TELL WHAT IS TO BE DONE NOW
Faiz Ahmed Faiz
Ami mayyamanush. Bangali mayyamanush. Aar ami gorib
manush. Aapnarey kouner moto amar kono kichha nai.
আমার ছাওয়ালদের না দেইখ্যা আমি কেমনে এই দুনিয়া ছাইড়া যামু। আমার আর কোনো উপা য়নাই। মুশকিল আসানের আর কোন রাস্তা নাই। আমার বাঁচন লাগবোই। আমি বাঁচতেই চাই।
I am a woman. A Bengali woman. And I am poor.
I have no stories to tell you.
There is no recourse, there is no way out.
- Fazilat, Karachi, 2015
Before 1971, present day Pakistan and Bangladesh were part of a common federal entity. The nation-state of Bangladesh was created in 1971, after a murderous war that stranded populations in both countries and created over ten million refugees. In the two decades following the war, there was an influx of thousands of Bangladeshi migrants into Pakistan. Most were trafficked to the port city of Karachi.
The National Aliens’ Registration Authority (NARA), formed in 2001, explicitly targeted ethnic Bengalis as “illegal aliens,” regardless of their individual histories of migration. Today, an estimated three million Bengalis remain stateless in Pakistan, structurally excluded from stable jobs, education, land ownership and free movement.
The Bangladeshi government, from time to time, in arrangement with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Pakistan, opens a window of irreversible repatriation for a small number of Bengalis to return to Bangladesh, by issuing them one-way travel permits. Some of those returning to Bangladesh have been living in Pakistan for over 30 or 40 years, with families on both sides of the border. They leave behind histories, connections, and tangles of associations to return to a home that now exists only in their exilic memory.