Sandwiched Community

The Bengali community in Pakistan is a hard-working lot. They have mostly lived in Karachi ever since they took refuge in the city after 1971 but most of them have never been accepted as citizens of Pakistan and continue to lead uncertain existences.

By Quratulain Thalho | February 2020


Saima, a Bengali middle-aged woman, works in Karachi as a maid in three different houses everyday along with her three young children. From every house she gets around 5000 to 6000 rupees monthly – enough to put food on the table and afford some basic necessities. Her children accompany her to work because they are unable to go to school as, despite being physically existent, they don’t officially exist in Pakistan. Why? Because they don’t have B forms which means they are not registered with NADRA (National Database and Registration Authority) as even their parents don’t possess CNICs (Computerised National Identity Cards).

Living an undocumented life is not as simple as it may seem. Saima's children will fail to acquire higher education or white collar jobs when they grow up because of this undocumentation. It will not only have an impact on their social status, but their physical and mental health will also be at stake. After all, what could be worse be for a person living in this digital age without a legal identity?!

More sadly, this is not just the story of Saima and her family as about 3 million Bengalis strewn around 200 settlements across Pakistan have similar stories. From cleaning houses to peeling heaps of shrimps everyday in a hutment, these women and children are compelled to do odd as well as low-wage work. They, however, could have avoided doing such work, if their husbands and fathers had been earning well. When they could, they would go out to sea to catch fish and earn some money by selling it. But now that the CNICs are being checked strictly by the maritime officials, their husbands and/or fathers do not venture out to sea, fearing arrest for being Bangladeshis living illegally in Karachi.

Even though these Bengalis have been living in Pakistan for more than 4 decades now, they still don't have a national identity card. They consider themselves Pakistanis in every way, for the Government of Pakistan they are still Bangladeshis because they fail to provide proof – any proof that meets the criteria laid down by the Pakistan Citizenship Act 1951.

When identity cards were made manually, a large number of Bengalis were able to get Pakistani identity documents, either legally or illegally. Almost all of them successfully transferred those cards into CNICs in the early 2000s. But the Government of Pakistan rejected the applications for the renewal of CNICs of many Bengalis to separate Pakistani Bengalis from illegal immigrants.

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The writer is a journalist and sociologist with a passion for fiction writing. She is also a social media blogger covering human rights and mental health issues and can be reached at
q.thalho@hotmail.com

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2 thoughts on “Sandwiched Community

  • February 1, 2020 at 12:59 am
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    I hope government will take some good steps to resolve these issues.

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  • February 11, 2020 at 4:38 pm
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    This article is a real eye opener for me. While we are currently inundated with narratives, some true and some fabricated, about Bangladeshi refugees in India, the fact that there are 3 million Bangladeshis living in Pakistan without proper documentation is astonishing, to say the least. Their living situation, essentially in limbo, with no hope for their future or their future generations, is truly heartbreaking.

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