Saturday, September 06, 2008

Bangladeshi descent struggling to survive in Pakistan

Photo: Market scene in Bangla Para, Karachi


WELL OFF families opt for hiring of cooks who are of a Bangladeshi descent as they are famous for maintaining the quality while preparing exclusive and scrumptious delicacies.

Giving a brief history of this tradition, the activists reveal that Hindu Pundits long ago prepared a technique through research by adopting traditional methods of cooking food while giving special attention to health safety and required nutrition.

The Muslims of Bengal followed the same method and prepared even more delicious food in accordance with health and safety, reveal activists working for communities comprising people of Bangladeshi descent.

Therefore, the parliamentarians, businessmen, landlords and other well-to-do families hire people of Bangladeshi descent at their residences in the city and their villages as cooks and chefs, who prepare food according to the body's requirement.

However, speaking about the living conditions of the community, activists reveal that the people of Bangladeshi descent do not enjoy political rights in Pakistan. A fact which can be gauged from their long term work experiences in the same places. Activists claim that the people of Bangladeshi descent are fully aware that if they commit a crime or are found guilty in any such wrongdoing they will be punished and nobody would come for their rescue in this country.

Mohammed Hussain Shaikh, a social activist struggling for protecting the rights of the community, explains, " The endless fear created by the government organisations in the name of registering `aliens' has forced most people of Bengali descent residing here to become united."

According to him the government looks at all the people of Bangladeshi descent in the same light despite the fact that several families have been here long before the separation of East Pakistan.

"My family had migrated to Karachi in the search of livelihood in 1965 when both the East and West Pakistan were combined. I was born in 1969 and raised here in Moosa Colony, Liaquatabad Town," expressed Shaikh.

Quoting the speech of the late Prime Minister, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, Shaikh commented that Bhutto announced an official pardon for Bengali speaking people and stated that those who want to stay should be provided a citizenship equally while those who want to migrate should be allowed to do so officially, there will be no restrictions for the Bengali-speaking people living here as they are innocent and our brethren."

"Despite this we are being humiliated at our workplaces, homes and streets and being treated like aliens, behaviour which must be condemned", he reacted.

He said when a male is arrested by a certain law enforcement agency his family goes through a traumatic experience. Women are forced to beg and children sometimes take shelter in criminal activities to meet the domestic requirements.

"We believe that we are Pakistanis now. We celebrate the national and religious days with the similar spirit. Then why is this ill treatment being meted out to us? Why doesn't the government recognise us and issue a permanent citizenship. What more do we need to do, to prove that we are Pakistanis?" he lamented.

Shaikh added that it seems as if the National Aliens Registration Authority (Nara) and Bangladesh Cell have been set up to keep the people of Bengali descent under pressure, depriving poor workers of their wages, arresting our youth on their way home and releasing them after acquiring bribe money.

More than 80 per cent of the community people depend on fishing. The men go to open sea while women peel shrimps at the shed in the Machhar Colony, while other Bengali people work for garment factories.

The activists complain that the local fishermen do not recognise the community as their own despite the fact that they have been associated with fishing for generations.

Hussain Shaikh claims that there are three million people of Bangladeshi descent living in different areas of the city, including Machhar Colony, Orangi Town, Noorani Basti of Korangi, Burmy Colony, Bilal Colony Landhi, Moosa Colony, Mujahid Colony, Ziaul Haq Colony, Lasi Goth, Ali Akbar Shah Goth, Ibrahim Hyderi, Ali Goth, Jumma Goth and Abbasi Nagar.

The Pakistanis of Bangladeshi descent speak the same language with different dialects. For instance, he said people called Burmese here are not from Burma, but due to their dissimilar dialect they are known as Burmese.

However, Shaikh explained that they are fighting the war of survival here, as everybody feels insecure. Therefore, the community is unable to continue their ancestral traditions. Long ago our elders used to sing Bengali wedding songs that have almost disappeared now. The community, Shaikh explained has adopted a new culture.

Speaking about their ideologies and beliefs, activists explain that the people of Bangladeshi descent use their own intelligence instead of following instructions blindly. The members of the same family might not necessarily have the same opinion on any given matter. Their inability to follow instructions and using their own creativity is in their blood, they justified.

The community arranges marriages of their members at an early age, which some times causes separations within a few years.

After an engagement the community spends two-three months in celebrating the wedding. They bring the bride to the groom's house where a religious leader solemnises a Nikah in the presence of family friends and relatives of both the sides. Subsequently, the community artistes perform Indian, Pakistani and Bangladesh films' songs, portraying the culture of three neighbouring countries. #

First published in The News, Karachi, Pakistan, September 6, 2008