Not all ‘Biharis’ in Bangladesh were pro-Pakistan: Film

March 22nd, 2009 - 11:00 am ICT by IANS  

Sheikh Hasina Dhaka, March 22 (IANS) A new humane take on Bangladesh’s Urdu-speaking minority in “Naroshundor”, a short film premiered here, seeks to show that not all of those people dubbed Biharis collaborated with the Pakistani authorities during the 1971 freedom struggle.
The short film by Tareque and Catherine Masud is an attempt to “humanise” the Biharis since a bulk of them migrated from the Bihar province of India during the 1947 partition.

The film defies the general perception that the entire community worked for the East Pakistan regime in killing unarmed civilians sympathetic to the freedom movement, The Daily Star newspaper reported.

The killings were carried out by bands of Islamist militia with names like Al Shams and Al Badr, which included both Bengali and non-Bengali speaking persons.

The government of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina is currently moving to hold trials of the “war criminals” who murdered Bengali intellectuals during the last stage of the freedom movement.

The film’s plot is set in Old Dhaka during 1971. On one of the early days of the war, Pakistani soldiers led by a local collaborator raid a home searching for a young freedom fighter but he luckily escapes and flees through the narrow lanes. He finds himself in front of a barbershop and decides to get a shave in an instant attempt to look different.

Unable to find him, the Pakistani soldiers shoot the freedom fighter’s father. His mother takes her wounded husband to a nearby pharmacy. The Hindu doctor hesitantly takes them in.

At the barber shop, the young man soon realises that he has put himself in further danger as the barbers are Urdu-speaking Biharis, known for their loyalty towards the Pakistan Army. The flash of the sharpened razor, the barbers’ thinly disguised mockery, Urdu songs airing on the radio, the mysterious glances of the shop owner - all put the young man in an increasingly agitated state.

But, to his surprise, all turns dramatically in his favour, when the barbers save his life.

The Pakistani soldiers ask the staff at the shop whether they had seen a guerrilla. Though it is unclear if the barbers realised who their client was, they respond negatively. The assuring smile of the shop owner puts the young freedom fighter at ease.

Significantly, the 15-minute film is in Urdu with Bangla and English subtitles. The cast is composed of non-professional actors who have delivered credible performances.

Numbering over 300,000, the Urdu-speaking Biharis were officially called “stranded Pakistanis” since they sought to be repatriated to Pakistan after Bangladesh’s independence. However, after years of negotiations by successive governments in Islamabad and Dhaka, Pakistan took only about 100,000.

The rest have lived in make-shift shelters called “Geneva camps” since they are financed and supervised by the Geneva-based International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).

While many Urdu-speaking people have managed to reunite with their families, either in Pakistan or in India, over the past three decades, the rest of them opted for and were granted Bangladeshi citizenship last year.

They voted in last December’s general election for the first time.

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