Law stu­dent Jawaid Sta­tion­wala made a doc­u­men­tary about a poor but vibrant cul­ture in Bangladesh, which he began filming as a 2008 Ful­bright scholar. Photo cour­testy Jawaid Sta­tion­wala.

The sub­jects in Jawaid Stationwala’s doc­u­men­tary are unimag­in­ably poor. But the film isn’t about their poverty, says the third-​​year North­eastern Uni­ver­sity law stu­dent.

“That may be the back­drop of this film, but it’s not the focus,” Sta­tion­wala explains. 

Instead, the doc­u­men­tary “Ma Ki Zaban” — or “Mother Tongue” — high­lights the art, lan­guage and cul­tural iden­tity of some 250,000 Urdu-​​speaking refugees who were stranded in camps the size of prison cells in Dhaka, Bangladesh shortly after the 1971 Bangladeshi Lib­er­a­tion War. 

The broader goal of the film, Sta­tion­wala said, was to raise aware­ness of a pop­u­la­tion with a dis­tinct, but unheard, voice.

“The people I’m working with are indi­gent, poor and — in the most extreme sense — have no access to even the most basic rights,” Sta­tion­wala says, adding that the Dhaka refugees have only recently been granted cit­i­zen­ship in their own country. 

“The idea was to pro­duce a doc­u­men­tary that was some­thing near and dear to their hearts — their lan­guage and the beauty that comes out of it — and draw some atten­tion to their cul­ture as a whole.”

The seeds of the doc­u­men­tary were planted more than three years ago. As a 2008 Ful­bright scholar, Sta­tion­wala vis­ited Bangladesh to col­lect data on the Urdu-​​speaking refugees in order to build a community-​​health pro­file. 

One of the filmmaker’s sub­jects is a young Bihari poet named Hasan, whose plight helped tell a story of poverty, rife with health and edu­ca­tional dis­par­i­ties. “He had every excuse in the world to not turn out well, and somehow he came out to be this phe­nom­enal person,” Sta­tion­wala says.

Sta­tion­wala, a Public Interest Law Scholar, will grad­uate with his degree in the spring. He plans to apply to become a public defender, with the goal of helping indi­gent people charged in crim­inal cases.

The North­eastern Law Forum, which spon­sors events and dis­cus­sions on con­tem­po­rary legal issues, will screen “Ma Ki Zaban” on Monday, Feb. 13 at noon in 240 Dockser Hall.