Who Are We, Where Do We Belong?

Identity is more about how a person feels about him/herself and his/her belongings. It can’t be justified by a paper of statement. The story of the Urdu speaking, Bihari community is going through this dilemma. People call them Pakistani, Bihari, Muslim Biharis and Rajakar. These people are left behind after the independence of Bangladesh from Pakistan in 1971. People argue they took the side of Pakistan during the war and after the war Pakistan ditched these people and didn’t allow them into their country. These people lived in many camps for 33 years without having citizenship of any country. The camps are named “Stranded Pakistani Repatriation Camp”, with many camp numbers added at the end of it. A family were allocated to an 8*8 size room, but a family of five is now a family of 12 or even more. There is no privacy or secrecy for anyone living there as too many people live in a very small room. Seeing no other way, many of them raised their building, unplanned, taking risks so that they can adjust their family in the allocated place.

In the year 2008, the Supreme Court of Bangladesh stated that all the members of the Urdu speaking community are now citizens of Bangladesh and directed the election commission to include them in the voting list and provide them with National Identity Cards.

The problem begins when the people living in Stranded Pakistani Repatriation Camp claim that they do have national identity card for voting, but that it limits them to voting only. They don’t have any of the other rights that every other Bangladeshi National has. They can’t be issued a passport with the address where they have been living for years, i.e. the camps. For that reason, if anyone asks them for identification, many of them show the papers they had while living in the camp for Stranded Pakistani. There is an ongoing argument that, as they’re now citizens, they have to pay tax, electricity bills and other utility charges, which the people living in the camp deny.

The discussion is still going on, but I tried to portray the inner souls of these people, their feeling about their identity and the poor conditions they’re living in. There are about 70% of them who want to stay in Bangladesh with proper national citizen rights, 10% still want to repatriate to Pakistan and the rest of them remain silent, but all of them speak Urdu as their mother tongue.

Many of them, who became capable, left their camp and live in a rented house as the living conditions in the camp are getting worse every single day. These people and families no longer like to keep in touch with or maintain connection with the Stranded Pakistani Repatriation Camp. They say, that they have accepted their Bangladeshi nationality completely and are living with it. So, now they don’t want their surroundings to treat them as Pakistani again. But how long are the others going to take to choose and accept what they really are?

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ArtIQulate is a publication associated with the Adenauer Fellowship, a scholarship programme by the Media Programme Asia, Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung Ltd.
About the author

Ziaul Haque Oisharjh

Alumni, Diploma of Visual Journalism, Asian Center for Journalism

Ziaul Haque Oisharjh is a journalist and documentarian currently based in Dhaka, Bangladesh. Through his photography and videography, Ziaul tells the stories of Bangladeshi people, their communities, and their culture. He views his focus as observing the unseen and untold, and presenting them in his stories without bias.

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