One of the interesting perks of being a brown South Asian, travelling anywhere in the world, is the special attention you get from various official quarters. Getting a visa anywhere in the northern hemisphere, for instance, is like winning a lottery and could even count as a status symbol. Prior to such a windfall, if it at all occurs, it will mean filling out pages of a form that can ultimately be published as a booklet of your family’s ancestry and a mini biography of yourself. The unique complexities of being someone from the subcontinent makes the whole process a delightful conundrum—if, for example, your father was born during British rule and lived through the Partition, the independence of India and Pakistan, and then that of Bangladesh, how do you answer “Where is your father from?” Should it be British India, India, Pakistan, or Bangladesh, or all of the above?
As you enter Balukhali refugee camp for the first time all you will notice is the amount of dust that clouds your vision, settling on your hair, clothes, seeping into your shoes and even finding its way into your mouth. Through the haze an unbelievable scene is unravelled. It is a humungous labyrinth of little shacks—blue, green, orange, creating a pattern on the crudely cut reddish hills, a pattern that is not aesthetically unpleasing. But these are grossly superficial impressions and incredibly deceptive as you will soon find out.
It is easy to miss stories about child domestic workers being tortured and killed. Easy because stories of children being killed have become eerily regular. It is May 28 and there is the report of 14-year-old Konika Rani being hacked to death by a drug addict with three of her classmates also grievously injured by him. There is also the horror of having to read about a six-year-old being left critically wounded after being raped by her neighbour. Next to this is the news of 11-year-old Hasina Akhter dying in hospital from the fatal wounds inflicted on her, presumably by her employers.
There is no respect these days, say the old folks – no respect for the elderly, for teachers, for your older siblings, just no respect. If you are among these whining, disgruntled naysayers please be informed: Respect is not something to be earned, it is something to be extracted.