imperfect | world | 2010

Archive for the ‘Bihari’ Category

Mar 11,2008

Swapnabhumi on Amazon

Our documentary on the plight of the stateless urdu-speaking people of Bangladesh is now available on Amazon.

Mar 1,2008

The Daily Star

Yesterday’s cover for the weekend supplement. “A people in limbo. The plight of the camp based Urdu-speaking community in Bangladesh.” Here is the full story here

Feb 21,2008

….lets dwell on its legacy for a moment. I am not keen on rituals and I am wondering whether 21st February has become some kind of moribund ritual. And I am thinking that the resounding recognition given to this day by the international community ( International Mother Language Day) is not being lived up to.

Let me start with a little anecdote. I am the researcher and co-producer of a documentary on the urdu-speakers of Bangladesh (Swapnabhumi - The Promised Land). Its been well received so far and is shortly to hit the international festival circuit. I am currently working with the Bihari community to have this documentary shown in all the camps in bangladesh where they presently live in segregation. They had chalked in February as the start date for these shows but then community leaders felt that February was too sensitive a month to hold such a showing. The mainstream Bengali community had no problem showing the docmentary at a Film Festival yesterday but the biharis thought it would be asking for trouble and decided to postpone the showings until next month. I was disappointed by their decision - a decision born out of fear and 2nd class status -  but I did not push it. I don’t live in one of those god-forsaken camps. I accepted it with regret and a feeling of the distance still left to go….

There is a moment in our documentary where a Bengali poets laments the fact that there are so many talented urdu poets in Bangladesh yet Bengalis don’t know anything about them. And that their language is derided.

Is this the legacy then of 21 February? Is this the measure of our inclusiveness? Of course urdu holds a particular problem for Bengalis given that the tyrants of Pakistan wanted to shove this nawabi language down our throats. But the legacy of 21 February falters elsewhere as well.

Its alliance and celebration of a particular nationalist narrative has had particular implications for those who are Bangladeshi but are not Bengali. You can sum it up in one word - exclusion. The Chittagong Hill Tracts is a festering example of what exclusion from a nation amounts to. The monoculturalism in the CHT goes far beyond just language.

Why can’t the martydom Bengalis witnessed on 21 February 1952 not infuse them with sufficient indignation to deal with these areas of shameful silence? Yes its a rhetorical question. And yes we all know the real answer. However, lets demistify it just in case you regularly get off on this banal ritual and feel great about it. Language policy is always a calculated issue in the hands of a political elite or a state. We know from our contexts - whether you are in Europe, Asia, America or Africa - that a language policy can be spun as something which promotes national integration and social cohestion. We also know that it can be a tool to suppress and marginalise. What is Bangladesh doing 56 years after the lessons of that fateful day?


Free Cinema, Free Expression

Feb 15,2008

Free Cinema banner

The 10th International Short and Independent Film Festival has got underway in Dhaka. An excellent collection of films is being shown over the next week or so. And of course it features our own Swapnabhumi - The Promised Land. The festival’s goal is this:

The festival welcomes films of artistic merit and creative expression with a commitment to social and cultural harmony, secularism, sustainable ecology and the rights of women, children and minority communities.

Go to Events for schedule, venue, name of film etc. And if you do go and see Swapnabhumi be sure to give me your views on it.

Jan 24,2008

Yes folks its time to give you a free mp3 download. Kamal Ahmed gives a glorious performance of this classic Ghazal. ( right click and select save link as).

We use this song in our documentary Swapnabhumi (about the plight of the urdu-speaking community of Bangladesh). Kamal, the singer, is from Adamjee “bihari camp.” During the making of a documentary, the nature of editing is such that you go over the footage multiple times.  During that entire period, we never tired of Kamal’s wonderful voice and the ghazals he sang. You will find this mp3 and at at least one other song in the web site for the documentary (almost finished!!).

Right Click this link and select save as. Or if you want to play in your browser just left click. And here is rough translation of the lyrics from urdu.
(please) embrace me, i am very sad

release me from the sadness of this world
i am very sad

embrace me

Now even beautiful sights spike my eyes like arrows
i’m weary of all crumbling relations

hand me some more burdens, i am very sad
embrace me

You have borne much sorrow in this world

but do not be sad
the eventide of sorrow is near

do not be sad
you have borne much sorrow in this world
the sword of injustice will break
this wall of high and low will fall
i promise you my friend , do not be sad
you have borne much sorrow in this world

who knows when this way, this condition will change
when this perod of torture, sorrow and trouble will change

take me from the world
i am very sad

embrace me, i am very sad
(please)embrace me

Tanvir Mokammel on Youtube

Dec 10,2007

So here is an interview I conducted with Tanvir bhai to highlight some of the themes of our documentary on the bihari community. It features in the DVD of “Swapnabhumi The Promised Land.”

INTERVIEW (youtube)

Various bit and pieces

Dec 2,2007

1. If you remember I wrote about the non-existence of palliative care in Bangladesh. Well, here’s how things stand in South Africa. My friend Natalya Dinat talks about her experience.

2. My eight year old son has been ploughing through Phillip Pullman’s books. (I never encouraged him to read the Harry Potter tripe. A S Byatt’s dismissal of Rowling’s work is something I endorse fully!) The American catholics have been getting their knickers in a twist about The Golden Compass ( an adaptation of Pullman’s work). But its useful to hark back and remember what the current Archbishop of Canterbury said about Pullman’s books. HE WELCOMED INTEREST IN IT. READ HERE.

3. Hana Makhmalbaf - younger sister of Samira - has just won an award for a film on Afghanistan “Buddha collapsed out of shame.” She is still just a teenager! I suspect the Taleban will be as livid as the American catholics. Her sister Samira’s film “The Blackboards” easily rates in my top ten favourite films. And I do believe Samira herself was impossibly young when she won the Cannes’ jury award for that. Dr Kamal Hossain, as UN special raporteur on Afghanistan, apparently helped their dad Mohsen with his film about Afghanistan - Kandahar. Dr Kamal Hossain also features in our documentary, Swapnabhumi, about the urdu-speakers of Bangladesh. It is a key moment in the film, and the limitations of Bangladeshi nationalism are laid bare in a few words.
4. And here is a review by Annu Jalais of our documentary.

Press day for Swapnabhumi

Nov 28,2007

press show
Ah it has become an annual thing this…thanks to everyone for their emails and sms. I should put on my D&G shades and in best film-maker style wave and blow you all kisses.

So it was our press day today 28th November for Swapnabhumi - The Promised Land. The public show was a sell out. Response has been very positive and some people are even “ecstatic.” LOL.

Seriously though, our documentary comes at a critical point for the Bihari community. Only yesterday the High Court asked the authorities why the Biharis should not be enrolled on the voter-list. It is our hope and wish that our film will make a difference in some way. This film is an appeal for “acknowledgement”…in the biggest sense of that word. And its an appeal to start here and move on.

Hopefully those of you outside Bangladesh will see it soon. Check the web site for details. - yeah ok, it isnt done it…no fault of our redoubtable designer the great Catalin Dantis, designer for Porsche and owner of two male turtles. Rather, the fault is mine and my hospital-filled timetable.

Oct 17,2007

DVD cover of Swapnabhumi

( cover image UNHCR-GMB Akash; design Catalin Dantis)
Swapnabhumi: The Promised Land ( Documentary, 90mins)

This is a story of six decades, three countries and statelessness. A story about the urdu-speaking community of Bangladesh.

The terms “urdu-speakers” and the more loaded “biharis” are used to refer to muslim people who originally emigrated from India to the newly created East Pakistan in 1947 and afterwards.

Many of them, but by no means all, originated from the state of Bihar and were fleeing large scale communal massacres.

Three decades later, during the struggle for independence in Bangladesh in 1971, this community became embroiled in conflict. Isolated as collaborators against Bangladeshi independence, this moment was a defining one for the urdu-speakers and has had a devastating legacy.

This is a story abou the 160,000 people from this community who live isolated in 116 “camps” or “settlements” in Bangladesh.

Script & Direction Tanvir Mokammel; Co-Producer and Researcher Shafiur Rahman; Editing Mahadeb Shi; Cinematography Anwar Hossain; Background Music Syed Shabab Ali Arzoo; Sound Mashrur Rahman; Assistant Directors Uttam Guha & Sarwar Tamijuddin; Commentary Chittralekha Guha; Assistants Research Khalid Hossain & Mohammad Hasan; Produced by Kino-Eye Films.

Swapnabhumi: The Promised Land

Oct 8,2007

Last week, in the midst of our documentary team’s ideological battles, I sorely missed the October hues of good old blighty - my absolute favourite month mired though it is in sadness and passing. I even contemplated how I would stage my walkout if some things weren’t sorted. This week after several revisions, and as many sleepless nights, i think we have a decent film in our hands. Actually a substantial film. This film, as one observer told us last night in a small but difficult preview session (!), was a film about unresolved histories. There is a politics of remembering and forgetting, a politics of creating and revising social memory. In Bangladesh there is a serious contestation about what can be, should be and allowed to be remembered about the war and about the “bihari” or urdu-speaking community. Maybe it is about time and distance.

Anyway I would like to introduce Khaled and Hassan of Geneva Camp, Mohammedpur, Dhaka. My good friends, brave souls, and participants and researchers for our documentary. More details, MP3s, video on the web site for the doc soon!


Repatriation of “Biharis?”

  • Filed under: Bihari
Oct 3,2007

I am always grateful to Global Voices whenever they link to me. It brings new readers and a general increase in traffic. However sometimes their write-ups are a little too economical with information and sometimes misleading. Like the one liner for the last post. ( Sorry Neha, this is not a crit really. You have just given me an opportunity to clarify matters). Understandably there is confusion around the bihari repatriation issue. Let me give me some figures to describe the dynamic situation:

  • Of the 400,000 to 500,000 living in the country, 75 percent were born after 1971 ( btw, there are no census studies on this community!)
  • In a 1999 survey by the Refugee and Migratory Movements Research Unit, 86.4 percent said they would opt for Bangladeshi citizenship
  • In a 2005 Survey by Al-Falah, 85n percent preferred to live in Bangladesh. 82 percent perceived themselves as Bangladeshis
  • The ongoing “Dhaka Initiative” survey suggests that more than 90 percent of the “Biharis” favour Bangladeshi reintegration
  • In a 2005 consultation meeting on the “Urdu speaking communitgy’s own perception about their future in Bangladesh” most of the speakers from 11 Bihari organisations said that large or overwhelming majority of the settlement occupants considered themselves to be Bangladeshis and wanted rehabilitation with dignity.
  • So the bottom line is that repatriation is not on the priority list if indeed it is on the list at all. And I would like to say that the insecurity, the discrimination and the helplessness of camp life are some of the motives for harking back to this idyll called Pakistan, the promised land. It is merely a wish for a better future.

    Geneva Camp, Dhaka

    • Filed under: Bihari
    Oct 2,2007

    Went to meet one of the residents of Geneva Camp today.

    • 20,000 so-called “bihari” people in an area of 136000 sq feet
    • 200 toilets
    • more than half out of order

    Geneva Camp

    Geneva Camp

    Geneva Camp

    Geneva Camp

    The stateless in Bangladesh

    Sep 17,2007

    Six decades, three countries…and only a dream of a promised land. Here are production shots from a forthcoming documentary about the bihari community. Shots by Anwar Hossain.
    Adamjee Camp

    Adamjee Rain

    Adamjee Camp more rain

    Adamjee train track

    Sep 5,2007

    Voting rights and national identity cards are to be given to the “Biharis” or Urdu-speaking people or Stranded Pakistanis of Bangladesh or whatever other name you wish to apply to this stateless and marginalised community. A high level ministerial meeting took place today, and the news was released an hour or so ago. A final decision will be taken two weeks from now.

    This is a long and sad saga, and perhaps there is some light at the end of the tunnel. The topic is the subject of a film documentary I am involved in making with Tanvir Mokammel. More, a lot more, to come on this issue.