if it is there, and BSA is also Small Heath) so I used to go early in the morning, people used to be in the night shift, I used to go outside the gate and I used to say that SM Defence Fund and all that, and I issued a receipt. If somebody gave me £1 I was very pleased, I would embrace him, that was so generous. 50p or something, normal, I don’t know if anybody gave me £10 in those days, but £1, £2 would be quite generous. And then I came back, came to school, taught, 4 o clock I went again, after 4 o clock, when they paid the wages, and then get money from them. When we got the money then we sent Tom Williams QC in order to plead for Bangabandhu. So this is what I was joint convenor. There is a book by Yousuf Choudhry, in which he bought a ticket from me – I am the only one in the midlands or outside London selling the tickets, collecting money outside, and most of the people I went to those days, they wouldn’t have it, they said if they support it they will be in trouble with the government, so they didn’t.
No, I don’t think so because at that time we are very much inspired by the sentiment of freedom for B. and I think we were all united together. There are other branches, there might be another branch like when they leave the action committee and all that, but yet we are having this same kind of purpose, the same destination. And everybody was so generous, and sacrificed a lot. We used to have meetings at Gulistan Restaurant on Broad Street – sometimes Taj Mahal but mainly in the Gulistan which belonged to Jumpshed Miah. And during the day while all these restaurants are not open in the day, during the day until 5, or 6, all day we could have meetings there. Lunchtime – it is on the corner of Bradford Street and Moseley Road, in the corner – so from school because I was in Sparkbrook, at lunchtime I used to go there and have a few things and so on, in those days lunch hour was an hour, so I used to go there and do things and so on, have meetings, there were quite a lot of people I remember and I miss them, people like Abdul Ali, who is a Chittagong sweetshop, he was very active. But I think no, I would have done the same thing, perhaps, I couldn’t have done any more. Because I remember sometimes without any sleep at night at that particular time, I went to school, because I had been to Leicester, Leeds, or I had been to Manchester, or I had been to somewhere else speaking Sheffield, I remember these three places, I went beyond Manchester. Then, of course, there was a 3-4 hours journey sometimes, and then come back and there were people whose whole day was lined up to take me to speak at these meetings. So yes, and then, I think I couldn’t have done any more, I wouldn’t have done anything differently. This is something I’m very proud that I could actually take part in, and I had a role to play, in the history of the liberation of Bangladesh.