Alumni

Celebrating 50 years of Bangladeshi Independence - Alumni story

Bangladesh 50 is an exhibition commemorating the 50th anniversary of the birth of Bangladesh. The exhibition will explore the impact of the Bangladesh Liberation War of 1971, and the experience of the Bangladeshi community, many of whom came to settle in Tower Hamlets. In this blog post, English alumna, Sabiya Khatun, talks about how getting involved with the exhibition as a Citizen Researcher resonated with the interests she was able to explore during her degree and why members of the Queen Mary community should go and see it.

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Students on the streets during the non-cooperation movement of 1970. Credits: Rashid Talukder/Drik/Majority World

I chose to study English at Queen Mary as it felt like the most natural path for me. I have always been an avid reader and enjoy immersing myself in different literary worlds. Although I knew that I wanted to become a teacher, I also believed that it was important to follow my passion and interest in literature, so Queen Mary seemed like the perfect choice for me, especially as their English programme was one of the most diverse and enriching courses available.

Reading English at Queen Mary was a wonderful experience. Being introduced to new ideas, evocative literature and amazing scholars truly helped to nurture and challenge my mind to new ways of thinking and being. It gave me the tools and freedom to figure out my own ideas, and I think that is one of the things that Queen Mary does best – they encourage you to rise by delving deep to find your true potential.

My advice for students currently studying English would be to truly enjoy it. This chance to read, analyse and discuss great works of literature whilst being supported and surrounded by a community of like-minded readers is a truly wonderful experience. Make the most of it, and do not be afraid to ask questions and to follow your interests.

After graduating from Queen Mary, I went on to train at the Institute of Education, and completed my PGCE in Primary Education. I am currently an Early Years Primary Teacher and I find it to be one of the most fulfilling and rewarding jobs, helping to make a difference to children’s lives. Encouraging a love of reading from an early age is also a key part of my teaching and I enjoy my job immensely.

Whilst at Queen Mary, I studied Postcolonial Literatures and this really piqued a lifelong interest in this area of academia. Discovering the shared trauma and repercussions of colonialism and empire through authors like Amitav Ghosh, Chinua Achebe, Doris Lessing and Kiran Desai, opened up a new world to me. The Bangladesh 50 Exhibition explores many of these issues and this is one of the reasons why I was drawn to the project.

Bangladesh 50 is an exhibition commemorating the 50th anniversary of the birth of Bangladesh. The exhibition will explore the impact of the Bangladesh Liberation War of 1971, and the experience of the Bangladeshi community, many of whom came to settle in Tower Hamlets.Photo of protesters in Bangladesh

As a Citizen Researcher, one of my roles has been helping to gather material for the project, by interviewing members of the Bangladeshi community, collecting images and going through archive material from Tower Hamlets Archives. Some areas of research that I have found particularly interesting have been: female memories of the 1971 War, the Bengali immigrant experience, the history of Lascars, Bengali poetry, and perhaps most powerful, a personal history of Altab Ali, as told by my parents.

Taking part in this exhibition has been a very emotional and rewarding experience. In many ways, it is the culmination of my early foray into Postcolonial Literatures whilst at Queen Mary and the questions that swirled around in my mind back then – Where is the Bangladeshi voice? Where am I?

There are a range of exciting events, exhibitions and performances taking place between March and December. A new public art installation is also set to be launched at the Idea Store Library Whitechapel. This has been devised and produced collaboratively by Citizen Researchers and lead artist for the project, Ruhul Abdin.

I think members of the Queen Mary community will find the exhibition eye-opening as it will explore a history that is not widely known. Queen Mary is situated in Tower Hamlets, a borough with a large Bangladeshi population and one where much of the subject matterBangabandhu’s historic declaration of independence: and source material for this exhibition can be found. This exhibition will give people the chance to uncover a new layer of history in the rich tapestry of Tower Hamlets.

This exhibition may also inspire Queen Mary students to delve into their own familial and local history. The Tower Hamlets Local History and Archives is an amazing resource which Queen Mary students are welcome to use. The Archives are situated at Bancroft Road, a stone’s throw away from the campus, and contain an extraordinary array of original documents, images and reference books that document the changing landscape and communities of Tower Hamlets.

The Archives have reopened following the easing of lockdown, and are open for bookings. For more information, please visit: ideastore.co.uk/local-history.

Taking part in this exhibition has been a very emotional and rewarding experience. In many ways, it is the culmination of my early foray into Postcolonial Literatures whilst at Queen Mary and the questions that swirled around in my mind back then – Where is the Bangladeshi voice? Where am I?Photo of a sunrise in Bangladesh, courtesy of alumna, Sabiya Khatun

Finally having the chance to unearth the rich cultural and literary history of Bangladeshis has been so fulfilling. The opportunity to rediscover what my Bangladeshi heritage means to me by piecing together not only my country’s history, but my own family history, has been very moving.

It has been a very personal journey, and I feel that in some ways, I am finally making the journey ‘home’.

This blog post was conducted by Alumni Engagement Coordinator, Nathalie Grey. If you would like to get in touch with Sabiya or engage her in your work, please contact Nathalie at n.grey@qmul.ac.uk.

Image credits from top to bottom:

Students on the streets during the non-cooperation movement of 1970. Credits: Rashid Talukder/Drik/Majority World

Bangladeshi protesters. Credits: https://www.ideastore.co.uk/local-history-whats-on

Bangabandhu’s historic declaration of independence: "Our struggle this time is for freedom. Our struggle this time is for independence." On 7 March 1971 in Ramna Racecourse, (now known as Sohrowardi Uddyan) Dhaka, East Pakistan. Credits: Jalaluddin Haider/Drik/Majority World

Sunrise in Bangladesh. Credits: Sabiya Khatun