Altab Ali Day and the history of Bengali fightback against racism

I often hear from the older generations the difficulties and racism they faced when they came to Britain. I could only image what things must have been for them. But when I hear about isolated brutalities on innocent Bengalis, it pains me immensely. One of them is the heart breaking story of racist killing of Altab Ali.

On May 4 1978, Altab Ali was walking home from the factory where he worked in London’s East End when he was stabbed and murdered by racist thugs. St. Mary’s Park near the site of the incident was renamed to Altab Ali Park in memory of Altab Ali.

Racism may not be as bad as before but it’s still live and kicking. Altab Ali was killed, so was Stephen Lawrence, the reality is any one of us could be next. Before there was the National Front, now we have the British National Party (BNP) and English Defence League (EDL).

Amongst the doom and glooms, as a Bengali I feel proud to see Altab Ali Foundation as an inspiring movement led by sincere activists. We must propagate truth and justice and fight racism at all cost.

Click here for “Commemorating Altab Ali Day 4 May” pamphlet, which explains the anti-racist movement, support for independence of Bangladesh and history of Bengalis in Britain better.

Commemorating Altab Ali Day
Brick Lane, 20 August 1978. Demo by Tower Hamlets Defence Committee and the Anti-Nazi League.

Morning Star article “The Bengali fightback against the racist EDL“:

On May 4 1978, Altab Ali, a 25-year-old Bengali clothing worker, was walking home from the factory where he worked in London’s East End when he was stabbed and murdered by racist thugs. His death sent shockwaves through the Bengali community. It was the eve of the local elections when Altab Ali left to die in a pool of blood. He was heading past St Mary’s Gardens (now renamed Altab Ali Park) when he was murdered in Adler Street off Whitechapel High Street. The racist killing was not an isolated incident in the East End. The  following month a 50-year-old Bengali man, Ishaq Ali, was murdered in Hackney…


From the “Commemorating Altab Ali Day 4 May” pamphlet:

The annual celebration of Altab Ali Day on 4 May is an important event in the anti-racist and anti-fascist calendar. It gives us an opportunity to both reflect on the catalogue of racist murders that have taken place in Britain and also on the struggle against racism and fascism.

For anti-racists, the East End of London has long been a site of resistance against racism and fascism. It was in the East End that Oswald Mosley’s Blackshirt thugs whipped up hatred against Jewish people in the 1930s. But they did not get it all their own way. When they tried to march through the Jewish districts on 4 October 1936 they were prevented by a mass of antifascists who used the slogan “They Shall Not Pass!”

The fascists and race haters never really went away and decades later they remerged under the guise of the National Front (NF), terrorising Bengalis just as Mosley’s mob had terrorised the Jewish immigrants that had once made their home there many years earlier.

On 4 May 1978, Altab Ali, a young Bengali clothing worker, was returning home from the factory when he was stabbed and murdered by racist thugs. It was the evening of the local elections. His death sent shockwaves through the Bengali community.

This pamphlet outlines how a mass anti-racist movement was built in the wake of Altab Ali’s death. It shows how the skinhead thugs of the NF were defeated in the summer of 1978 by the organised resistance of the Bengali community and its anti-racist allies. The events of that summer became known as the “Battle of Brick Lane 1978”.

Today’s race haters may not sport the Blackshirt uniforms of Mosley’s 1930s’ BUF, or the skinhead haircuts and boots of the NF thugs in the 1970s, but they still organise, playing on peoples fears and prejudices. They too have to be defeated.

By telling the story of Altab Ali’s murder, and of the anti-racist movement that was built in its wake, we hope that this pamphlet will inspire people to commemorate Altab Ali Day and oppose racism and fascism today in whatever new guise it emerges.

Metropolitan Police Appeal Poster
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