I have finally gathered the strength to declare my surrender... The surrender that is not only before the mighty figures of global powers but also before the fake feminists and pseudo-intellectuals who hold stewardship roles in Pakistan and beyond. It marks the end of my feeble resistance and fragile attempts to raise awareness and teach empathy about the most wretched community in my society — those denationalised 400,000 or so Biharis, who are stuck and stranded in crises of identity, patriotism, poverty, and subsequent challenges.
I have been formally working with the media, activists, advocates, and academics related to feminism, gender equality, social-political inclusion, diversity, political economy, demography, and beyond for more than 30 years. Never, for a moment, have I heard or seen anything significant and sincere related to the Biharis who stood with united Pakistan in the language movement of 1952 and backed its army in 1971. They were brutally killed, their houses were looted, and their businesses and homes were confiscated. Bihari women were brutally raped.
The Bihari community of Pakistan was pushed to ghettos, aka camps, even before the creation of Bangladesh. After the surrender, many more were killed in celebrations. Some civilian prisoners of war (POWs) returned to the newly demarcated Pakistan and embarked on a challenging journey to overcome the trauma, building a life amid hostility not only from the sons of the soil but also from Urdu speakers settled in Sindh and Punjab after 1946.
My family members seldom discuss this tragedy. I have childhood memories of relatives coming via Nepal from camps to Islamabad and then leaving for Karachi in search of livelihood. Faint memories persist of my scholarly father, who became nearly mentally broken when all his family members faced an uncertain fate as prisoners of war. His brother, along with his brother-in-law, was brutally killed in front of their wives. There is much more that cannot be captured here. While growing up and entering a formal career, I, too, faced many hostilities. Still, I maintained my trust in goodness and never got trapped by prejudices of ethnic origin.
Examining documented evidence from books and journals published outside Pakistan, I found that, following the 'Great Bihar Killing' in October-November 1946, which led to the tragic death of 30,000 Muslims, a total of 118,170 Muslim Bihari refugees sought refuge in East Pakistan by 1951, originating from Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, and Punjab/Delhi. Further, around 1.5 million Muslims migrated from West Bengal and Bihar to East Bengal in the two decades that ensued after 1947
In recent years, due to the influx of private media and advancements in technology, I started noticing content about Biharis and the political and military events leading to the formation of Bangladesh. I have vented my anger about the humiliation of Biharis and the shameful amnesia of the state through the media. I have also contributed to a couple of citizen portals in Urdu. I repeatedly advocated that Bengalis were mistreated and Bengali women were raped. I consistently criticized the claims that the numbers are fudged and not as many were killed or raped. For a feminist and humanist like myself, one woman raped is one too many.
However, the saga of my community, including women, has no place in Pakistan’s history books, museums, literature festivals or the donor-driven development sector and its activists. I have come across many books authored by retired generals and soldiers of Pakistan regarding 1971, but I could not find any considerate chapter on the betrayal of Biharis and our erasure. In different international and South Asian forums, there is a mix of honest and biased perspectives about the lingering complexities of the independence of India and Pakistan, arcs of migration, prosperity, and dispossession in the life histories of 'refugees,' and the metamorphosis of East Pakistan.
In the course of my research, I explored the adversities faced by my community. Examining documented evidence from books and journals published outside Pakistan, I found that, following the 'Great Bihar Killing' in October-November 1946, which led to the tragic death of 30,000 Muslims, a total of 118,170 Muslim Bihari refugees sought refuge in East Pakistan by 1951, originating from Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, and Punjab/Delhi. Further, around 1.5 million Muslims migrated from West Bengal and Bihar to East Bengal in the two decades that ensued after 1947.
I wonder why these facts were never broadcast and popularised by the state-owned PTV, Radio Pakistan, or the much-celebrated independent media. Even the most vocal journalists and writers, who can apparently challenge the military and politicians on YouTube and Twitter, cannot speak a single honest, empathetic sentence about the Biharis.
What happens when purposeful amnesia, selected narrative building, and mindful marginalisation of a community that faced three migrations in one lifetime for Pakistan occur? In my rough calculations, the damages and losses do not remain confined to that community alone, which continues to suffer in so many ways within the confines of smelly, claustrophobic, inhumane spaces called camps in Bangladesh. Those of us who are outside, existing as unequal citizens in Pakistan, also bear the brunt.
The impact of insult transcends the boundary of community divide. The collective psyche of all Pakistanis is affected, as may be reflected by a perpetually powerful, ruthless elite. There is no resistance to their atrocities; rather, taking pride in being spineless or leaving the country is equated with pragmatism.
I am too old and too old-fashioned to unlove Pakistan. However, I can still choose not to remain in the battle to create conditions to accept those unfortunate Biharis as Pakistanis, to get a public apology, or to light a candle in a civil society gathering in the memory of my raped mothers and sisters. Unfortunately, this battle is not even noticed. So, I gave up. I will never talk or write about us, the stranded Pakistani Biharis. But I will die with the firm belief that we were not collateral damage but a living reality.
To my community, I ask for forgiveness for my act of cowardice. Pakistan Zindabad.