Classic Migrant: Tasarul Ali - Oldham
Tasarul Ali migrated to Britain in 1967 and came to Birmingham on a family visa to join his father. His father had been given a medical visa (which allowed him to travel for medical treatment) by the Pakistani government in 1957. He finally came to England in 1961, although, his son recalls, 'He didn't want to come to England… He never liked this country.' When Tasarul arrived, his father returned to Bangladesh to live, and Tasarul himself moved to Oldham:
After coming to Oldham, I worked in a cotton mill. At first I was a worker, then I was in charge of the night shift… I worked there until '86, then the mill closed down.
Tasarul noted that most migrants at that time did not plan to stay in Britain:
The situation was good. People could get work; they worked the whole day. There was no intention to settle here. When they retired, they would go back to Bangladesh. They never thought of bringing their families here.
Tasarul moved to Oldham for work:
There was lots of work in Oldham, Birmingham, Sheffield. In the jute mills in Oldham, the steel mills in Sheffield and Birmingham. But Oldham cotton paid much more than Sheffield steel or Birmingham steel. A single man working for Grand Steel or Sun Steel in Sheffield or Birmingham, would get £4.00, or £5.00 whereas the others would earn £50.00. Single men got less, but in the Oldham cotton mill people would get much more, so people wanted to work in Oldham.
Tasarul estimates that when arrived in Oldham in 1967 there were only 500 or 600 Bengalis. Nevertheless the community was active during this time, particularly supporting the struggle for Bangladeshi independence from Pakistan. During the Liberation War, he and some friends raised money for the struggle (Shangram):
At first I started collecting money for Shangram At the time, there were few Bengalis living here – just 5 or 6 families. This was 1969. We tried to make people understand the situation: 'If our country does not exist, where will you find your country? We will not be able to go home. So we need money to buy weapons and other things.' I alone raised £1,500.
From this period, the early migrants started to bring their families over:
They started to think about how long they would be away from their families. They also knew that education is good here, transport here is good, there is security. There are many facilities that are not available in Bangladesh, particularly education.
Later the Bengali population grew and began to settle in different areas:
Earlier people lived in the town centre, particularly when we were single. After the Liberation War [between West Pakistan and East Pakistan in 1971] people started bringing their families and moved to other areas. We also moved to this area [Westwood]. We had a house at that time… There were no coloured people there at that time… Everyone was white. Now the whites have gone. I once asked them, why they were leaving. They replied that the smell of curry spread to their houses through the walls.
Tasarul brought his family to Oldham in 1986, but reluctantly:
I didn't intend to bring my family. I thought I would go back to Bangladesh and do social work. But one day my child got sick… I brought the child to the hospital here [but] the child died a few days later.
As the number of Bengalis increased, he notes:
We started calling it Bangla para [neighbourhood]… We were united and the [Bangladesh] society was very active… There was no enmity. We would go to each other's houses, eat there, stay over there. Nobody would talk about money. There was no problem of, 'Is he from this thana [area] or that thana?'
When the cotton mills closed down in 1986, Taserul was made redundant:
There are no cotton mills now. Now they import from foreign countries. Pakistan has cotton mills, Bangladesh has cotton mills, Thailand and Singapore have cotton mills. All these countries produced cheaper cotton.
Tasarul was personally very active in the Bangladeshi society and the broader community and helped develop the Shahid Minar and the Shapla in Oldham: 'We have children, they will know the history of the language movement.' More recently, a Bengali mosque has been built. Tasarul told us:
I am busy with community work twenty four hours a day. My work is to serve people.