Once Migrant Always Displaced? Exploring Diasporic Consciousness and Shifting Narratives of Belonging across Three Generations of Urdu Speakers in Bangladesh

Isha Dubey, Aarhus University

Even as migration has become one of the most studied themes in the humanities and social sciences in recent years, the focus has mostly been on Europe, leaving the mobilities existing within the Global South largely underexplored. It is within this context that it becomes important to understand how the identity of post-colonial South Asia has been profoundly shaped by the partition of the subcontinent in 1947 and the Liberation War of 1971 – both of which involved massive cross-border movements of people as well as large scale internal displacement. The Urdu-speaking ‘Biharis’ in Bangladesh migrated from the Muslim minority regions of India during and after partition to claim the ‘promised’ homeland of Pakistan. And yet they found themselves stateless after 1971 on account of accusations of being collaborators of the West-Pakistani army and remained devoid of any nationality till as late as 2008. The community presents a significant case study for emphasizing the protracted aftermath of the break-up of the subcontinent. Through an analysis of the identity narratives of three generations of Urdu-speakers in present day Bangladesh, this paper argues that the community’s articulations of belonging exhibit perceptible shifts – both spatially and temporally. At the same time they reflect an inherent sense of being displaced that has sustained across the three generations. In the first and second generation Urdu-speakers, it is manifested in the way they talk about ‘home’ and its loss based on memories of an actual physical displacement while for the third generation the meanings attached to being displaced is derived from their protracted location in the ‘camps’ and the desire for assimilation with mainstream life in Bangladesh. By expanding the scope of what constitutes a diasporic consciousness the paper shows the possibilities of intersections between the ‘diaspora as typology’ and ‘diaspora as metaphor’ strands of scholarship within diaspora studies.