Sylhet District, Sylhet Division, East Bengal (now Bangladesh)
|Died||5 April 1978
Whitechapel, Tower Hamlets, London, England
|Resting place||Tower Hamlets, London, England|
Altab Ali (1953 – 4 May 1978) was a Bangladeshi textile worker who was murdered by three teenagers on 4 May 1978 in a racist attack as he walked home after work. His murder took place at St. Mary's Gardens by St Mary's Churchyard, and near the corner of Adler Street and Whitechapel Road in London. It provoked the mass mobilisation of the Bengali community locally and came to represent the self-organisation of the community. Ali became a symbol of resistance against racism and is associated with the struggle for human rights in defence of British Bangladeshis. The churchyard he was murdered in was later renamed Altab Ali Park in his memory.
On 4 May 1978, on local borough election night and against a background of agitation by National Front, Ali was making his way to the bus stop after finishing work as a textile factory garment worker at a sweatshop in Brick Lane. He was chased along Brick Lane and stabbed to death near Aldgate Station in a racially motivated attack at St. Mary's Gardens, the site of the church of St Mary Matfelon by St Mary's Churchyard, and the corner of Adler Street and Whitechapel Road.
Out of the three attackers, two were white and one was black. Ali's killers were Roy Arnold (aged 17) of Limehouse, Carl Ludlow (aged 17) of Bow and an unnamed mixed race male from Poplar (aged 16). It was the 16-year-old who committed the stabbing and when police asked him why, his reply was "for no reason at all". He stated, "If we saw a Paki we used to have a go at them. We would ask for money and beat them up. I've beaten up Pakis on at least five occasions."
At the time, right-wing extremism was on the rise in east London, with the National Front standing for election in 43 council seats. Ali's murder mobilised the Bangladeshi community. Demonstrations were held in the area of Brick Lane against the National Front.
On 14 May 1978, 7,000 people took part in a demonstration against racial violence and marching behind Altab Ali's coffin from Adler Street, where Ali died, to Hyde Park, Trafalgar Square and Downing Street, to demand police protection for the Bengali community and to protest against the National Front and its campaign. It was described at the time as "one of the biggest demonstrations by Asians ever seen in Britain".
The murder provoked a mass mobilisation of the Bengali community locally The protest against the murder politicised a generation of young Bengali activists and many Bangladeshis were drawn into political activity in the aftermath of the murder. This began a movement that eventually pushed the National Front out of Whitechapel, and helped affirm Bengali identity there.
As a response to persistent racial tension, residents began to organise neighbourhood committees and youth groups. His murder was the trigger for the first significant political organisation against racism by Bangladeshis.
Altab Ali Foundation was later set up which holds the annual commemoration to all victims of racism, staged in the former St Mary's Churchyard that was renamed Altab Ali Park by Tower Hamlets Council in 1979. Altab Ali Foundation soon became a movement against racism around the East End of London. The campaign against racism that took place after Ali's murder influenced the identification and association of the collective social and community image of British Bangladeshis in Tower Hamlets.
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