The LGBTI+ communities in Bangladesh face oppression on multiple fronts. These range from the colonial-era Penal Code Section 377 that criminalises all sexual activity that falls outside the procreative, heterosexual norm, to botched government efforts at recognising hijra and transgender peoples, to the persistent threat of violence from religious extremists, to police harassment and violence, to deepening economic inequality, to growing digital surveillance that increases the risk of even online organising and socialising. In 2014, for instance, the Ministry of Social Welfare announced job positions for 14 hijra community members, but a 2015 official medical test disqualified 12 of the candidates, despite their longstanding legitimacy within the hijra community, on the grounds that they were “fully male”.
In 2016, religious extremists murdered LGBTI+ activists Mahbub Rabbi Tonoy and Xulhaz Mannan (co-founder of LGBTI+ magazine Roopbaan). After more than five protracted years of trial, a Bangladeshi court sentenced six members of the militant group to death, though the mastermind remains at large. In a statement in September 2021, Roopbaan (now a community-driven online platform) has pointed out that this verdict does not ensure justice for LGBTI+ communities. On the heels of Xuljaz and Tonoy’s murders, the police raided the Chhayaneer Community Center in Keraniganj and arrested 27 men suspected of being gay in 2017 (though they were eventually charged with drug possession under the 1990 Narcotics Control Act). By then, the identities of the arrested were already revealed on mainstream media. The aftereffects of these events reverberate beyond Bangladesh as LGBTI+ rights activists who fled the country continue to face precarities associated with the asylum processes and living in exile.
Despite the shared experiences of criminalisation and societal persecution, each queer individual holds a different relationship with Bangladesh.
Under growing fears of persecution, much of Bangladesh’s LGBTI+ organising has shifted online. But the internet is no safe haven. The 2018 Digital Security Act, Bangladesh queer activists argue, has heightened online insecurity of LGBTI+ people and suffocates online organising. During COVID-19 lockdowns, many hijra, koti and transgender people lost their livelihoods, and faced hunger, homelessness, and greater stigma. The government stimulus package did not reach all gender marginalised groups.
In such a context, the territory of queer migration between Bangladesh and other countries emerges as a murky process of negotiating Bangladeshi queer existence and histories. ‘Moving Memories’, a year long archiving project and collaboration between Queer Archives of the Bengal Delta (QABD) and South Asian American Digital Archive (SAADA), gathered oral histories of queer migration and home-making through conversations with Bangladeshi migrants in the US. The project understands ‘migrant’ in an embracing way to include documented, undocumented, asylees and others – all queer people with direct or related experiences of migration between Bangladesh and the US.
All participants were asked a common question during the interview – what does Bangladesh mean to them? Together, these experiences offer an often overlooked but crucial perspective on the present political and social moment in Bangladesh and local and transnational queer organising that has deeper histories and ties to other social movements. Despite the shared experiences of criminalisation and societal persecution, each queer individual holds a different relationship with Bangladesh. This multimedia article pulls together audio fragments that provide entry points into the issues Bangladeshi queer migrants grapple with in their everyday life – the global politics of humanitarian care, their precarious relation to citizenship and religion, their struggle to imagine queer politics beyond neoliberal LGBTI+ scripts and others. We offer these fragments as provocations, insights and suggestions that speak to Bangladeshi queer migrant experiences.
Puja (pseudonym) was told her entire life that Bangladesh is not her country. It is not because she is queer. Her family encouraged her from an early age to leave Bangladesh because she is Hindu. The mob violence that erupted during Durga puja in October 2021 is another instance of a recurring pattern where homes and temples are ransacked, burned down and Hindus are beaten, killed and forcibly displaced. Puja’s oral history insists that we develop an intersectional approach to understanding the multiple layers of oppression that people in the margins experience in Bangladesh. It also opens up the conversation about how Hindu queers are treated within the Bangladeshi queer community and beyond.
(Transcript: text follows)
Moving to the US – so my family is Hindu and growing up my parents would always tell us that this country is not for you, you’re going to have a really hard time, you’ll have to leave the country as soon as possible, and we want you to leave. So I was like, reiterated from my parents from a really really early age and it was like, by the time I hit the age of applying to universities it was just a given. OK now the time has come, you will apply and you leave and you do what you are told – all your life.
Like Puja, Sharmin, Suhaila and Indira’s experiences as Bangladeshi queer migrants or diaspora are shaped by their religious identities. Sharmin, a queer Muslim and social justice organiser, credits her activism to the Muslim sense of community she experienced in mosques and her spiritual education by studying the Quran. Sharmin discussed how the rise of Islamic orthodoxy in Bangladesh and Bangladeshi diaspora communities undermined knowledge of Islam’s profound connections with concerns of justice and liberation, and Islam’s historical politics of anti-oppression and humanism. Sharmin’s oral history contests the often-repeated notion that LGBTI+ people are ungodly while also not shying away from the oppressive aspects of orthodox Islam.
(Transcript: text follows)
I think because I grew up in the 90s, the Bangladesh that I saw was radically different than what my parents grew up in. So I saw the rise of right wing Islamist forces, both through the Jamaat-e-Islami but also the growth of orthodoxy in our communities. So while we were watching madrasas being funded by Saudi Arabia I was learning that because of the lack of public education, government funded public education in Bangladesh, that many of my community members, my cousins, my family members were attending madrasas instead of secular or liberal education institutions. And these madrasas were spaces of Salafism where Quran was taught, but the meaning of the Quran, a critical pedagogy of the Quran was not included. Many of my family members, including myself, we all learned how to read and write Arabic fluently, but none of us knew what we were saying. And I think that’s a small example of the way that Islam just becomes a dominant ideology in our communities without a critical lens to look at feminism, gender, patriarchy, even the parts of Islam that are really feminist, right? Like, the fact that Islam was one of the first religions to give women the right to own property, right, all of those pieces of Islam were missing from the picture, but we were told that men and women have to be separate. That, you know, women and men cannot have sex before marriage. That heterosexuality is a life path for you, and anything that is away from that path is a sin, right? Despite the Quran never saying anything about homosexuality explicitly, people like me were fed the myth that Sodom and Gomorrah was about homosexuality. So I grew up with an understanding of Islam and the Quran that wasn’t a critical lens that looked at these texts, the hadith and the sunnah, with a perspective of humility, with a perspective of rationality that came from a humanism that, you know is actually at the root of Islam. Even the parts of Islam that are justice-driven, so the anti oppressive frameworks, I never learned until I started studying later in college about Islamic liberation theology.
(Transcript: text follows)
I knew that my community had so much work to do, you know? I always believed that yes, white supremacy is a problem. I grew up in like a post 9/11 America, so I knew that Islamophobia and the violence of the War on Terror were profoundly shaping my experience with my rage, my experience with racism, what it was like being a dark-skinned Muslim woman who wasn’t skinny and wore hijab, right? You know my hijab got pulled off when I was in middle school by a fellow Latino schoolmate, you know? And those experiences were like, just small pieces of the American imperial project, right? And when I learned that for example my dadi was married off at 13 years old, right? That to me always was important to remember because it allowed me to understand why my family had so much sexual violence and so much gendered violence going on. We had so many family members back home who were poor, right? We had uncles that were trying to leave and migrate or like, my cousins who were struggling to find jobs, and my father being one of the first to leave Bangladesh was sending remittances back home. And remittances were a huge part of the conflict in my family as well. About like, hoarding wealth, about buying property, about who deserves money and who doesn’t, right? And it made me anti-capitalist because of it, because I was so upset that my family was fighting over money when I felt like money should be abundant and that people should have access to whatever they want, with housing, resources, food, travel, right? And I knew from my family that that wasn’t the case, that because we were such a poor community, we were always going to be scrapping for resources and as a result a lot of corruption would happen, or violence would happen. Because violence only creates more violence, right? So I think that I was always shameful of those experiences with wealth, power and gender and so the hijab allowed me to you know, practice my faith and be really involved in the Islamic community, because I thought that the Muslim community would be a place where I got to practise these values I had around you know, being better people that fight for justice, and being involved with a community of practise. So, you know, I went to mosque for 10 years and I learned the Quran and I learned about all these progressive values that I really wanted to bring into my life.
Indira and Suhaila’s oral histories narrate journeys contrary to Sharmin’s. Suhaila asserted her freedom by discontinuing wearing the hijab. Suhaila discussed how her atheism was more unacceptable than her bisexuality in Bangladesh. Atheism also underwrites Indira’s relation to Bangladesh. Indira points to how atheists face targeted killing and other forms of violence, with relative impunity for the perpetrators.
I’m an atheist, and that was more hurtful to my parents than me being queer was.
(Transcript: text follows)
Even before that, I came out as, umm, queer and atheist. When I came out as bisexual, my family was, like, because I came out publicly, they came charging to my room saying, “Make that status private! Do not tell other people! What other people would think!” They were not as bothered about my sexuality as they were for the matter of what other people would think. Because of their social…like, there is a thing in the middle-class and upper-middle-class people that the middle-class people have this thing that they care more about what other people would think. We were upper-middle class, so, concerning what other people would think, they were like, “Do not express this to other people”. I said, “OK, fine, but I’m still bisexual, like wouldn’t care.” Aah, they definitely cared, but they didn’t just want me to express that side.
Umm, that was one thing. Then I exploded that I was not a Muslim, I’m an atheist, and that was more hurtful to my parents than me being queer was. Umm, like, my mother cried a lot about this thing, and still, it’s been one and a half years I think that I have been an atheist in front of them, and there have…there have been lots of fights, and we still sometimes fight, but the fights are less regular now, umm, but we still do fight, and they result in a lot of tears and hurling insults at each other’s beliefs (laughing). But one thing I know was that they really loved me a lot, and even though they are very religious, my father is liberal, my mother is very very religious that she would wear niqab if possible, she wears a burqa, but she is near to wear that niqab too. So, it’s like, it’s very difficult for her to accept. I don’t think she accepts it, but she tolerates it now. At this point, she just tolerates the fact that I’m an atheist.
Can you imagine? Being born criminalised is just – isn’t that such a weird concept?
(Transcript: text follows)
What relationship [with Bangladesh?] It… I mean, it’d feel like a breakup but we never had a relationship to begin with. Like, from the moment I was born, I was criminalised in this country. Can you imagine? Being born criminalised is just – isn’t that such a weird concept? Like how can you criminalise people for things that they have no control over? For actions or things that they haven’t done? You’re just automatically a criminal in the eyes of the state from the moment you take your first breath. That is… that is absurd. So it wasn’t that I rejected Bangladesh, it was that from the moment I was born it rejected me and people like myself. I always had a complicated relationship with Bangladesh because growing up – Bangladesh is majority Muslim – and like clockwork it goes periods of, you know, public opinion shifts in favour of being a secular state versus being an Islamic state and being an atheist? That was just heart-stoppingly scary because I’d always known that I was an atheist. Like, yeah, my parents forced me to read the books, but I was like this is… this is bullshit. [laughs] Like why am I reading stuff that I don’t understand, in a language I don’t understand, so from a very early age, I wasn’t aware of the criminalisation that happened in 2016, but I was aware of a lot of societal disparities. I was aware of how binary, how heteronormative, how gendered Bangladeshi society was and I had never fit into that. And you know, how religious Bangladeshi society was too. You’d have Friday sermons at mosques, like, blaring from mikes. You don’t have to broadcast it… like, come on. It’s like, freedom of religion and all of that, but, you don’t have to broadcast how women are the primary residents of hell or whatever, like a lot of sermonising like that, like a lot of toxic messaging around that. And then even before all the issues with my gender identity and sexuality, sexual orientation became prevalent in my life, mostly here in the US, like I’d always had a fraught relationship with my identity as an atheist because I’d never pretended to be anything but. And then you remember a spate of targeted societal persecution and murders of atheist and secularist bloggers in Bangladesh. I mean, it’d be like clockwork like, every few months you’d open the newspaper and you’d see someone else had been murdered in broad daylight for offending Islamic sensibilities. And it wasn’t just like, random murders. It was these bloggers who had put on a list there was organised action by the vigilantes who committed the murders, and it was systematic. It was designed to provoke and inspire fear, it was designed to provoke and engender silence. And so I felt like I was, I think that was one of the first times in my life where I was genuinely just scared.
The global humanitarian apparatus offers refuge under conditions of innocence and victimhood. Such humanitarian processes along with the international media’s survivorship bias compels Bangladeshi queer migrants to craft perfect victimhood narratives. In his oral history, Sunny, one of the current members of the Roopbaan platform, discussed how many Bangladeshi queer people commonly claimed a connection to Xulhaz Mannan and Mahbub Rabbi Tonoy.
Between 2014 when Roopbaan started as a magazine and 2015 when it transitioned to an online platform run by an executive board, hundreds of people volunteered, and even more people hung out with Xulhaz Mannan in his Dhaka apartment. While many of Roopbaan’s executive committee members are still in Bangladesh, people with distant or no relationship to the magazine or the platform have positioned themselves as spokespeople for the incident in developed countries. Some have even received awards and been celebrated in their new home countries. This situation highlights a poignant dilemma. It is true that all queer people, and particularly gender non-conforming queer people, are at risk of violence in Bangladesh. All the same, some of those falsely claiming a connection to Roopbaan in order to receive asylum end up distorting a pivotal moment in Bangladesh’s queer history. More importantly, in the resulting atmosphere of mistrust, asylum seekers under genuine threat due to their close engagement with Roopbaan face stigma due to controversies surrounding the legitimacy of their claims for asylum.
(Transcript: text follows)
I had been here for one or two months. We, the people from the community, try to be together. In the meantime, what also, aaahm, not disgusts me, but also made me sad, that, a lot of people, who were not directly involved with Roopbaan, or any kind of activity at that time, but, a member of LGBT community, as a volunteer, or whatever, they were just claiming to be associated with Roopbaan directly, and asking for asylum, just to way to get out of the country, where their life was not even in danger! Aah, that was very disturbing to me, like…you can’t do that! I mean, I understand that your life was in danger, like, for the real facts, but it wasn’t. You were just checking, you were just manipulating the whole incident on behalf of yours, and taking opportunities for, thinking about your future! It’s like, the whole one or two months, we had to debunk all these theories, aah, all these claiming because people are like contacting us, “Hey! This member of your organisation…” We had to say, “No, this person is not associated”. And it’s just, I just felt helpless at that time, like, these are the people, we can’t allow, these are the people who are like volunteers, and they are taking the opportunity of this very low moment! That was also, kind of drove me crazy that, who can I trust here!?
(Transcript: text follows)
When I used to live in Bangladesh, the massive, the biggest difference that I feel is that when I was in Bangladesh and started to explore my sexuality from Roopbaan, you know Roopbaan magazine there? I was writing articles on Roopbaan magazine, editing pieces on Roopbaan Magazine, I started educating myself, mis-educating myself, there was a lot of stigmas, and a lot of learning and unlearning, simultaneously going on. But I think the entire education, because I also had the privilege of internet and the community who were connected to, you know, this pop culture, the idea about sexuality that it’s all about key moments like coming out, Pride rally, participating in a Pride rally, be proud about your identity, so all these were you know a very singular notion of sexual orientation that this is what I am discriminated against.
Rasel’s migration to the US reveals to him the blind spots of that liberation script.
After coming to this country, I think, I mean the way it drastically and politically changed, I realised that I was pretty protected – what I just told a while ago about being in Bangladesh. So, when I was in Bangladesh, I did not realise it because I wasn’t attacked on other fronts. So I thought this is what I need to talk about. Sexual orientation is the one identity, one piece of identity that no one else was getting, everything else was, you know, “normal”.
After getting here, I realised, I became almost homeless, financially broke, my immigration status is vulnerable, I’m like a stateless person, I’m single for last three years, people don’t find me, like attractive, good-looking, someone to be emotionally dependable in this country. So, I’m going through all these, you know, marginalised experiences. I have worked in a theatre, so this working-class work experience and all of these things, I think, have influenced. It’s like, you know, mutating with my sexual orientation and gender identity, and all other different forms of identity, my religious identity, I’m no longer a religious majority in this country, I’m like Muslim who is already stigmatised, I belong to a religion with which I had a very complex relationship when I was in Bangladesh. So like, after coming to this country, I understand that this is the base of…like when I go for entering to the immigration, they see a Mohammed and Ahmed in my name, they come with all the suspicion, you know, like why your name has this terrorist connection. So, this is a very different and life-changing experience.
So suddenly after coming to this country, I realised that there are so many other fronts, you know. I mean not that I wasn’t aware of it, and class is a big big big big thing. After I migrated here, I mean after the post-migration, the most part that I think about was class and sexuality, how class and sexuality are merging with each other, and obviously my very marginal migration status in this country, how that also influences and, it’s like mutating as I said, it’s like always, I think in reaction with my different kinds of identity and my migration.
What Rasel, editor and co-founder of the Roopbaan magazine, thought would be a temporary migration became permanent in 2016. Living in the limbo of an ongoing asylum-seeking process, Rasel’s evolving thoughts reflect continuing dynamics in the Bangladesh LGBTI+ movement. Rasel refers back to a time when an LGBTI+ liberation script shaped by the global north guided his activism. This script had all-too-familiar goalposts of finding oneself, coming out, and fighting for rights. Much of Bangladesh’s contemporary LGBTI+ activism continues to hold up this script. Rasel’s migration to the US reveals to him the blind spots of that liberation script. It opens up possibilities for imagining grounded strategies for liberation as his transnational kinships and collaborations with queer communities in Bangladesh continue.
(Transcript: text follows)
So… Absolutely unplanned migration. Temporary migration became permanent. After Xulhaz and Tonoy’s murder, the state [home] minister, Asaduzzaman Khan, was like, went on live and said, “We know the people involved in the magazine, and this is not allowed in Bangladesh and we are going to take action against these people”. So, the people who are attacked, the government did not say that they are going to protect them, rather, like, they continued to intimidate them. And I couldn’t feel safe, you know, there was no way, or in a situation that I could go back, and then my parents were freaking out…for my safety, and their safety. My friends actively looked for solutions, like, if I could stay in India, seeking asylum in India, and we found out that it’s not a possibility because I’m from a Muslim family from Bangladesh, like a Muslim person from Bangladesh is not allowed to seek asylum in India. And there were like different people, like friends, their family members, looking for other options. When I mean family, not my immediate family, but like chosen family, and this fellowship worked out! I got a visa and I moved to America in July 2016, the same year when my Indian visa was running out.
Bangladesh as a distant figure haunts and shapes Nancy’s sense of self as a diaspora queer Bangladeshi growing up in the US. Misha, a new gay migrant to the US from Bangladesh, experiences a loss of identity because he migrated to the U.S. Despite being married and securing a relatively stable life in the United States, Misha senses profound meaninglessness in the US. He is still searching for an answer to justify his migration. For Nancy, Bangladesh is the home that never was. For Misha, the US is the home that perhaps will never be.
(Transcript: text follows)
I think that there’s always been this feeling of like, people would ask me when I was a kid where are you from? You know? Very common, right, for people of colour in the United States to be asked that and so like, I would think about it and I’m like – Washington DC was never the right answer, right? And you know it took me a while to realise that people were asking ‘Why are you brown?’ [laughs] and so I would say Bangladesh but like, I’m not really from there. And so I think it always sort of felt like the home that never was, or like, this thing that was supposed to be my homeland but I wasn’t really that connected to and so I feel like, I am interested in learning more now and feeling – I feel sometimes, like, I haven’t been around even the language in so many years. I only see my dad about once a year now and especially with COVID I haven’t seen him in over a year, and so Bangla feels like a ghost language in a way you know, because I don’t ever hear it. It feels sad to me, that I’m so disconnected. So I think that… I don’t know exactly what it means to me. I do feel, I feel like I have tried to learn a lot and sort of being political, and being, I’d say Left, and really thinking a lot about colonialism and what it has meant and like I remember being in my very early 20s or maybe still in college, I don’t remember and reading about how the British would cut the Bengali weavers’ thumbs so they couldn’t weave their fine cloth, cause they wanted – all the industry – they just wanted the raw materials from Bangladesh and they wanted to make the cloth in England and like, I was just like, ‘Whoa’ you know, when I read that, because one it’s horrible, and disturbing but two it’s also just sort of realising how much the country had been shaped from being the jewel of the subcontinent to how much was taken from us as a people. I feel like being from Bangladesh you just always have to like, root for the underdog, and we’re just always like, sort of this very put upon country and yeah I think that, you know, proud to be from Bangladesh. I think that it has shaped me in all these ways and I think I’m rambling and not making that much sense but I do feel like – because no one’s ever asked me this before.
Huhu’s comment on his family urges us, more broadly, to exercise scepticism towards rituals of progressivism in Bangladesh.
(Transcript: text follows)
After I had moved, I deleted every single person from my Facebook who was related to Bangladesh. I did not want to have any track from Bangladesh. I just wanted to delete all that. Aah, but at the same time, I had no idea why I left Bangladesh. I felt something was missing, there was definitely something missing, but I could not figure out what that was, what I was missing, like, why I needed to move. But when I moved here, I felt like, “OK, why I moved here (US), because nothing there (in Bangladesh). I mean there was a moment like I was walking on the road getting back to my home after my class, I had crossed my home but had no idea why I was walking, why I was here, there is no reason to be here. Still, now, I have no clue why I am here, what am I doing. Now I feel it’s less complicated because I have a job, so in the half of my day, I’m there, when I come back I’m already tired. But (pause), aah, sometimes I have no clue like I’m sitting at my home, I don’t know I’m depressed or not, whether I need mental support or not. Sometimes I feel like that I don’t feel anything, I don’t see any positiveness, like, ok, yeah, there something. One thing that I was definitely missing was that I was someone when I left Bangladesh, I was someone like everyone knew me by my name, if they don’t know my face, they know my name, (but) I’m no one here. So that transition was a big hit for me like I never justified that like why I did that?
Growing up in a liberal intellectual family, Huhu (pseudonym) was surprised when his parents rejected his queer identity. His situation highlights the state of middle-class progressive politics vis-à-vis queerness in Bangladesh.
In recent times, we have experienced how heterosexual progressive allies can further endanger the lives of queers in Bangladesh. While hijra, koti, and transgender people faced hunger during the COVID-19 lockdown, Bangladeshi liberals celebrated Kishwar serving panta bhat to MasterChef Australia judges. Such performative progressivism is responsible for weakening the civil society movement for the past several decades and fails to put forward sustainable coalitions capable of affecting structural change. Huhu’s comment on his family urges us, more broadly, to exercise scepticism towards rituals of progressivism in Bangladesh.
Global humanitarian processes along with the international media’s survivorship bias compels Bangladeshi queer migrants to craft perfect victimhood narratives.
(Transcript: text follows)
(Chuckling) I did something really stupid. I came out to my mom when I was going back home with her from my college. And mom freaked out about me not being a virgin, she was like, Allah (God)! You are not a lesbian then!? I said, “No, I like boys as well”. Then there was the whole thing that “O God! You will not have sex in my house!!” and her being really worried about my getting pregnant and other stuff. But somehow she already knew this for three years, from those pictures of mine from the trip in India, she saw the pictures of me with two girls and was like, “this (one in the picture) is lesbian”. So, I think, after that, I thought that my dad knew, umm, because I’m the one who shares everything and ‘I have been gay,’ and my dad didn’t find out until the third year and after that our relationship got really bad. Because, he just, I was telling him whatever was happening, was talking about some stories and told him that “…you already know right (regarding my identity)!?”, and then he said, “No, I didn’t know”. And I was like, he was the one, you know, who told me to read about feminism, Derrida and Foucault in the house, but to me it was strange of this person that I can have gay friends but, “My child cannot be a gay or a queer!!” Then I was like, let’s start, let’s talk about it, but he was like, “No, you will start speaking about philosophy and I cannot win over, and I cannot accept this, and this is like, this is not OK”.
Atif’s oral history allows us to witness the terrifying encounter between the Bangladeshi state and a queer person. The oral history shows how investigations can set into motion associations between queerness, immorality, and criminality and transform a witness to a suspect. When the police arrive at Atif’s house in Bangladesh, the police officer warns Atif’s mother about his “sinful” activities, offers medical recommendations for treatment, and discloses Atif’s case to the neighbours. The oral history is testament to how stigma, extortion, and intimidation practices can intensify under the shadow of Section 377. Even more importantly, the oral history indexes how the law enforcement agency, still guided by British colonial principles, rarely protects citizens and activists. Instead, the law enforcement agency blames and criminalises witnesses and victims.
(Transcript: text follows)
Police went to my house after I had come here, I mean after I had come to the US. They went there to verify my address. So, the first time, they went and verified my address. Later, they asked my mother when I would get back to Bangladesh. My mother replied, “I don’t know. I have no communication with him.” Then they started some social policing to my mother and told her that, “These are the things your son does, these are not permitted in the religion, and blah blah blah”. And even on the first visit, they gave a card to her, you know about the card for medical treatment (Hospital/Doctor’s card) that where I can get treated for that, they gave that card to my mother. So later when mom called me back, she informed me that police had gone to our house to verify the address and asked all those things.
(Transcript: text follows)
Then they started, in the second part of the interview, they started asking about things like…who were there present, who were the connections/contacts of Xulhaz, how long I had known him, who used to visit Xulhaz’s place, what were their names, etc. After that even at some points, they told me, “You know I can arrest you!” Sara Apa (was present there but) was not allowed to talk unless I asked her. So, when they said this, Sara Apa (reminding tone), yes Sara Apa told that “Aah, no Atif, they can’t arrest you as you are a witness, not a criminal. And I don’t think they have a warrant.” (Sara Apa told this because) Sara Apa could notice that I was gradually getting scared. Then I was asked about my address, who I had gone there with, who I had been with, where did he live, who were my relatives, who were my parents, where was my national ID card, and others. They asked all these things. They also asked about who was there at Xulhaz’s place, the picture from Xulhaz’s place they collected from his home, they asked about who were the people in the picture, what were their identities.
The complete oral histories can be found here. There is a common thread of statelessness and not belonging running through these narratives, even for those LGBTI+ people with valid Bangladeshi passports and citizenship. At the same time, Bangladeshi queer migrants are making homes out of temporariness, moving and negotiating between boundaries, building solidarities, and crafting and preserving collective memories that point to other possible imaginaries of being a Bangladeshi.
Note: The oral histories were produced through South Asian American Digital Archive’s (SAADA) Archival Creators Fellowship Program. Transcription and translation by Arif Hasan.
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