Can Naya Pakistan fix an old Bengali-speaking problem

September 24, 2018

I am a Bengali-speaking Pakistani. I was born in Pakistan’s largest city, Karachi. From primary to graduation, I got my education here.

In 2015, when I applied for a national identity card, Nadra put a question mark over my mother tongue.

I kept doing the rounds of Nadra’s office for two years. No official wanted to listen. I got nothing but dates to keep coming back.

My forefathers are from East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) but I spent my childhood away from them. There are a few family members and relatives in Pakistan. I have never seen my grandparents.

I always wanted to visit Bangladesh to spend time with my grandparents.

Three years ago, when I went to Nadra to get a CNIC, I was accused of many things. One accusation was that I was not a Pakistani which is why I could not get an identity.

I have prayed to God ever since childhood that He gives my grandparents a long life and keeps them healthy till I am able to visit them in Bangladesh.

After a three-year-long struggle, I finally got a CNIC. I planned to go to Bangladesh in the summer holidays this year, but then I discovered it wasn’t easy for a Pakistani to get a Bangladesh visa. Only bribes would make it possible. I postponed my trip till next summer.

A few days later, I received a call from my brother. He told me that my grandmother has passed away in Bangladesh.

My grandfather is alive. He is almost 100 years old. I pray God gives him a long life so that I may be able to see him.

After Prime Minister Imran Khan announced identity documents for Bengali-speaking people, those living in Karachi finally saw some hope.

But the opposition of the Pakistan People’s Party has opened old wounds. The PPP should have supported Imran Khan instead of opposing him and reviving the memory of what they call “the Fall of Dhaka”.

I campaigned for three years for my identity. From Karachi to Islamabad, the Supreme Court, the Federal Ombudsman and Nadra headquarters — I presented the information everywhere. Then I came to know that in all political parties, the PPP has always been against Bengali-speaking people, and it is a tragic thing.

The PPP should end its opposition and endorse Imran Khan. If it doesn’t then at least it should not obstruct our rights.

I do not know about elsewhere in Pakistan, but in Karachi, there are at least 3.5 million Bengali-speaking people. Most of them have been living here since 1971. The third generation of these families is still undocumented.

Those who did get their papers had to pay huge bribes.

The literacy rate of Karachi-based Bengali-speaking people is linked to identification documents. Their children can’t do their Matric because they don’t have their Form-B. If you don’t have a CNIC you can’t get a job.

Three years ago, my mother’s ID card was suspended during the renewal process. I continued to appear for about a year in Nadra offices like a criminal as officials carried out their investigation. Finally, my mother’s card was issued. Later, I submitted my card for renewal, but was meted out the same treatment. I struggled for three years.

Now that the ‘new Pakistan’ has come into being, the old problem of Bengali-speaking people’s national identity persists.

It is my request to those who supported Imran Khan in making a ‘new Pakistan’ to now make it their government’s duty to immediately help us.

Pakistani-Bangladeshi settlers should not be identity-less. Illiteracy and hunger turns a human into a beast. I want my Bengali brethren to get an education, health and other civic facilities on equal grounds. I got my identity but I still feel it is my responsibility to raise a voice for the others.

The writer is a Bengali-speaking student who lives in Karachi