Life at the Bihari Camp
A young girl writes a poem where she asks a simple question -- one which no one can answer. She asks, “Who am I?” Her forefathers were born in India, they immigrated to Pakistan, and she was born in Bangladesh. India has given up on them a long time back, Bangladesh will not accept them as the children of the land and Pakistan will not take them back. She says that she has many names 'Bihari', 'Maura', 'Muhajir', 'Non-Bangalee', 'Marwari', 'Urdu-speaker', 'Refugee', and 'Stranded Pakistani'. But she only wants one identity: Human.
This is the state of the 1.6 lakh camp-based Urdu-speaking community in Bangladesh. At the Geneva camp now there are about 50 thousand Urdu speaking Indian & Pakistani peoples are living.
After the partition of India in 1947, faced with large-scale communal riots on both sides of the border, a few hundred thousand Muslims from Bihar, Kolkata, Uttar Pradesh, Maddhya Pradesh and as far away as Hyderabad came to the then East Pakistan. All India Muslim League Chief Muhammad Ali Jinnah promised them that Pakistan would be 'a safe haven for all Muslims'. As is typical of people migrating from a common locality, 'Biharis' lived in separate clusters from the Bangalis.
Their communities were concentrated in areas in Mohammadpur, Mirpur, Khulna, Chittagong and Santahar. The new generation who were born after the war and comprise the biggest chunk of camp-dwellers don't have any affiliations with either India or Pakistan. They were born in this country and identify themselves as Bangladeshis. Unfortunately the state is reluctant to accept them as such. It's a very complex issue because a lot of ambivalence from the majority population that is skeptical about these people's loyalty to the country they want to be citizens of. But the inhuman conditions they are living in and the subsequent effect it is bound to have on the society as a whole makes it imperative to resolve this painful issue.
Story & Images by Saiful Amin Kazal