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Birmingham plays central role in 50th anniversary commemorations of Bangladesh Independence

Birmingham Bangladeshi men on a march for independence - 1971. Photograph by Roger Gywnn

This year marks the 50th anniversary of Bangladesh Independence with Birmingham hosting a number of unique events as part of Freedom 50.

Freedom 50 is a national collective of individuals and organisations who have organised a range of cultural, arts, heritage, social and sporting activities to celebrate the heritage of the British Bangladeshi community.

From 26 March, the official Bangladesh Independence Day, Transforming Narratives partners Legacy WM, Birmingham Museums Trust (BMT), Birmingham Repertory Theatre (The Rep) and Birmingham Contemporary Music Group (BCMG) will be part of the celebrations including online film screenings, photography exhibitions and live music.

On the evening the Library of Birmingham, along with public buildings in Edinburgh, Cardiff, Manchester and London, will be lit up in the Bangladeshi flag colours.

Aftab Rahman, director of Legacy WM, who helped create Freedom 50 said: “Birmingham has the second largest number of Bangladeshi people in the UK after London and its community played a major role in campaigning for the independence of Bangladesh, so it is really important to acknowledge their contribution.

“We have set up several steering groups to lead on various aspects of the project, which will also raise awareness of the struggle for independence for young people and the wider community.”

Kee Khorbor

Freedom 50 will launch with Kee Khobor (What News or What’s Up) on 26 March, which will feature stories in written, aural and visual forms.

Kee Khorbor was set up by a small group of acquaintances, including Aftab, from the Bangladeshi community as a way to discuss their British Bangladeshi heritage and celebrate the 50th year of Bangladesh’s independence.

Freedom 50 Photos

This will be followed by Freedom 50 Photos, a photo exhibition launching on 22 May that will highlight 50 years of Bangladesh using images from Bangladesh and the UK. Legacy WM is working with BMT to display photographs on 10 outdoor display units. 

The exhibition will include photographs by Roger Gywnn of Sheikh Mujib’s iconic speech from 7 March 1971 which galvanized a nation to fight for independence. 

These will be accompanied by his photos of marches in Birmingham and London and iconic posters created at the time.

The photos and posters will have the following themes:

  • Politics & resistance
  • People of Bangladesh
  • Landscape
  • Environment
  • Future of Bangladesh – Bangladeshis in the UK

Screening of the film Jothorleena

BMT is also collaborating with the Dhaka-based Bengal Foundation to show a screening of the film Jothorleena by Bengali artist Dilara Begum Jolly from 26-28 March.

There will be a panel discussion of the film with the artist on 27 March. These events have been funded by a grant from the British Council’s Digital Collaboration Fund and hosted through British Council Arts.

Freedom 50 Bike Ride 

From 28 June to 2 July a national bike ride from Oldham to London will aim to raise more than £100,000 to build a school in Bangladesh and highlight the consequences of climate change.

The school will be built in a region of Bangladesh where severe flooding regularly displaces people and is in partnership with the Sircer Pasha Welfare Trust.

The remaining funds will be used by Human Appeal to support its Dhaka Street Children Project. 

When the cyclists pass through Birmingham they will be joined by locals as they make their way to the city centre, where a Bangladeshi national flag raising ceremony will take place accompanied by live music. 

Nowka Bais Boat Race

Nowka Bais is the traditional form of dragon boat style racing in rural villages of Bangladesh and has had its home in Birmingham since 2015.

The boat race will take place on 25 July at the city’s Edgbaston Reservoir and will celebrate the best of Bangladeshi heritage and arts with food stalls and an international line up of musicians. 

Cultural Day

On 31 October the Birmingham Hippodrome will host a day of activities that will start with a phita mela and include arts, drama, exhibitions, film screenings and crafts workshops throughout the day. 

The evening will start with a performance from BCMG followed by the UK’s Bangladeshi jazz fusion artist, Sohini Alam, and the renowned Bangladeshi folk singer Pabon Das.

Gala Dinner

Events will conclude with gala dinner on 16 December to mark Bangladesh’s Victory Day, at the Holte Suite at Villa Park where partners will take stock of their journey.

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