Rights of the Bangladeshi Diaspora


Silmi Abdullah

(Law student at the University of Ottawa, Canada)


It seems that Mr. Amoo and Dr. Muzaffar are associating the acquisition of an additional citizenship with an act of betrayal or abandonment of responsibility towards one's country of birth. I don't see much logic in that, since many Bangladeshis who left Bangladesh have most of their extended families still living there, and it would be quite nonsensical to think that they have no concern for their families and the politics that, although may not affect the Non-resident Bangladeshis (NRBs) directly, surely affect their families. To me, one's physical presence in his/her native land or his/her adherence solely to the native land's passport does not in any way imply an inherent loyalty or patriotism within that person towards his/her home country. If that was the case, then Bangladeshis living in Bangladesh would not sit and watch, while millions of children from poor families are enslaved and exploited in the garment industries, which ultimately benefit foreign corporations and economies. That to me is a much more serious act of disloyalty and irresponsibility than simply living in a foreign country and holding a passport from that country. I feel it is quite hypocritical to say that expatriate Bangladeshis have changed their "allegiance" to other countries, as I can point out a million examples that demonstrate how many Bangladeshis living in Bangladesh have done and continue to do exactly that. Many aspects of Western culture and ideals are idolized in our country as the media portrays them as the epitome of civilization and sophistication. Be it in the arenas of fashion, music or education, Western ideologies and lifestyle have penetrated the present youth culture to such an extent that I doubt they have the time or sensitivity to think about the real issues that involve the politics and economy of Bangladesh. We must face the fact that many of the youth, who are the future of the country are getting increasingly disengaged from community involvement, activism, and social justice as a culture of fast cars and parties invades our country. Speaking English in public and at home by replacing Bengali and constantly watching American channels are a status marker, and it makes me wonder how many of these individuals care to or actually are able to communicate with the common people of Bangladesh and understand their problems in depth, the people who are most affected by the type of government that comes into office. How many care to watch the news, read the newspapers or participate in volunteer activities? I wonder if all this would be called "allegiance" to our country, and if not, whether the rights of those individuals to vote would be stripped away. I realize that I am generalizing, but I am just using it to counter the generalizing attitude of the two gentlemen mentioned in your email. I am trying to make the point that living in Bangladesh and holding a BD passport does not necessarily entail loyalty and concern for BD, and holding an additional passport does not automatically imply disloyalty to BD. Just as it would be wrong of me to say that there is no concerned or responsible youth in Bangladesh, it is wrong of anyone to make the comment that expatriate Bangladeshis "do not care." I am sure there are as many concerned and patriotic Bangladeshis with foreign citizenships as there are Bangladeshis living in BD. In fact, I feel that NRBs go through the extra effort of preserving their culture in the Diaspora, and as a result, often develop a stronger political consciousness and awareness. In such cases, NRBs can give back much more to Bangladesh than just remittance. They can provide great insight for the well-being of the country, and therefore, should and must be able to vote despite holding foreign citizenship (which, of course, means holding an ADDITIONAL passport, and not one that replaces the BD passport as you have pointed out). In turn, I also feel that the Bangladesh government has a responsibility towards the Bangladeshis living abroad, and strongly disagree with the statement that "Bangladesh has no headache for them."