Confused 'Product of Diaspora'
was getting dark and Roshni tried to hurry down the lane to
the ladies room in order to change her outfit before heading
home. As she came out in her pink shalwar kameez,
there was hardly any resemblance with the hip hop teenager
in a denim miniskirt. She now looked like the perfect little
demure Bangladeshi girl from her Asian neighbourhood. It was
her friend's birthday party but she had to leave early, as
her parents usually don't allow her to stay away after dark,
especially in the summer, if it's not an absolute necessity.
is an epitome of most South Asian girls living in the United
Kingdom. Many young women like Roshni, feel anxious about
the way they have to live their lives whereas other nationals
are quite at ease with British lifestyle and culture. Most
parents from Bangladesh and other neighbouring countries don't
feel very comfortable with or happy about their daughters
staying out of doors for too long even when they have reached
an almost-adult age. For them, it's like a cultural boundary
that cannot be crossed.
has been portrayed in works of a number of Diaspora writers
such as Jhumpa Lahiri, and Bharati Mukharjee. They write about
the children of immigrants to whom the lifestyle imposed on
them by their parents is practically foreign. Many teenaged
Bangladeshis living abroad are accustomed to a dual way of
life: one, for the family, and the other for the friends and
people at work which is of course a much larger, broader perspective.
years of persuasion, children may finally give in to their
parents' wish that they should live or at least dress like
'proper Bangladeshis' in social gatherings. These children
have a very sketchy idea about the history of their own country
and some know about the national days and holidays, but they
seldom have much significance. One cannot blame these children,
as they are confused as to which culture they really belong
home they are told to call everyone who is elderly as Bhai
or Apa, Chacha or Khalamma but when they go to school they
call their teachers by their names; this makes them confused
from their early childhood," says a mother of two school-going
boys who have lived abroad all their lives.
another impediment to their wish to become fully British:
unacceptability in the British society. A young Bangladeshi
woman working for a fairly well known firm says, "My
friend didn't ever get a promotion as she always wore deshi
clothes at the workplace. This particular friend of mine was
forbidden to wear western clothes by her parents."
life is not so simple for these children who can be called
the "products of Diaspora." It's a disturbing fact
for these children, as they remain forever confused as to
which culture they should belong to. This puts them in a difficult
situation while choosing their life partners. Parents usually
want them to choose someone from their own country whereas
years of companionship with individuals from the country they
now live in make them oblivious of the fact that they are
from another race, another country. Trying to justify their
existence, they tend to seek refuge in the concept of "globalisation".
Internationalism in this age means replacement of specificity
by the general, borders are no longer encouraged between nations.
Even then migrants love to hold on to their native land they
left behind in whatever way possible.
study the history of the first immigrants, we will see that
Bangladeshis who had gone abroad for a better life are spread
across the world. Of course, Western Europe, North America,
Australia and New Zealand are their most preferred destinations.
There is a relatively small presence of Bangladeshis in Africa
and Latin America. No one really knows the exact number of
Bangladeshis living abroad as immigrants. The population census
data of Bangladesh does not include information on migration.
where Bangladeshis live are: UK, USA, Italy, Japan, Australia,
Greece, Canada, Spain, Germany, South Africa, France, the
Netherlands, Belgium and Switzerland. There are about 1.178
million Bangladeshis in these countries who are now living
abroad permanently either as citizens or with other valid
documents. South Africa is the only country of the African
continent that has some information on expatriate Bangladeshis.
On the other hand, though Japan does not admit long-term residents
officially, there is a good segment of Bangladeshi Diaspora
population living there. Sources claim that there are 500,000
Bangladeshis in both UK and USA making them the two largest
Bangladeshi immigrant-receiving countries in the world.
of migration of Bangladeshis dates back a long way. The Sri
Lankans believe that the Sinhalese communities first migrated
to Sri Lanka from this area called Bengal. Aatish Dipangkar,
the Buddhist scholar-traveller carried the knowledge of earthen
embankment cross-dam to China during the 10th century. At
the time of the British colonisation, people from this area
also migrated to Assam and Burma.
Bangalis in particular, gained the reputation as 'Lashkar'
or seamen over the late nineteenth and early twentieth century.
People from Chittagong, Noakhali and Sylhet areas went onboard
the sea-faring ships bound for the British Isles. Sometimes,
these people stopped their journey in places like Burma, Singapore,
Hong Kong, US and UK. Those who jumped off ship in UK ended
up settling in London, Liverpool and Bristol. These Sylheti
seamen are identified as pioneer migrants of Bengal. The book
Probashir Kotha (The Tale of the Immigrants) by Nurul Islam
has information about the first migrants of the country.
migrants from Bengal who landed in UK were predominantly of
Sylheti origin. The early migrants found jobs as labourers
in different industries. Early migrants in UK were not educated.
Most of these early settlers got married to people living
in the UK and established their families.
a huge Bangladeshi community, with a population of 639,390
people, thrives in Britain. The third generation of the pioneers
is on their way to establishing themselves in the mainstream
British business, commerce and politics. Like many other ethnic
communities, Bangladeshis also have numerous financial, social
and cultural organisations of their own across UK. They don't
want to be known as immigrants any longer. Of course they
now are citizens of UK, but at the same time, they don't want
to lose their Bangladeshi identity as their elders feel that
is will lead to their becoming a rootless community.
young people there is no dearth of efforts to get out of this
confusion. Still the Bangladeshi Diaspora is in a dilemma
whether to assimilate with the foreign culture as natives
or hold on to their roots, as their parents so want them to.
teaches English Language at the Tarunnessa Memorial Medical
College in Gazipur.
(R) thedailystar.net 2004