Calgary’s Bangladeshi community marks 50th anniversary of independence

Bangladeshis in Calgary and around the world are marking a major milestone for their home country this week.

Bangladesh gained independence from Pakistan on March 26, 1971, after a brutal war that lasted nine months.

Usually independence day is celebrated with big crowds but this year things are much more muted due to COVID-19 restrictions.

Dozens of cars took part in a car rally in Calgary on Friday to mark the event.

Shuvro Das of Calgary says Canada and Bangladesh have a long-standing history since Canada supported his home country’s independence from Pakistan. (Submitted by Shuvro Das)

“It means a lot to us,” said Ahmed Al-Emran. “It’s a big milestone and there are several freedom fighters and ex-army officers that are living in Calgary that will be taking part.”

The rally moved from the Genesis Centre through downtown to city hall, ending at Rocky Ridge YMCA.

Al-Emran estimates there are between 10,000 and 15,000 Bangladeshis now living in Calgary. 

“In the last few years, we’ve raised the Bangladeshi flag at city hall and lots and lots and lots of people were there gathering and singing the national anthem together,” he said.

“It was disappointing that it couldn’t happen this year but we came up with another idea so we could celebrate,” said Al-Emran.

On Jan. 11, 1972, nationalist leader Sheikh Mujibur Rahman walks towards a battery of microphones to address an estimated one million people at a rally in the race course ground of Dacca, Bangladesh. (Michel Laurent/Associated Press)

Another reason this time is extra special for Bangladeshis is they’re still marking a year of celebrations over the birth a century earlier of the country’s independence leader and founding father, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. He’s also the father of the current Bangladeshi prime minister, Sheikh Hasina.

“Those two things are happening this year so it’s a significant thing,” said Shuvro Das.

Das says Pierre Trudeau, who was Canada’s prime minister at the time, supported the liberation of Bangladesh and people there have never forgotten Canada’s response.

“Canada’s had a very good relationship with Bangladesh since then,” said Das. “Trudeau was one of the first people to recognize Bangladesh after independence.”

“Being Canadian we all know that multiculturalism is one of our biggest strengths,” said Das.

“So that’s why it’s important for us Bangladeshi Canadians to share our heritage, our culture and our history with other Canadians.”

Bangladeshi motorcyclists shout slogans during a motorcycle rally in Dhaka, Bangladesh, marking the country’s independence day, on March 26, 2018. (A.M. Ahad/Associated Press)

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