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Nine-month celebration of Bangladesh to mark 50 years of independence

B50 BANGLA image 2

Proposed public artwork due to be installed at Idea Store, Whitechapel

A nine-month celebration of Bangladeshi history, arts and culture has begun, to mark the 50th birthday of Bangladesh, formerly known as East Pakistan.

Beginning on 26 March 1971, following a declaration of independence, modern day Bangladesh was forged out of a conflict which concluded on 16 December 1971.

Celebrations lasting 265 days, the same length as the war of independence, are being coordinated by Tower Hamlets Council, working with Bangladeshi artists, the National Portrait Gallery, the Council’s Local History Library & Archives, and residents.

Mayor of Tower Hamlets, John Biggs, said: "Here in Tower Hamlets, our community is strong. Diversity is one of our greatest strengths and we are proud of the role that the Bangladeshi community plays in making our borough such a vibrant and exciting place. We can look forward to celebrating the best of Bangladeshi culture throughout 2021."

Highlights from the nine-month celebration include:

  • The Bangladesh 50 Years project led by the National Portrait Gallery as part of its Citizen UK programme, funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund, Art Fund and Canary Wharf Group; working with the Tower Hamlets Local History Library & Archives, includes:
    • A new, large-scale public art commission to be installed at Idea Store Whitechapel, devised by artist Ruhul Abdin with local residents.
    • A series of free online events exploring the local connections and impacts of 1971 on the Tower Hamlets community
    • An online exhibition documenting the year-long project exploring this fascinating history
  • ‘Liberation through a Lens’, which tells the story of the struggle for independence using ten iconic images covering the period 1970-71.

Her Excellency Saida Muna Tasneem, High Commissioner for Bangladesh said: "The Golden Jubilee of Bangladesh is a significant milestone for our nation. It also marks the fiftieth anniversary of diplomatic relations between Bangladesh and the United Kingdom. The Bangladesh High Commission takes enormous pride in the contributions made by the expatriate Bangladeshi community during our independence and their warm welcome to Bangladesh’s Founding Father Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman in the historic Borough of Tower Hamlets. I thank the Honourable Mayor of Tower Hamlets and the Bangladesh Community for making the High Commission a part of these monumental celebrations."

Councillor Sabina Akhtar, Cabinet Member for Culture, Arts & Brexit, Tower Hamlets Council said: "Tower Hamlets is the spiritual home for many British-Bangladeshis. I’m humbled to be marking the occasion of my country’s birth from the perspective of my other home. I look forward to celebrating the best of Bengali culture and exploring what it means to be British and Bangladeshi in 2021."

[ENDS]

Notes to editors: 

The programme of events will be updated regularly and will adhere to the latest government Coronavirus regulations.

Further details and free event booking information can be found online at www.towerhamlets.gov.uk/Bangladesh50

New public artwork at Whitechapel idea Store

The date of the final installation has yet to be confirmed and the design is subject to change.

Created using a collaborative process this large 3D structure will be seen by thousands of people daily at its new home in the Idea Store, Whitechapel, the borough’s flagship library. It spells ‘BANGLA’ in Bengali, which is the name of the language.

The word Bangla is significant as the long struggle to defend their language and heritage in East Pakistan led to the eventual independence of Bangladesh. When the British government allocated the East Bengal area which is now Bangladesh to Pakistan to govern as ‘East Pakistan’, the Urdu-speaking Pakistani government spent two decades trying to suppress and outlaw the native Bengali language and literary tradition, and this was the key driver for the 1971 war which ultimately led to the creation of the new nation state.

Bangladeshis in Tower Hamlets

The Bangladeshi population makes up almost one-third (32 per cent) of the borough’s population – considerably larger than the proportion across London (three per cent) or England (under one per cent). Tower Hamlets has the largest Bangladeshi population in England; approx. 25 per cent of the entire British-Bangladeshi diaspora.

The Bangladeshi War of Independence was a foundational moment for thousands of East Enders even though none of its battles were fought here. At the turn of the 1970s, as war loomed back home, Bengali communities across the UK lobbied and protested in support of the independence struggle. Most were post-war economic migrants who had arrived here from a country then called East Pakistan, but many had arrived in Britain prior to 1948 as citizens of colonial India.

Posted on Wednesday 17th March 2021