By Mosarrap H. Khan
During my trip to Dhaka in December, 2011, I visited Mohammadpur Geneva Camp, the unauthorized ghetto of Urdu-speaking Bihari Muslims in Dhaka. The Urdu-speaking poorer Muslims from Bihar and parts of Uttar Pradesh had crossed over to Bangladesh during Partition (1947). In the Geneva Camp, these Muslims squatted after Bangladesh became independent in 1971. They were thought to be supporters of Pakistan because of their linguistic affinity and many had actively resisted the Bangladesh Liberation Army.
Since the Urdu-speaking Muslims were keen on leaving Bangladesh and settling in Pakistan, a repatriation treaty was signed between Pakistan, India, and the government of the newly independent nation. The camp was thought to be a purely temporary arrangement. In accordance with the repatriation treaty, transfer of Urdu-speaking Muslims to Pakistan continued until the early 1980s and many of them were settled in Karachi. Thereafter, the Pakistani government didn’t seem very eager to accept any more Urdu-speaking Muslim from Bangladesh.
Those, who were forced to remain in Bangladesh, came to be known as the ‘Stranded Pakistanis’. They became a stateless people without citizenship rights in the newly independent Bangladesh.
There are around 5000 families living in the camp and there are only about 200 toilets. There are no schools and healthcare facilities in the camp. There is a high drop-out rate among school-going children. Most of the inhabitants of the camp work as mechanics, drivers, cooks, and domestic help.
As late as 2007, the Bangladeshi Government agreed to issue identity cards to the inhabitants, which will give citizenship rights to those who were born after 1971.
Special thanks to my Bangladeshi friend, Nazmul Hasan, who accompanied me to the camp.
Entrance to the Geneva Camp, Mohammadpur, Dhaka.
Narrow passages inside the camp.
Some of the residents gather around as I start speaking to them.
A typical room in the camp which houses 6-8 people. They work, sleep, and cook in the same room.
A typical kitchen off the narrow passage.
A mazaar inside the camp.
In memory of M. Nasim Khan, who founded the Stranded Pakistanis General Repatriation Committee (SPGRC).
The pictures of Pakistani leaders inside the SPGRC office, as if time has come to a standstill inside the camp.
Some of the staff at the SPGRC office.
Life goes on inside the camp…
[Cafe Dissensus Blog is the blog of Cafe Dissensus Magazine. This piece is protected under Creative Commons License. Since it takes a lot of time and patience to persuade an author to write a piece and, also, it takes considerable time to edit a piece, we expect that those wanting to reproduce a piece, even in an adapted or modified form, from our blog would honor publishing ethics and acknowledge (with hyperlink) that the piece was first published in Cafe Dissensus.]