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Bengalis in Pakistan – A forgotten community


Pakistan is home to a myriad of religious and ethnic minorities such as the Ahmedis, Balochis, and Hindus. In recent times, there has been a lot of discourse regarding the inclusion of these communities; however, one ethnic minority has rarely been included in this discussion- The Bengali community in Pakistan.

Whenever we think about Bengalis, we think of Bangladesh and India. The thought of a Bengali population living in Pakistan almost seems like a lie. After the independence of Pakistan in 1947, a significant number of Bengalis migrated to Karachi to find work. Bengalis were once the second-largest linguistic community in Karachi.

After the 1971 war and subsequent independence of Bangladesh, this community became stateless. No country was willing to take responsibility for them. These ‘Pakistani Bengalis’ have been living as second-class citizens ever since. Estimates state that this might have up to 3 million members, but the actual number is probably far greater. In this blog, I will talk about some of their major issues as residents in Pakistan in order to bring more light to these forgotten Pakistanis.

Bengalis mostly live in the 132 colonies that are situated in Karachi and its outskirts. These colonies could be only described as slums that are rife with poverty, disease, and overpopulation. The residents lead a miserable quality of life due to a limited supply of clean drinking water, electricity, and gas. Perhaps the greatest problem they face is their struggle to get recognized as citizens of Pakistan. At present, these Bengalis cannot get registered as citizens and get an Identity card. Consequently, they are denied basic human rights. Members of this community cannot vote or attend public schools. They can’t get access to public healthcare or find formal work. They are often harassed by the police and by other citizens.

Before getting elected, Imran Khan promised to provide relief to this oppressed community and recognize them as citizens of the nation. However, this promise was not kept and the plight of the Pakistani Bengalis continues to this day.

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17 Comments


Faizan Qureshi
Faizan Qureshi
Jul 07, 2022

To address this issue in more detail, I think it's also important to look at the past, particularly the racist beliefs about Bengalis peddled privately and publicly by Pakistani military officials in the lead-up to 1971. Ayub openly subscribed to the idea of racial difference between the Bengalis of East Pakistan and the “races” of West Pakistan. In Ayub Khan's book Friends, not Masters, one can learn about his views on Bengalis. He wrote that the Bengalis were unfamiliar with “any real freedom or sovereignty” till the creation of Pakistan, as they had previously been ruled “by the caste Hindus, Moghuls, Pathans, or the British”. As a result, they possess, he went on to write, “[both] Hindu cultural and linguistic…

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Thank you for raising this concern, I believe it is one that has been ignored and overlooked for ages. Recently, I came to realize that the majority of Bengali population that you are referring to resides in Machar Colony, which is the largest slum in Pakistan. These people have grown up in extreme poverty and in terrible conditions. As a result of a lack of documentation, children suffer the most as they can not gain access to public schools.

However, I must ask you, is official documentation or recognition of Bengalis as citizens the only thing we should be striving for? Will it alleviate all of their grievances? Or do we need reforms otherwise too?

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I agree that merely giving them the status of citizens will not solve all of their problems. However, this will be a good starting point. Official documentation will at least allow these people to access public facilities such as schools and hospitals and relieve some of their grievances.

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You bring to light an unfortunate reality, the community of Bengalis in Pakistan suffer greatly, in a study in 2021 many Bengalis bring to light the prejudices they face from not being able to have identity documents creating residency issues given their lack of being able to purchase properties and settling in a country that barely gives them rights, too having a lack of educational opportunities that land them jobs that cant afford many amenities.Given the lack of education, most of these children have to work jobs like bagging groceries, or selling items on the roadside.

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This community has been pushed to margins of society for decades. This will also increase the likelihood of the frustrated youth to turn criminal activities. Not giving these people the rights they deserve might turn them to violence instead of being productive members of the society

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Absolutely! To this day, our education system has failed this group of individuals and even talking about the horrible treatment of them at the hands of our officials is controversial and highly contested by nationalists. It was only after I came to LUMS that my Pakistan Studies Professor attempted to teach a more nuanced and complex version of history which did not demonise them and frame them as rebels.

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The state needs to break this chain of hatred and bigotry and present a more factual history to the populace which does not portray other factions as inhumane demons. The members of the Bengali community in Pakistan are innocent and should not have to bear the consequences of what happened decades ago.

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Its unfortunate how our state-based history books have created such a narrative against Bengalis blaming them for Pakistan's partition, an antagonist to simplify the complex realities that ensued that incident, that among these political and social injustices we are completely kept in dark about individuals such as Bengalis themselves exist in Pakistan. Most of us did not know about it and its shocking to have this revealed. One can only imagine how difficult a life would be here for a Bengali who are openly criticized and isolated to the point that they live as ghost citizens in a state which promises an equal state for all.

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The state had to cover its incompetence by blaming someone for the war, and Bengalis became the unfortunate scapegoats. Now this community, which had absolutely nothing to do with the war, have to pay the price. Shocking.

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