About 18,630 days have passed since December 16, 1971. This is just another statistic for a majority of present-day Pakistanis and humanists around the globe. However, there is an ethnic community, misunderstood and mercilessly judged, known as Bihari Pakistanis, for whom the days since the separation of East Pakistan have been full of anguish, trauma, humiliation, and lost identities.
Imagine you are living in a country where you own any business, house and land or have regular employment and speaking the native language fluently, Bengali. Imagine an environment where you are actually implementing diversity and inclusion before these concepts become mainstream developments and corporate sector jargons. Imagine you are doing all this in spite of many “political errors” in the politest words by the most revered political figures. Imagine you are demonstrating integration through studying in Bangla medium, wearing a sari and lungi in Bengali style, cooking, and relishing Bengali food, and love stories are ending in inter-ethnic marriages too. Imagine Bengalis trying hard to learn Urdu. Imagine Bengali origin bureaucrats enduring many moments of dark humour in official meetings.
Imagine a young, short Bihari boy entering the PAF from Pakistan’s eastern part and being ridiculed for his shortness. Imagine the same boy becoming a war hero in 1965 and becoming a textbook topic for his extraordinary aviation skills, even in the enemy countries. Imagine the same officer being disallowed not to fly on the pretext of “doubtful patriotism” and later mistreated in so many ways. Imagine the one-time diehard follower of Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah turning into a foe when not allowed to form a democratic government even after winning elections. Imagine an armless and harmless ethnic community deciding to stand for the Pakistani army even at the cost of “deceiving” their Bengali neighbours, coworkers, family members and business partners. Imagine those Biharis risking their lives, honour, livelihood, and everything for the sake of Pakistan.
Imagine the day of surrender or liberation. Imagine the extraordinary traumatic moment of becoming a detainee in the same land where you once lived with pride. Imagine becoming a recipient of charities and pity where you were distributing ‘khairaat’. Imagine seeing your houses burnt or taken away by your Bengali “friends”.
Imagine that you have to look for proof and host family to return to your own country. Imagine that you see some families returning to the country demonstrating on a premier’s visit from that country and losing hope. Imagine dying each day. Imagine seeing a younger generation with no sense of identity, hope and future, asking forbidden questions within the molded walls of zones. Image identified as a hateful minority.
It’s not fiction but fact for the stranded Pakistani Muslim Biharis. While rape, torture, and mistreatment of our former Pakistani Bengalis have been widely documented and accepted, the stories of this most unfortunate community is mostly untold, hidden, concealed and misinterpreted.
Imagine a military dictator ridiculing you, as Bhikaris (beggars) and stripping off your nationality. Imagine your dearest aunt, sister, wife, daughter, or mother being raped. Imagine you are gang-raped before your husband, brother or father, and your sari is used to tie them, and they are burnt alive. Imagine little children made to witness cutting of their mothers’ breasts.
The list of these horrific imaginations can go on. It’s not fiction but fact for the stranded Pakistani Muslim Biharis. While rape, torture, and mistreatment of our former Pakistani Bengalis have been widely documented and accepted, the stories of this most unfortunate community is mostly untold, hidden, concealed and misinterpreted. I have personally experienced and observed how Biharis (barring a few exceptions) are ridiculed and marginalized by champions of human rights.
This piece is not about eulogizing my community, as no human is without imperfections. This piece is also not about undermining the ordeals of Bengalis in former East Pakistan and the resultant agitation and frustration. This piece is also not about lamenting former generals and political leaders who let the massacre happen and constructed an awful chapter of our history.
This is a naïve attempt to cure the wounds. The solution to a complex problem lies in a simple apology followed by atonement. But for this to happen, perhaps, the wounds have to be first identified. This requires a large heart that I do not know where to find.
PS: My previous published pieces on this issue can be downloaded from the website www.creativeangerbyrakhshi.com.pk