Altab Ali Park, Tower Hamlets

By Julie Begum, Chair of Swadhinata Trust

My name is Nurjahan Julie Begum. I was born and brought up in Tower Hamlets, London, UK. My parents migrated to England in the 1960's from Bangladesh, then known as East Pakistan. East Pakistan was formally a part of Bengal before the partition of India in 1947.

Focus for the community

Altab Ali Park is important to me because it's a site for the local community to meet for political events and it is where I have spoken at a political rally for the 80th anniversary of the Battle of Cable Street. I also rallied at the park with other anti-racists and anti-fascists against the English Defence League.

Shahid Minar monument

It is where London Bengalis meet to commemorate International Mother Tongue day at midnight on 21 February every year at the Shahid Minar, which is a replica of a national monument in Dhaka, Bangladesh. The monument commemorates those killed during the Bengali Language Movement demonstrations of 1952 in what was then East Pakistan.

General view of park and sculpture. View from north-east.
Shahid Minar monument in Altab Ali Park © Historic England

Resistance against racism

The park is named after Altab Ali, a Bangladeshi textile worker who was murdered by three teenagers on 4 May 1978 in a racist attack as he walked home after work. His murder occurred at St Mary's Gardens by St Mary's Churchyard, near the corner of Adler Street and Whitechapel Road in London.

It provoked the mass mobilisation of the Bengali community locally and came to represent the self-organisation of the community. Ali became a symbol of resistance against racism and is associated with the struggle for human rights in defence of British Bangladeshis. The churchyard he was murdered in was later renamed Altab Ali Park in his memory.

24 men sitting in one long row in front of the Shahid Minar monument in Altab Ali Park.
Altab Ali Day commemoration by Altab Ali Foundation at the Shahid Minar monument © Swadhinata Trust

The Altab Ali Story

I wrote The Altab Ali Story in 2015 and it started as an idea I had in a writing workshop run by Strongback Productions. The workshop leader asked us to tell a story that they hadn't heard before and that meant something to us. It was read out by an actress at the Richmix Cultural Arts Centre. It got a good reception, so I developed it further. My friend, Mukul Ahmed from Mukul and Ghetto Tigers theatre company offered to direct it and Strongback Productions helped me produce it.

The play was staged for the opening night of The Season of Bangla Drama 2015 which was organised by the London Borough of Tower Hamlets (LBTH) Arts and Events team. The sold out performance was staged at the Brady Arts Centre with Arts Council England funding. It was re-staged for the LBTH Altab Ali Day commemorations in 2016.

Actress Sadia Tanni on stage wearing a white sari and holding a letter.
Actress Sadia Tanni as Altab Ali’s mother in the play The Altab Ali Story © Rehan Jamil

On 3 May 2018, a film recording of the play was shown at The Cabin Cinema Club in Poplar, London. This performance was on the night of this year's local elections, and also on the same night that Altab Ali was murdered 40 years ago and I led a Q&A after the film show.

The event was attended by local residents and people who had travelled from other parts of London to see the film. After the film show there was a light supper of soup and bread provided by The Cabin Cinema Club.

Altab Ali Park is the only park in Tower Hamlets that has been re-named after a local Bengali resident. It is a park which many people can enjoy and I am proud of it.

The Swadhinata Trust is a London based secular Bengali community group that works to promote Bengali history and heritage amongst young people.

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