Abdul Momen obituary

Eithne Nightingale

My former colleague Abdul Momen, who has died aged 81, made supporting racial equality and grassroots activism his life’s work. His dedication as head of the community work team at the Camden Committee for Community Relations (CCCR), in north London, from the early 1970s was particularly inspiring.

Members of the local Bangladeshi community at that time were often living in dilapidated multi-occupational housing, working long hours with low pay in the restaurant trade and facing racism on the streets.

Abdul worked with Camden council to ensure access to better housing. In 1984, following the death of a Bangladeshi woman and her two children in a night-time fire in bed and breakfast accommodation, he organised an occupation of the town hall.

He initiated restaurant cooperatives and worked with lawyers over the myriad immigration issues faced by men trying to bring their families into the UK.

As education officer at the CCCR I worked with Abdul on lobbying the Inner London Education Authority to find places for children in schools – many waited for months, even years, to access education after they arrived in Britain. We worked with headteachers over the harassment children experienced on their way to and from school; and on a training scheme that provided work experience for young people outside the catering and clothing industries.

Abdul was born in Basirhat in West Bengal. His father, Sheik Abdul Rafik, was a post office master, and his mother, Rabia Khatoon, a housewife. During the partition of India in 1947, the family moved from West Bengal, which remained in India, to East Bengal, which became part of Pakistan.

Abdul did his BA (1957) and MA (1959) in English literature at Rajshahi University, then became a lecturer in English literature at the University of Chittagong. While there, he won a scholarship to study at Leeds University and started a PhD in 18th-century English literature.

His sponsorship was disrupted by the war in 1971 between west and east Pakistan, which resulted in the establishment of Bangladesh. In 1975 he was employed as a community worker with the CCCR. Some of my best memories of him are when he quoted Blake’s poetry to me – he was too busy to ever finish his PhD on the subject – and when we designed together an anti-racist banner for the Bengali Workers Action Group.

He was a senior lecturer in education and community studies at Greenwich University from 1985 and 2003; taught at London Met from 2003 until 2011; and on retirement was made an honorary professor.

His friends will miss his humour, his gentleness, his intellect and his commitment to social and racial justice.

He was twice divorced and is survived by three children and two grandchildren.