Stateless people – Dr Ramesh Kumar

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Every year on December 16, Pakistani citizens mourn the tragic separation of East Pakistan. Historically, the Pakistan Movement gained momentum after the 23rd March, 1940 jalsa in Lahore, under the dynamic leadership of Quaid-e-Azam. It is an undeniable fact that many Muslims, including Bihari Muslims, as well as non-Muslims like Jogandra Nath Mandal were active supporters of the Pakistan Movement. They believed that civic, social and religious freedom could be enjoyed in a Muslim-majority country.

The population of Bihari Muslims in their own native province was not more than 10 percent. However, they managed to secure 34 seats for the Muslim League during the 1946 elections. They were well aware that their province would not become part of Pakistan but they stood with Quaid-e-Azam in a hope of a better future.

On the occasion of Independence, Biharis preferred to migrate towards East Pakistan. Because they came from educated backgrounds, they were appointed on key posts to run state affairs. The announcement to adopt Urdu as the national language made the majority Bengali population panic and they started to protest. However, Biharis welcomed the decision wholeheartedly.

The martial law imposed by Gen Ayub Khan resulted in further widening the gulf between ethnic Bengalis and ethnic Biharis. During the 1970 national elections, the majority of Bengalis supported the Sheikh Mujibur Rehman-led Awami League, while Biharis were supporters of the Muslim League Convention and the Jamaat-e-Islami since they wanted to keep West and East Pakistan together. Soon thereafter the Mukti Bahini came into being. In reaction, Al-Badar and Al-Shams were established.

After the creation of Bangladesh, all those Biharis who had once contributed to development of Pakistan were forcibly confined to refugee camps. Pakistani flags were raised on their camps to declare them foreign refugees. Even today, they are spending their lives below the poverty line due to lack of opportunities and nationality. They are being harassed by using various tactics. Reportedly, many young girls are also trafficked to Kolkata.

Despite all miseries and exploitations, Bihari refugees used to celebrate Pakistani national days and other events. But it is also a bitter fact that after spending five decades in refugee camps, Biharis are now becoming hopeless and depressed. The new generation of Biharis is convincing their elders to adopt Bangladeshi nationality, but their love for Pakistan is an unforgivable crime in the eyes of the Bangladesh regime.

In the past, the issue of resettlement of Biharis in current Pakistani territory has also faced violent resistance from nationalist elements. In Sindh, the concern has been that the presence of Biharis in Karachi would increase the Urdu-speaking vote bank. Similarly, other provinces have no interest over the issue of these stateless Biharis.

In my view, the patriotic Bihari community decided to live in Pakistan on the assurance of Quaid-e-Azam. Sadly, he passed away just one year after Independence but today we all have to keep struggling to fulfil his promises. We must never forget our oppressed Bihari brothers and sisters who are in a miserable condition for the last 49 years just due to their love and support to Pakistan. Today, with the cooperation of the United Nations and the international community, we must urge Bangladesh to find a sustainable solution to resolve the Bihari issue on humanitarian grounds.

The writer is a member of the National Assembly and patron-in-chief of the Pakistan Hindu Council.

Twitter: @RVankwani