Friday, July 11, 2008

Bangladeshis or Pakistanis

I read this very interesting article on BBC about Bangladesh's "Unwanted people".

Basically these are people whose parents were Urdu-speaking Pakistanis living in East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) during Bangladesh's 1971 War of Independence. They all supported (West) Pakistan. Some even joined the Pakistani army in committing atrocities and genocide and war crimes.

After the war and surrender of Pakistan, these people were put in special refugee camps (mostly to protect them from the rage of normal Bangladeshis who had suffered under the occupying Pakistani army). They were waiting for the Pakistan government to take them away to live in Pakistan.

They are still waiting.

Only, now, two generations have come and gone. As per the BBC article, "Several generations, and often several families, now share the small rooms each was originally given".

Surely, many of the kids are now Bangladeshi in all but name. Yet, in the camp, loyalties to Pakistan are still practiced, whether by singing the national anthem or supporting their cricket team. Ironically, Akram Khan, a former captain of the Bangladesh cricket team (that won the ICC trophy in 1997 that started Bangladesh's rise in world cricket), is of Bihari background. So why are many in the camp still clinging to their Pakistani roots, leading to normal Bangladeshis shunning them?I thought when I would talk to former liberation fighters (my dad) or someone who was actively tortured by the Pakistani army (my uncle) - they would rant against these people. Yet, even they feel that the crime was committed by the camp dweller's parents or grandparents - the present generation should be freely allowed to be Bangladeshis, or if they don't want that, then repatriated to Pakistan.

Yet, because of the insistence of some elders in the camp to cling to a Pakistani identity, and folly of the youth in not shunning those ties, and the betrayal by successive Pakistani governments in not accepting them, these people and their children live on in a refugee camp smack right in the middle of Dhaka - not wanted nor cared for by any one.


Amina said...

that's very interesting point u've made. just wanted to stress that similar problems face people from kashmir and india. u can see it as well following history of tibet and china. i personally strongly believe that politic is a disease!
regards from poland

GeekiSiddiqUI said...

Brutal. Hopefully the next generation of 'elders' is more proactive in letting people help each other and themselves.

Specs said...

Oh, this is a really sad situation. I'm glad you chose to highlight it in such an unbiased manner.

I shall be definitely trying to make a difference from here in Pakistan. thanks for bringing this topic to attention.


mezba said...

Amina: Politics (and mostly politicians) are a disease. This situation cries out for a very common sense solution - let those who want to remain in Bangladesh become full Bangladeshi and let those who want to return to Pakistan become Pakistanis. Yet, common sense ain't common amongst the rulers.

Geeki: I don't have too much faith in these 'elders'. The only way is for the youth to say, "Look, I am born and brought up here and I know this land and culture. I should just step out of the camp and work hard."

Specs: thanks. I hope the situation of these people are resolved soon, one way or the other. If there's anyone here that needs to be tried by a War Crimes Tribunal, it should be done promptly and the whole community should not suffer for the crimes of a few.

Anonymous said...

you know, i just found out about these refugee camps last week when I was talking to a pakistani co-worker. Her uncle has apparently started a non-profit that deals with this very issue!

Interesting post

mezba said...

Jane: I hope he succeeds in helping these people get their situation resolved.

Neena said...

The people who born in Bangladesh should be given Bangladesh Citizenship no matter which group they belong to, its their birth right. As for clinging to Pakistan has lot to do with poverty than loyalty. Lot of Bangladeshi think Pakistan is a land of gold and mostly Bengali speaking men and women (maybe its easier to get passport) comes to Karachi to work. I don't think they make more money than Dhaka but still grass is greener on the other side.

mezba said...

I don't know if Bangladesh has a by-birth citizenship rule - maybe they should have a separate office processing all these cases fast.

sonia said...

hi mezba glad someone is writing about this.

try bringing this up as a human rights issue back home and you run into big trouble if you say you think the children deserve the right to nationality. the sins of the fathers are not visited upon the children!

if they are born in bangladesh they are bangladeshi, end of story. they might not be bengali, but that is NO different to americans whose parents were from india. you can be indian and american or bengali and american so why the hell not bihari bangladeshi or whatever. any bangladeshi who thinks a child born in bangladesh has no right to be bangladeshi if he/she so chooses, needs their brains examined. similarly, if they want to think of themselves as pakistani or bihari or whatever, that too is their right. why do we demand people elsewhere accept our multiple identities - muslim/asian/western but think we can refuse it in our own countries - defeats me.

this really makes me fume, i have had so many fights with my relatives, i think it is really disgusting as a nation and reflects really badly on us.

mezba said...

Sonia, I think I agree with you on this. The only concern I have is if there are any (old) war criminals there they should be prosecuted. But nowadays dual citizenship is something governments must live with.

Anonymous said...

No doubt there are many complexities re. the "Bihari" communities in Bangladesh, but this is merely another instance of the pervasive problem of the neither/nor peoples caught between the borders of the nation state system. Such "undocumented" people exist in many if not most countries.

BTW, an aside: the protagonist of Tahmima Anam's recent novel (A Golden Age) is a Bengali woman who speaks Urdu. When I was at a reading a few months ago here in Cambridge MA, she was rather vehemently questioned by an elderly Bengali gentleman, who insisted that Bengalis never spoke Urdu--to which Anam replied that well, the protagonist is vaguely based on her grandmother, and in her family they did use to speak Urdu.

mezba said...

Rawi: Yup, there are so many complexities in this situation. The uniqueness of this situation is not only the length/duration of such people - some are living in the same quarters for 30 years without status - plus Bangladesh and Pakistan have no borders. Usually these situations involve bordering nations.

I think anyone living in Bangladesh and wants to mantain allegience to Bangladesh should be termed Bangladeshis, no matter what language they speak. For example, those tribals near Chittagong Hilltracks should be able to call themselves Bangladeshis even if their mother tongue is not Bangla.

sonia said...

i don't think these refugee children have any existing citizenship! they are stateless, that is the prime problem, forget the dual nationality question.( and bangladesh allows dual nationality so that is not an issue) The point you brought up that is the crux is whether bangladesh has a by-birth citizenship rule. Because as you may know, i have warbled on a lot about the existing problems with citizenship re: if you are born abroad and bangladeshi through your mother.

And lets not forget Pakistan WILL not have these people. And them clinging on to 'Pakistani' ness is NO different than canadian bengalis hanging onto their bangali-ness etc. we know our own elders keep reminding us we are bangalis! so let us please have some understanding. And the children are clearly not war criminals, if there are war criminals to prosecute, let's start with the Jamaat e Islami first. Before we start worrying about some stateless refugees in slums.

The issue about being born in a country, with no rights, no recognition ( and not being able to go anywhere else) is a MAJOR problem, i hope you guys realise that. Of course, in bangladesh, the issue is complicated by the fact that poor people who are technically allowed citizenship are treated like shit so these people are on a rung lower than that.

it is an incredibly sad sad situation, because if you are stateless, you are effectively legally non-existent and completely open to manipulation. How a muslim country can do this and get away with is incredible and so hypocritical i can't even figure out what more to say. This is what human rights comes down to in our country.

sonia said...

good points from Rawi and yes i agree with you Mezba, we should remember that we Bengalis are the majority but not the entirety of bangladesh. the tribal people are a good case in point, after all, their elders see US as the settlers who took their land.

mezba said...

I think I agree - for the sake of future, we must give them Bangladeshi citizenship.

My point about war criminals was about the older people living in these slums, who were young in 1971 and committed atrocities against the Bengalis. Those must be punished.

MZ said...

mezba it's intresting post. I got much information about those urdu speaking stateless people from this post. I think BAN should give them nationality.

mezba said...

MZ: Hi, thanx and welcome to the blog.

sonia said...

while i agree in theory with you Mezba about war criminals, the reality is the ones who we KNOW are criminals i.e. Jamaat e Islami - were never punished and will not be, so in practice, how are we going to find the oldies in the camps who were also war criminals? We're not really, are we? It would be very difficult to prove now anyway. it makes to move on and try and be as forgiving as possible whilst recognising the crimes that took place. (unlike say revisionist scholars like Ms. Sharmila Bose whose work has been touted by the Pakistani government)
\\\ Practically, that's all that I can see is possible anyway.

mezba said...

I didn't know about that revisionist historian. Thanx for the info.