Student Migrant: Rimi - Newham

Rimi first visited the UK as a child but migrated permanently in 1992 to study. Her father had initially come to the UK in 1957 to study law, and had returned to Bangladesh 10 years later, joining the nationalist movement, and spending some time in jail for his political activities. Rimi came to the UK to see him in 1973 but did not remain. She told us:

I got very bad tonsillitis, so I came to have an operation on my tonsils. That was my first visit. We also come back frequently to keep our passports all right, but we were not settled here because my father wanted my two brothers and me to study in Bangladesh and then come here for further study.

Her father was concerned that there was no strong Bengali community developed in the UK at that time:

Brick Lane © Phil MaxwellHe did not stay here most probably because he did not like the culture or some elements of this country. At that time, there was no Bengali environment… My father did not like it. There was no mosque. He would celebrate Eid at home, pray namaz [prayers] at home, there was no other choice… He wanted us to be Bengali. He had fought in the war – he is a freedom fighter. So he felt that his children should grow up in Bangladesh, learn Bangla, Bengali culture, and when they were adult, then they can go to a foreign country for higher education. It would be their decision.

Rimi came to London in 1992, when she was 20, to pursue her studies and, very unusually for a young woman, travelled alone. She told us:

UEL, Stratford campusWhen I graduated, my brother was in class VII, so it was impossible for my parents to move here. We have everything in Bangladesh. I did not think, 'I am a girl, how can I stay here [by myself]?' I arranged everything myself… My mother cried for me, but I was determined to come to London to study. I wanted to take higher education because my father did not complete his education.

The decision was a controversial one:

I was in England for two years as an unmarried girl. 15 years ago, this was a serious thing, everyone objected to it. They talked a lot about me: 'You've sent the girl alone; at least you could have got her married first.'

Tower Hamlets streetRimi first went to stay with her uncle's family in Kent, and took English lessons, but later moved to another relative in Tower Hamlets in order to work and study:

I stayed in the house of an aunt [khala], a distant relative, as a paying guest. She was like a guardian, because I was an unmarried girl and my parents were worried about me.

She notes that her unmarried status was seen as unusual amongst the Bengali community in London:

In my college no one was married. But when I went to any Bengali wedding, I would face a few problems – I could see that there were girls younger than me, around 17, 18 years old, who were already married. I was 20. I was ashamed of this.

With the arrival of many wives and children in the 1980s, there was a great need for language support in schools. Rimi found work in Tower Hamlets.

Children in playgroundI saw an advertisement for a bilingual instructor in a Tower Hamlets school. At that time, there was a scheme in every Tower Hamlets school, to provide a bilingual instructor. Many people were coming from Bangladesh and India. People who had British passports could bring their family members and settle here – and many people were trying to take this opportunity… Huge numbers of people were coming and the children were getting into the schools… There was a problem because the children did not understand English. The scheme was started – it was a big scheme. Bilingual instructors were appointed and people who had graduated in Bangladesh were qualified for the job. They taught the children, they got the chance to be qualified teachers.

Rimi returned to Bangladesh in 1994 to get married – her husband is also a teacher, and he later joined her in London and gained his PGCE qualification. They moved to their own home in Tower Hamlets in 1996. Six years ago Rimi's bilingual instructor post was abolished – the flow of Bengali migrant children into schools being replaced by British Bengalis, who have no language difficulties. She was offered retraining as a teacher and gained her PGCE. She also had a child. Her younger brother and parents have now also joined her in the UK, although Rimi notes that her mother, in particular, was a reluctant migrant:

All her family members are well settled in Bangladesh. She would prefer to visit us in London once a year. Now she is living in Britain, but she remembers Bangladesh and blames us, saying that she came here because of us.

Rimi moved to Seven Kings in Essex in 1999 but she and her husband still work in Tower Hamlets, which she considers her main home:

I am still a Tower Hamlets person because I work there. My husband, too. We eat rice from Tower Hamlets.

Rimi has three children, and tries to teach them Bengali traditions and culture:

To me, culture is the top priority. My father kept us in Bangladesh for that reason. We - myself and my brother - will always give priority to the culture… We'll never forget it.

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