British Bangladeshi: Wikis


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British Bangladeshis
British Bangladeshis.png
Anwar Choudhury · Baroness Uddin · Muhammad Bari · Syed Ahmed · Konnie Huq · Kia Abdullah · Mumzy Stranger · Wali Uddin · Tasmin Lucia Khan · Anwar Uddin · Ajmal Masroor · Ed Husain
Total population
283,063 (2001 Census UK)[1]
0.5% of the UK's population
353,900 (2007 – England & Wales)[2]
0.6% of England total population
Estimated 500,000 [3]
0.8% of the UK's population
Regions with significant populations
Resident population estimates
(Office for National Statistics 2007)
London 174,900 [4]
Birmingham 23,700 [4]
Oldham 11,200 [4]
Luton 8,700 [4]
Bradford 5,900 [4]

Sylheti/Bengali · English


Predominantly Islam

Related ethnic groups

Bengali people · British Asian

A British Bangladeshi (Bengali: ব্রিটিশ বাংলাদেশি) is someone of Bangladeshi origin who resides in the United Kingdom having emigrated to the UK and attained citizenship through naturalisation or whose parents did so; they are also known as British Bengalis. Large numbers of Bangladeshis emigrated to the UK, primarily from Sylhet; located in the north-east of the country, mainly during the 1970s. The largest concentration is in London, primarily in the East London boroughs, of which Tower Hamlets has the highest proportion, making up approximately 33% of the borough's total population.[5] This large diaspora in London leads people in Bangladesh to refer to British Bangladeshis as "Londoni" rather than "British".[6] Bangladeshis also have significant communities in Birmingham, Oldham, Luton and Bradford, with smaller clusters in Manchester, Newcastle upon Tyne, Cardiff, and Sunderland.[7]

Bangladeshis form one of the UK's largest immigrant groups, and are also one of its youngest and fastest-growing communities. The population of Bangladeshis in Britain has grown steadily over the years. According to the national 2001 census figures, and the Office for National Statistics 2006 figures, there are around 300,000 Bangladeshis living in the United Kingdom.[8][2] Current estimates suggest there are about 500,000 Bangladeshis residing in the UK. Bangladeshis form a largely homogeneous community. Rates of unemployment are typically high, there is overcrowding, and also some health problems.[1] The latest generation of Bangladeshis, however, form a thriving community who are beginning to establish themselves in the mainstream of commerce and politics.[7] Despite being the most recently settled of the major South Asian communities in Britain, the Bangladeshis are well established throughout the communities.[9][10]



Bengalis had been present in Britain as early as the 19th century. The records of first arrivals from the region what is known today as Bangladesh (was British India), were Sylheti cooks in London during 1873, part of the East India Company, who arrived to the UK as lascars in ships to work in restaurants.[11][12] Author Caroline Adams records that in 1925 a lost Bengali man was searching for other Bengali settlers in London.[13] These first few arrivals started the process of "chain migration" mainly from one region of Bangladesh—Sylhet, which led to substantial numbers of people migrating from rural areas of the region, creating links between relatives in Britain and the region.[14] They mainly immigrated to the United Kingdom to find work, achieve a better living standard, and to escape conflict. During the pre-state years, the 1950s and 1960s, Bengali men emigrated to London in search of employment.[13][15][16] Most settled in Tower Hamlets, particularly around Spitalfields and Brick Lane.[7] During 1971 Bangladesh, (known until then as "East Pakistan"), fought for its independence from Pakistan in what was known as the Bangladesh Liberation War. In the region of Sylhet, this led some people to join the Mukti Bahini, or Liberation Army.[17] However, the war also caused large numbers of Sylhetis to flee, mainly to Britain. In the 1970s, changes in immigration laws encouraged a new wave of Bangladeshis to come to the UK and settle. Job opportunities were initially limited to low paid sectors, with unskilled work in small factories and the textile trade being common. When the "Indian' restaurant" concept became popular, some Sylhetis started to open cafes. From these small beginnings a network of Bangladeshi restaurants, shops and banks became established in Brick Lane and surrounding areas. The influence of Bangladeshi culture and diversity began to develop across the East London boroughs.[7]

The early immigrants lived and worked mainly in cramped basements and attics within the Tower Hamlets area. The men were often illiterate, poorly educated, and spoke little English, so could not interact with the English-speaking population and could not enter higher education.[15][18] Some became targets for English businessmen, who sold their properties to other Sylhetis, even though they had no legal claim to the buildings.[15][19] A decline in business throughout East London, including textiles and the garment industry, led to widespread unemployment; the Bangladeshis, however, became cooks, waiters and mechanics.

Large numbers of Bangladeshis settled and established themselves in Brick Lane

By the late 1970s the Brick Lane area had become predominantly Bengali, replacing the former Jewish community which had declined. Following the increase in the number of Bengalis in the area, the Jews migrated to outlying suburbs of London, as they integrated with the majority British population. Jewish bakeries were turned into curry houses, jewellery shops became sari stores, and synagogues became dress factories. The synagogue at the corner of Fournier Street and Brick Lane became the Jamme Masjid or 'Great London Mosque', which continues to serve the Bangladeshi community to this day.[15][19][20] This building represents the history of successive communities of immigrants in this part of London. It was built in 1743 as a French Protestant church; in 1819 it became a Methodist chapel, and in 1898 was designated as the Spitalfields Great Synagogue. It was finally sold, to become the Jamme Masjid.[21]

The period also however saw a rise in the number of attacks on Bangladeshis in the area, in a reprise of the racial tensions of the 1930s, when Oswald Mosley's Blackshirts had marched against the Jewish communities. In nearby Bethnal Green the anti-immigrant National Front became active, distributing leaflets on the streets and holding meetings. White youths known as "skinheads" appeared in the Brick Lane area, vandalising property and reportedly spitting at Bengali children and assaulting women. Bengali children were allowed out of school early; women walked to work in groups to shield them from potential violence. Parents began to impose curfews on their children, for their own safety; flats were protected against racially motivated arson by the installation of fire-proof letterboxes.[15]

Protest march by Bangladeshis to Downing Street with murdered Altab Ali's coffin, 1978

On 4 May 1978, Altab Ali, a 25-year-old Bangladeshi clothing worker, was murdered by three teenage boys as he walked home from work, in an apparently racially motivated attack.[22] The murder took place near the corner of Adler Street and Whitechapel Road, by St Mary's Churchyard.[15][19] This murder mobilised the Bangladeshi community. Demonstrations were held in the area of Brick Lane against the National Front,[23] and groups such as the Bangladesh Youth Movement were formed. On 14 May over 7,000 people, mostly Bangladeshis, took part in a demonstration against racial violence, marching behind Altab Ali’s coffin to Hyde Park.[24][25][26] Some youths formed local gangs and carried out reprisal attacks on their skinhead opponents (see Youth gangs).

The name Altab Ali became associated with a movement of resistance against racist attacks, and remains linked with this struggle for human rights. His murder was the trigger for the first significant political organisation against racism by local Bangladeshis. Today’s identification and association of British Bangladeshis with Tower Hamlets owes much to this campaign. A park has been named after Altab Ali, at the street where he was murdered.[23] In 1993 racial violence was incited by the anti-immigration British National Party (BNP); several Bangladeshi students were severely injured, but the BNP's attempted inroads were stopped after demonstrations of Bangladeshi resolve.[15][27]

In 1988, a "friendship link" between the city of St Albans in Hertfordshire and the region of Sylhet was created by the district council. This link between the two cities was established when the council supported housing project in the city as part of the International Year of Shelter for the Homeless initiative. It was also created because, Sylhet is the area of origin for the largest ethnic minority group in St Albans.[28][29] In April 2001, the London Borough of Tower Hamlets council officially renamed the 'Spitalfields' electoral ward Spitalfields and Banglatown. Surrounding streets were redecorated, with lamp posts painted in green and red, the colours of the Bangladeshi flag.[6] By this stage the majority living in the ward were of Bangladeshi origin—nearly 60% of the population.[18]



Census population
Year Pop.  %±
1961 6,000
1971 22,000 266.7%
1981 64,561 193.5%
1991 162,835 152.2%
2001 283,063 73.8%
1961/71/81/91/01: Census data[30]

Bangladeshis in the UK are largely a youthful population, heavily concentrated in London’s inner boroughs. According to the 2001 Census 283,063 Bangladeshis lived in the United Kingdom, forming 0.5% of the total population.[31][32] Based on latest statistics by the Office for National Statistics, there were 338,300 Bangladeshis living in England and Wales as of 2006,[33] it is however estimated that there are around 500,000 Bangladeshis in the UK.[34] London's Bangladeshi population was 153,893, representing 54.37% of the UK Bangladeshi population (2001).[33][35] The highest concentrations were found in Tower Hamlets, where Bangladeshis constituted 33.5% of the borough population (22.8% of the UK Bangladeshi population),[36] and in Newham, accounting for 9% of the borough population.[1] The largest Bangladeshi population outside London is in Birmingham (23,200),[37][38] there are 11,000 Bangladeshis in Oldham, Lancashire,[39][40] 60% of Bangladeshis in Oldham lived in Westwood, the highest concentration outside London,[41] and in Luton, Bedfordshire with a population of 7,641.[42] More than half of the United Kingdom's Bangladeshis—approximately 53%—were born in Bangladesh.[43] Bangladesh ranks third in the list of countries of birth for Londoners born outside the United Kingdom.[44] Bangladeshis are one of the youngest of the UK's ethnic populations; 38% under the age of 16, 59% aged between 16–64, and only 3% aged 65 and over. The census also revealed a heavy predominance in the male population, which was 64% of the total.[43][45]

Employment and Education

Bangladeshis are now mainly employed in the distribution, hotel and restaurant industries.[46] In 2001 and 2002, Bangladeshis had the highest unemployment rate in Britain, at 20% for men and 24% for women; over 40% of Bangladeshi men under 25 were unemployed.[47] In Tower Hamlets 32% of people aged between 18–25 years were unemployed. The average earnings of the Bangladeshis were £150 per week.[48][49] New generation Bangladeshis, however, aspire to professional careers, becoming doctors, IT management specialists, teachers and in business.[49] In education, Bangladeshi pupils have registered below the average national academic achievement levels, but these results have steadily improved, particularly among Bangladeshi girls; this applies both to Key stage levels and GCSE.[9] Ofsted reports from secondary schools have shown that many Bangladeshi pupils are making significant progress, compared with other ethnic minority groups.[50] Girls are more likely to do better in education than boys; 55% of girls are achieving 5 or more A*-C at GCSE, compared to 41% boys. The overall achievement rate for Bangladeshi pupils is 48%, compared with 53% for all UK pupils.[9] In Tower Hamlets, two-thirds of all pupils who receive free school meals are Bangladeshi.[51]

Health and Housing

Bangladeshis mainly occupy flats

Bangladeshis had the highest rates of illness in the UK, in 2001. Bangladeshi men were three times as likely to visit their doctor as men in the general population. Bangladeshis also had the highest rates of people with disabilities,[52] and were more likely to smoke than any other ethnic group, at a rate of 44% in 1999 in England. Smoking was very common amongst the men, but very few women smoked, perhaps due to cultural customs.[15][53] Based on the 2001 census, the average number of people living in each Bangladeshi household was 4.5, larger than all other ethnic groups. Households which contained a single person were 9%; houses containing a married couple were 54%, pensioner households were 2%. Bangladeshis living in London were 40 times more likely to be living in cramped and poor housing types of housing than anyone else in the country. There were twice as many people per room as white households, with 43% living in homes with insufficient bedroom space. For these reasons many are moving out of Tower Hamlets to larger housing estates.[54] A third of Bangladeshi homes contain more than one family—64% of all overcrowded households in Tower Hamlets are Bangladeshi.[51] In England and Wales, only 37% of Bangladeshis owned households compared to 69% of the population, those with social rented tenure is 48%, the largest of which in Tower Hamlets (82%) and Camden (81%).[35]


British Bangladeshis predominantly originate from the north-eastern region of Sylhet (95%).[55][56][57] Many families originate from different upazilas or thanas across Sylhet, which includes the districts of Sylhet, Sunamganj, Habiganj and Maulvibazar. The largest places of origin are in the upazilas of, Jagannathpur, Beanibazar and Bishwanth.[58][59] Other places within the Sylhet region which also have large numbers of expatriates include, Moulvibazar, Golapganj, Nabiganj and many others across the region.[60] The minorities from outside Sylhet are mainly from Noakhali, Chittagong and Khulna, very few are from other divisions. The majority of Bangladeshis speak Sylheti.[61] The language is sometimes considered as a dialect of Bengali, and does not have written form.[62][63] Although many Sylheti speakers say they speak Bengali, this is because they do not expect outsiders to be well informed about dialects.[64] Bengali/Sylheti is the second largest language spoken after English in London.[65] 97% of Bangladeshi students speak English as a second language, after Sylheti.[51] In recent years, there has been a slight increase in the numbers of Bangladeshi students arriving to the United Kingdom, majority of these are from Dhaka and other regions. Many of these are on student Visas, living in the East London areas among the Bangladeshi communities.[66]


Majority of British Bengalis regard Bangladesh as their "ancestral home", although a survey showed strong feelings that they belonged to British society.[67] The cultural traditions practiced in Bangladesh, are also widely practiced by the community. The languages of Sylheti and Bengali are viewed as important features of cultural identity,[68] parents therefore encourage young people to attend standard Bengali classes to learn the language,[9] many however do find this learning progress difficult in the UK.[51][69] English tends to be spoken among younger brothers and sisters and peer groups, and Bengali/Sylheti with parents. Communities share and favour a family-orientated community culture.[70]


Crowds at the Baishakhi Mela 2009

Significant Bengali events or celebrations are celebrated by the community annually. The Baishakhi Mela is a celebration of the Bengali New Year, celebrated by the Bangladeshi community every year. Held each April–May since 1997 in London's Banglatown, it is the largest Asian open-air event in Europe, and largest the largest Bengali festival outside Bangladesh. In Bangladesh and West Bengal it is known as the Pohela Boishakh. The event is broadcast live across different continents; it features a funfair, music and dance displays on stages, with people dressed in colourful traditional clothes, in Weavers Field and Allen Gardens in Bethnal Green.[71] The Mela is also designed to enhance the area's community identity, bringing together the best of Bengali culture.[72] Brick Lane is the main destination where curry and Bengali spices are served throughout the day.[73] As of 2009, the Mela was organised by the Tower Hamlets council, attracting 95,000 people,[74] featuring with popular artists such as Momtaz Begum, Nukul Kumar Bishwash, Mumzy and many others.[75][76]

The Language Movement Day (Shaheed Dibosh), commemorates the martyrdom of the people killed in the demonstrations of 1952 for the Bengali language. In the London borough of Tower Hamlets, the Shaheed Minar was elected in Altab Ali Park in 1999. At the entrance to the park is an arch created by David Peterson, developed as a memorial to Altab Ali and other victims of racist attacks. The arch incorporates a complex Bengali-style pattern, meant to show the merging of different cultures in East London.[77] A similar monument was built in Westwood, in Oldham, through a local council regeneration.[1] This event is taken place at midnight on 20 February, where the Bengali community come together to lay wreaths at the monument.[78] Around 2,500 families, councilors and community members payed their respect at Altab Ali Park, as of February 2009.[79]


Same cultural rituals are practiced

Bangladeshi weddings are celebrated with a combination of Bengali and Muslim traditions, and play a large part in developing and maintaining social ties. Many marriages of Bangladeshis are between the British (Londonis) and Bangladeshi-born; sometimes men will go to Bangladesh to get married, however over the years more women are marrying in Bangladesh. Marriages between relatives are common, and increase relationships within extended families. Second or third generation Bangladeshis are more likely to get married in the UK, within the British culture, exposure to which has created a division between preferences for arranged marriages or for love marriages.[80][81] In accordance with traditional practice the bride’s family must buy the groom’s family a whole new set of furniture, which is housed in the family home, all original furniture being either thrown out or given away.[82] The average Bangladeshi community will spend from £30-60,000 for a single wedding within the community, which includes the decorations, the venue, food, clothing and limousines, all areas in which there is competition between families.[83] Forced marriages are rare, however the practice is largely present in Bangladesh, the British High Commission has been involved with many cases concerning on British citizens.[84] These include Nasrin Begum, a 19-year old teenager who travelled from the UK to Bangladesh with her mother in 2008,[85] she contacted the British consular office in Sylhet to intervene, and was rescued by embassy officials in the village.[86] Another media highlight includes a Bangladeshi-born NHS doctor Humayra Abedin, she was deceived by her parents after asking her to arrive at their home in Dhaka,[87][88] a court ordered her parents to hand her over to the British High Commission.[89] The commission has been reported to have handled 56 cases from April 2007 to March 2008.[90]


Meat curry with rice

British Bangladeshis consume traditional Bangladeshi food, these foods in particular include rice with curry.[91] At home many types of traditional Bengali dishes are served with rice, these include chicken, lentil (dahl), and fish.[92] Another popular food is shatkora, which is a citrus and tangy fruit from Sylhet, mainly used for flavourings in curries.[93] The cuisine of Bangladeshi food is popular, due to Bangladeshi restaurateurs who have established themselves by creating new businesses throughout Britain. The number of Bangladeshi-owned restaurants has increased rapidly over the years. In 1946 there were 20 restaurants, while today there are 7,200 owned by Bangladeshis, out of a total of 8,500 Indian restaurants in the UK.[49] Surveys show that Bangladeshi curries are among the most popular of dishes;[94][95] the chicken tikka masala is now regarded as Britain's national food dish.[6][96]


There are currently five Bengali channels available on satellite television in Britain. Two British-owned channels are Channel S,[3] and Bangla TV.[97] There has been bitter rivalry between the two channels over the years over community agreements.[98] Popular national channels, ATN Bangla, NTV and Channel i are also available.[99] Bengali newspapers have been increasing within the community, such include Surma News Group. The East End Life (local newspaper of the borough) also includes a section for the Bengali readers.[100] The first international film based on a story about British Bangladeshis was Brick Lane (2007), based on the novel by author Monica Ali, her book is about a woman who moves to London from rural Bangladesh, with her husband, wedded in an arranged marriage.[101][102] The film was critically acclaimed and the novel was an award-winning best seller.[103] The film however caused some controversy within the community.[104] Other films created in the community are mainly based on the struggles which British Bangladeshis face such as drugs and presenting a culture clash. These dramas include, Shopner Desh (2006) - a story related to the culture clashes.[105]


The East London Mosque in Whitechapel
Bangladeshi Muslim organisations and affiliations

The Bangladeshi population is dominated by one religion, Islam. Out of all the ethnic groups in the UK it has the largest proportion of people following a single religion. Nearly all Bangladeshis are Sunni Muslims;[106] the 2001 census shows that of the 94% of Bangladeshis who indicated their religion, 92.5% were Muslims.[107] In London, Bangladeshi Muslims make up 24% of all London Muslims, more than any other single ethnic group in the capital.[35] The majority follow the Hanafi school of thought for jurisprudence. These beliefs are among different movements or groups in Bangladeshi mosques; for example the Barelwi movement is followed by the Brick Lane Great Mosque,[108] and in many mosques in Birmingham such as Wills Street Mosque or Al Jalaliah Madrassah in Oldham. The Deobandi movement is followed in East London Mosque,[109] the movement under the group Tablighi Jamaat is present at the Markazi Mosque in East London,[110] The Hizb ut-Tahrir and the Salafi movement have also gained a few influence in local institutions.[1]

Most Bangladeshis regard themselves as part of the ummah, basing their identity on their religion rather than their ethnic group. A majority of older women wear the burqa,[83] and many young women are opting to wear a hijab, a traditional women's headscarf—whereas in Bangladesh, comparatively very few women do so; this has been described as a "British phenomenon".[111] Arabic is also learned by children, many of whom attend Qur'an classes at mosques or the madrasah.[9] Many male youths are also involved with Islamic groups,[112] which include the Young Muslim Organisation, affiliated with the Islamic Forum Europe. This group is based in Tower Hamlets, and has thus attracted mainly young Bangladeshi Muslims.[113] It has been increasingly associated with the East London Mosque, which is one of the largest mosques used predominantly by Bangladeshis.[114][115] In 2004, the mosque created a new extension attached, the London Muslim Centre which holds up to 10,000 people.[116][117] The first Bengali Islamic channel was established in 2009 called, IQRA TV, also in English and Urdu.


Religious Muslim festivals celebrated by the community each year, which includes Eid al-Adha and Eid ul-Fitr. People are dressed in their new traditional clothing such as sherwani or salwar kameez.[118] Children are given money by elders, and Eid prayers are attended by men in the morning in large numbers, they will then visit their relatives later in the day. Traditional food will be cooked for relatives, such as samosa or handesh. The celebration of Eid reunites relatives and improves relations.[119] In the evening, young people will spend the remaining time socialising with friends. Some, however, will go "cruising" – travelling across cities in expensive hired cars, playing loud music and sometimes waving the Bangladesh flag. Sociologists suggest these British Bangladeshi boys and girls have reinterpreted the older, more traditional practice of their faith and culture.[120] The Eid al-Adha is celebrated after Ramadan, to commemorate the prophet Ibrahim's compliance to sacrifice his son Ishmael.[121] An animal has to be sacrificed, and then distributed between families and neighbours as zakat, however sometimes in the UK this is not practiced and the meat is purchased, therefore there is much difficulty for expatriates to celebrate the event. Some instead of distributing meat, pay zakat to mosques or others however send large sums of money to families in Bangladesh, for the purchase of cows.[122]



Former mayor, Doros Ullah, at the British citizenship ceremony in 2005, Bangladeshis have contributed largely in local politics

Many Bangladeshis believed that they should integrate with British society. They became politically active, mainly at the local level, although some achieved national prominence. Baroness Uddin was the first Bangladeshi and Muslim woman to enter the House of Lords; she swore the oath of office in her own faith.[19][123] Anwar Choudhury became the British High Commissioner for Bangladesh in 2004, the first non-white British person to be appointed in a senior diplomatic post.[124] Dr. Muhammad Abdul Bari is the current chairman of the Muslim Council of Britain - the largest Muslim organisation in Britain.[125] Murad Qureshi, a Labour politician, is a member of the Greater London Assembly.[126]

Others have contributed in the British media and business worlds. Konnie Huq is the longest-serving female presenter in Blue Peter, a BBC television programme for children. Other notable national TV presenters have included Lisa Aziz of Sky News, Nina Hossain (ITV and BBC London) and Tasmin Lucia Khan (BBC News). In drama, Shefali Chowdhury[123] and Afshan Azad both starred in the Harry Potter movies.[127] Mumzy is an R&B and hip-hop music artist, the first Bangladeshi to be releasing a music single, called "One More Dance".[128] Syed Ahmed is a businessman and also a television star, well known for being a candidate on The Apprentice.[123][129] There are many other entrepreneurs, including the late Abdul Latif, known for his dish "Curry Hell"; Iqbal Ahmed, placed at number 511 on the Sunday Times Rich List 2006, and celebrity chef Tommy Miah.[123][130][131] Rizwan Hussain is also very well known for TV presenting Islamic and charity shows on Channel S and Islam Channel, mainly known within the community.[132]

Artists include Akram Khan, dancer and choreographer,[133] and Runa Islam, a visual artist on film and photography.[123][134] In Sport, the only Bangladeshi professional footballer in England is Anwar Uddin, currently leading Dagenham and Redbridge in the Football League Two.[130][135] Writers which have received praise and criticism for their books include Ed Husain, who wrote the book "The Islamist" on account of his experience for five years with the Hizb ut-Tahrir,[136][137] Monica Ali for her book "Brick Lane" a story based on a Bangladeshi woman,[138] and Kia Abdullah for her book, "Life, Love and Assimilation".

Large numbers of people from the Bangladeshi community have also been involved with local government, increasingly in the London borough of Tower Hamlets, and Camden. The majority of the councillors in Tower Hamlets are of Bangladeshi descent and part of the Labour Party, Lutfur Rahman was the first Bangladeshi leader of the council. As of 2009, 32 of the total 51 councillors were Bangladeshi (63 per cent), 18 were White (35 per cent) and 1 Somali (2 per cent).[139] The first Bangladeshi mayor in the country was Ghulam Murtuza in Tower Hamlets, and Camden has appointed many Bangladeshis as mayors since the first, Nasim Ali. Rushanara Ali, Ajmal Masroor are prominent prospects who are contesting parliamentary seats in the Bethnal Green and Bow constituency, during the 2010 general election.[140]

Political identity

The Shaheed Minar replica, London

In Bangladeshi politics there are two groups, favoring different principles, one Islamic and the other secular. Between these groups there has always been rivalry; however, the Islamic faction is steadily growing. This division between religious and secular was an issue during the Bangladesh Liberation War; the political history of Bangladesh is now is being re-interpreted again, in the UK. The secular group show nationalism through monuments, or through the introduction of Bengali culture, and the Islamic group mainly through dawah.[1][141]

One symbol of Bengali nationalism is the Shaheed Minar, which commemorates the Bengali Language Movement, present in Altab Ali Park which as of today - the park is also the main venue for rallies and demonstrations, and also in Westwood, Oldham.[1] The monuments are a smaller replica of the one in Dhaka, Bangladesh, and symbolises a mother and the martyred sons.[142] Nationalism is mainly witnessed during celebrations of the mela, when groups such as the Swadhinata Trust try to promote Bengali history and heritage amongst young people, in schools, youth clubs and community centers.[141]

Islamic activists stress the commitment to a religious type of identity. These groups expanded their role in the local community by creating youth groups, providing lectures on Islam, and influencing people to be more involved with community mosques (e.g. East London Mosque). These groups also describe Bengali secular nationalism as a "waste of money", a way to abstract from being Islamic: they claim to believe that the Baishakhi Mela celebrations are "shirk" activities. Tension has arisen between the groups, with Islamists and nationalists being criticized or attacked.[1] These incidents illustrate the competition for social and political control between Islamists and secularists in the community context. This sphere is highly dependent on collective memory and historical reinterpretations of the Liberation War.[141]

Youth gangs

A Bangladeshi youth gang, called the Globe Town Massive, in Bethnal Green, Tower Hamlets, East London

As a response to conditions faced by their first generation elders during the 1970s (see history), younger Bangladeshis started to form gangs, developing a sense of dominating their territory. One consequence of this was that Bangladeshi gangs began fighting each other. Bangladeshi teenagers involved with gangs show their allegiance to this kind of lifestyle in various ways: heavily styled hair, expensive mobile phones and fashionable clothing labels and brands.[15] Teenage street gangs have been responsible for sometimes lethal violence; it is estimated that in Tower Hamlets alone there are 2,500 Bengali youths affiliated to one of the many local gangs,[143] and that 26 out of the 27 gangs in the area are Bangladeshi.[144] The notorious gangs have been given names that end with massive or posse, such as the Brick Lane Massive and Stepney Green Posse.[145] Other smaller groups include the Shadwell Crew, Cannon Street Posse, Bengal Tigers and Bethnal Green Boys.[146][147]

In the past, Bangladeshi gangs have fostered criminal elements, including low level drug use and credit card fraud. However, for many the focus has changed to fighting over their territories. They use a variety of weapons, such as samurai swords, machetes, kitchen knives and meat cleavers, although guns are rarely used. When members reach their twenties they usually grow out of gang membership, but some move on to more serious criminal activity. Increasing numbers of Bangladeshi youths are taking hard drugs, in particular heroin.[148] Islamic fundamentalism has also played a part in the youth culture, illustrated by the efforts of one Brick Lane gang to oust out the white prostitutes from the area. As to dietary customs, youths generally avoid eating pork, and some from drinking alcohol; however many take recreational drug use,[149] in particular heroin.[150]


Bangladeshi-owned Indian restaurants in Brick Lane

The curry industry turns over up to £4 billion a year,[49] and is viewed as recognition of Bangladeshi success, through awards such as the 'The British Curry Awards.[151][152] Brick Lane, known as Banglatown, is home to many of these restaurants, and is now regarded as London's 'curry capital', with thousands of visitors every day.[153] The restaurants serve different types of curry dishes, including fish, chutneys, and other halal dishes.[154] Although the curry industry has been the primary business of Bangladeshis (see Cuisine), many other Bangladeshis own grocery stores. Whitechapel is a thriving local street market, offering many low-priced goods for the local Bengali community.[155] In Brick Lane there are many Bengali staples available, such as frozen fish and jack fruits. There are also many travel agents offering flights to Sylhet.[156]

Many Bangladeshi businesses located in the East End wish to maintain a link with Sylhet, for example the weekly Sylheter Dak or the Sylhet Stores. There are also many money transfer companies;[6][157] in 2007 a firm called, First Solution Money Transfer went into liquidation. Company chairman, Dr Fazal Mahmood, admitted the business owed hundreds of thousands of pounds to the public. and claimed that the firm had lost control of the money it handled due to a lack of regulation.[157][158][159] Other large companies include Seamark and Ibco, owned by millionaire Iqbal Ahmed,[160][161] Taj Stores,[162] and many others.[6] In 2008, many restaurants came under threat. The government announced a change in the immigration laws which could block entry to the UK of high skilled chefs from Bangladesh. The law demanded these workers speak fluent English, and have good formal qualifications. However, the changes however did not take place.[163][164]


Many other Bangladeshis are sending money to Bangladesh to build luxury types of houses, whereas in the United Kingdom many are living in poverty, facing deprivation, and spending less. In many villages in Sylhet, there are large numbers of luxury homes built in some suburbs or communities, the financial support mainly sent from the UK. So many are returning to build homes in Bangladesh that they are fuelling a building boom in Sylhet.[165][166] Businesses have also been established by the British expatriates in the city of Sylhet, such as hotels, restaurants, often themed on those found in London, have also been established to cater to the visiting Sylheti expatriate population and the growing Sylheti middle classes (ie. London Fried Chicken or Tessco).[167] The financial relationship between British Bengalis and relatives in Bangladesh has changed, only 20 % of Bangladeshi families in East London were sending money to Bangladesh as of 1995, this figure was approximately 85% during 1960-70s. For a large number of families in Britain the cost of living, housing, or education for the children severely constrains any regular financial commitment towards Bangladesh. Moreover, the family reunion process has resulted in the social and economic reproduction of the household in Britain; conflicts over land or money can arise involving the mutual or reciprocal relationship between members of a joint household divided by migration. This, in turn, can reduce even more the level of investment in Sylhet. The emergence of a second and a third generation of British Bangladeshis is another factor explaining the declining proportion of people’s income being sent as remittances to Bangladesh.[1] About 30% of all remittance sent to Bangladesh are from Britain as of 1987.[60]

See also


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Further reading

  • Ali, M. (2003). Brick Lane. London: Black Swan. ISBN 978-0-552-77115-3.
  • Swadhinta Trust & CRONEM (2006). Tales of Three Generations of Bengalis in Britain: Bengali Oral History Project University of Surrey. ISBN 978 0 9528824 1 1.
  • Clarke, C; Peach, C. and Vertovec, S (1990). South Asians overseas : migration and ethnicity Cambridge; New York : Cambridge University Press. ISBN 9780521375436
  • Eade J; Momen R (1995). Bangladeshis in Britain : a national database. Centre for Bangladeshi Studies. ISBN 9780946665167
  • Hussain, Y (2005). Writing Diaspora: South Asian Women, Culture, and Ethnicity Ashgate Publishing, Ltd. ISBN 9780754641131
  • Abbas, T. (2005). Muslim Britain: Communities Under Pressure Zed Books. ISBN 9781842774496
  • Phillipson C., Ahmed N., Ahmed N. R., Latimer J. (2003). Women in Transition: A Study of the Experiences of Bangladeshi Women Living in Tower Hamlets The Policy Press. ISBN 9781861345103
  • Dorling D., Thomas B. (2004). People and Places: A 2001 Census Atlas of the UK The Policy Press. ISBN 9781861345554
  • Kershen, A J. (2002). Food in the Migrant Experience Ashgate. ISBN 9780754618744
  • Marks L., Worboys M. (1997). Migrants, Minorities, and Health Routledge. ISBN 9780415112130
  • Gregory E., Williams A. (2000). City Literacies Routledge. ISBN 9780415191159
  • Simpson A. A., Simpson A. (2007). Language and National Identity in Asia Oxford University Press. ISBN 9780199267484
  • Loury G. C., Modood T., Teles S. T. (2005). Ethnicity, Social Mobility, and Public Policy: Comparing the USA and UK Cambridge University Press. ISBN 9780521823098
  • Gilbert P. K. (2002). Imagined Londons SUNY Press. ISBN 9780791455012
  • Shakur T, D'Souza K. (2003). Picturing South Asian Culture in English: Textual and Visual Representations Open House Press. ISBN 9780954446307
  • Iredale R. R., Guo F., Rozario S. (2003). Return Migration in the Asia Pacific Edward Elgar Publishing. ISBN 9781843763031

External links

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