Altab Ali, a young Bangladeshi man, was murdered on the 4th of May 1978 whilst walking home from work through East London in a racially motivated killing. He had been murdered by three teenagers who had chased him down Bricklane and stabbed him to death near Aldgate station. His murderers did not know him, and they did not care to know him, all they saw was the colour of his skin – brown.
There had been many racially motivated murders during this period however Altab Ali’s murder was the final straw for the Bangladeshi community living in London and had encouraged his friends and the local community to gather together and say enough is enough. Ten days later after his murder, on the 14th of May 1978, seven thousand people marched through London, carrying Altab Ali’s coffin, all the way down to 10 Downing Street. This had been a very significant moment in the fight against racism and fascism for the Bangladeshi people who were experiencing poor treatment at the hands of white British people as it signified that the Bangladeshi people would no longer remain silent. The politicians had ignored the racism that Bangladeshi people had been experiencing but now the people were demanding that the prime minister and the government do something about the racism in East London and were demanding that their voices be heard. Unfortunately this had not catapulted change as a month later yet another young Bangladeshi man was murdered at the hands of a racist however the march to 10 Downing Street had inspired hope in the local community as they continued to hold demonstrations and were brave enough to occupy the areas – namely Bethnal Green – that the National Front, a far-right political party in the UK were distributing leaflets promoting hatred and fear. The community had organised themselves in order to protect themselves as they were not getting support from the police who were quick to arrest people in anti-racist groups rather than those of the National Front who were evidently more violent and aggressive. Eventually, the continued efforts of the Bangladeshi community and anti-racist groups began to pay off as the far-right groups were finding it difficult to find locations to preach their hatred. By the 1990s there was a decline in violence and racial abuse. They began to lose support and their presence in East London was no longer wanted.
Altab Ali is a symbol of resistance against racism and his name gives hope that hatred and racism can be driven out of areas if people mobilise their communities to stand up and speak out for themselves. St Mary’s Park, a park near Whitechapel in East London, was renamed Altab Ali Park in memory of Altab Ali who was murdered near the park. In the park, the words ‘the shade of my tree is offered to those who come and go fleetingly’ are written. This is a line from a poem by the famous Bengali poet Rabindranath Tagore.
Personally, I find it so difficult to comprehend that this is very recent history. My dad had experienced racism whilst attending secondary school in East London and recalls memories of young, white boys his age with doc martens and shaved heads spitting on them at school and hurling racial abuse towards them and the teachers turning a blind eye. However, I feel as though people his age hardly speak about their experiences which I find strange. I don’t know why that is the case, perhaps they don’t like to dwell on matters for too long. Maybe I’ll ask him when he gets back home later on today. But I think it’s important that they do tell us their stories in order for the younger Bangladeshi generation to be aware of the suffering that they endured. Understanding the struggles that our fathers went through would make us more grateful for what we have today and make us more aware and be proud of our history and our past.
Have a good day guys