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A gang of Bangladeshi youth strikes back against racist attacks

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THEY call themselves the Drummond Street Posse. Rubel carries a three-inch blade, an inch within the legal limit. Bom has a cellular and a reprogrammed £5 BT card. He also packs a couple of three-inch scars, physical memories of battles in months gone by. Others in the squad include Pedro, Rocky, Shaqat, Pits, Juts and Rage. Most of them go by their nicknames. Pits fights like a terrier. Juts can dance like MJ. Rocky likes a bit of boxing and Rage has a wafer-thin temper. All 16 and all from Bangladesh.

They like to think of themselves as the foremost Asian gang in Britain which caught widespread media attention following the murder of Richard Everett, a young white caught in a racist backlash, two years ago. Living on the Somers town and Regency Park Estates in Camden, north London—parts of the area are split almost exactly between Bangladeshi and white working class communities—the Bengali community here has suffered a series of racist attacks especially after the murder of Everett. Fighting back, the Posse has been the subject of a documentary to be aired by Channel 4 this month. Says Arun Kumar, director of the film, Bengali Backlash: "We followed these group of boys for a whole year. We didn't talk to their parents or the society around. The idea of the film was to give the boys a voice."

While Drummond Street is best known for its India eateries, it's the regular hangout for Bangladeshi youth. Says Rage: "We feel safe here. It's our area. The white gangs stay out of here." And Rage is one of the many boys who doesn't stay in the immediate neighbourhood but comes to Drummond Street from six miles away in the evenings because he doesn't feel safe hanging around in Holborn where he lives.

The Drummond Street gangs themselves are graded by age. The 16-year-olds number 30. There are 20 boys between the ages of 17 to 18, 40 in the 18-19 age group and 20 in the 19-20 age bracket. The parents of most of the boys are either restaurant owners or work in restaurants. And though most of the boys go to school,just a few do well and a lot of them even get expelled because of fights with white peers.

Says Kumar: "The local police is extremely biased against the local Bengali community. They have an ability not to react to victims of white violence. This fact was even covered by the Human Rights Watch report published earlier this year. While the first generation was prepared to be meek, the second generation isn't prepared to take it lying down."

Adds Rubel: "In the two days following Everett's murder, 360 Bengali boys from Drummond Street were rounded up for questioning. While Everett's murder was wrong, he was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time."

Though Everett's family would have serious objection to that comment, vendetta is apparently a two-way street. Scheb Miah, 16, was attacked last year and will probably take a long time to recover. Says Miah: "The next day I started vomiting and lost my speech. The nurse explained to me that I have a blood clot in my brain. It's going to take a long time for me to get my speech and movement back. "

Though the Posse fought about two street battles a day till six months back, tensions with the two adjacent white neighbour-hood gangs have subsided a bit and battle frequency has dipped to twice a week. This has allowed other concerns to surface. Football. A few gang members went to Sweden to play in the Gillette under-18 cup. Robberies and drugs. Some of the kids, self-admittedly, serve as errand boys for elder bhais who push heroin and crack. Though they don't have driving licences, they steal licences to hire cars, and run up negative points on that licence by rash driving—Rage once knocked over a cop on bike patrol, presumably by mistake.

They are also into bragging big time. Rocky says he knows a Bangladeshi serial killer who does people in for £3,000 because of his heroin addiction. Says Kumar: "It took me a couple of months to win their confidence so they didn't feel the need to brag about things." But the black American and Jamaican slang is just a street-smart veneer. Says Kumar: "Deep down the kids are scared. And all the swagger is to hide that fact." Swagger is perhaps the first step to rebellion. For Pits this translates into: "Drummond Street is our yard. We can't let people come here and roll over us."

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