British Bangladeshis (Bengali: ব্রিটিশ বাংলাদেশি) are people of Bangladeshi origin who have attained citizenship in the United Kingdom, through immigration and historical naturalisation. They are also known as British Bengalis, in reference to the main ethnic group from that region. During the 1970s, a large numbers of Bangladeshis immigrated to the UK, primarily from the Sylhet region. The largest concentration live in east London boroughs, such as Tower Hamlets.[3][4] This large diaspora in London leads people in Bangladesh to refer to British Bangladeshis as "Londonis".[3] There are also significant numbers of British Bangladeshis in Birmingham, Oldham, Luton, Burnley and Bradford, with smaller clusters in Manchester, Newcastle upon Tyne, Rochdale, Cardiff and Edinburgh.[5][not in citation given]

Bangladeshis form one of the UK's largest group of people of overseas descent and are also one of the country's youngest and fastest growing communities.[citation needed] The 2011 UK Census recorded nearly half-a-million residents of Bangladeshi ethnicity. British Bangladeshis have the highest overall relative poverty rate of any ethnic group in the UK with 65% of Bangladeshis living in low income households.[6][7]


Part of a series on the
History of Bangladeshis in Britain
Brick Lane
History of Asians in Britain
Demographics of Bangladeshis
Demographics of Asians
Sylheti · English · Bengali
Baishakhi Mela
Culture of Bangladesh
Channel S · Bangla TV
East London Mosque
Brick Lane Mosque
Islam in England
List of British Bangladeshis
List of British Asian people

Bengalis had been present in Britain as early as the 19th century. The earliest records of arrivals from the region that is now known as Bangladesh (was British India) are of Sylheti cooks in London during 1873, in the employment of the East India Company, who travelled to the UK as lascars on ships to work in restaurants.[8][9] Some ancestors of British Bangladeshis went to the UK before World War I.[10] Author Caroline Adams records that in 1925 a lost Bengali man was searching for other Bengali settlers in London.[11] These first few arrivals started the process of "chain migration" mainly from one region of Bangladesh, Sylhet, which led to substantial numbers of people migrating from rural areas of the region, creating links between relatives in Britain and the region.[12] They mainly immigrated to the United Kingdom to find work, achieve a better standard of living, and to escape conflict. During the pre-state years, the 1950s and 1960s, Bengali men immigrated to London in search of employment.[11][13][14] Most settled in Tower Hamlets, particularly around Spitalfields and Brick Lane.[5] In 1971, Bangladesh (until then known as "East Pakistan") fought for its independence from Pakistan in what was known as the Bangladesh Liberation War. In the region of Sylhet, this led some people to join the Mukti Bahini, or Liberation Army.[15]

In the 1970s, changes in immigration laws encouraged a new wave of Bangladeshis to come to the UK and settle. Job opportunities were initially limited to low paid sectors, with unskilled and semi-skilled work in small factories and the textile trade being common. When the "Indian' restaurant" concept became popular, some Sylhetis started to open cafes. From these small beginnings a network of Bangladeshi restaurants, shops and other small businesses became established in Brick Lane and surrounding areas. The influence of Bangladeshi culture and diversity began to develop across the East London boroughs.[5]

The early immigrants lived and worked mainly in cramped basements and attics within the Tower Hamlets area. The men were often illiterate, poorly educated, and spoke little English, so they could not interact well with the English-speaking population and could not enter higher education.[13][16] Some became targets for businessmen, who sold their properties to Sylhetis, even though they had no legal claim to the buildings.[13][17]

Large numbers of Bangladeshis settled and established themselves in Brick Lane

By the late 1970s, the Brick Lane area had become predominantly Bengali, replacing the former Jewish community which had declined. Jews migrated to outlying suburbs of London, as they integrated with the majority British population. Jewish bakeries were turned into curry houses, jewellery shops became sari stores, and synagogues became dress factories. The synagogue at the corner of Fournier Street and Brick Lane became the Jamme Masjid or 'Great London Mosque', which continues to serve the Bangladeshi community to this day.[13][17][18] This building represents the history of successive communities of immigrants in this part of London. It was built in 1743 as a French Protestant church; in 1819 it became a Methodist chapel, and in 1898 was designated as the Spitalfields Great Synagogue. It was finally sold, to become the Jamme Masjid.[19]

The period also however saw a rise in the number of attacks on Bangladeshis in the area, in a reprise of the racial tensions of the 1930s, when Oswald Mosley's Blackshirts had marched against the Jewish communities. In nearby Bethnal Green the anti-immigrant National Front became active, distributing leaflets on the streets and holding meetings. White youths known as "skinheads" appeared in the Brick Lane area, vandalising property and reportedly spitting on Bengali children and assaulting women. Bengali children were allowed out of school early; women walked to work in groups to shield them from potential violence. Parents began to impose curfews on their children, for their own safety; flats were protected against racially motivated arson by the installation of fire-proof letterboxes.[13]

Protest march by Bangladeshis to Downing Street with murdered Altab Ali's coffin, 1978

On 4 May 1978, Altab Ali, a 25-year-old Bangladeshi clothing worker, was murdered by three teenage boys as he walked home from work in a racially motivated attack.[20] The murder took place near the corner of Adler Street and Whitechapel Road, by St Mary's Churchyard.[13][17] This murder mobilised the Bangladeshi community. Demonstrations were held in the area of Brick Lane against the National Front,[21] and groups such as the Bangladesh Youth Movement were formed. On 14 May, over 7,000 people, mostly Bangladeshis, took part in a demonstration against racial violence, marching behind Altab Ali's coffin to Hyde Park.[22][23][24] Some youths formed local gangs and carried out reprisal attacks on their skinhead opponents (see Youth gangs).

The name Altab Ali became associated with a movement of resistance against racist attacks, and remains linked with this struggle for human rights. His murder was the trigger for the first significant political organisation against racism by local Bangladeshis. The identification and association of British Bangladeshis with Tower Hamlets owes much to this campaign. A park has been named after Altab Ali at the street where he was murdered.[21] In 1993, racial violence was incited by the anti-immigration British National Party (BNP); several Bangladeshi students were severely injured, but the BNP's attempted inroads were stopped after demonstrations of Bangladeshi resolve.[13][25]

In 1988, a "friendship link" between the city of St Albans in Hertfordshire and the municipality of Sylhet was created by the district council under the presidency of Muhammad Gulzar Hussain of Bangladesh Welfare Association, St Albans. BWA St Albans were able to name a road in Sylhet municipality (now Sylhet City Corporation) called St Albans Road. This link between the two cities was established when the council supported housing project in the city as part of the International Year of Shelter for the Homeless initiative. It was also created because Sylhet is the area of origin for the largest ethnic minority group in St Albans.[26][27] In April 2001, the London Borough of Tower Hamlets council officially renamed the 'Spitalfields' electoral ward Spitalfields and Banglatown. Surrounding streets were redecorated, with lamp posts painted in green and red, the colours of the Bangladeshi flag.[3] By this stage the majority living in the ward were of Bangladeshi origin—nearly 60% of the population.[16]



British Bangladeshi population
Region Population Percent
England 436,514 0.8%
Greater London 222,127 2.7%
West Midlands 52,477 0.9%
North West 45,897 0.7%
East of England 32,992 0.6%
South East 27,951 0.3%
Yorkshire & the Humber 22,424 0.4%
East Midlands 13,258 0.3%
North East 10,972 0.4%
South West 8,416 0.2%
Wales 10,687 0.3%
Scotland 3,788 0.1%
Northern Ireland 540 0.03%
Source: 2011 UK Census[1]

Bangladeshis in the UK are largely a young population, heavily concentrated in London's inner boroughs. In the 2011 Census 451,529 UK residents specified their ethnicity as Bangladeshi, forming 0.7% of the total population.[1] About half live in London, with a heavy concentration in Tower Hamlets borough of East London.[28] The UK is also the third single largest export destination for Bangladesh[29] and Britain has the largest Bengali population outside of Bangladesh and West Bengal.[30] As of 2015, 600,000 British Bangladeshis live in the UK and 70% of British Bangladeshis live in London.[31]

London's Bangladeshi population in 2011 was 222,127 representing 49.2% of the UK Bangladeshi population.[32] The highest concentrations were found in Tower Hamlets, where Bangladeshis constituted 32% of the borough population (18% of the UK Bangladeshi population),[32] and in Newham, accounting for 9% of the borough population.[6] and in Somers Town 15% of the local population (West and North of Euston).[33] The largest Bangladeshi populations outside London are in Birmingham, where there were an estimated 32,532 Bangladeshis in 2011,[34] Oldham with 16,310,[35] and Luton, Bedfordshire with a population of 13,606.[36]

More than half of the United Kingdom's Bangladeshis—approximately 53%—were born in Bangladesh.[when?][37] Bangladesh ranks third in the list of countries of birth for Londoners born outside the United Kingdom.[when?][38] Bangladeshis are one of the youngest of the UK's ethnic populations; 38% under the age of 16, 59% aged between 16–64, and only 3% aged 65 and over.[when?] The census also revealed a heavy predominance in the male population, which was 64% of the total.[when?][37][39]

Since 2011, an estimated 6,000 Bangladeshi families have come to the UK from Italy, with the majority settling in East London. According to the most recent census, there were 110,000 Bangladeshi immigrants living in Italy in 2013. Many were skilled graduates who left their homes in South Asia attracted by jobs in Italy's industrial north, but moved to the UK when Italian manufacturing jobs went into decline.[40]

Employment and education

Bangladeshis are now mainly employed in the distribution, hotel and restaurant industries.[41] New generation Bangladeshis, however, aspire to professional careers, becoming doctors, IT management specialists, teachers and in business.[42] In 2011 within England and Wales, nearly-half (48%) of British Bangladeshis in the 16 to 64 age group were reported to be employed, while 40% were economically inactive and 10% unemployed. Men were more likely to employed than women, with 65% of men in employment against 30% of women. Of those employed, 53% were working within the low-skill sector.[43] Bangladeshis were most likely to be employed in accommodation and food services (27.3%), 18.8% in wholesale and retail trade, 9.2% in education, 8.8% in human health and social work, and the rest in many other sectors of employment.[44]

Ofsted reports from secondary schools have shown that many Bangladeshi pupils are making significant progress, compared with other ethnic minority groups.[45] Girls are more likely to do better in education than boys; 55% of girls are achieving 5 or more A*-C at GCSE, compared to 41% boys, as of 2004. The overall achievement rate for Bangladeshi pupils was 48%, compared with 53% for all UK pupils, in 2004.[46] By 2013, the British Bangladeshi achievement rate (5 or more A*-C at GCSE) had increased considerably to 61%, compared to 56% for White British students and 51% for British Pakistani students.[47] It was reported in 2014, there were a total of 60,699 graduates of Bangladeshi descent.[48] In November 2015, an Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) report said that Bangladeshi children living in the UK have a nearly 49 percent higher chance on average of a university education than white British pupils.[49]

Until 1998, Tower Hamlets, where the concentration of British Bangladeshis is greatest was the worst performing local authority in England. Until 2009, Bangladeshis in England performed worse than the national average. In 2015, 62 per cent of British Bangladeshis got five good GCSEs, including English and Maths which is five per cent above the average, and Bangladeshi girls outperformed boys by eight per cent.[31] In February 2018, according to a report from social mobility by the Sutton Trust, British Bangladeshi students are over six times more likely than white students to stay living at home and studying nearby.[50][51][52][53]

In March 2015, Nick de Bois, MP for Enfield North, persuaded the British government to stop plans by the exam boards to drop Bengali GCSE and A Level qualifications.[54] In June 2017, British schools included Sylheti as a separate subject, with the dialect being included as a listed language alongside Bengali.[30]

According to research by Yaojun Li from the University of Manchester in 2016, while the employment rate of Bangladeshis has improved and the proportion of women in work has risen by one-third in the last five years, it is still weaker than educational performance. Nine per cent of working age Bangladeshis are unemployed which is almost twice the national average.[31]

In December 2016, according to a Social Mobility Commission study, children of Bangladeshi origin are among the British Asians who 'struggle for top jobs despite better school results'.[55][56] The UK's Social Mobility Commission commissioned an 'Ethnicity, Gender and Social Mobility' report with research carried out by academics from LKMco and Education Datalab which found that there has been an increase in educational attainment for Bangladeshi origin pupils in the UK and their performance has improved at a more rapid rate than other ethnic groups in recent years at almost every key stage of education. Almost half of young Bangladeshi people from the poorest quintile go to university. However, this is not reflected or translating in labour market outcomes because although young people from Bangladeshi backgrounds are more likely to "succeed in education and go to university," they are less likely to go on to "find employment or secure jobs in managerial or professional occupations." The report also found that female Bangladeshi graduations are less likely to gain managerial and professional roles than male Bangladeshis graduates, despite achieving at school. British Bangladeshi women earn less than other ethnic minority groups.[57]

Health and housing

A survey in the 1990s on the visible communities in Britain by the Policy Studies Institute concluded that British Bangladeshi continues to be among the most severely disadvantaged.[58] Bangladeshis had the highest rates of illness in the UK, in 2001. Bangladeshi men were three times as likely to visit their doctor as men in the general population. Bangladeshis also had the highest rates of people with disabilities,[59] and were more likely to smoke than any other ethnic group, at a rate of 44% in 1999 in England. Smoking was very common amongst the men, but very few women smoked, perhaps due to cultural customs.[13][60]

The average number of people living in each Bangladeshi household is 5,[61] larger than all other ethnic groups. Households which contained a single person were 9%; houses containing a married couple were 54%, pensioner households were 2%.[citation needed] Bangladeshis living in London were 40 times more likely to be living in cramped and poor housing types of housing than anyone else in the country. There were twice as many people per room as white households, with 43% living in homes with insufficient bedroom space.[62] A third of Bangladeshi homes contain more than one family—64% of all overcrowded households in Tower Hamlets are Bangladeshi.[63] In England and Wales, only 37% of Bangladeshis owned households compared to 69% of the population, those with social rented tenure is 48%, the largest of which in Tower Hamlets (82%) and Camden (81%).[64]

Bangladeshis in Britain, who are heavily concentrated in London, particularly in the East End, are among the poorest and most deprived communities in the United Kingdom, suffering from high rates of poverty, unemployment and undereducation. Of an estimated half-million Bangladeshis living in the UK, about half live in London, with a heavy concentration in Tower Hamlets borough of East London. In Tower Hamlets, an estimated one-third of young Bangladeshis are unemployed, one of the highest such rates in the country.[28]

British Bangladeshis are around three times more likely to be in poverty compared to their white counterparts, according to a 2015 report entitled 'Ethnic Inequalities' by the Centre for Social Investigation (CSI) at Nuffield College at University of Oxford. The research found that poverty rate is 46% of people of Bangladeshi background – compared with 16% for the white British in 2009-11. "Bangladeshi background are also more likely to have a limiting long-term illness or disability and to live in more crowded conditions," it noted.[65]


According to the 2011 census, 49.5% of British Bangladeshis consider Bengali (includes Sylheti and Chatgaya) as their main language while 47.9% stated English.[66] Of those who stated their main language as Bengali (with Sylheti and Chatgaya), 69.6% were proficient in speaking English.[67] As 95% of British Bangladeshis originate from the north-east Bangladesh region of Sylhet,[68][69][70] majority therefore speak Sylheti which is often considered as a dialect of Bengali or a closely related language.[71][72][73][74] As of 2018, according to the British Office for National Statistics, Britain has around 231,000 Bengali-speaking people, making it the fifth-most spoken language. The British census of 2011 also reflected this data. Bengalis are the fourth biggest ethnic minority community in UK.[30]

To some, standard Bengali is considered as a more prestige language which helps to foster a cultural or national identity linked with Bangladesh,[75] parents therefore encourage young people to attend Bengali classes to learn the language.[46] Although many of Sylheti-speaking background find this learning progress difficult in the UK.[63][76] English tends to be spoken among younger brothers and sisters and peer groups, and Bengali/Sylheti with parents.[77] Although many Sylheti speakers say they speak Bengali, this is because they do not expect outsiders to be well informed about dialects.[78] Sylheti does not have a written form and is mainly a vernacular language. During the 1970s, the first mother-tongue classes were established for Bangladeshis by community activists in standard Bengali, which later led to a campaign for Sylheti classes in the area of Spitalfields, East End of London, however its organisation collapsed in 1985 and with its demise.[79] There have been revivals of Sylheti Nagari in London, a near extinct script that was used for Sylheti. James Lloyd Williams is notable for reproducing Sylheti Nagari poetry books, translating them also in Bengali and English.[80]

Bengali/Sylheti is the second largest language spoken after English in London.[81] One way in which British Bangladeshis try to hold on to their links to Bangladesh is by sending their British-born children to school there. Pupils are taught the British curriculum and children born in the UK are dotted among those in the classroom.[82]

Many families originate from different upazilas or thanas across Sylhet, mainly from Jagannathpur, Beanibazar, Bishwanath,[83][84] Moulvibazar, Golapganj, and Nabiganj.[85]


Religions of British Bangladeshis[2]

  Muslim (90%)
  Christian (1.5%)
  None (1.3%)
  Other (1.5%)
  Religion not stated (5.9%)
The East London Mosque located in Whitechapel, London, is one of the largest mosque in the UK with a majority Bangladeshi congregation

Majority of the Bangladeshi population are Sunni Muslim;[86] a small minority follow other religions. In London, Bangladeshi Muslims make up 24% of all London Muslims, more than any other single ethnic group in the capital.[64] The largest affiliations are the Deobandi movement (mainly of Tablighi Jamaat),[87] the Jamaat-e-Islami movement,[88] and the Sufi Barelvi[89] and Fultali movements.[citation needed] The Hizb ut-Tahrir, and the Salafi movement also have a small following.[6]

A majority of older women wear the burqa,[90] and many young women are opting to wear a hijab, a traditional women's headscarf—whereas in Bangladesh, comparatively very few women do so; this has been described as a "British phenomenon".[91] Arabic is also learned by children, many of whom attend Qur'an classes at mosques or the madrasah.[46] Many male youths are also involved with Islamic groups,[92] which include the Young Muslim Organisation, affiliated with the Islamic Forum Europe. This group is based in Tower Hamlets, and has thus attracted mainly young Bangladeshi Muslims.[93] It has been increasingly associated with the East London Mosque, which is one of the largest mosques used predominantly by Bangladeshis.[94][95] In 2004, the mosque created a new extension attached, the London Muslim Centre which holds up to 10,000 people.[96][97]


Britain has the biggest presence of the Bengali culture outside of Bangladesh and West Bengal.[30]


Crowds at the Baishakhi Mela 2009

Significant Bengali events or celebrations are celebrated by the community annually. The Boishakhi Mela is a celebration of the Bengali New Year, celebrated by the Bangladeshi community every year. Held each April–May since 1997 in London's Banglatown, it is the largest Asian open-air event in Europe, and the largest Bengali festival outside Bangladesh. In Bangladesh and West Bengal it is known as the Pohela Boishakh. The event is broadcast live across different continents; it features a funfair, music and dance displays on stages, with people dressed in colourful traditional clothes, in Weavers Field and Allen Gardens in Bethnal Green.[98] The Mela is also designed to enhance the area's community identity, bringing together the best of Bengali culture.[99] Brick Lane is the main destination where curry and Bengali spices are served throughout the day.[100] As of 2009, the Mela was organised by the Tower Hamlets council, attracting 95,000 people,[101] featuring with popular artists such as Momtaz Begum, Nukul Kumar Bishwash, Mumzy Stranger and many others.[102][103]

The Language Movement Day (Shaheed Dibosh), commemorates the martyrdom of the people killed in the demonstrations of 1952 for the Bengali language. In the London borough of Tower Hamlets, the Shaheed Minar was elected in Altab Ali Park in 1999. At the entrance to the park is an arch created by David Peterson, developed as a memorial to Altab Ali and other victims of racist attacks. The arch incorporates a complex Bengali-style pattern, meant to show the merging of different cultures in East London.[104] A similar monument was built in Westwood, in Oldham, through a local council regeneration.[6] This event is taken place at midnight on 20 February, where the Bengali community come together to lay wreaths at the monument.[105] Around 2,500 families, councillors and community members paid their respect at Altab Ali Park, as of February 2009.[106]


Same cultural rituals are practised

Bangladeshi weddings are celebrated with a combination of Bengali and Muslim traditions, and play a large part in developing and maintaining social ties. Many marriages are between the British diaspora (Londonis) and the native-born Bangladeshis. Sometimes men will go to Bangladesh to get married, however recently more women are marrying in Bangladesh. Second or third generation Bangladeshis are more likely to get married in the UK within the British culture. However this exposure has created a division between preferences for arranged marriages or for love marriages.[107][108] Tradition holds that the bride's family must buy the bridegroom's family a set of new furniture to be housed in the family home, with all original furniture given away or discarded.[109] The average Bangladeshi outlay for a wedding is £30–60,000 for a single wedding, including decorations, venue, food, clothing and limousines, all areas in which there is competition between families.[90] Forced marriages are rare, however the practice is largely present in Bangladesh; the British High Commission has been involved with many cases concerning on British citizens.[110][111][full citation needed] Another media highlight includes a Bangladeshi-born National Health Service doctor Humayra Abedin. She was deceived by her parents after asking her to arrive at their home in Dhaka,[112][113] a court ordered her parents to hand her over to the British High Commission.[114] The commission has been reported to have handled 56 cases from April 2007 to March 2008.[115]


Meat curry with rice

British Bangladeshis consume traditional Bangladeshi food, in particular rice with curry.[116] Many traditional Bengali dishes are served with rice, including chicken, lentil (dahl), and fish.[117] Another popular food is shatkora, which is a citrus and tangy fruit from Sylhet, mainly used for flavourings in curries.[118] Bangladeshi cooking has become popular in Britain because of the number of Bangladeshi-owned restaurants, which has increased significantly. In 1946, there were 20 restaurants, while in 2015 there are 8,200 owned by Bangladeshis, out of a total of 9,500 Indian restaurants in the UK.[42]


There are five Bengali channels available on satellite television in Britain. four British-owned channels are NTV, ION TV, Channel S,[119] and Bangla TV.[120] Popular national channels, ATN Bangla, and Channel i are also available.[121] Bengali newspapers have been increasing within the community, such include Surma News Group. The East End Life (local newspaper of the borough).[122] The first international film based on a story about British Bangladeshis was Brick Lane (2007), based on the novel by author Monica Ali, her book is about a woman who moves to London from rural Bangladesh, with her husband, wedded in an arranged marriage.[123][124] The film was critically acclaimed and the novel was an award-winning best seller.[125] The film however caused some controversy within the community.[126] Other films created in the community are mainly based on the struggles which British Bangladeshis face such as drugs and presenting a culture clash. These dramas include, Shopner Desh (2006) – a story related to the culture clashes.[127]


Religious Muslim festivals celebrated by the community each year, which includes Eid al-Adha and Eid ul-Fitr. People are dressed in their new traditional clothing.[128] Children are given money by elders, and Eid prayers are attended by men in the morning in large numbers, they will then visit their relatives later in the day. Traditional food will be cooked for relatives, such as samosa or sandesh. The celebration of Eid reunites relatives and improves relations.[129] In the evening, young people will spend the remaining time socialising with friends. Some, however, will go "cruising" – travelling across cities in expensive hired cars, playing loud music and sometimes waving the Bangladesh flag. Sociologists suggest these British Bangladeshi boys and girls have reinterpreted the older, more traditional practice of their faith and culture.[130] The Eid al-Adha is celebrated after Hajj, to commemorate the prophet Ibrahim's compliance to sacrifice his son Isma'il.[131][132] An animal has to be sacrificed, and then distributed between families and neighbours as zakat, however sometimes in the UK this is not practised and the meat is purchased, therefore there is much difficulty for expatriates to celebrate the event. Some instead of distributing meat, pay zakat to mosques or others however remit money to families in Bangladesh, for the purchase of cows.[133]



Rushanara Ali, the first British Bangladeshi MP
Baroness Pola Uddin, the first Asian and Muslim life peer

They became politically active, mainly at the local level, although some achieved national prominence. Rushanara Ali is the first person of Bangladeshi origin to have been elected as a member of parliament during the 2010 general election for the Labour Party from the constituency of Bethnal Green and Bow, winning by a large majority of more than 10,000.[134] Tulip Siddiq became a member of parliament in the 2015 elections, getting elected from Camden Town. Tulip is the niece of the sitting Prime Minister of Bangladesh Sheikh Hasina and granddaughter of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman the founder father of Bangladesh. Baroness Uddin was the first Bangladeshi and Muslim woman to enter the House of Lords; she swore the oath of office in her own faith.[17][135] Anwar Choudhury became the British High Commissioner for Bangladesh in 2004, the first non-white British person to be appointed in a senior diplomatic post.[136] Lutfur Rahman is the first directly elected mayor of Tower Hamlets, who was later removed from office for breaching electoral rules.[137] Enam Ali became the first Muslim and the first representative of the British curry industry to be granted Freedom of the City of London in recognition of his contribution to the Indian hospitality industry. Dr. Muhammad Abdul Bari is the chairman of the Muslim Council of Britain – the largest Muslim organisation in Britain.[138] Murad Qureshi, a Labour politician, is a member of the Greater London Assembly.[139]

Others have contributed in the British media and business worlds. Konnie Huq is the longest-serving female presenter in Blue Peter, a BBC television programme for children. Other notable national TV presenters have included Lisa Aziz of Sky News, Nina Hossain (ITV and BBC London), Tasmin Lucia Khan (BBC News) and Shawkat Hashmi is Community Editor at BBC Sheffield, (BBC News). In drama, Shefali Chowdhury[135] and Afshan Azad both starred in the Harry Potter movies as Parvati and Padma Patil.[140] Mumzy is an R&B and hip-hop music artist, the first Bangladeshi to be releasing a music single.[141] Syed Ahmed is a businessman and also a television star, well known for being a candidate on The Apprentice.[135][142] There are many other entrepreneurs, including the late Abdul Latif, known for his dish "Curry Hell"; Iqbal Ahmed, placed at number 511 on the Sunday Times Rich List 2006, and celebrity chef Tommy Miah.[135][143][144] Rizwan Hussain is also very well known for TV presenting Islamic and charity shows on Channel S and Islam Channel, mainly known within the community.[145]

Artists include dancer and choreographer Akram Khan,[146] pianist Zoe Rahman, vocalist Suzana Ansar and Sohini Alam,[147] and the visual artist on film and photography Runa Islam.[135][148] In Sport, the only Bangladeshi professional footballer in England is Anwar Uddin.[143][149]

Writers which have received praise and criticism for their books include Zia Haider Rahman who debut novel In the Light of What We Know was published in 2014.,[150] Ed Husain, who wrote the book The Islamist on account of his experience for five years with the Hizb ut-Tahrir,[151][152] Monica Ali for her book Brick Lane a story based on a Bangladeshi woman,[153] and Kia Abdullah for her book, Life, Love and Assimilation.

In 2012, British kickboxing champion Ruqsana Begum was among nine people of Bangladeshi descent, who carried the Olympic torch along with some 8,000 Britons across the UK. Architectural and graphic designer Saiman Miah was the designer for the two commemorative £5 coins released by British Royal Mint to mark the 2012 London Olympic Games. Akram Khan was a choreographer of the Olympic opening ceremony. Khan was in direction when 12,000 dance artistes performed in the Olympic opening ceremony. Enam Ali's Le Raj restaurant was selected as one of the official food suppliers of the London Olympics. The restaurant also prepared and provided Iftar to the Muslim guests at the Olympics.[154]

Large numbers of people from the Bangladeshi community have also been involved with local government, increasingly in the London boroughs of Tower Hamlets and Camden. The majority of the councillors in Tower Hamlets are of Bangladeshi descent and part of the Labour Party. As of 2009, 32 of the total 51 councillors were Bangladeshi (63%), 18 were White (35%) and 1 Somali (2%).[155] The first Bangladeshi mayor in the country was Ghulam Murtuza in Tower Hamlets. Camden has appointed many Bangladeshis as mayors since the first, Nasim Ali. The London Borough of Islington followed suit in the year 2012; appointing councillor Jilani Chowdhury as their mayor.

Political identity

The Shaheed Minar replica in Altab Ali Park, London

In Bangladeshi politics there are two groups, favouring different principles, one Islamic and the other secular. Between these groups there has always been rivalry; however, the Islamic faction is steadily growing. This division between religious and secular was an issue during the Bangladesh Liberation War; the political history of Bangladesh is now is being re-interpreted again, in the UK. The secular group show nationalism through monuments, or through the introduction of Bengali culture, and the Islamic group mainly through dawah.[6][156]

One symbol of Bengali nationalism is the Shaheed Minar, which commemorates the Bengali Language Movement, present in Altab Ali Park – the park is also the main venue for rallies and demonstrations, and also in Westwood, Oldham.[6] The monuments are a smaller replica of the one in Dhaka, Bangladesh, and symbolises a mother and the martyred sons.[157] Nationalism is mainly witnessed during celebrations of the mela, when groups such as the Swadhinata Trust try to promote Bengali history and heritage amongst young people, in schools, youth clubs and community centres.[156]

Islamic activists stress the commitment to a religious type of identity. These groups expanded their role in the local community by creating youth groups, providing lectures on Islam, and influencing people to be more involved with community mosques (e.g. East London Mosque). These groups also describe Bengali secular nationalism as a "waste of money", a way to abstract from being Islamic: they claim to believe that the Boishakhi Mela celebrations are "shirk" activities. Tension has arisen between the groups, with Islamists and nationalists being criticised or attacked.[6] These incidents illustrate the competition for social and political control between Islamists and secularists in the community context. This sphere is highly dependent on collective memory and historical reinterpretations of the Liberation War.[156]

According to a 2013 survey by the Center on Dynamics of Ethnicity (CoDE) at the University of Manchester, ethnic minorities in the country were more likely to describe themselves as exclusively "British" than their white Briton counterparts. 72% of Bangladeshis reported an exclusive "British" identity, in contrast 72% of white Britons preferred to call themselves "English" rather than the more expansive "British" designation. A 2009 study by the University of Surrey suggested that some Bangladeshis in Britain, particularly the youth, embrace their "Britishness" while feeling alienated from "Englishness". The underlying assumption was that "Englishness" was associated with "whiteness" whereas "Britishness" denoted a more universal kind of identity that encompasses various cultural and racial backgrounds.[28]

Youth gangs

As a response to conditions faced by their first generation elders during the 1970s (see history), younger Bangladeshis started to form gangs, developing a sense of dominating their territory. One consequence of this was that Bangladeshi gangs began fighting each other. Bangladeshi teenagers involved with gangs show their allegiance to this kind of lifestyle in various ways: heavily styled hair, expensive mobile phones and fashionable labels and brands.[13] Teenage street gangs have been responsible for sometimes lethal violence; it is estimated that in Tower Hamlets alone there are 2,500 Bengali youths affiliated to one of the many local gangs,[158] and that 26 out of the 27 gangs in the area are Bangladeshi.[159] The notorious gangs have been given names that end with massive or posse, such as the Brick Lane Massive and Brady Street Massive.[160] Other smaller groups include the Shadwell Crew, Cannon Street Posse, Bengal Tigers and Bethnal Green Boys.[161][162]

In the past, Bangladeshi gangs have fostered criminal elements, including low level drug use and credit card fraud. However, for many the focus has changed to fighting over their territories. They use a variety of weapons, such as samurai swords, machetes, kitchen knives and meat cleavers, although guns are rarely used. When members reach their twenties they usually grow out of gang membership, but some move on to more serious criminal activity. Increasing numbers of Bangladeshi youths are taking hard drugs, in particular heroin.[163] Islamic fundamentalism has also played a part in the youth culture, illustrated by the efforts of one Brick Lane gang to oust out prostitutes from the area. As to dietary customs, youths generally avoid eating pork, and some from drinking alcohol; however many take part in recreational drug use,[164] in particular heroin.[165]


Bangladeshi-owned Indian restaurants in Brick Lane

95% of all Indian restaurants are run by Bangladeshis.[58] The curry industry employs over 150,000 people, contributes £4.5 billion to the economy each year[42][166][167] and is viewed as recognition of Bangladeshi success, through awards such as 'The British Curry Awards'.[168][169] Brick Lane, known as Banglatown, is home to many of these restaurants, and is now regarded as London's 'curry capital', with thousands of visitors every day.[170] The restaurants serve different types of curry dishes, including fish, chutneys, and other halal dishes.[171] Attitudes towards restaurant work has shifted among second-generation Bangladeshis who lack interest in working in the curry industry due to their social mobility and opportunities provided by their parents.[166] As of 2016, according to the Bangladesh High Commission, Brick Lane has 57 Bangladeshi-owned curry houses, and in England as a whole, around 90% of all curry houses are owned by British Bangladeshis.[31]

Although the curry industry has been the primary business of Bangladeshis (see Cuisine), many other Bangladeshis own grocery stores. Whitechapel is a thriving local street market, offering many low-priced goods for the local Bengali community.[172] In Brick Lane there are many Bengali staples available, such as frozen fish and jack fruits. There are also many travel agents offering flights to Sylhet.[173] Many Bangladeshi businesses located in the East End wish to maintain a link with Sylhet, for example the weekly Sylheter Dak or the Sylhet Stores. There are also many money transfer companies;[3][174] in 2007, a firm called First Solution Money Transfer went into liquidation. Company chairman, Dr Fazal Mahmood, admitted the business owed hundreds of thousands of pounds to the public. and claimed that the firm had lost control of the money it handled due to a lack of regulation.[174][175][176] Other large companies include Seamark and IBCO, owned by millionaire Iqbal Ahmed,[177][178] Taj Stores,[179] and many others.[3]

In 2004, Guild of Bangladeshi Restaurateurs requested for ethnic restaurant staff positions to be designated as a shortage occupation, which would make it easier for Bangladeshi citizens to obtain UK work permits.[180] In 2008, Guild of Bangladeshi Restaurateurs members raised concerns that many restaurants were under threat because the British Government announced a change in immigration laws which could block entry of high skilled chefs from Bangladesh to the UK. They requested that the Government recognises that they are skilled workers. The law demanded these workers speak fluent English, and have good formal qualifications. However, these changes did not take place.[181][182]

Immigration policy changes has made it more difficult to source skilled workers from abroad, resulting in a paucity of chefs with the culinary skills to run an Indian-style kitchen. The situation has worsened due to a yearly salary minimum of £35,000 applied to tier 2 migrants, or skilled workers with a job offer in the UK, coming into effect April 2016.[166] The Government's cap on skilled-workers from outside the EU means chefs must earn this salary a year to be permitted to work in UK restaurants.[167][183][184] A Government scheme set up in 2012 to train UK nationals to work as chefs in Asian and Oriental restaurants struggled with a lack of interest, despite a YouGov poll at the time indicating that almost a third of young people would consider working in the sector.[167] Experts say curry houses are closing down at the rate of two a week because of a shortage of tandoori chefs.[185]


The UK is the second biggest foreign investor in Bangladesh and one of the largest development partners of Bangladesh. Over 240 UK companies are operating in different sectors including retail, banking, energy, infrastructure, consultancy and education with leading centres of operation in Dhaka, Chittagong and Sylhet.[29]

Many British Bangladeshis send money to Bangladesh to build houses. In villages in Sylhet, there are houses built suburbs or communities through financial support mainly received from the UK, fuelling a building boom.[186][187][188] Businesses have also been established by the British expatriates in the city of Sylhet, such as hotels, restaurants, often themed on those found in London, have also been established to cater to the visiting Sylheti expatriate population and the growing Sylheti middle classes (i.e. London Fried Chicken or Tessco).[189] The financial relationship between British Bengalis and relatives in Bangladesh has changed, only 20% of Bangladeshi families in east London were sending money to Bangladesh as of 1995, this figure was approximately 85% during 1960–1970s. For a large number of families in Britain the cost of living, housing, or education for the children severely constrains any regular financial commitment towards Bangladesh. Moreover, the family reunion process has resulted in the social and economic reproduction of the household in Britain; conflicts over land or money can arise involving the mutual or reciprocal relationship between members of a joint household divided by migration. This, in turn, can reduce even more the level of investment in Sylhet. The emergence of a second and a third generation of British Bangladeshis is another factor explaining the declining proportion of people's income being sent as remittances to Bangladesh.[6] About 30% of all remittance sent to Bangladesh are from Britain as of 1987.[85] As of January 2013, $740m is sent from UK to Bangladesh per year.[190]

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Further reading

  • Ali, M. (2003). Brick Lane. London: Black Swan. ISBN 978-0-552-77115-3.
  • Swadhinta Trust & CRONEM (2006). Tales of Three Generations of Bengalis in Britain: Bengali Oral History Project University of Surrey. ISBN 978-0-9528824-1-1.
  • Clarke, C; Peach, C. and Vertovec, S (1990). South Asians overseas : migration and ethnicity Cambridge; New York : Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0-521-37543-6
  • Eade J; Momen R (1995). Bangladeshis in Britain : a national database. Centre for Bangladeshi Studies. ISBN 978-0-946665-16-7
  • Hussain, Y (2005). Writing Diaspora: South Asian Women, Culture, and Ethnicity Ashgate Publishing, Ltd. ISBN 978-0-7546-4113-1
  • Abbas, T. (2005). Muslim Britain: Communities Under Pressure Zed Books. ISBN 978-1-84277-449-6
  • Phillipson C., Ahmed N., Ahmed N. R., Latimer J. (2003). Women in Transition: A Study of the Experiences of Bangladeshi Women Living in Tower Hamlets The Policy Press. ISBN 978-1-86134-510-3
  • Dorling D., Thomas B. (2004). People and Places: A 2001 Census Atlas of the UK The Policy Press. ISBN 978-1-86134-555-4
  • Kershen, A J. (2002). Food in the Migrant Experience Ashgate. ISBN 978-0-7546-1874-4
  • Marks L., Worboys M. (1997). Migrants, Minorities, and Health Routledge. ISBN 978-0-415-11213-0
  • Murshid, Ghulam. (2008). "The Call of the Sea: History of Bangali in Britain" [in Bengali: Kalapanir hatchani: Bilete Bangaleer itihash]. Abosar Publishing. Dhaka.ISBN 984-415-233-X
  • Gregory E., Williams A. (2000). City Literacies Routledge. ISBN 978-0-415-19115-9
  • Simpson A. A., Simpson A. (2007). Language and National Identity in Asia Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-926748-4
  • Loury G. C., Modood T., Teles S. T. (2005). Ethnicity, Social Mobility, and Public Policy: Comparing the USA and UK Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0-521-82309-8
  • Gilbert P. K. (2002). Imagined Londons SUNY Press. ISBN 978-0-7914-5501-2
  • Shakur T, D'Souza K. (2003). Picturing South Asian Culture in English: Textual and Visual Representations Open House Press. ISBN 978-0-9544463-0-7
  • Iredale R. R., Guo F., Rozario S. (2003). Return Migration in the Asia Pacific Edward Elgar Publishing. ISBN 978-1-84376-303-1

External links