20 million peoples become homeless and another 1 million died on the year 1947 due to the conflict between Hindu and Muslim while India and Pakistan were divided seventy five thousand of women become victim of rape and violence. Seven and half millions of Muslim migrated to East and West Pakistan. Out of 1.3 million Muslim migrant of East Pakistan, 1 million from Bihar. Rests are from Urissa and West Bengal Because of vicious communal riot they had to take shelter in East Pakistan. Besides cultural and geographical difference in Bangladesh. As a result from the very beginning they remain isolated from the mainstream of population due to political and cultural reason. And this trend continues till today more over the liberation war of 1971 and its consequences made them more segregated and isolated.
The “International committee for Red cross (ICRC)” build a number of camps in Bangladesh is 1972 to assist this community. There were 25 camps in Mirpur and 6 in Mohammadpur. Like, Geneva camp, Town Hall Camp, Market Camp, CR0 Camp, Community Camp and Staff Quarter Camp.
The term “Bihari”
The Word ‘Bihari’ literally means a person who belongs to the state of Bihar of India. In Bangladeshi parlance, any one who speaks Urdu is a Bihari whether or not he comes from Bihar, People of Uttar Pradesh (UP), Madhya Pradesh (MP) and Rajsthan who had migrated to former East Pakistan are also categorized as ‘Biharis’.
Identity of the Biharis between 1947 and 1951
We shall now endeavour to ascertain the identity of the Biharis i.e. how they were treated by the then Pakistan Government before they were formally accorded citizenship of Pakistan by the Pakistan Citizenship Act, 1951. We shall also try to show what their legal status was, whether they were refugees or Muhajirs or migrants or political asyless or stateless persons between 1947 and 1951 with reference to international instruments, laws of Pakistan and attitude of the Government of Pakistan towards them.
The Bihari population in Bangladesh is in such a miserable situation that they need an urgent and immediate solution. Pakistan used the Bihari population for political purposes and this action made the Biharies unwelcome to the majority Bengalis. They are in serious trouble and problem. What are their real problem, what they want, and what it is needed for their solution, what role it would need to play for them, these are the objectives of this research.
Methodology gives the direction, to conduct the research. By adopting methodology researcher wants to uphold the full issue, impact of the topic.
The methodology will mainly focus on “The Legal Status of Bihari in Bangladesh”.
Here researcher by using secondary documents such as reading, journal, articles, declarations, conventions, different kinds of treaties and from website has done the research.
Limitations of Research:
Every matter has got some limitation. Se, this is also not an exception. The limitations of this thesis are been stated bellow:
- The first limitation of the study is limited time. This is really so short time for learning and making experience of practical life.
- The major limitation I have faced during my thesis is the availability of the information in an organized way.
Biharis – who they are
The term ‘refugee’ is a term of art, that is, a term with a content verifiable according to principles of general international law. In ordinary usage, it has a broader. looser meaning, signifying someone in flight, who seeks to escape conditions or personal circumstances found to be intolerable. The destination is not relevant; the flight is to freedom, to safety. Likewise, the reasons for flight may be many; flight from oppression, from a threat to life or liberty, flight from prosecution, flight from deprivation, from grinding poverty, flight from war or civil strife, flight from natural disasters, earthquake, flood, drought, famine. Implicit in the ordinary meaning of the word ‘refugee’ lies an assumption that the person concerned is worthy of being, and ought to be, assisted and if necessary, protected from the causes and consequences of flight.
Refugees Defined in International Instruments:
In the legal sense, the Convention Relating to the Legal Status of Refugees, 1951, whose scope of applicability was extended by the Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees, 1967, is the most important document on the definition of refugee. According to Article l(a)(2) of the Convention, the term ‘refugee’ shall apply to any person who, owing to well- founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality and is unable or owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country. Such refugees are usually mentioned as convention refugees.
The Annex to the Statute of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees 1950 extends the competence of the High Commissioner for the protection of refugees defined in Article 6(A)(1) in the terms similar to Article 1(A)(2) of the Refugee Convention 1951. There are three elements in the legal definition of the term ‘refugee’:
(a) the person is outside the country of his nationality, or in the case of stateless persons, outside the country of habitual residence;
(b) the person lacks natural protection and
(c) the person fears persecution.
The OAU Convention Governing the Specific Aspects of Refugee Problems in Africa, 1969, has extended the definition in the Refugee Convention 1951 to cover in the term ‘refugee’ also every person who, owing to external aggression, occupation, foreign domination, or events seriously disturbing public order in either part or the whole of his country of origin or nationality, is compelled to leave his place of habitual residence in order to seek refuge in another place outside his country of origin or nationality. This definition is wide enough to embrace virtually all victims of ‘man-made’ disasters, and so there is a growing trend for its adoption in the context of general international refugee law.
The United Nations General Assembly in its resolution 1975 has extended the mandate of the High Commissioner to groups of persons who did not necessarily satisfy the statutory definition of persons within his competence, but who were deemed by the General Assembly to be persons, who were his concern, and who were entitled to benefit from certain protection activities, as well as assistances, thus explicitly linking refugees with the ‘displaced persons’ in refugee-like situations.
The Cartegena Declaration on Refugees of 1984, proposed an extension of the concept of ‘refugee’ as applied to Central America, stipulating that a ‘massive violation of human rights’ should be considered as a legal basis for extended definition of refugee. It laid down that the definition of refugee could not only incorporate the elements contained in 1951 Convention and the 1967 Protocol (or the 1968 OAU Convention and General Assembly resolutions), but also cover persons who have fled from their country because their life, their safety or their liberty were threatened by a massive violation of human rights.
Criteria for the Determination of Refugee Status:
The legal consequences which flow from the formal definition of refugee status are necessarily predicated upon determination by some or other authority that the individual or group in question satisfies the relevant legal criteria. In principle, a person becomes a refugee at the moment when he or she satisfies the definition, so that determination of status is declaratory, rather than constitutive. The UNHCR Statute and the 1951 Convention contain very similar definition of the term ‘refugee’. It is for the UNHCR to determine status under the Statute and any relevant General Assembly resolutions, and for state parties to the Convention and the Protocol to determine status under those instruments.
Determination of refugee status is a process which takes place in two stages. Firstly, it is necessary to ascertain the relevant facts of the case. Secondly, the definitions in the 1951 Convention .and the 1961 Protocol have to be applied to the facts thus ascertained. The provisions of the 1951 Convention defining who is a refugee consists of three parts, which have been termed respectively ‘inclusion’, ‘cessation’ and ‘exclusion’ clauses.
The inclusion clauses define the criteria that a person must satisfy in order to be a refugee. They form the positive basis upon which the determination of refugee status is made. To be a refugee four basic conditions must be met. The applicant must be –
a. outside of his country of nationality or if he has no nationality the country of his former habitual residence,
b. have a well-founded fear of persecution,
c. this fear must be based on of five grounds, e. g. race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group, or public opinion,
d. unable or unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country, or to return there, for reason of fear of persecution.
Although India and Pakistan are not signatories of the 1951 Convention and the Protocol of 1967, they are signatories to the Statute of the Office of the UNHCR, 1950. In the light of the above provisions of inclusion, we shall try to determine whether the Biharis or the Urdu-speaking Muslims who migrated to East Pakistan before and after the Partition of 1947 were refugees:
a) Country of nationality or country of origin of the Biharis migrated to East Pakistan was India which they were compelled to leave in perpetuity.
b) UNHCR’s amicus curiae brief in INS v. Cardoza-Fonseca examined the negotiating history of Article 1 of the Convention of 1951, and demonstrated that the status of refugee had been intended for a person who has been persecuted or who has a ‘good reason’ to fear persecution, and that subjective fear should be based on an objective situation, which in turn made that fear plausible and reasonable in the circumstances. It concluded- “No statistical definition is appropriate to determine the reasonableness of an applicants fear, given the inherently speculative nature of the exercise. The requisite degree of probability must take into account the intensity of the fear, the nature of the projected harm (death, imprisonment, torture, detention, serious discrimination etc.), the general history of persecution in the home country, the applicant’s personal experience and that of his or her family, and all other surrounding circumstances.”
There is no universally accepted definition of persecution. The drafters of the Convention intentionally left the meaning of persecution undefined because they realized the impossibility of enumerating in advance all forms of maltreatment which might legitimately entitle persons to benefit from the protection of a foreign state.
Principal reason of exodus of Biharis into East Pakistan was communal riots which occurred in different parts of India. Dreadfulness of riots depicted above satisfies their case of wel1-founded fear of persecution beyond any doubt. Thus their subjective fear of persecution is based on the objective situation of sanguinary communal riots.
C) Fear of persecution of the Biharis who migrated to the then East Pakistan was based on religion. Religion as a ground for refugee status includes two dimensions. First is the protection of persons who are at serious jeopardy because they are identified as adherents of a particular religion. Secondly, religion includes behaviour, which flows from belief, including participation in or abstention from formal worship and other religious acts, expression of views and the ordering of personal behaviour. Although the root of the communal riots lied in politics, apparently it seems to be based on religion. Muslims in those parts of India in which communal riots broke out were in serious trouble because of their religion.
D) Being unable to avail himself of such protection implies circumstances that are beyond the will of the person concerned. There may, for example, be a state of war, civil war or other grave disturbance, which prevents the country of nationality from extending protection or makes such protection ineffective. Protection by the country of nationality may also have been denied to the applicant. The term unwilling refers to refugees who refuse to accept the protection of their country of nationality.
Biharis who migrated to East Pakistan were unwilling to avail themselves of the protection of India, or to return there, for reason of fear of persecution.
The exclusion clauses stipulate that the Convention of 1951 shall not apply to persons who meet inclusion criteria, but who do not need or deserve protection. This would apply to a person receiving protection or assistance from organs or agencies of the United Nations other than UNHCR; or a person benefiting from the same rights and obligations as nationals of the country in which he has taken residence; or a person who has committed a crime against peace, a war crime or a crime against humanity, a serious common law crime prior to the admission to the country of asylum, or an act contrary to the purposes and principles of the United Nations. This provision relates to persons who might otherwise qualify for refugee status and who have been received in a country where they have been granted most of the rights normally enjoyed by nationals, but not formal citizenship. They are frequently referred to as national refugees.
Biharis who migrated to East Pakistan fell under the category of ‘national refugees’ and thus were excluded from the definition of convention refugee, because the Government of Pakistan provided them with same rights and obligations which were attached to the nationals of Pakistan until 1951 when they were formally accorded with the citizenship of Pakistan. Initiatives taken by the Government for rehabilitation of the Biharis in Pakistan has already been discussed above.
According to the Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees 1951, and Statute of the Office of the UNHCR 1950 a person shall cease to be a refugee if:
1. he has voluntarily re-availed himself of the protection of the country of his nationality; or
2. having lost his nationality he has voluntarily re-acquired it; or
3. he has acquired a new nationality, and enjoys the protection of the country of his new nationality; or
4. he has voluntarily re-established himself in the country which he left or outside which he remained owing to fear of persecution.
5. he can no longer, because the circumstances in connection with which he has been recognized as a refugee have ceased to exist, continue to refuse to avail himself of the protection of the country of his nationality;
The case of the Biharis comes under clause (3), for firstly many of them migrated to East Pakistan in 1947 using their option for Pakistan and secondly they were full-fledged citizens of Pakistan after 1951.
In a nutshell, the series of communal riots and the resultant uprooting of millions of people in 1947 did not however, create ‘refugee situation’ as the states concerned had to take immediate measures to accommodate the new arrivals into their freshly defined and demarcated territories. Nevertheless, the UNHCR gave some assistance to the Biharis till 1951.
Whether the Biharis were Muhajirs:
The march of Hazrat Muhammad (Sm) from Mecca to Medina in 622 is regarded as ‘Hizrat’ and those who accompanied him in that march are known as Muhajirs. Although the Hindus and Sikhs migrated from Pakistan to India were regarded as refugees, Muslims migrated from India to Pakistan were regarded as Muhajirs. Thus religious sentiments of Muslims were used by the leaders of Muslim League to encourage the Muslims of India to migrate to Pakistan and to encourage the people of Pakistan to accept them cordially and to provide them with all kinds of facilities. In the Census of Pakistan 1951 those who migrated to Pakistan because of Partition and religious feelings were regarded as Muhajirs. Gradually the term ‘Muhajir’ came to be applied to the Urdu-speaking migrants, to the exclusion of others who were similarly uprooted at independence. However, devoid of any legal connotation, the word ‘Muhajir is hardly relevant for purposes of this study.
Whether the Biharis were Migrants:
International migration is the movement of person from his or her country of origin to country of destination with the intent to remain for an extended stay. According to Black’s Law Dictionary, migration means movement from one place to another, from one country or region to another country or region.
There are primarily two generic types of population movements. First, ‘involuntary’ or ‘forced’ migration in which people are compelled to move out of their home in large numbers in situation of conflict. People flee or are obliged to leave their home or habitual residence out of fear of persecution or events threatening their lives or safety. There are numerous reasons behind forced migration such as persecution, human rights violations, repression, conflict, military aggression, natural and man-made disasters. Sometimes people also leave their home in their own initiative to escape from these life-threatening situations. But a large number of them also are forced out of their home by ‘groups’, often armed, to fulfill some objectives such as ‘depopulating’ an area or ‘ethnic cleansing’. Those who are forced to leave their home either cross international borders in search of refuge or move to another place within the state-borders.
The first group is known as ‘refugee’, whereas the second group of people is termed as ‘internally displaced persons’
(IDP). Thus involuntary migration creates refugee situation when people are forced to cross international borders.
Second, Voluntary migration, in which people move out in search of a better livelihood. The voluntary migration is a part of people’s strategies to enhance or diversify the livelihood. The decision to migrate is often guided by the wider and brighter opportunities abroad. People who migrate are known as ‘migrants’, ‘labour migrants’ or ‘economic migrants’. The term ‘migrant covers all cases where the decision to migrate is taken freely by the individual concerned, for reasons of personal convenience and without intervention of an external compelling factor. But people also migrate because of poverty, lack of employment opportunity, and disaster.
If we look back to the reasons behind the exodus of Biharis from 1947 to 1964, we can come to the conclusion that some of them were ‘voluntary migrants’ while the others were ‘involuntary migrants’. Railway workers, particularly from Bihar and UP who being influenced by the invitation by Mr. Mohammad Ali Jinnah to be designated as Central Government’s employee migrated to East Pakistan, fall under the category of ‘voluntary migrants’. Besides, Muslim civil servants posted in Bengal and Bihar and opted to serve east.
Pakistan after Partition and Muslims of India who migrated to East Pakistan being encouraged by the Pakistani leaders and their relatives in East Pakistan also fall under the same category. But those who were compelled to migrate to East Pakistan to save their lives from the dreadful communal riots fall under the category of ‘involuntary migrants’. It was held in The Advocate General vs Benoy Bhusan MaJumdar:
The word ‘migration’ has the notion of change of allegiance from the country of departure to the country of arrival – It envisages two conceptions:
(a) going away from the territory of another and
(b) the intention to abandon the domicile of the country of departure and to acquire the domicile of the country of arrival for permanently residing there.
According to the above conceptions of ‘migration’, all Muslims including the Biharis who came to Pakistan from India whatever may be the reasons behind it, with the intention to abandon the domicile of India and to acquire the domicile of Pakistan for permanently residing in Pakistan and changed their allegiance from India to Pakistan were migrants.
Whether the Biharis were Political Asyless:
In ordinary sense, asylum means providing shelter to an alien in the territory of a state which will also imply permitting him to enter the territory, if he has not already entered. A man who qualifies for asylum is a man who has a reasonable fear of being persecuted in his own country. According to Dr. S. K. Kapoor, asylum means shelter and active protection extended to a political refugee from another state by a state which admits him on his request.
Asylum involves following two elements- (1) a shelter which is more than a temporary refuge; and (2) a degree of active protection on the part of the authorities which have control over the territory of asylum.
The Institute of International Law has defined asylum as “the protection which a state grants on its territory or in some of her place under the control of certain of its organs to a person who comes to seek it”.
The practice of asylum, i.e. states granting protection to individuals from persecution or violence by another states, was well established in antiquity and has been maintained to the present day. Article 14(1) of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights lays down, “Everyone has the right to seek and enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution.”
Political asylee is a person who has been granted asylum in a country because he has a reasonable fear of being persecuted in his own country and he has applied for asylum in that country. Here the reasons of persecution must be political. Such asylum is more than a temporary refuge. If we look into the case of the Biharis, we can see that those who migrated to East Pakistan to flee from the communal riots had reasonable fear of persecution but again they did not come here to seek asylum but with the intention of permanently settling here. Question of political asylum does not even arise in case of the persons who migrated to Pakistan using their option for Pakistan during Partition.
Whether the Biharis were Stateless Persons:
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights states, “every one has the right to a nationality and that no one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his nationality”. But many thousands of people across the globe lack the security and protection which citizenship can provide.
According to the Convention relating to the Status of Stateless Persons 1954, a ‘stateless person’ is one ‘who is not considered as a national by any state under the operation of its law. This definition is helpfully concise and to the point. But it is also very limited and somewhat legalistic definition, referring to a specific group of people known as de jure stateless persons. It does not encompass the many people, usually described as de facto stateless persons, who are unable to establish their nationality or whose citizenship is disputed by one or more countries. Statelessness, in its broader sense, denotes all those people who lack what has become known as ‘effective nationality’ and who are consequently unable to enjoy the rights that are associated with citizenship. Situation of Statelessness involving larger number of people tend to arise in a number of different circumstances. Governments may amend their citizenship laws and denationalize whole sections of society in order to punish or marginalize them or to facilitate their exclusion from the states’ territory. The formation of new states, resulting from decolonization or the disintegration of a federal polity, may leave thousands or even millions of people stateless or with a disputed claim to citizenship. Large-scale Statelessness may also arise in the context of mass expulsions and refugee movements.
While the post-war configuration of European states had begun to assume a degree of stability by the end of the 1940s, the same period witnessed a new spate of upheavals in other parts of the world, leaving a further legacy of Statelessness among the populations involved. These events include the decolonization and partition of India in 1947 and the subsequent movements of Hindus and Muslims between India and Pakistan. But partition did not actually create stateless situation for Hindus and Muslims who migrated between India and Pakistan had been given the option to choose Pakistani or Indian nationality. So far as the Biharis are concerned, it is crystal clear from the attitude of the Government of Pakistan towards them that they were never treated as stateless persons.
Whether the Biharis were Displaced Persons:
There is no clear and generally accepted definition of the term Displaced Person. However, the 1995 Report of the Representative of the Secretary General on Internally Displaced Person proposes a definition as under:
Persons who have been forced to flee their homes suddenly or unexpectedly in large numbers, as a result of armed conflict, internal strife, systematic violation of human rights or natural or manmade disasters; and who are within the territory of their own country.
UNHCR’s operational definition of an internally displaced person refers to someone who, had she or he managed to cross an international boundary, would have fallen within the refugee definition. So, from the available definition, we can conclude that the Biharis were bound to flee their homes by all means as described in the definition both internally and externally.
The identity crisis of the Biharis emerged as soon as they were displaced from their land of origin. Almost all the basic documents on human rights have recognized the right to residence within the border of each country. The Biharis were displaced several times since before independence of three countries through the separation of Indian sub-continent at the midnight hour of August 14, 1947. Reasons behind their displacement were multifarious ranging from religious fanaticism to political course of events. Whatever be the reasons of this stack, the Biharis were the wretched victims thereof.
All confusions relating to the identity of the Biharis came to an end in 1951, when they were formally accorded with citizenship by The Pakistan Citizenship Act, 1951 which was passed on 13th April, 1951 and which came into force the same day.
According to Section 3(d) of The Pakistan Citizenship Act, 1951 – “At the commencement of this Act every person shall be deemed to be a citizen of Pakistan who before the commencement of this Act migrated to the territories now included in Pakistan from any territory in the Indo-Pakistan sub-continent outside those territories with the intention of residing permanently in those territories”.
Section 2 provides that Indo-Pakistan sub-continent means India as defined in the Government of India Act, 1935, as originally enacted. Above provisions accord citizenship to those who migrated to Pakistan till 13th April 1951. Again section 6(1) of the Act provides, “The Central Government may, upon his obtaining a certificate of domicile under this Act, register as a citizen of Pakistan by migration any person who after the commencement of this Act and before the first day of January 1952 has migrated to the territories now included in Pakistan from any territory in the Indo-Pakistan sub-continent outside those territories, with the intention of residing permanently in those territories”. Section 6(2) of the Act lays down that “Registration granted under the preceding sub-section shall include, besides the person himself, his wife, if any, unless his marriage with her has been dissolved and minor child of his dependent whether wholly or partially upon him”.
We have discussed above that there was exodus of Biharis even after 1952. In the middle of October 1969, Habib Ansari, President of the Muhdjir Qaumi Majlis requested President Yahya Khan to include the Muhajirs who migrated to East Pakistan before 15th October 1969, into voter list. The major political party in East Pakistan Awami League also supported this. Accordingly the Election Commission accepted the demand of the Muhajirs to be included in the voter list which makes it clear that the Muhajirs, particularly the Urdu-speaking people or more specifically the Biharis were recognized as citizens of Pakistan.
Identity Crisis of the Biharis:
The original concept of the sovereign state of Pakistan in North Eastern India failed to take a concrete shape after partition of India. The very creation of Pakistan and the course of events before and after its creation were an integral part of the historical process contributing to the emergence of Bangladesh and her separate and distinct identity as a nation. Bangladesh appears to be the only country, which was created out of another newly independent country, Pakistan. The ‘reasons of the demise of the United Pakistan were the intention of West Pakistan to regulate social and political life of the citizens of East Pakistan, to exploit them and the neglecting attitude towards the development of East Pakistan. Pakistan was created on the basis of Two-Nation Theory. When it was formed the main consideration was that the majority of the people were Muslims. So all of them should be known as Pakistanis, but they did not consider the cultural and the language differences, which was ultimately an important reason for its disintegration.
Pakistan was created as an ideological homeland for Muslims and the secession of Bangladesh was based on nationalistic grounds as a homeland for Bangalees. Thus the ideological homeland for the Bihari Muslims was Pakistan and Urdu language united them culturally with Pakistan. The Biharis looked upon the new state as a realization of their dreams as well as an opportunity to fulfill their hopes and aspirations. They felt that the break-up of Pakistan would once again result insecurity of life and property as well as submission to the rule of a group which they considered to he inferior. In the earlier chapter, we have seen that for these reasons majority of them were loyal towards Pakistan during the liberation movement and assisted the Pakistani military as they were opposed to the disintegration of the country. So after independence their role in the liberation movement and their loyalty towards Pakistan raised a question about their identity who they are: whether they remained citizens of Pakistan, became citizens of Bangladesh as a successor state of Pakistan, Stranded Pakistanis or Stateless persons. Thus once again the Bihari community plunged into a situation of identity crisis, though on a totally different magnitude. Let us discuss each one of these possibilities of Bihari identity:
Biharis as Citizens of Bangladesh:
Citizenship is a fundamental element of human security as well as it provides individuals with a sense of belonging and identity that entitles them to the protection of the state and provides a legal basis for the exercise of many civil and political rights. People who lack a nationality may face difficulties or find it impossible to engage in a range of activities that citizens take for granted.
We have mentioned in the earlier chapter that after the independence of Bangladesh, according to the laws of Citizenship of Pakistan the Biharis, who were in the territory of East Pakistan, were eligible to become citizens. In that Act we have seen that the Biharis who came from India to East Pakistan following the partition of India and Pakistan with the intention to settle here became citizens of East Pakistan.
When Bangladesh became independent, there were more than one million Biharis or non-locals in the country. At the end of the war 1,07,000 Biharis were exchanged and managed to flee to Pakistan and the rest were given the choice to stay here. More than half of them opted to live in Bangladesh, they were given citizenship and has been assimilated into the main stream of Bangladeshi society. They were given citizenship by the Presidential order of 1972.
Article 2 of the Bangladesh Citizenship (Temporary Provisions) Order (President Order 149 of 1972) provides: ‘‘Notwithstanding anything contained in any other law, on the commencement of this Order, every person shall be deemed to be a citizen of Bangladesh,
I. Who or whose father or grandfather was born in the territories now comprised in Bangladesh and who was a permanent resident of such territories on the 25th day of March. 1971, and continues to be so resident; or,
II. Who was a permanent resident of the territories now comprised in Bangladesh on the 25 day of Mach, 1971, and continues to be so resident and is not otherwise disqualified for being a citizen by or under any law for the time being in force”
A plain reading of these two sub-sections would confirm the entitlement of the Biharis to citizenship of Bangladesh. However Article 2B(l) of the Bangladesh Citizenship (Temporary Provisions) Amendment Ordinance 1978 (Ordinance number 7 of 1978) added that a person shall not qualify to be a citizen of Bangladesh if he owes, affirms or acknowledges, expressly or by conduct, allegiance to a foreign state.
This rule may seemingly strip those Biharis who had expressed their desire to become citizens of Pakistan or had plainly opted for Pakistan, of their right to be citizens of Bangladesh. But thousands of Bangladeshis have, in different times, applied for DV visa of the United States, indicating their intention to migrate and to receive citizenship of, a foreign country if chosen. There is hardly any likelihood that such applications by the citizens would be considered as an expression of allegiance to a foreign country, as has supposedly been done in case of the Biharis vis-a-vis their option to migrate to Pakistan.
Bangladesh as they formed local collaborator troops for assisting the Pakistan Army. But, there is nothing in the President Order No 149 of 1972 which authorized the Government of impugned notification to disqualify a citizen on the ground of collaboration with the Pakistan Occupation Army, So there is no just ground in law of our country for not considering them citizens of Bangladesh.
After the assassination of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the succeeding military Government offered the Biharis full citizenship of Bangladesh. Many rejected this offer as they felt they were not being offered their full rights as citizens and they preferred to remain in the Bihari enclaves. This rejection again brings up the issue of their identity. The question was again posed to them whether they should be considered as citizens of this country as some of them still did not show their allegiance to Bangladesh. Bangladesh Government does not want to consider those Biharis as citizens who are now residing in the camps. So whether they are citizens or not remains a debatable issue.
Experience of the Biharis over the years has led them to realize that there is hardly any further possibility for them to be repatriated to Pakistan. They have been used by the opportunist and political leaders or the leaders of their own community in their narrow interest. At the post liberation time 1,50,000 Biharis opted for Bangladesh, and the others who opted for Pakistan are also putting forth effort to establish their rights and a place in Bangladesh. Particularly the young generation wants to come out from this down hearted situation and overcome the affliction that their community has been going through for the last three decades. While asked regarding the issue of Citizenship, respondents between the age group of 18 to 40 consider themselves as citizens of Bangladesh for being born and brought up here. But some respondents above the age of 50 still consider themselves as citizens of Pakistan.
Eminent lawyer and the former Attorney General for Bangladesh, Hasan Arif stated that Citizenship is a complex issue, but if the Government decides in favor of conferring citizenship on certain category of people, there is no legal bar. So in respect of this matter we can divide the whole Bihari community into three parts and consider their citizenship separately:
1. The young generation, those who want citizenship and claim themselves as citizens of Bangladesh.
2. The older generation i.e. those who opted for Pakistan and who still express their devotion towards Pakistan and want to be repatriated there
3. Those Biharis who opted for Pakistan earlier but now want to become the citizens of Bangladesh.
This portrays the fluid situation as regards the identity of the Biharis at the time of the demise of United Pakistan and emergence of the Peoples Republic of Bangladesh.
Biharis as Stranded Pakistanis:
In our earlier chapter we have seen that the birth of Pakistan in 1947 resulted in the migration of a large number of Muslims to East Pakistan from India. After the break up of Pakistan and the liberation of Bangladesh, these people were stranded in a country in which they did not want to stay because the Biharis could identify themselves more with the West Pakistanis, specially because Urdu is the state language there, and they .have more resemblance to West Pakistan’s culture and way of life. Some of them are still loyal to and claim to be citizens of Pakistan and would like to live in their ‘own’ country. But now they are stranded in an ‘alien’ territory to suffer. They are stranded in a land in which they came to settle, they had to leave their home for generations and move to a new country – a home they had chosen. Unfortunately for them the country they moved into underwent major changes within a short period and the Biharis found that they were no longer being within the territory of their homeland Pakistan.
After 1971 the term ‘Stranded Pakistanis’ actually meant the following three categories of people:
1) The largest were the non-Bengalis, who had opted for Pakistani citizenship at the invitation of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC),
2) The second group comprised the employees of the Central Government of Pakistan working in former East Pakistan and their families, and
3) The third included non-Bengalis of former West Pakistan domicile but temporarily residing in Bangladesh (former East Pakistan).
Following the independence of Bangladesh, 5,00,000 Biharis opted for Pakistan by getting registered with the ICRC with the intention to be repatriated to Pakistan. In light of the various historical facts and developments over the years, this community is referred to differently as Non-Bengalis, non-locals, Biharis, Non-Bangladeshis or Stranded Pakistanis etc.
Presumably, they fall more into the category of Stranded Pakistanis, albeit in a non-technical sense, because of their long-standing dream of repatriation to Pakistan. At least, the community has been found in more comfort with this term.
At the initial stage i.e. before the recognition of Bangladesh by Pakistan, the latter country was very much concerned about the non-Bengalis or the Biharis and showed great sympathy for them who were living in Bangladesh which made the Biharis believe that they will be repatriated soon with the assistance of and to Pakistan. To resolve this problem and to normalize the relationship with Pakistan, in April 1973, a Tripartite Agreement was signed among Bangladesh, India and Pakistan to facilitate simultaneous repatriation involving a three way exchange of prisoners and civilians in all categories involving over half a million people including most of the Pakistani Prisoners of War (POWs) and around .60,000 ‘Stranded Pakistanis’ in Bangladesh who had opted lor Pakistan.
In the basis of the agreement, negotiations began between India and Pakistan and they reached an understanding in July 1973. A final agreement known as the Delhi Agreement was signed between the two countries on 28th August 1973. A massive repatriation program began on l9th September 1973 which continued till April 1974 when the repatriation of the Pakistani Prisoners of War and the stranded Bengalis to their respective destination was completed. When the tripartite India- Bangladesh-Pakistan talks were held in Delhi from the 5th to the 9th April 1974, Bangladesh announced clemency to the alleged war criminals. The Delhi Agreement also stated:
1) The Government of Pakistan agrees initially to receive a substantial number (those who opted for Pakistan) of non-Bengalis from Bangladesh.
2) Thereafter to decide what additional number of persons who may wish to migrate to Pakistan may be permitted to do so.
Pakistan also agreed to take the following three categories of non-Bengalis:
1) Original Pakistanis,
2) Employees of the central Government service, and
3) Members of the divided families.
After signing the 2nd Delhi Agreement between Bangladesh and Pakistan on 9th April, 1974, Pakistan agreed to include another 25,000 persons for repatriation in the name of ‘hardship’ cases. Under the agreement, Pakistan was bound to accept any number of people who fulfilled any or all of the three criteria. But Prime Minister Bhutto of Pakistan was willing to take no more than 1,15,000 out of 4,00,000 who, according to Bangladesh, were eligible for Pakistani citizenship. Bangladesh also intended to explore the probability of securing the financial assistance of some of the affluent West Asian Muslim countries towards the cost of transportation and rehabilitation of 4,00,000 stranded Pakistanis to Pakistan and settle them in collaboration with Pakistan. But Pakistan did not honour her commitment.
Nearly 2,00,000 persons were repatriated to Pakistan in several phases. The ICRC estimated that after the repatriation of this number there were still 3,50,000 to 4,00,000 Biharis in Bangladeshi camps, a figure which was not accepted by Pakistan. Again, there were a substantial number of railway workers who claimed to be Central Government employees, but they were in fact employees of the provincial Government and as such did not qualify for repatriation.
Prime Minister Bhutto of Pakistan visited Dhaka on the invitation of the then Prime Minister Sheikh Mujib on June 27 – 29 in 1974. The visit did not produce any new agreement nor did it improve bilateral relations in any respect. On the question of repatriation of the Biharis, Pakistan was very much Teluctant to accept them. Pakistan was interested only in the Repatriation of 90,000 POWs in exchange for the stranded Bangalees in Pakistan.
After the completion of several phases of repatriation, this piatter still remains an unresolved issue between Bangladesh and Pakistan. Economically, in Pakistan’s view, it put a considerable financial burden on the economy. The political reasons in their view are more formidable.
For these reasons, the constant expectation of repatriation to Pakistan keeps the Biharis believe to be Stranded Pakistanis. The Bihari community, during the first year of post-liberation period, was quite confident that Pakistan would welcome and accept them as their loyal citizens. From this quick and prompt understanding gradually along with the delay of their expected repatriation, they began to call themselves ‘Stranded Pakistanis’. So the term ‘Stranded Pakistanis’ certainly shows that they are Pakistanis i.e. they have not lost their citizenship of Pakistan but are being ‘stranded’ in an alien territory for the time being.
Perhaps the name ‘Stranded Pakistanis’ paved the way for the Government of Bangladesh to shift the entire onus regarding Biharis on Pakistan. But Pakistan deliberately ignores this issue under the cover of many internal crises. Pakistan had officially declared that they were ready to repatriate them only on humanitarian ground and that they are not legally bound to do so but they wanted to settle everything once and for all. In Pakistan’s view, Bangladesh Government wants piecemeal solution. It is, in a sense, a potential instance of failure of Bangladesh Government for they could not put firm pressure on Pakistani Government over the issues of repatriation. As far as Bangladesh is concerned, it has done everything possible on its part. Those who opted for Bangladesh have successfully settled in the country, the Stranded Pakistanis were moved into the camps because they refused citizenship. Since then Bangladesh has been looking after them with its meager resources.
The Bihari Community from a Human Rights Perspective
The Concept of human Dignity and the Present Status of the Biharis:
Human dignity implies the inherent worth of human person and is best reflected by upholding the values and spirits of human freedom and human conscience. Since the birth of the word ‘reason’ distinguished a human with the remainders on earth and labeled a human as rational, the word ‘dignity’ becomes a principal component of human development. The philosophy underlying human dignity is the very entity of human beings. It has become an integrated concept and primary yardstick to study about human beings.
The dictionary term of dignity denotes a quality, an honour, a title, station or distinction, of honour. But this meaning is not applicable for the great masses of mankind or when we talk of the average persons’ dignity. Hence we need to look elsewhere for a purposeful meaning of human dignity.
Emphasizing the inviolability of human dignity in Keshavananda v. State of Kerala, Sikri CJ observed that the basic structure of the Indian Constitution is built on the basic foundation, i.e. the dignity and freedom of the individual. which cannot be destroyed by any form of amendment.
In Minarva Mills Ltd, v. Union of lndia, Chandrachur CJ said that the dignity of the individual could be preserved only through the rights to liberty and equality. In Francis Coralie Mullin v. Administrator, Union Territory of Delhi, the Court observed:
“We think that the right to life includes the right to live with human dignity and all that goes along with it, namely the hare necessaries of life such as adequate nutrition, clothing and shelter over the head and facilities for reading writing and expressing oneself in diverse forms, freely moving about and mixing and commingling with fellow human beings.”
A close scrutiny of the following excerpts leads us to believe that, so as to be a part of the world civilization, which we claim to be, human dignity should he understood at least in the following three senses:
1. The dignity of the individual can only he preserved if his rights to liberty and equality are not infringed, this is the negative aspect of dignity.
2. The word dignity should he identified with the bare necessities of life such as adequate nutrition, clothing, shelter and facilities for education.
3. In a more positive sense, the word dignity includes freedom and equality of all citizens, which are the very essence of democracy. Freedom in the democracy means free participation of everybody in establishing majority vote. And equality means that everybody is granted equal shares in the political process: one man, one vote, no differentiation based on sex, age, family etc.
It then appears to be highly logical that comprehension of the concept of human dignity in the above mentioned connotations guarantees the right to live with human dignity and enables to express oneself in diverse forms.
After the 2nd World War, the question of preserving and protecting human dignity became indispensable and it certainly got the most priority. So, we find that the foremost requisite of ensuring human dignity has been reflected in almost all international instruments which have safeguarded basic human rights. Gradually, it became the core spirit of fundamental national mechanism of many states. Some of the glaring instances of the codification of human dignity concept are mentioned below.
Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR)
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights embodied the hopes and aspirations of mankind. It articulated a new vision of humanity for national and international order where one will be able to find fulfillment of his true self and where every human being will be entitled to share equally in the social, material and political resources of the community. It was designed to ensure the dignity of human being and promote individual freedom with social good. It mentions dignity twice in its preamble and thrice in the articles. The Preamble of UDHR gives recognition to the inherent dignity and to the equal and inalienable rights of every human person. Article 1 mention that all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. Article 22 states, “Everyone as a member of society, has the right to social security and is entitled to realization, through national effort and international co-operation and in accordance with the organization and resources of each state, of the economic, social and cultural rights indispensable for his dignity and the free development of his personality.” This provision of UDIHR is guaranteed for all the members of human family irrespective of their colour, caste, sex, religion or nationality or even if they are not nationals of any state. This Article also mentions about national effort as well as international cooperation and in accordance with the organization and resources of each state. Thus this binds duty upon not only Bangladesh but also upon the international community to take steps to ensure the rights of the Biharis as human beings.
International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR)
Civil and political rights represent basically individual rights against the state and are inalienable and imprescriptibly rights impenetrable to state action. They are rights and freedoms assertable against the state in order to protect the individual against state action which is in violation certain basic norms accepted by the international community as essential to civilized existence. ICCPR too, has mentioned ‘Human Dignity’ twice in its preamble and articles.
The preamble states that, in accordance with the UDHR, the ideal of free human beings enjoying civil and political freedoms and freedom from fear and want can only be achieved if .conditions are created whereby everyone may enjoy his civil and political rights, as well as his economic, social and cultural rights. Here it is mentioned that such rights can be ensured only if such conditions are created. Thus, it is a duty upon the states to create such conditions to ensure those rights.
International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR)
Economic, social and cultural rights are the true embodiments of the basic needs of human life. Unless social, economic and cultural rights are made effective, civil and political rights will have no meaning. The ICESCR has mentioned ‘Human Dignity’ twice in its preamble in identical to the ICCPR language.
So human dignity is asserted as the guiding principle in all these principal International Instruments.
Bangladesh National Instruments:
The Proclamation of Independence
In Bangladesh, the concept of ‘Human Dignity’ is not static but dynamic in the sense that its essential components increase in number and volume with the passage of time keeping in tune with the demands and necessities of the time in question. The Proclamation of Independence ensured equality, human dignity and social justice for all the people in Bangladesh. It refers to human dignity as one of the objectives of our war of independence in 1971.
The Constitution of the Peoples’ Republic of Bangladesh
Human dignity appears to be the cardinal stone in the Constitution of Bangladesh as well. According to Article l1 of the Constitution, we have a democratic model in which fundamental human rights and freedoms along with respect for the dignity and worth of human persons are ensured.
The Status of the Bharis:
The Biharis in Bangladesh (especially the camp-dwellers) are passing their days in a horrible situation. They never enjoy any rights automatically, as they are not considered to be citizens of Bangladesh. Human dignity of the Biharis is being undermined and undervalued. They are being constantly intimidated and as such humiliated in all aspects of their life. Many of their inherent and inalienable rights are being breached; their position in the society is being made increasingly vulnerable.
The moment we found at Bashbari Camp in Saidpur that 10 persons including 2 married couples sharing a bedstead (having original capacity of 3 persons only) and sharing the 10 feet by 8 feet house with the domestic cows and goats and all other belongings, we lost our every wit and idea how to shape human dignity in this situation.
But the dignity of the Biharis has to be upheld. These Bihari people have been living in our country since long before independence, The true information about their prevailing problems relating to political, economic and social status has not yet been fully manifested. In fact, one of the key objects of our research is to highlight these problems and to make them known to the public. We are in fact ignorant of the real condition of these people. We believe that these facts will help grow awareness among people and it is not far away that a united mass effort will play its role to protect the human worth of this large community in Bangladesh.
Denial of Politico-Economic Rights and Humiliation of the Community:
Politico-economic rights are the primary vehicles for the promotion of human well-being and elevate a minimum condition for a dignified human subsistence and existence. The scenario among the Bihari community in Bangladesh is quite deplorable as far as their enjoyment of politico-economic rights is concerned. However, this vulnerability is not that uniform throughout the community. On the basis of politico-economic status of the Biharis, we have divided them into 3 classes:
1. The first class enjoys both political and economic rights. This group commonly consists of the elites among them, the other well-educated Biharis and the ones living outside the camp. However, the colony-dwelling Biharis (like in Dinajpur) in this group, though they are much different from the other Biharis,
2. The second class enjoys economic rights and occasionally, restricted political rights. A small portion of the camp-living Biharis belongs to this class. Some of them are camp leaders and engaged in crafty activities. For example, some of them are holding a house in a camp as well as maintaining a better lodging outside the camp. In Saidpur, Md. Salim who has a permanent residence in Durgamill Camp and holds another house outside the camp. In this way this class is trying to live a dual life with some advantages from both inside and outside the camp.
3. The third and last class is deprived of both political and economic rights. The commoners inside the camps fall in this category. This majority portion of the Biharis in Bangladesh has drawn our attention the most as we made a close-shot study of their grievances and impediments. We have experienced a considerable number of outbursts while we were hearing the unheard. However, many of them are too frustrated and accept as fait accompli what they have been entitled to so far.
In most instances, the Biharis in Bangladesh cannot exercise their politico-economic rights. These rights are being invariably denied or violated. Here follows the series of politico-economic rights denied in relation to the common Biharis as we have found in our field. Findings —
I. The camp-dwellers generally do not have the right to vote. However, in special cases where some of them enjoy voting right, it is manipulated by the main political parties in their fractricidal interests.
II. As they are dealt with as Urdu-Speaking People or Stranded Pakistanis, they hardly have the minimum position of enjoying their personal liberty so far as equality is concerned.
III. They are socially insecured in the sense that, though they may be secured in the camps, they think that people from outside can oppress, suppress and threat them. Violence taking place outside the camp has a strong influence and very bad effect on the camp. They think people can swoop their girls and violently attack them. This very feeling of insecurity is an important factor as regards intimidation and humiliation of the community.
IV. In most cases, they have no right to hold property outside the camps. They were dispossessed from their property after the liberation war in 1971, and afterwards they were prevented from acquiring property.
V. They have no access to employment in the Government services. However, a few of those who were employed in government jobs before 1971 are continuing their jobs after the war as well. Many had to resign from their jobs due to severe humiliation for being Biharis. We have heard of some instances of discrimination against some of them in their previous workplaces.
The main politico-economic rights to life, liberty, security, property and employment are being denied by the State. One naturally gets scared and feels insulted in such a situation of gross denial. Categorically, all their hopes have gone in vain and they are being kept silent and unexposed as far as possible. In Saidpur, about the camp-dwelling Biharis, They (Biharis) do not want to promote their lifestyles, they always confine themselves in own camps and do not mix with the Bangalees. He showed some sort of resentment at the camp-dwellers though he himself is a Bihari (enjoying politico-economic rights), and he has a very easy access to the Biharis in camps and even to their elites and those elsewhere in Saidpur.
In this connection, it cannot be denied beside the actual and constructive components of intimidation on part of the Bangalees, the Bihari commoners sufferings eventually owe to some opportunists inside their own community as well. The camp-dwellers’ well and woe are often misconceived and also wrongly conveyed by the people.
Biharis residing in the camps are one of the most poverty-stricken peoples in Bangladesh. These people have very limited access to formal jobs. Lack of work obstructs them in moving out of camps for better living. Their poverty is deep-rooted, infinitive and multi-faceted. It relates not just to the absence of reliable incomes and productive assets; but also to scarcity of safe water, nutrition, health, education and shelter; to injustice, to lack of power and to continuing daily vulnerability to disaster and disease.
Our field visits have given us an impression that a great portion of the Biharis lives below the poverty line. They do not have any access to adequate sanitation and primary health-care services. Children are not enrolled in primary and secondary schools; poor economic condition is compelling those, who were enrolled, to forgo their studies; so the rate of their literacy is very low. Birth rate is very high and their children are malnourished. Cramped camp life also compromises their privacy. Due to ubiquitous illiteracy and ignorance, dowry and early marriage are common phenomena in their society. Dowry system is also a major cause of violence and poverty, as they usually take loans from NGOs or from other personal sources to meet the money demanded as dowry and thus become poorer. In many cases, parents are unable to give their girls in marriage on time especially for the dowry system. Because of poverty, the Biharis are the most distressed and deprived community in Bangladesh.
The causes of their gross poverty are-
a) Some of them remain in expectation of repatriation to Pakistan which creates dilemma among them so as to preferably confine to daily basis earnings which are irregular to an extent.
b) The Bengalis do not let or encourage the Biharis to enter into other employment due to their long-brought-up discriminatory attitude towards the latters.
c) They are being branded as ‘Stranded Pakistanis’, which paves the way for the government to ignore them in every possible aspect.
d) The worst is that some of their own community-members (well-to-do Biharis) do not facilitate the common Biharis in employment or otherwise. An alleged and probable reason of it is that their own interests in business can be well protected by their good relations with the local Bangalees, and their business enterprises are to some extent dependent on local skills.
e) Lack of opportunities in education is one of the key-factors preventing them from coming out of poverty.
These causes of poverty are indicative enough to conclude that the Biharis’ life in the camps is full of misery, deprivation and destitution. So poverty eradication should be the paramount thrust to promote sustainable human development for them. The prerequisite for eradication of their poverty is to change the Bangatees traditionally fixed attitude towards them. A new mind-setting to such an effect can create an enabling environment for empowerment as well as an easy access to employment. It can also put due impetus to a substantial contribution to alleviation of their poverty. Above all, poverty should be considered by all actors (individual persons, political parties, GOs and NGOs) as the crudest denial of opportunities and choice of human development.
Present Status of the Biharis in Bangladesh
Biharis are not getting jobs, social security, and education etc. like citizens. Md. Hasan, a Bihari youth, thus exclaimed. during an intercommunity dialogue on the Future of the Bihari Youth in Bangladesh in 2000. He alleged that receiving local commissioner’s certificate has been a major problem. Such certificate are needed for getting jobs and for a host of other reasons. He referred a case where a 12-13 years old child could not be admitted in an orphanage due to lack of such a document. So they are not getting minimum social facilities from the state. But they are doing jobs in some cases by changing their camp addresses. Observing such a miserable condition and human rights we think that minimum social welfare should be provided.
The poor condition of education has added much to the grievances of the Bihari community. Most of the Biharis feel that they have no access to basic education even in those exceptional cases when they avail these rights. They also viewed that they are often subjected to different forms of discrimination.
Biharis living in different camps in different parts of Bangladesh cannot avail education. For instance, during our field visit some people told that there are about four hundred school going aged children in the Geneva camp in Mohammadpur. There is only one primary school capable of facilitating about 150 students. That primary school has its own problems such as shortage of books and other facilities. However, an NGO named Social and Economic Enhancement Programme (SEEP) provides for some other students free education up to class three. The rest of the school going aged children does not get this opportunity.
The school authorities show reluctance and at times refuse to admit Bihari students only for the reason of being camp dwellers. Mr. Hasan also claimed “Urdu speaking children are not admitted in the government schools if they use their camp addresses. Therefore, it has become a common trend for the Biharis not to disclose their identity. These school goers have been found to persuade their parents not to visit their school in fear of their identity being disclosed. The discrimination continues even after their admission. They are ignored in the class by the teachers and students. Bangalee students do not behave friendly.
The Bihari community cherishes and aspires to retain its culture and community values. Most of the Bihari families want their children to learn Urdu and religious education in addition to conventional subjects studied in typical Bangla medium schools. As a result they are not satisfied with the curriculum followed by the schools. They want that, besides this curriculum Urdu should be taught. Akbar Ali, 50 years old Bihari of Munshipara Mazar camp in Saidpur argued that Bangalees had sacrificed their lives in 1952 in protecting their mother language, so they should be more positive in protecting the language of the Bihari community.
The Bihari community in general suffers from a deep-rooted sense of instability, social, economic and even identity crisis. As a result they cannot concentrate on securing their economic and social footing resulting in their own reluctance to accessing education. The young generation has their own problems. Most of them are suffering from inherited frustration arising from this instability. They are often found wasting their time with other fellows in playing cards, gambling and gossiping rather than contributing to their families and continuing with their education. They often involve themselves in drug addiction.
During our field visit, we found a different scenario in Adamjee Jute Mill camps. There is an International Islamic Relief Organization (IIRO), which runs a school providing education up to class six. This school is affiliated with Dhaka Education Board where Urdu is a compulsory subject.
But interesting matter is that the Bihari students register themselves as Bangladeshi nationals. As a reason they told that they would like to be citizens of Bangladesh. If they get citizenship they will be able to get national treatment.
Poverty is one of the most dominant factors for the backwardness in education in this community. There are signs of hope, too. The Biharis living outside the camps demonstrate a much positive approach towards education. Their children are regularly going to schools. After completing school, they try to continue their further education up to college level. Also within the camps a very few Biharis showed their commitment and persistence: they attend the college and now looking forward to move even further. The adults do not want to remain illiterate any longer. The adult literacy movement outside the camps is beginning to have its impact on the Biharis also. We have heard a few adults expressing their willingness to be part of the movement; they want to have their children prepared for the time ahead. Abdul Qaium, as the leader of Hatikhana Camp in Saidpur told us that their first demand is to ensure education for their children.
Much of the developments within and outside the Bihari camps definitely ought to be shaped in terms of their socio-economic awareness and activities based on the rights of the child to education. This can be done by the state in accordance with Article 28(1) of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Article 28(1) of the aforesaid Convention reads as under:
“States Parties recognize the right of the child to education and with a view to achieving this right progressively and on the basis of equal opportunities, they shall, in particular:
a) Make primary education compulsory and available free to all;
b) Encourage the development of different forms of secondary education, including general and vocational education, make them available and accessible to every child and take appropriate measures such as the introduction of free education and offering financial assistance in case of need.”
Bangladesh is a party to this convention and has the obligation to follow and fulfill that. The state should secure the right of the child to education, which will be, compulsory and available free to all. In some cases financial assistance should be provided among the children. The core reason is that there are some families who have no money to buy necessary educational materials.
Food and Nutrition:
Once ‘Ruti’ was more popular to the Biharis. But nowadays they eat rice. It has become their main food like the Bangalees. However, a considerable number of families in the camps subsist at a food intake below the required level. The field survey reveals that the majority of the inmates of Mirpur Camp Dhaka and also a considerable people of Geneva camp, Mohammedpur, Dhaka, Bashbari camp and Baluresh camp at. Saidpur lives in extreme poverty. These families often fail to manage two meals in a day. The closure of Adamjee jute mill has left the Bihari families in trouble. Without job and the slightest financial security they are suffering and facing many new problems. Now they are not able to manage two meals in a day.
Since their concentration in camps, there was a monthly relief-distributing program provided by the government of Bangladesh for the sustenance of the Biharis. But now it is postponed for the last nine to ten months in most of the camps for various reasons. The camps in which such program is going on like Adamjee camps in Narayanganj and five out of twenty two camps in Saidpur do not even get the allotted amount. The Government officially allotted 3.23 Kg wheat to each Bihari adult. During our field visit, we came to know that they actually get 2.5 Kg. Corruption among the distributors is also seen. The relief is not regular, either. At times it arrives to the community after 2-3 months delay.
The Biharis have a lack of knowledge about nutrition. This unawareness is manifested in the choice of food they consume. The childbearing women, however, require particular attention. But they do not get the minimum modern facilities of treatment.
Apart from these, the existing camp environment and hygiene practices of its inhabitants keep them constantly vulnerable to threats of diarrhoea, Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STD) and various infections. This has an evident adverse affect on their nutrition status. Lack of access to adequate and hygienic sanitation, high human density and poor health practices contribute equally to the problem of nutrition in this community.
In the Bihari camps sanitation facility is very much poor. During our field study we found access to adequate sanitation to be missing in all the camps. The number of latrines is not sufficient. For example, there are on an average 10 latrines for 20 families where one family consists of more than 15 members. The conditions of these latrines are also not very good as many of them remains out of order throughout the year and hardly any initiatives are taken to repair them. In Dhaka, the Community Centre camp and Mirpur Camp have the worst form of sanitation system in comparison with other camps. Almost all the latrines of these camps were found to be without roofs and doors. Economically better-off families in the camps, however, managed to make latrines of their own attached to their quarters in order to get rid of these problems. During our field study, we found few instances of N.G.O. initiatives to improve the sanitation system of some of the camps but they were not sufficient. NGOs like ‘Concern’ (it works in Saidpur mainly) helped families to build latrines and set up tube-wells.
In Bihari camps, the main source of water is tube well. In Geneva camp at Moahammadpur, water is supplied by Dhaka WASA, while in other camps deep tube well is the main source of water. In some camps we received complaints of scarcity of pure drinking water due to shortage of tube wells For example, in Hatikhana camp at Saidpur there are only 9 tube wells for 400 families. As a result they have to collect water from a long distance. But at present some NGOs like Revival of Islamic Heritage Society (Kuwait), Concern, Rabeta-Al-Islami etc. are helping to mitigate this problem by distributing some tube wells. But, in the Adamjee camps, especially after its closure, severe crisis of pure drinking water was found. This compelled the people to take recourse to the nearby pond resulting in various forms of water-transmitted diseases such as cholera, typhoid, diarrhoea etc an issue that requires immediate attention.
All the camps have electricity supply funded by government through NGOs namely Rabeta-AlAIm Al-Islami, Concern etc.But no camp has gas supply. In Geneva camp the government funds the existing power supply; the management is however run by some local persons selected by the committee. These representatives are responsible fur collecting monthly fees from the inhabitants according to power usage. Unlike this, some of the camps in Mirpur share a different picture: privateindividuals with parent lines from the Power Development Board (PDB) provide power to other individuals within the camps.
In Rangpur Ispahani camp, PDB is maintaining the power distribution system. But we were informed that, only 4 families out of 517 families are the beneficiaries of this system. The rest of the families enjoy the benefit of this system by being a sub-consumer of these four families and have to pay according to their demand. It is to be mentioned that the residents, in most of the camps, use heaters, which keeps the whole camp under risk of accident and puts heavy pressure on the national grid.
Most of the Bihari families are illiterate. They do not have any Concern about the problems of large families. Different NGOs and health care centres run a number of family planning programmes in the Bihari areas. But they failed to improve the situation, because the Contraception Prevalence Rate (CPR) was found to be very low. The reasons are non-cooperation of the Biharis to the family planning programmes, adherence to strong and conservative religious belief and in certain cases husbands’ reluctance to follow contraceptive methods. For instance, in American Camp at Saidpur a father, 35 years of age having six sons and daughters was asked about his large family. He boldly replied that the Almighty is kind enough to feed them. Probably they opt for such a structure to show that, they are such a community not to be disregarded by number.
Maternity Rights and Reproductive Health:
The Bihari community appeared to be mostly unaware and uninformed about the fundamental maternity needs and rights. The Bihari women are unconscious about their vaccination programme before and after giving birth to a child although concerned governmental bodies, namely, ‘SabujChata’, ‘Shurjer Hashi’ and other local authority provide free vaccination. This is widespread and women are largely persuaded to undergo frequent and unexpected pregnancies. The pregnancies cannot be in any way termed as safe as the maternal healthcare issue is mostly overlooked. The nutrition requirements of the childbearing women are often neglected. The ante and post-natal services dedicated to the community are either inadequate or unavailable. The unskilled handling of the delivery instances makes both the mother and the infant vulnerable to reproductive infections.
Yet the most alarming practice is perhaps early marriage leading to risky teen-age pregnancies. This results in fatal incidents like miscarriage, high morbidity and short life expectancy. The women are not able to take decision in their family matters because of the traditional patriarchal society.
Although child rights are important rights of the people but the Bihari community does not seem to be aware of the child rights. A number of child rights are directly or indirectly affected by rampant child labour practices. An alarming number of children are engaged in various forms of child labour. They are in the worst forms of child labour e.g. working in welding factories or tanneries etc. They work mostly in small shops and industries within and around the community. Female children usually remain within the community and engages themselves in family activities, small crafts etc. The wages they receive are obviously very little but to them it is still vital.
The existing community environment is not favourable to the children’s development. The camps are perhaps the worst places for children to grow within, The camps scarcely have any free space for the children’s recreation. They cannot play outside either, as they are not treated properly. Within their homes they do not enjoy the rights of privacy and housing. They share their tiny rooms with family members making the living conditions unhealthy.
It is the liability of the state, according to the our Constitution, to secure the child rights. Article 28(4) of the Constitution reads as under:
“Nothing in this Article shall prevent the state from making special provision in favour of women or children or for the advancement or any backward section of citizens.”
So, this means that State should take reasonable initiatives to secure child rights in applying the above-mentioned constitutional provisions.
It is also reflected in the Article 2 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, l989 (CRC) which reads as under:
1.‘‘State Parties shall respect and ensure the rights set forth in the present convention to each child within their jurisdiction without discrimination of any kind, irrespective of the child’s or his or her parent’s or legal guardian’s race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national, ethnic or social origin, property, disability, birth or other status.
2. State Parties shall take all appropriate measures to secure… family members.”
It is pertinent to note that Bangladesh has ratified the CRC. It can be told that the word shall in the above mentioned Articles has emphasized the responsibility of the State in securing the child rights without any discrimination. So, we can suggest to give priority on the basis of Article 28(4) of our Constitution in upgrading their education, food, shelter, clothing and medical service which are essential for human beings to live a life with dignity.
In this chapter we made an effort to depict the present family condition of the Biharis from a very practical point of view. Biharis living in sixty-six shabby camps since our independence have been ostracized by the so-called civilized society. Their lives, their hopes are in a state of captivity within the camps from which they are unable to think of an outlet, of a better life. Their culture, their language which happened to be their pride at some point of time is at the edge of diminution. The old generation among them who migrated from India to Pakistan ruminate the memories of their past when they were in a far better position. The young generation has nothing to cherish for they have been experiencing the miseries of the camp life since their birth. Time has come that we should venture to emancipate these wretched and be-wildered people from the agony of camp life and bring them to such a position where they can identify themselves as human being, with common wishes and aspirations of a normal life.
Discrimination from the Majority Population:
The Bihari community being one of the minority communities in Bangladesh has numerous problems from to job facilities. As they are a minority community in Bangladesh having no defined legal and political identity, they are discriminated by the majority population. Again, there is discrimination among the Biharis themselves. The Biharis who enjoy voting rights have some extra facilities and opportunities than others and thus they enjoy some extra privileges and the influential Biharis are also dominant over the common Biharis. When the Biharis are discriminated by the majority population, they have no remedy as they do not have any voice in any committees or bodies regulating and controlling their file.
The discrimination from the majority population is fund in various aspects. A large number of Biharis alleged that when they go to particular schools to admit their children then the school authority refuses to admit them, eiven in the Schools, discrimination is made by the teachers. It is alleged that often the teachers neglect the Bihari students. Specific instances of discrimination have been found in different areas, specifically in the field of education, job, and business. In some fields, as mentioned below, discrimination is acute.
Discrimination in the Field of Education:
Right after our independence many Bihari students were expelled from the schools. Role of the Biharis in 1971 was the single largest reason for this. But after more than 30 years they are getting the same treatment from the school authorities. A Bihari resident of football ground camp in Mipur complained that his son was expelled from a local government school for his being a Bihari. Another person complained that his son preferred to go to school for admission with his Bangalee neighbour to conceal his Bihari identity. That saved him from being humiliated by other boys and teachers. If a boy or girl wants to get admitted into a government school they need a certificate on the respective Ward Commissioner. who is found reluctant to issue such a certificate to a Bihari boy or girl and which the Bihari people consider a major obstacle in getting into a government school.
Discrimination in the Job Market:
Though generally no discrimination is made in the job market, isolated incidents of discrimination is not totally out of question. A cook of Geneva camp shared his grief with us: he had set business in the camp Bazaar he does get no work orders from the Bangalee Community unless accompanied by Bengali cooks. Ultimately despite his superior quality, he is compelled to work as an assistant to Bengali cooks and close down his own business.
Discrimination in the Field of Business:
Biharis living in the camps are mostly business oriented. Though they did not complain about any discrimination for being Biharis, but their identity crisis undoubtedly puts them into a difficulty situation. Bihari businessmen face extortion on a larger magnitude than their Bangalee counterparts. They complain of lack or total absence of credit facilities.
Political Identity of the Biharis:
The Bihari community is sharply divided between those in favour of repatriation to Pakistan and those in favour of rehabilitation in Bangladesh. The youth is mostly in favour of rehabilitation in Bangladesh. Comparatively older ones are for the second choice though the denial of repatriation over three decades has created doubts in the mind of the Pro-Pakistan Biharis. Over the years, the Biharis have formed some forums to raise their identity grievances and to devise a settlement of the issue. Among them, SPGRC and the Bangladesh Muhajir Welfare and Development Committee (BMWDC) arc the most popular ones. Nasirn Khan was one of the exponents of keeping up the spirit of repatriation to Pakistan and Ejaz Ahmcd prefers to settle permanently in Bangladesh with full recognition foreseeing little hope of repatriation. But basically they remain busy with collecting money from their own community in the name of either repatriation or rehabilitation and thereby run their personal life comfortably. Another organization named Rabeta-Ai-Alm Al- Islami has already created a 300 million dollar fund for the Biharis repatriation to Pakistan. But the fact is that they have not been repatriated with the help of this fund. Again, another forum named SPYRM comprised of young members prefers to call them Bangladeshi and demands the citizenship of Bangladesh. In fact, the Biharis seem to lack proper leadership to implement the community’s will. So all these forums have proved to be ineffective in resolving their identity crisis.
Bangalee turned Bihari
Md. Shamshed Alam (34 years old at present) was horn of a Bangalee father and a Bihari mother. The family lived in Thakurgaon. After Shamshed’s father was killed in the war of 1971, he and his mother came to Rangpur with his maternal relations and started residing in Ispahani Camp no.3. They have been exercising their right to vote till 1991 when their names were omitted from the new voter list. It is alleged that the omission was based on political considerations. Since then. Shamshed introduces himself as a Bihari, the reason for dropping his name from the list. Shamshed now struggles with a peculiar status and political identity.
At present, identity crisis of the Bihars has become the root cause of humiliation of this community. So long as their identity remains undetermined, their politico-economic rights will he denied again and again.
Irrespective of the bargaining and the negotiation stances of Bangladesh and Pakistan and the claims of the two sides, the basic principle is hat the States are obliged to prevent statelessness, particularly when such statelessness is consequent upon state Succession. Given the long-standing residence of Biharis in Bangladesh and their legal entitlement under the citizenship laws of the country, there does not seem to be much justification in denying the Biharis their citizenship status, if they so desire. The young generations of Bihari Muslims should not suffer for the whimsical dream of their older generation. In the context of repatriation, there has been a shift in the Biharis’ position. A significant number of them would prefer Bangladeshi rationality and settle here. Drawing on from recent developments about reduction of statelessness in the international legal arena, we suggest that, following international Law Commission’s Conclusions both the Governments of Bangladesh and Pakistan should provide a fresh option to the Biharis about repatriation to Pakistan and integration in Bangladesh. Those who would opt for Pakistan should be repatriated and those who would express to be integrated in Bangladesh should be provided with Bangladeshi nationality and all forms of supports in line.
So, in order to create the environment for integration of the Biharis who want to stay in Bangladesh and like camp life. The following are suggested:
a) An effective official body including. Bihari representatives must be set up without delay to tackle the housing, employment and language problems as regards integrating those Biharis who wish to become citizens of Bangladesh.
b) To improve the hygienic and socio-economic scenario in the Bihari camps. The community should be inspired to take initiatives for their own benefit. Food for work programme or other initiatives may be introduced by various NGOs. Such initiatives must have a healthy harvest.
c) The middle range skill possessed by the Biharis like the Benarasi saree workers in Mirpur, jori and saree workers in Geneva Camp, Mohammadpur. lucrative kabab and biriani workers, and also lots of garments workers in Chittagong and in other districts could be of considerable benefit to the Bangladeshi economy and would in fact be mole likely to reduce the number of unemployed Biharis rather than increase it.
d) Sonic of the NGOs like Concern have started schools, income-generating schemes, saving schemes, employment opportunity etc for the Biharis as well in their- own enterprise, other NGOs and international agencies should come forward with some identical offers,
e) They can be rehabilitated by establishing multistoried buildings in the existing camp area.
f) The property which the Biharis have lost during and after 1971 war can be handed over to the real Bihari title-holders, provided that they have the legal documents of the respective properties and under due process of law.
But there are different classes among the Biharis themselves. In our field visits, some of the Bihari respondents have informed us that they do not mind camp life as they are living all together at the same place and share their joys and sorrows. But majority of them have revealed their desire to live a better the where they can materialize their wishes and dreams. They want to come out from this frustrated financial condition and aspire a stable economic, social and political future life. However, they fear to come out of the camp thinking that they will fail to cope up with the Bangalees. But some social aid logistic supports and a tolerant attitude of the local Bangalces may be fruitful to overcome this situation. In some schools of the areas where there are substantial number of Biharis, there may be provision for learning Urdu as an optional subject. Thus they can be encouraged to go to schools as a great number of Biharis do not send their children in schools and manage to teach their children Urdu by giving home tuition. In schools Bihari children will mix with Bangalee ones. Again, their employment should not be subject to discrimination on the ground that they are Biharis. They must be given the opportunity to work with the Bangalees in the same work place. This social interaction will minimize their fear for lack of social acceptability. In this way, those who want to come out of the camp will be treated as citizens of Bangladesh without any hesitation in the long run. The problem of the Biharis should not he considered from the viewpoint of politics, rather a humanitarian and human rights perspective is needed.
Among Biharis who do not want to stay in Bangladesh in any case, giving them citizenship will be a wrong and undesirable solution. For them, Pakistan may bear some responsibility considering their (Biharis’) blind allegiance to Pakistan. During our visit to the Pakistan High Commission, the officials assured us that if the funds necessary for the Biharis repatriation/rehabilitation could be found from outside Pakistan, they will accept the Biharis. So, if any international organization or NGOs manage the Fund, Bangladesh Government or OIC can convince Pakistan to take the Biharis back. But if Pakistan refuses to take them, a third country settlement comes in front of us as a long term solution, if that third country allows them to settle down there. During our field visit in Adamjee Jute Mill Camp, most of the workers told us that they are interested to settle down in the Middle East. So, the Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC) and the Kazi Mahmudur Rahman, Bihari Refugees in Bangladesh: on Way to Integration, South Asian Refugee Watch Journal, Vol. , No. 1, July 1 999, Dhaka, p. 31.
International Organization for Migration (IOM) can convince some third country for their resettlement. OIC is a Muslim country based organization. So, it can negotiate with and convince Muslim Countries. The Biharis being internally dispossessed/displaced can be taken into account by IOM, too. Again, ICRC can also play a role as initially it dealt with the Biharis and look the main initial to ensure their security.
Citizenship Judgement of the High Court:
The decision of the election commission in February 2006, to enable the Biharis living in the settlement as voters can be seen to further confirm citizenship. There are two recent Judgement of the High Court, about the legal status of Biharis. On 19th May the High Court Decisioned that, 300000 Biharis stranded in Bangladesh after the partition of Pakistan, have finally become Bangladeshi citizen over 36 years after the country’s birth. The High Court decision roles order speaking non Bengali Muslims who migrated from different parts of India. On the partition took place in 1947 are now Bangladeshi citizen. The Court also defamed valid the claim of the Urdu Speaking resident known as Biharis eligible to become voters as citizen of Bangladesh.
Now that the question of citizenship of the Biharis is well settled, the question of their rehabilitation comes before us. For purposes of this study rehabilitation can be defined in the following terms: Bihari should be elevated to a position of equality with the mainstream Bangalees by removing the social and legal impediments to it and by taking some affirmative actions in favour of this community for a certain period of time during which their existing privileges a benefits, if any, should not be withdrawn.
Rehabilitation may be viewed from the following two aspects:
Third country solution via International Organization
The Muslim Community of the world can take their responsibility to rehabilitate them. The section of the Biharis who want to go to any third country can be sent thereto, if that other country agrees. International organizations can take initiatives in this regard. OIC can play a key role. They can come forward with financial assistance. International Organizations can play vital role n negotiating with a third country as well as help the Biharis rehabilitate in Bangladesh. IOs can come forward with financial assistance for the Biharis including offering them micro-credit. They can also support them in establishing cottage industry of Benarasi and Jardousi (one kind of embroidery – a heritage of the Indian Sub-continent). which have a very wide market in Bangladesh as well as abroad. The Biharis are the only community in Bangladcsh exceptionally skilled in Jardousi. a very prospective industry. If this industry can he properly supported a large number of Biharis can be economically empowered.
Government can take some initiative to rehabilitate the community in many ways:
• They can be provided with micro credit (specially to the small industry).
• Provide them with employment in formal and non-formal sectors.
• Improve health and hygiene conditions.
• The Government should also involve the NGOs in the implementation of its schemes as regards rehabilitation of the Biharis.
• The state has to take effective measures towards ensuring the Biharis open and indiscriminate access to property and other politico-economic rights so that they get rid of their marginalized condition. It may require taking some affirmative actions on the part of the Government in favour of the Biharis.
The ICRC was the leading actor dealing with the Biharis just after the liberation war of Bangladesh when their life was under a threat. They took the main initiative to ensure their security by concentrating them into various camps in the country. They were also he only body to register the Biharis for repatriation to Pakistan. This registration was irrespective of their categories and without any legal sanction from the Government of Pakistan and Bangladesh which later on turned into a technical lapse. It appears that the ICRC was not are about the complications of repatriation. The camps established by the ICRC in Dhaka were named as Geneva Camp in a state of disorder. The other camps around the country were named as ‘Stranded Pakistanis Camps”. It was necessary to concentrate them into the camps for their safety of life, as there were some incidents of attacks on Biharis. In such a situation the ICRC appeared in the scene giving relief to the Bihari community. The ICRC not only gave them security but also ensured their food and shelter. But all on a sudden the ICRC left them and now it is not dealing with them in any matter. It has wide range of scopes to improve their condition especially in the fields of education, health, sanitation, medical facilities etc.
The Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC) is the largest international forum of Muslim countries. The sole concern of the OIC is to solve the problems within the Islamic countries and to strengthen the Islamic brotherhood. Here it should be mentioned that the first initiative for establishing diplomatic relation between Bangladesh and Pakistan was taken by the OIC. Another agenda of OIC is to solve intra Muslim countries problems. Perhaps it is the only forum where Bangladesh can raise the issue of the Biharis as a problem also involving Pakistan. OIC is not only concerned to strengthen the Muslim brotherhood but also to minimize the poverty and strengthen economic co-operation among the Muslim countries. The OIC is also concerned to reduce the sufferings of Muslims around the world.
Thus, OIC can play a role in dealing with the Biharis. As the problem relating to the Biharis involves basically two countries, Bangladesh and Pakistan, both of which are Islamic; it should be easy for the OIC to bring the parties together to the negotiating table for a permanent solution. The OIC can collect funds towards the cost of repatriation of the Biharis to Pakistan. Again funds may be arranged for rehabilitation of the Biharis intending to settle in Bangladesh.
The International Organization for Migration is another international organization, which has a very significant role to play for the Biharis fortune. The repatriation of the Biharis does not come under the classical definition on of migration in the very strict sense of “migration”. But in today’s world there has been a deviation from the very classical idea of migration. The patterns of migration have changed considerably during the last three decades. The increase in economic, political, and cultural globalization and emerging transitional movement of people has further compounded the already complex migration dynamics.
International Organization for Migration (IOM) can come forward to help the Bihari Community The main purpose of IOM as stated in the Constitution of IOM in Article 1(b) is to concern itself with the organized transfer of internally displaced person. For such transfer IOM will make arrangements between the Organization and the States concerned. Again in Article 2 of the Constitution it is emphasized that In carrying out its function the Organization shall cooperate closely with migrant, refugees and human resources in order, inter alia, to facilitate the co-ordination of international activities in those Fields. Such co-ordination shall he carried out in the mutual respect of the competence of the organizations concerned.
IOM has already extended its activities to cover return of vulnerable groups including internally displaced persons. Though initially the organization concentrated only on transportation, now it provides pre-departure and post-arrival services too. Thus, the issue of the Biharis seems to he covered by the IOM agenda and it can play a very positive role in the resolution of this problem. Though IOM (the name of the organization was International Committee for European Migration) was one of such few organization who helped this community in l97l, they assisted UNIHCR in the resettlement of 1,30,000 Biharis from Bangladesh to Pakistan. Such activeness on IOM’s part was not. witnessed a afterrwards. IOM can revive its initiatives.
In terms of the IOM Constitution, the definition of migrants, although mainly encompassing migrant workers, is somewhat broader:
The term ‘‘Migrant’’ should be understood as covering all cases where the decision to migrate is taken freely by the individual concerned. for reason of personal convenience and without intervention of an external compelling factor.
The definition does not refer to refugees, exiles or people who leave their homes under compulsion. On the other hand, the term ‘migration’ as a descriptive of the process of the movement of people includes movement of refugees, displaced persons, uprooted people as well as labour and economic migrant. Thus in a sense the Bihari community comes under the IOM sphere as they are displaced persons since 1971 from when they are confined in the camps.
Thus we see that IOM has a very important role to play both with the governments of Bangladesh and Pakistan in dealing with the Biharis.
Though it is the UNHCR’s stand that the Biharis are not refugees, if the Biharis want to be repatriated then UNHCR will help them. So UNHCR has a great role to play in this regard. Being a very effective organization of the United Nation UNHCR can strongly pressurize the Government of Pakistan to accept repatriation of the Biharis.
As a humanitarian. non-political organization, UNHCR has two basic and closely related aims – to protect refugees and to seek ways to help them restart their lives in a normal environment. UNHCR can help the Biharis to restart their life in a normal environment.
The organization seeks long-term or durable solutions by helping refugees repatriate to their homeland if conditions warrant, by helping them to integrate in their countries where they are staying or to resettle in third countries. This is the area where UNHCR need to work, this organization can negotiate with both the Governments of Bangladesh and Pakistan for whatever the solution may be but the community needs immediate and quick improvement of their present lot.
However, there are millions of people in similar desperate circumstances but who do not legally qualify as refugees and therefore not eligible for normal relief or protection. Increasingly, UNHCR has provided assistance to some of these groups. So the Bihari community can also be one of such groups, where UNHCR can provide economic assistance or relief.
These communities like Biharis in Bangladesh are in a real critical situation: they have lost their homes, jobs, community and their family members. They need help for their rehabilitation and reintegration in this country. This community can turn into a valuable asset as many of them are very skilled and regarded as important contributors to the national economy. Though UNHCR is
basically concerned with the refugees but in a way the Bihari community can also seek its help on a humanitarian ground, to transform this vulnerable community into a valuable one.
UNHCR should offer its expertise in resettlement process of the Biharis. UNHCR has not been involved with the Biharis because the Biharis are not, strictly speaking, refugees. Yet UNHCR could well serve as the international community instrument for achieving solutions for them. UNHCR has considerable experience helping refugees integrate and repatriate and could undoubtedly play a major role in helping the Biharis in their transition from ‘refugees’ to citizens of Pakistan or Bangladesh.
We have seen the fluid situation of the Biharis. It is only after the recent judicial decision of the High Court (referred earlier) we can strongly argue that the Biharis born after 1971 are full-fledged citizens of Bangladesh. Nevertheless, even as citizens of Bangladesh they may be viewed as special category who need proper support and assistance for effective integration in our society. To this end UNHCR can also play a very vital role, at least for purpose of rehabilitation of the Biharis who have now been clothed with Bangladeshi nationality.
After the independence of Bangladesh, the crisis had been started. But now the problem has been solved. This is very much evident from the citizenship laws and various case laws. But through my research, I have observed that though their status has been changed, their previous condition has not changed. Now they are Bangladeshi but they are not enjoying the rights which are accorded to the Bangladeshi citizens. The Government should take necessary steps to solve the problem according to the status of Biharis as soon as possible.
In this study we have attempted to trace the origin of the so-called “Biharis” in Bangladesh, examine their role in different epoch-making events, their relatively privileged position during the days of United Pakistan, their very explicit anti-liberation role in 1971 and their inhuman plight, primarily in the camps in independent Bangladesh. The fate of this community is unique in history at least in one respect it is a community which twice in a lifetime had to face and combat identity crisis: firstly, with the emergence of British India in 1947 and secondly, with the emergence of Bangladesh in l97l. The consequences of this second identity crisis, as has been shown in the book, have been more inhuman, humiliating and devastating for the community. Neither they themselves, nor do the others have a clear idea on who they are and how they need to be treated, Castration and intimidation that they have been experiencing for whatever reason may be, have stigmatized this community -they arc treated more as “foes” than as ‘friends’ – succeeding generations have been made to pay for the “wrongs” committed by their predecessors. Meanwhile, their human rights have been trampled and violated, their human dignity diminished tot he minimum.
A nation that values self-determination so high and considers promotion of human dignity to be the cardinal principle of national life cannot ignore the plight and sufferings of the Biharis. We have find and interacted with scores of the so-called ‘stranded Pakistanis’ but fond them no different from the Bengalis neither in their attire, behavior nor in their love for Bangladesh. They have suffered a lot in the doldrums of politics. Isn’t it time that their dignity is re-deemed and recognized?
The judicial decision of May 5, 2003, 2006 and 2008 has put an end to all doubts and controversies if any, as regards the nationality of the Biharis. So the onus is now on the part of the government of Bangladesh to liberate the captives of the past and once again demonstrate its sincere commitment to human rights.
However, this does not free India, Pakistan or the international community, especially the international organizations, to play their part in resolving the issue of the ‘stranded Pakistanis’ in Bangladesh. These new citizens of Bangladesh need to be rehabilitated and reintegrated as quickly as possible. Similarly, those not willing to accept the nationality of Bangladesh also need assistance of the international community in finding for them a permanent abode a basic human right of all. It is believed that the ways suggested in the book may offer necessary help in that direction to make an end to the Biharis’ ordeal.
After all of these study I suggest the following matters to the proper authority:
To The Government of Bangladesh:
1. To grant citizenship to Biharis who wish to remain in Bangladesh and develop programs to integrate them into the larger community.
2. To honor the decision of individuals to sign or refuse voter registration.
3. With national, local and international non-governmental organizations, to ensure that each camp has enough basic amenities, including clean water, latrines, and access to schools and medical clinics, to accommodate its population.
4. To develop a strategy to help integrate Biharis who wish to live as citizens, respecting their full rights (i.e., to register the birth of their children, pursue an education, own property, serve in the military, and enter the professions).
To UN Agencies:
1. To assist in securing a resolution of the Biharis’ situation by facilitating an agreement between Pakistan and Bangladesh resulting in citizenship for all in one or both of the countries.
2. To prepare plans and programs for either of these outcomes for part or all of the population of concern.
3. To encourage the government of Bangladesh and the government of Pakistan to improve the health and socio-economic condition of the Biharis in the near term, soliciting the assistance of the UN when necessary.
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