British Sport: Paki-Bashing

The United Kingdom has seen waves of South Asian immigration. Following World War II and Indian Independence from British rule, Britain encouraged South Asians to emigrate to repair their broken nation. In the 1950s to 1970s, immigrants were usually manual labourers working in industrial settings. The ‘80s and ‘90s saw a shift to immigrants trained as doctors, engineers and teachers. Today, 61% of key workers who have died at the hands of COVID-19 were of black and ethnic minorities (BAME) backgrounds.

Brick Lane wall graffitied in support of the Ku Klux Klan, 1968

Despite this, British politics and media was (and is) peppered with anti-asian rhetoric. Ever the populist, Conservative Shadow Secretary, Enoch Powell capitalised on the far-rights anti-immigrant sentiment with his River of Blood Speech in 1968. Powell likened the relaxation of British immigration policy to Britain ‘heaping up its own funeral pyre’. He went on to make baseless references to South Asian women taking up hospital beds. Powell inferred their babies would grow into leeches, sucking Britain’s blood until it is dead – the very Britain built on the looted riches of their grandparents, buried in the earth of a barren and bruised India.

Powell warned against the proposed anti-discrimation laws, suggesting that White British folk would suffer if black and ethnic minorities were to achieve socio-economic equality. He ended by prophecising, or rather inciting, violence by quoting Aenied’s poem; ‘..wars and the Tiber foaming with much blood’.

Rivers of Blood Speech (Enoch Powell, 1968)

The ‘White Power Skinheads’, ‘National Front’ and ‘British National Party’ created Britain’s favourite pastime; ‘paki-bashing’. They were, of course, further vindicated by the indifference to their persecution, held by the criminal justice system and the majority of White Britain. Bengalis reported people shoving burnt mail, rubbish and death threats through their letterboxes – one amongst many deplorable racist acts. Neighbourhood walls were graffitied with ‘White is Right’ and ‘Pakis out’.

In 1978, a young British Bengali man, Altab Ali, was on his way home from work to drop off his shopping before going out to cast his vote. Altab was attacked and murdered by three white teenagers a stone’s throw away from Brick Lane, now increasingly gentrified.

When a perpetrator was asked what motivated the attack, he simply replied;
“No reason at all.”… ‘”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.”

South Asians were no longer silent. Taking inspiration from the Black Panthers, the South African anti-apartheid fight and the Indian Independence movement, British Asians were mobilised. Following the racist murder, the Bradford Youth Movement was formed. Some 7,000 people marched behind his coffin through the streets of London all the way to 10 Downing Street, demanding a review into institutionalised racism and the deliverance of socio-economic justice.

March in honour of Altab Ali (14 May, 1978)

In 1989, the murder scene was renamed Altab Ali Park to memorialise his death. The design, a fusion of Bengali and British architecture, includes an archway inscribed with the poetry of Rabindranath Tagore. Altab Ali Park is tucked away in between Aldgate East’s business suits, the Royal London Hospital’s sleepless nights and Whitechapel Market’s saris and spices. Altab Ali Park is home to tired bones, family picnics and solitary reflection. But Altab Ali Park means so much more.

Altab Ali Park, Whitechapel, London


While Altab Ali’s murder was a watershed moment for British race-relations, the malignant ideology of white supremacy continues to permeate all facets of British living. It’s in the deaths of Shukri Abdi and Belly Mujinga. It’s in Britain’s colonised school curriculum. It’s in racial micro-aggressions at work and in the supermarket. Tolerating a culture which dehumanises and others people on the basis of skin, births the very physical violence we see unfolding. When the social media support dwindles and the uproar diminishes to a silent hum, the anti-racist fight is one which must continue to ‘rage against the dying of the light’.

In loving memory of Altab Ali and countless others.