Background to the interviews
Bengali Muslim migration in South Asia mainly happened in three phases. In 1946-47 during the time of the partition (division) of British India into the states of India and Pakistan (and its two wings East and West – each on either side of India; East Pakistan would become Bangladesh in 1971) and around 1950 and again in 1964 – both are times of communal riots when killings between Hindus and Muslims occurred.
Most of the people we interviewed had migrated because as Muslims they had no longer felt safe in a Hindu-dominated India. Biharis came in three stages. Many came to the northern part of Bangladesh, i.e. Syedpur when the largest railway factory in eastern India was built there in the 1870s. The second phase of migration happened in the early 1900s around Nawab Salimullah (both an Indian Freedom Fighter against the British and the founder and one of the biggest supporters of the 'All India Muslim League'. He advocated the Partition of Bengal as he felt that Muslims were poorly represented in Indian politics) when many Calcutta-living Biharis migrated to Dhaka. The third phase was after the terrible communal riots of 1946, riots in the 1950s and again in 1964. The Biharis who came worked mainly as craftsmen.
The largest numbers of migrants from India were the Bengali Muslims who also migrated because of political violence and communal riots. Some migrated because of marriage and family connections, to study or initially just to visit relatives or as tourists. Some came and settled where they still live today, others were re-housed in camps and still others first settled in one place and then migrated again within Bangladesh. Some have a long history of family migration, others who were the first in their families to travel across the border; some came as unskilled labourers, others as high skilled migrants; some came as adventurers, others came reluctantly or even by accident. For all of them there is a wide range of emotions, experiences, hopes and dreams that are rarely spoken of.
As with much post-World War II migration from the Indian subcontinent and the Caribbean, Bengali migration is often understood as primarily an economic phenomenon – people who came, or were recruited, to work in Britain to fill the labour shortage in Britain’s industries, or in the newly formed National Health Service.
Many of the people we interviewed, particularly those who came as part of immediate post-War migration or voucher migration, came to Britain to earn money intending to return home to Bangladesh within a few years. Those like Mohammed Shamuz Miah or Jubair Ahmed and his father were part of a pattern of chain migration for work purposes. However, as Husna Ara Begum Matin and Aleya Parveen and other interviewees show, Bengalis also migrated for a range of other reasons, such as political changes and conflict, marriage and family connections, to study or initially just to visit relatives or as tourists. Some came from Bangladesh directly, others on more complex routes. Some had a long history of family migration; others were the first in their families to travel abroad. Some came as unskilled labour, others as high skilled migrants. Some came illegally; some came as adventurers, others reluctantly or even by accident. Even for those who came 'simply' to work, there is a wide range of emotions, experiences, hopes and dreams that are rarely spoken of.
In this section, we tell some of their stories.