Biharis in Bangladesh
|This article needs additional citations for verification. (June 2013)|
|919,000 (as of 2006)|
|Regions with significant populations|
|Urdu, Bihari, Bengali|
|Related ethnic groups|
|Other Indo-Aryan from the region of Bihar|
Biharis in Bangladesh are Muslim migrants with homelands in present-day India who settled in East Pakistan (modern Bangladesh) following the partition of India in 1947. They are a stateless minority in present Bangladesh and are also referred to as the Stranded Pakistanis (Urdu: پھنسے ہوئے پاکستانی, Bengali: উদ্বাস্তু পাকিস্তানী).
This identification can encompass several groups of people. First among them is "Biharis". Although most of this population belonged to State of Bihar in India there are many from other Indian states such as U.P. (United Provinces or later Utter Pradesh). There are still others who had settled in what is now known as Bangladesh in the late 19th century. The second term of reference for this group coined by themselves after creation of Bangladesh is "Stranded Pakistanis". In Urdu media in Pakistan and elsewhere this was translated as "Mehsooreen" or the "Besieged". Since they could not avail themselves of neither Pakistani nor Bangladeshi citizenship from 1971 to 2008 their legal status was "Stateless people". A unique identifying characteristic of this group is the term "Urdu-speaking", hence the language they speak which is "Urdu". Another common term is "Non-Bengalis" this includes not only the Urdu-speaking but also Punjabis, Pathans and Baloch living in Bangladesh. Henceforth any of the above terms may be used to identify this group depending on the context and history.
Origin of the Population and terms of Reference In pre-independence British India, there was an Urdu-speaking Muslim minority in the Hindu majority state of Bihar. There was extensive violence between three religious groups Hindus, Sikhs and Muslims. In November 1946 there were riots in Bihar where 30,000 Muslims were killed. These riots concerned the foremost leader of Indian independence movement Mohandas Gandhi so much that he was prepared to fast unto death if Hindus did not cease violence against the Muslims. (Nov 8, 1946, Oakland Tribune). After the independence of Pakistan in 1947, the Bihari Muslims, many of whom were fleeing the violence that took place during independence, fled to East Pakistan.
The Indian Muslim leader Quaid e Azam was well aware of the sacrifices of Bihari Muslims and acknowledged it in a statement ''"I am really proud of the Bihar Moslems who sacrificed so much. Their sacrifices will not go in vain. They have brought the Pakistan goal nearer and have shown readiness to make any sacrifice for its attainment."'' Jinnah urged educated and skilled Bihari Muslims, especially railway workers to relocate to East Pakistan and assist in the construction and running of the new country.
The Urdu-speaking in Bangladesh arrived in several waves. Immediately after creation of Pakistan there were no restrictions on movement of population across the Indo-Pakistan border for several years. Persons who remained in Pakistan (East or West) of their own free will or moved to these territories became Pakistanis. Citizenship Act of Pakistan (1951) and Citizenship Regulations of Pakistan (1953) were promulgated defining matters relating to citizenship of Pakistan. Urdu-speaking in East Pakistan were citizens of Pakistan either by naturalization, birth or ancestry.
According to the population survey of Pakistan (1962) the number of Urdu-speakers permanently living in East Pakistan had swelled to about 500,000.
The Urdu speaking identified themselves more with West Pakistan on account of the language they spoke which was Urdu.
For many years after creation of Pakistan, West Pakistanis dominated the executive, and the military in Pakistan. The leadership of the All India Muslim League moved to West Pakistan and Karachi was declared the capital of the new state. The headquarters of the Armed Forces were also located in West Pakistan. They held a dispropocutivertionate number of positions in this region of the new country, because the Pakistani government made Urdu (which was the mother tongue of many Biharis) the only official national language of the new state. This led to much resentment from the native Bengalis, the majority in East Pakistan, who had to acquire a new language and many were feeling themselves at a disadvantage on their own soil.
Independence of Bangladesh
In 1971, the Bangladesh Liberation War broke out between Bengali guerrillas and the Pakistani government. Not sharing the ethno-linguistic heritage of the Bengali people, who formed an overwhelming majority in the eastern wing, the Biharis sided with the Pakistani side and opposed the Bengali peoples' agitation for independence from Pakistan, viewing the Bengali struggle as an illegitimate rebellion. During the nine-month-long Bangladesh Liberation War they were active as local collaborators of Pakistan Army and made lots of armed groups like Razakars, Al-Badr and Al-Shams. These groups are held responsible for conducting mass killing campaigns against Bengali nationalists, civilians, religious and ethnic minorities (known as the 1971 Bangladesh genocide). With covert and later overt support from India, East Pakistan became the independent state of Bangladesh. During the war, the Bengalis made "many attacks on the Bihari community as they were seen as symbols of Pakistani domination."
Their opposition to Bangladesh Liberation War, support for the Pakistani army and participation in pro-Pakistani militias, led to considerable hostility and retaliation from the Bengalis, and became stranded after the independence of Bangladesh and were relocated to refugee camps, where their descendants have been born. They have since appealed the Pakistani government for the right to settle in Pakistan. Their petition has only met with marginal support from the Pakistani authorities, who have allowed only a small number of the "Stranded Pakistanis" to settle in Pakistan.
In 2003 a Bangladesh high court ruled that 10 Biharis were entitled to citizenship and voting rights. In 2008 the High Court in Dhaka ruled that 150,000 Biharis, who were minors at the time of the war, could be given citizenship in Bangladesh and voting rights. This is also to be extended to those Bihari born since the war, giving them a path to citizenship rights in Bangladesh at last.
- Joshua Project - Bihari Muslim of Bangladesh Ethnic People Profile
- "Bangladesh: Stateless Biharis Grasp for a Resolution and Their Rights", Refugees international
- Collected Speeches of Quaid e Azam. Islamabad: Ministry of Information, Govt. of Pakistan.
- "Chronology for Biharis in Bangladesh", Minorities at Risk Project. Center for International Development and Conflict Management. University of Maryland, College Park