There are roughly eight geographical entities within Bangladesh where The Biharis – an Urdu-speaking Muslim minority originally from the Hindu region of Bihar, speak Urdu in their about 70 camp-like settlements throughout the country.
Following an intense civil war, the state of Pakistan separated into two parts. As a result, Bangladesh became an independent state in 1971 when Bengali East Pakistan seceded from its amalgamation with West Pakistan. After the partition of 1947, the Biharis became a part of East Pakistan, but their past support for Western Pakistan caused tension between the Bihari and the newly independent nation of Bangladesh in 1971. Bangladesh has refused to provide full citizenship to the Bihari due to their previous support of Western Pakistan while Pakistan, on the other hand, fears the large influx of Biharis into Pakistan could destabilize the region.
There are some native Urdu speakers in the old town of Dhaka city who were historically descendents of the Moghul invaders and sultans. They speak some kind of mixture of Urdu+Bangla that is called as Dhakaiya language.
A documentary film titled “40 Years” directed by Khalid Hussain begins with an overview of how the Bihari-Urdu speaking camps of Bangladesh came into existence and gives the audience an idea of where the camp-dwelling Urdu-speaking population came from before landing in the camps. This important background is given in the form of a voice-over while the audience is taken on a visual tour of Geneva Camp, the largest of the 116 Bihari camps in Bangladesh, and through the daily activities of its 25,000 residents.
The main part of the documentary film follows a group of youth as they define the problems they have faced growing up as camp-dwelling Urdu-speaking Bangladeshis, and discuss how they plan to address some of these problems such as social discrimination and lack of access to basic urban services including adequate supplies of clean water, toilets, and electricity.
To give further perspective on the struggles of the camp-dwelling members of Bangladesh’s Urdu-speaking linguistic minority, several other interviews are conducted with camp residents who have discarded the dream of going to Pakistan, which was one of the main reasons why Urdu-speakers continued living in the camps after 1971 and opted for rehabilitation in Bangladesh.
Producer and director of this documentary film Khalid Hussain was born and brought up in one such camp called Geneva Camp. An avid community worker and activist, he struggled against the odds to become a lawyer.
This film is an authentic voice of protest from the neglected and excluded “Urdu-speaker camps” of Bangladesh. It is an appeal for an inclusive Bangladesh – a Bangladesh which is free of discrimination and xenophobia.