Here is a report of our Ummid 2010 competition and exhibition. This was an international photographic contest and exhibition we organised on the the 2nd anniversary of the granting of citizenship to urdu-speaking Bangladeshis. Held at the Alliance Francaise de Dhaka in May, it received wide support and media coverage.
Done with very little consultation, this announcement summarises the state of democratic planning in bangladesh:
Dhaka, Mar 3 (bdnews24.com) – Dhaka City Corporation has undertaken a massive project to construct 45 high-rise buildings at Mohammadpur to rehabilitate the tens of thousands of stranded Pakistanis who have been inhabiting rundown refugee camps for nearly four decades, since Bangladesh gained independence.
After completion, the project will provide permanent housing to 38,667 families of the Mohammadpur Geneva Camp. Read the whole article here.
The hitherto stateless urdu-speakers of Bangladesh (or Biharis) exercised their right to vote in the parliamentary elections yesterday as citizens of Bangladesh. Here are some snaps from Mohammadpur - the site of one of the original “camps” in which urdu-speakers were interned in 1971. ( Voting booth was at the Mohammadpur Model College)
I will be writing more soon. Notice the female only queue ( applied to all areas not just urdu-speaking areas!)
This article is interesting in that it gives a flavour of what it is like to be born and grow up in a country and yet not be a full citizen of it. The article looks at a Bengali Paara (locality) in Karachi and the biharis in Bangladesh. But in terms of the forthcoming Bangladeshi elections, these figures are worth noting:
Official figures note that 15,000 refugees (sic, but referring to biharis) out of approximately 300,000 have applied for enrolment in the voting system to date. According to data collected from various sources, some 6,000 people spread across 70 different camps in Bangladesh preferred to register themselves. The number includes 360 inhabitants of Mohammadpur Geneva Camp, Dhaka. However, only 180 were able to provide all the information and photographs necessary for the registration process.
So firstly there is a discrepancy between the government figure (15,000 registered) and figures from other sources (6,000 registered) it seems. The same article hints at some of the apprehensions of the Bihari community which might be responsible for this. Many apparently felt that taking up citizenship would entail letting go of their current status ( The article incorrectly notes this status as “refugee status.” The biharis do not have refugee status in Bangladesh as far as the UNHCR is concerned. Their current status has some very meagre and rapidly vanishing benefits in terms of camp access to services etc). And it was this fear of losing out on these scraps of assistance that possibly explains the low numbers.
The article notes:
Their fears crystallised after several families in camps in Khalispur, Kulna were issued with legal notices ordering them to evacuate the camps, as they were no longer officially refugees.
The figures in the article are a bit surprising and I wonder why a newspaper would publish without references or anything. My own sources - Hasan Mohammad of AYGUSC tells me
- About 15,000 camp inmates living in Mohammadpur and Mirpur of Dhaka enlisted their names in this process. But the actual number of voters may be more.
- Out of the above number about 2,600 Geneva camp inmates enlisted their names and got NIC (official report)
- 80% of the total eligible voters will be enlisted in the voters list and NIC of 116 camps
- There are 116 settlements all over the country according to survey conducted by Al-Falah and UNHCR not 70 camps.
It seems that slowly but surely Bangladeshi cultural activists are finally turning their gaze on the long festering “bihari” issue. A couple of month’s ago Mamunur Rashid produced a docu-drama on the issue and it was premiered in the Liberation War Museum. Interestingly holding a premiere of one’s film at such an institution has some obligations and Mr Rashid had to utter the Liberation War Museum mantra ” I demand the trial of war criminals who collaborated with the Pakistani army. ” Prefacing one’s film with this statement only serves to tarr this entire community with that useless, mouldy and oppressive brush beloved of those who unthinkingly think of themselves as “pro-liberation.”
The war-criminal issue is not one sided Mr Rashid. And you should know this. Your film has plagiarised wantonly from the documentary I co-produced and researched - Swapnabhumi, The Promised Land. And given your manifest approval of our film I would have thought you would have understood the message of that film. You were only too happy, it seems, to steal our footage, our songs and even copyright footage I paid for but you seem not to understand that demanding a trial should be a bit more than a mantra, a message that is implicit in our documentary. I too am in favour of a trial. However I have thought about the terms of reference of such a putative trial. Have you?
Historic Document this.
It is World Refugee Day on 20th June 2008. According to the UNHCR there are 33 million refugees and internally displaced people. The 3rd Annual Tokyo Refugee Film Festival will be raising awareness of this by screening
“A select array of films from across the globe (giving voice) to seldom-heard stories of hope, despair and resilience.”
I am happy to note that our film Swapnabhumi - The Promised Land will be part of the film festival.
The High Court has declared that urdu-speakers or stranded pakistanis or biharis are indeed citizens of Bangladesh. At the last minute, the Attorney General tried to muddy the waters by raising a question about “allegiance” but was rebuked by the court which then went on to affirm what is natural, moral and correct - that members of this community are citizens of Bangladesh! And that they should be included in the voter list. A proud day for Bangladesh.
You have seen the movie, now visit the web site SWAPNABHUMI - THE PROMISED LAND
Finally I managed to find time to get this done. Thanks to Ain Tohvri all the way there in the frozen wastes of Estonia for the web development. Estonia too has a considerable stateless population. And Ain and I had wonderful discussions about the dynamics of the Soviet occupation of Estonia, Estonian resistance and resistance art. Thanks for an educational experience Ain.
Comments, suggestions and feedback welcome. Amazon purchases even more so.
A very positive reception ( rapturous even among certain quarters..!)Â for our documentary Swapnabhumi - The Promised Land. Extended discussions took place after the multiple showings in different areas.
Statelessness is a corrosive, soul-destroying condition that can colour almost every aspect of a personâ€™s life. People who are not recognized as citizens of any state may be unable to go to school, work legally, own property, get married, or travel. They may find it difficult to enter hospital, and impossible to open a bank account or receive a pension. If someone robs or rapes them, they may not be able to lodge a complaint, because legally they do not exist.
As you know our documentary, Swapnabhumi- The Promised Land, is doing the rounds of “bihari camps” in Bangladesh. Here is a report direct from the field about the latest showings in Ishurdi.
Shafi bhai - the Ishurdi programme was really tremendous. The sound was perfect. Present among the packed crowd were some journalists, human rights activists… and the Union secretary also turned up to watch the documentary. After the viewing, they really appreciated the film and some said that we should be screening the film in different Bus stations and crowded places! The Union secretary also informed us that they had received 36 lac TK. for a sanitation programme of Ishurdi camp 1 or 2 from Care Bangladesh. Shafi Bhai the programme was a success! Next in Chittagong on 28 March. Khalid.
The enthusiastic report is let down by the somewhat crude photographs below…but it gives you a flavour. And before a certain FH points out the lack of women…..they were most certainly there!…its just that the ‘photographer’ didn’t have the bottle to approach them…..
The Association of the Young Generation of the Urdu-speaking Community ( AYGUSC) together with “Chalachitranachal” are holding public viewings of Swapnabhumi - The Promised Land in the “bihari camps” throughout Bangladesh. The first shows were held on Friday (14th) in Mymensingh. Photos are from two different showings there. My thanks go to Sarwar, Nahar, Khalid, Hasan and many others for taking this initiative to take our documentary to the very community the film depicts. There are voices in Bangladesh who are not swallowing the usual story and want change, and this documentary is part of that.