Geneva Camp-I

The Frightened in Bangladesh

Sarwarjahan Chowdhury

Little less than a million Bihari Muslims migrated to the then East Pakistan, due to communal violence in Bihar during and after partition of the subcontinent in 1947. Zinnah and other Muslim leaders of that time made explicit mentions of the great sacrifice the Muslim migrants from India to Pakistan had to make for the materialization of Pakistan.

The Biharis in Bangladesh are ill fated in almost all senses. No other communities of the subcontinent are as perpetual sufferers as them. Everyone's anguishes, be it East Bengali Hindus in India or Mohajeers in Pakistan come to an end at some stage, given the fact that former was fairly well received in India and the latter could create a political space of their own in Karachi. But the poor Biharis in Bangladesh have reached nowhere over so many decades and their persecution goes on and on; the latest incident being burning of 10 Biharis including women and children in Dhaka recently.

Bangladeshi politicians over the years have kept them terrorized in their ghettos and consider them new age untouchables. Bangladeshi statesmen endeavor to dispatch them to Pakistan. Many politicians and their ardent followers are persistently mindful of only one fact—the staunch pro-Pakistan stance in 1971 of the Biharis including active collaboration with Pakistan army and Rajakars in war and atrocities against Bengalis, conveniently forgetting that these ever suffering bunches were also persecuted with similar ferocity around the same time and at this point of time their condition is so wretched that no person with bare minimum civility can think of vengeance of any kind again. Their preferred destination post 1971 has always been Pakistan. After some initial success the process stalled due to protest in the places of Pakistani Punjab and Sind where they were planned to be relocated. Also, many Pakistani politicians think Pakistan is under no obligation to offer them refuge.

The Biharis are basically a tiny community. In the Geneva (refugee) camp of Dhaka about 250000 are living. About half a million has quietly assimilated themselves with the Bengalis in Dhaka and across the country for various reasons—one, is to become indistinguishable in an intolerant society. Some have left, perhaps, for various destinations of South Asia and beyond. They have seized to thrive as any vibrant community with their erstwhile distinguishable meat culinary and design specialty of laces in their cottage industry apparels. The new generation hardy speaks Urdu. The Supreme Court of Bangladesh, in couple of occasions, has supplied judgments in favour of their nationality in the state of Bangladesh.

Yet, they are a stateless people. This ill-omened bunch neither had any good leadership ever. They all are from low socio-economic class. Their present economic condition and state of living is tragic. There is hardly any educated middle class Bihari in Bangladesh to lead them. If there were few, they have dissociated themselves from this vulnerable community long back and like to be invisible ; perhaps for their own safety.

Most of the 71' spirited intelligentsia is largely quiet about this grimly suffering humanity. The poor creatures and their new generations who were not even born in 1971 are ever vulnerable to opportunist goons and insane mob. Bangladesh may not yet be a place like Pakistan or the Middle East; nevertheless, there are some serious problems in Bangladeshi society with respect to tolerance and honesty of intent; be it in case of religious hindu minority or ethnic ones.

The media has unambiguously highlighted what happened to those poor Biharis in the night of the holy Islamic occasion of Shab-e-Barat (the night of good fortune); which turned ill-starred for the pitiable fellows. The awe and horror of the moment must not be put to back burner so easily. Empathy apart; an insanity in the build among the masses today, conveniently ignored by one, will come to haunt him tomorrow, for, there is no end of divisiveness and otherness. These are the easiest things to invent. Humanity is the only pure constant.

Vol. 47, No. 2, Jul 20 - 26, 2014