Manzila Pola Uddin

Manzila Pola Uddin, born in Bangladesh in 1959, came to East London at the age of 13 with her mother and siblings to join her father following the War of Independence in 1971

Manzila Pola Uddin was born in 1959 in Rajshahi, Bangladesh. She was brought up within a large extended family, in a house with a beautiful garden near the Padma river with her maternal grandparents, her mother, a teacher and five younger siblings. During the War of Independence, Manzila looked out for the Pakistani soldiers from the rooftop and her family provided food to the Freedom Fighters. She recalls the war in vivid details.

As Bangladesh began to come to terms with the impact of the War of Independence Manzila, her mother and siblings joined Manzila’s father in London where he had come to study law. Manzila was 13. She was devastated at having to leave her grandfather, grandmothers, aunt, uncles as well as her cousins and friends. More significantly she felt a deep sense of loss at leaving her place of birth. She was a good student and looked forward to her future in the newly created Bangladesh.

The experience of leaving Bangladesh was so painful that Manzila has blocked out all memories of the journey. Joining secondary school with little spoken English put her at a significant disadvantage. In addition from teachers she faced open discrimination and prejudice, prevalent in early 1970’s Britain. Teachers in Newham, except for one notable exception of her English teacher, had low expectations of her, dismissing her and predicting a life of early marriage, children and factory work. In fact Manzila, by her own choice, did get married, at the age of 16, to a young man, originally from Sylhet, with whom she shared a love of music and for Bangladesh. The couple moved to Brick Lane where Manzila, whilst observing the activities and protest movement against the activities of the National Front led by Labour Party members, became interested in Labour Party politics.

The family moved north to Manchester where Manzila’s husband found a new job and where two of their sons were born. They moved back to London when Manzila got a job as a youth worker in Avenues Unlimited in Brick Lane. She became thoroughly immersed in community work and local politics and became the first Bangladeshi woman councillor. During the 80’s activism she led numerous projects to empower women’s participation in civic society. In 1997, in recognition of her community work, Manzila Pola Uddin was appointed by the Queen and became the first Bangladeshi born person to enter British Parliament as a Member of the House of Lords. Her grandchildren are her greatest joy.


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