The Killings at Bangladesh’s Bihari Camp – Murder Mystery or Murder with Impunity?
By Nadine Shaanta Murshid
There are multiple stories. We are either to believe one of them or cast aside the whole incident as an accident. The stories are important to note, however, given that each story has a different set of perpetrators and actors, as well as a different motive behind the killings. What remains unchanged in all these stories is this: 10 Urdu-speaking non-Bengali Bangladeshi citizens who live in ‘Kalshi’ were killed, 8 of the deceased are from the same family.
What happened: Nine people were killed in an arson attack and one shot to death in what is known as the ‘Bihari Camp’ in Mirpur that is home to “stranded Pakistanis” (sic) who were never granted permission to enter Pakistan after Bangladesh’s War of Liberation, and refused admission by Pakistan ever since.1,2 The Urdu-speaking “Pakistanis” were citizens of a united Pakistan who migrated in 1946 after communal riots in Bihar or after the 1947 partition of India and Pakistan.2 Post Bangladesh independence they became stateless refugees but did not fall under UN’s refugee status – a change in identity and classification that rendered them to ‘refugee camps’ in Dhaka and other cities in Bangladesh. Since then, they have been granted citizenship in Bangladesh in 20081, and have mostly been non-violent, co-existing with the Bengali majority in Bangladesh. Research has shown that while some members of the older generation still harbor the hope of being reunited with Pakistan, perhaps still aligned with the theory of a united Pakistan, the younger generation is more assimilated with the mainstream population, and have no qualms with being Bangladeshi or non-Pakistani, thus adding to the harmonious co-existence. The term ‘stranded Pakistanis’ that is widely used in every discourse about this community is, thus, discriminatory; they are bona fide Bangladeshis in letter, law, and spirit. Over the years, the camp area has developed gradually but consistently, and has seen few disputes over land, language, or ethnicity, as far as formal police reports go1. That said, this group is often othered by the majority who disparagingly refer to them as ‘Biharis’.
So, what really happened: unknown. But there are multiple stories. We are either to believe one of them or cast aside the whole incident as an accident. The stories are important to note, however, given that each story has a different set of perpetrators and actors, as well as a different motive behind the killings. What remains unchanged in all these stories is this: 10 Urdu-speaking non-Bengali Bangladeshi citizens who live in Bihari camp were killed, 8 of the deceased are from the same family. The four versions about the incident are as follows 2,3:
- It happened when Jubo League leaders fired crackers in front of a mosque in the Camp to celebrate Shab-e-Barat. An altercation ensued, which was joined by local policemen who fired pellets at the Biharis, injuring almost a 100 of them.
- It was a case of fighting between rival groups within the camp, where the policemen intervened only to be attacked.
- It was a case of retribution over illegal electricity sharing between separate slums, presumably within the Bihari camp.
- It happened as a result of dispute regarding land grabbing between the “Biharis” and Bengalis in the area.
What this means: What this means is pretty simple: 1) we are living in times when the murder of children and their mothers have become commonplace; most of those killed at Bihari camp were women and children; 2) we are not privy to the real story, but stories that are bought and sold like products and services, and stories that are laced with so many lies that the truth is hidden well and deep; 3) nothing is sacred or inviolable anymore – not Shab-e-Baraat, not mosques, not children, not those who pray in them; 4) most importantly, it matters even less when it happens to ‘others’, in this case, the non-Bengalis for whom we we still use the pejorative “stranded Pakistanis” after 40 plus years of Bangladeshi independence (and their residency in Bangladesh), and after 6 years of them being granted citizenship; 5) and lastly, it means that we have really failed the average citizen not just by normalizing such egregious crimes, but also by allowing perpetrators of such crimes to walk about freely sheltered by powers that be, feeling entitled and proud of their machismo, and their borrowed power.
What do we want? Justice. Not the eye-for-an-eye kind of justice that we have come to expect and demand. But restorative justice. The people involved must be brought to task, they must be put on speedy trial, the “truth” must be unraveled, and those responsible must take responsibility for their crimes, apologize for it, and do jail time until they show genuine remorse. This is essential because otherwise they will go back on the streets and kill another ‘othered’ people, snigger about it, and go scot free again, and again. And if they’re lucky, which they perhaps will be, they might never have to spend a day in jail for having the right friends in the right places. The problem is not that these crimes take place. The problem is that it takes place with such impunity.
Postscript: While some might argue that Bangladesh’s “stranded Pakistanis” are better off than the average citizen in Pakistan with the recent killing of 200 “suspected Taliban” members who locals claim are innocent villagers, we in Bangladesh must stand by the notion that every single human being is entitled to dignity and respect and not treat them as a collective with collective needs, but individuals with individual dreams, aspirations, and the right to live. Moreover, violence cannot be absolved on a relative scale of ‘degree of violence’ based on the notion that ‘we are less violent than them’ as some have suggested, or ‘they started it’. Such notions are not only fatuous, they are blatant excuses under whose shadow we actually condone such violence, as individuals, society, and even the nation state. It is time to recuse this idea as fallacious and employ a zero tolerance policy on violence, no matter who perpetrates the violence and who bears the brunt of it. Our judicial institutions have to rise above hubris and retributive maltreatment, discrimination, and injustice.
Nadine Shaanta Murshid, Ph.D. is a member of AlalODulal Editorial Collective.
- Murshid, Navine. http://www.rochester.edu/college/psc/cpw/pdf/Murshid.pdf?origin=publication_detail
- Siddiqi, Dina. https://alalodulal.org/2014/03/02/stranded-pakistanis/