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16 February, 2020 11:22:06 AM
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The struggle for mother-tongue continues

It seems not only the Tory but the Labour party also are not immune from racism
ABDUL GAFFAR CHOUDHURY
The struggle for mother-tongue continues

The fight for mother tongue has now become a powerful political struggle for minority communities in the whole world. To keep their domination over a colony for long time the imperial powers tried to suppress the local languages and imposed the ruler's language. That is why everywhere in the world the fight for mother tongue became a political fight for minorities or the dominated people to survive with the power of their language. We have seen it in Bangladesh. Bengali people first started their fight to establish Bangla as one of the state languages in Pakistan. That fight gradually became the fight for political rights, power and equality for Bengalis. In Britain also the Bangladeshi community is engaged in the fight for equal rights and political power through language movement for a long time. Though Bengali voters in East London are a strong vote-bank for the Labour party, they were betrayed by the local Labour council to get social justice and equality. It seems not only the Tory but the Labour party also are not immune from racism. It has been alleged that the present Labour Mayor of Tower Hamlets is playing a divide and rule policy to deprive the Bengali community from their equal rights and opportunities.
Labour has a stronghold in the borough of Tower Hamlets because they have been enjoying continued support for the last 50 years from the local ethnic communities — Bangladeshi, Somalian, Arabic, Chinese, etc. Bangladeshis are a dominant community among them and as they are the majority, the centre of Tower Hamlets is called Bangla town. Labour enjoyed their votes in Tower Hamlets for almost half a century but could not prove that this party for working class are immune from racism. A Bengali educationalist, Nurul Haq first established a school in the borough for teaching Bangla langauge but he did not get proper funding for it from the local Labour Council. He sought Labour's nomination for becoming a borough councillor but was rejected by the party. This time the Bengali community was united with other ethnic communities. Nurul Huq, stood as an independent candidate to become a councillor and had a great victory. The Bangladeshi community in Tower Hamlets changed their loyalty for a while from Labour to Liberal. They thought that if Liberal came to power in the borough they will get better treatment from them. But the Liberal party disappointed the ethnic communities with their more racial policies. The Liberal Mayor offered the ethnic communities to vacate their houses and live in the big ships on the riverside provided by the Liberal council. There was a united movement by ethnic minorities over this vicious scheme and it was dropped.

Before the Liberal Mayor, there was a labour Mayor in the Tower Hamlets council. Under the instruction of Ken Livingstone, the Mayor of Greater London council he undertook huge development projects specially in improving the education and culture of the ethnic minority communities including Bangladeshis. Ethnic groups, especially Bangladeshi community established many Saturday schools for teaching Bangla to their children and their social development was tremendous. In the early 80s of last century a new and educated middle class emerged among the British-Bangladeshis and with it a new young leadership also emerged. Among them Jalal, Kumar Murshid, Siraj, Nuruddin, Helal Abbas were very prominent. They were progressive and forward looking. The Bangladeshi community successfully fought the National front and other racist groups who were regularly attacking ethnic minorities in East London, established their own newspapers, radio and television channels and Tower Hamlets became a powerful strong hold of the Labour Party. Within a few years a Bangladeshi lady, Paula Uddin became the member of the House of the Lords. Later on, three Bangladeshi women became members of the House of Commons.

The development of Bangladeshi community halted as Ken Livingstone was ousted from the mayoral post of London and Boris Johnson, a Tory leader (now the Prime Minister) occupied it. Though Tower Hamlets remained under Labour Party they were also accused of following the Tory policy of discrimination. With clever media propaganda young rising leaders like Jalal, Kumar Murshid and others were defamed and lost their political gravity. It is my suspicion that it was a Tory device to help ultra-fundamentalists among young Bangladeshi people in East London and help different mosques to establish religious youth organizations. In this field Jamaat played a very prominent role and became dominant in East London. Lutfur Rahman, a Labour candidate for mayoral post in Tower Hamlets did not get nomination from his party. He contested the post independently and became the mayor defeating Labour. It was alleged that he was backed by Jamaat and other religious forces and he also followed a pro-Jamaati policy which made Tower Hamlets a stronghold of religious fundamentalism.

After Lutfur's fall John Biggs from Labour Party became the mayor. Ethnic communities of Tower Hamlets voted him in the mayoral post with a hope that he will help the communities to come back in the road of development. It was a great disappointment. It is alleged that first, he followed the policy of Lutfur to support the fundamentalists, then he devised a policy to divide the rest of the Bangladeshis to fight against each other so that he could cut the funding which was providing their education, health care and housing. The council said that for central government's austerity plan they could not continue the funding for mother tongue education for 11 ethnic communities, but it was reported that huge funding was allocated for many projects which were not at all essential for the borough. John Biggs is ignoring the request to continue the funding for mother tongue education so that he could divide the Bengali councillors, some of whom are in his good book. Puru Miah, a Bengali councillor protested against John Biggs' anti-community politics. He was suspended for three months. Now Dr. Abdul Hannan, a prominent community leader has filed a case challenging the council's decision in the High Court.  

 

One of the honourable judges of the High Court commented in his observation, "In my view all the grounds are arguable, although some are stronger than others. I am particularly concerned about the possibility of indirect discrimination". Now the 11 communities are fighting for continuing teaching their mother tongue and other services. Dr. Hannan made an appeal to all Bangladeshis to unite and fund the cost of the application for judicial review of the council's decision and the community has responded well to his appeal. The Bangladeshi women MPs including some British MPs are also supporting the causes of the Bangladeshi community. Everybody accuses that the Mayor is trying to stop the rise of the Bangladeshi community as a social and political force and it is fighting against this pseudo colonial policy. Many British people also hope that Bangladeshi community will be victorious in this fight also.

London, Thursday 13 January, 2020

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Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman
Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

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