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Human Rights Violation of Biharis in Bangladesh Essay

Statement of the problem :

Bangladesh is an impoverished country of over 160 million people. In its short history as an independent nation, Bangladesh has faced a major civil war, massive internal displacement, famines and frequent natural disasters. In addition, Bangladesh is hosting over 500,000 Biharis and in recent years it recognized the nationality rights of large numbers of Urdu-speaking minority.

About half a million Urdu speaking people known as in Bangladesh as ‘Bihari’ or ‘Stranded Pakistanis’ currently live in 66 camps spread all over the country. They have become a marginally displaced community since 1971. The creation of Bangladesh in 1971 put these people in a stateless situation. Although they are residing in “refugee camps,” the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) does not recognize them as refugees. Therefore, they are deprived of the benefits and opportunities extended to the refugees by the UNHCR. As a consequence, the stranded Biharis in Bangladesh face multiple problems. Despite this recent progress, however, 37 years of non-recognition have left the Biharis living in abject poverty and vulnerable to discrimination.

Human rights violation of stranded Biharis in our country is common scenery. These people are in the museum of exploitation. The Bihari camps are mainly in urban areas and are beset by severe overcrowding, poor sanitation and lack of basic facilities. The slum like conditions in these settlements have worsened over the years as the population has grown. With inadequate provision for clean water, waste disposal and sewage systems, they are chronic hygiene problems. Camp residents face discrimination in the job market and a severe lack of education and health- care facilities hampers community development.

Discrimination and poverty are the key elements that lead to anti social activities They are still denied access to a Bangladeshi passport. No NGOs or UN agencies have taken the initiative to collect comprehensive baseline data from which to develop both short- and long term programmes for the social and economic rehabilitation of this community. In spite of getting citizenship document no changes have been made in the everyday life of camps as well as strategy and the policy of the government seems to be unchanged. What does it mean; are Biharis non citizens in the process of Digital Bangladesh that their national ID card and citizenship documents are not enough to prove them citizen?

As a conscious citizen of Bangladesh and also as a student of Peace and Conflict Studies Department, I am very much interested in this field for doing a fruitful research. Because, I think at present time, this stranded Biharis is a great national concerning issue. If they remain marginal for a long time, our national security might be hampered and they can pose a serious threat to our socio- economic development. So in my research, I would like to focus that their current situation must be improved through the various initiatives of state Government, NGOs and other International Organizations.

1.1 Background of the Study:

The case of the Biharis in Bangladesh is different from other cases of denial of citizenship because the government considered them as a foreign group of individuals that ought to return to Pakistan. In fact Biharis never resided in Pakistan, but originally entered East Pakistan as refugees fleeing India at the time of its accession to independence. Their movement to East Pakistan was due to a desire to escape from communal bloodshed and “to preserve their Islamic way of life”. They also saw Hijrat (migration) as an escape from the possibility of living in a Hindu majority India.

Actually, the history of the Bihari goes back to the partition of India in 1947. During the period of united Pakistan (1947-1971), the Urdu-speaking Biharis were not incorporated with in the society of East Pakistan and remained as a distinct cultural-linguistic group. They generally associated and identified themselves with the West Pakistani society because of their cultural similarity and shared linguistic heritage. They supported the West Pakistani governing leaders in the process of capturing the economic and political power in East Pakistan. The Biharis consequently, enjoyed government patronage and preferential treatment in various sectors of the East Pakistan economy.

Initially the arrival of Biharis and the positive discrimination of the Pakistan Government in terms of refugee rehabilitation were not resented by the Bengalis. But, the positive attitude of the Bengalis towards the Biharis was short-lived. During the Language Movement, the Biharis instead of supporting the Bengalis sided with the West Pakistani ruling elite. Further, in the 1954 provincial elections and in the 1970 general elections, they extended their support to the Muslim League, which symbolized the domination of the West Pakistanis over the Bengalis. They also opposed the Bengalis’ freedom struggle and many of them actively participated in the military actions against the Bengalis in the 1971 Bangladesh Independence War.

The exclusive attitude of the Biharis and their pro-West Pakistani political activities culminated with the growth of an anti-Bihari sentiment among the Bengalis.The Bihari community never assimilated with the local people and maintained alliance with the West Pakistani regime against the interest of the Bengali people. When Bangladesh finally achieved independence, Bihari people wanted to go to West Pakistan, but could not do so immediately due to complication in repatriation process. This situation left them stranded in Bangladesh. They were promised of repatriation to Pakistan, but this promise was never fully materialized.

After the war, thousands of Biharis were willingly deported to Pakistan. The 300,000 who remained in Bangladesh moved into refugee camps set up by the International Red Cross, awaiting flights to Pakistan that never came because of diplomatic wrangling. Today 40 years later the stranded Biharis and their descendents are still living in these camps.

In 2008, a Supreme Court decision recognized their nationality rights. A large percentage of the adults were registered to vote in the 2009 election. But after decades of isolation and discrimination, they are still out from the fundamental rights for which they have been passing their days under sub-human condition in 66 shelter camps in the country. There we see that 94% are illiterate, almost double the national rate. Despite being registered as voters and recognized as citizens, many Urdu speakers still are also unable to obtain government jobs, access credit, get passports or obtain compensation for their property confiscated during the war. They do not have freedom of movement.

1.2 Rationale of the Research:

Study of human rights is considered as one of the interesting and important courses of our Department of Peace and Conflict Studies. On the other hand, various social problems are main discussed phenomena for social researchers. In the context, the inhuman situation of Bihari people which they are experiencing in their daily lives is a matter of serious concern.

There is very little research findings on this field. Some NGOs and individuals have worked on this topic; such as BRAC, RMMRU (Refugee and Migratory Movements Research Unit) etc but it is very poor comparing the importance and intensity of the problems they face. So I believe that my research on this issue will be able to add a holistic and incomparable introduction in the research field. In this regard, I think it is very much important and rationale to identify the root cause, and find solution to their problems of human rights violation.

1.3 Objective of the Study:
The main and broader objective of the study is
* To depict the human rights situation of the stranded Biharis and find out the root causes of various problems faced by them.
Other Objectives:
* To present a realistic solution of the problem regarding both Government and non-Government initiatives and also Biharis’ opinion on solution to their problem.

So this paper tries to explore the socio-economic condition of the Bihari people, the problems they are facing now and their opinion about their resentments.

1.4 Research Question:
The questions of the study are:
* What are the rights, Biharis are yet to get as human being?
* What types of human rights violation they face?
* What initiatives are taken by national and international community for the better improvement of their miserable condition

1.5 Study Area:

Biharis are a minority community who live in 66 camps in different districts of Bangladesh. All these camps are located in the urban areas. Bihari people are Muslims. Maximum Bihari live together at Geneva Camp, Mohammadpur in Dhaka. In Bangladesh Geneva Camp is the biggest place for them. For my study I have chosen Mohammedpur Geneva Camp which is located within Dhaka City Corporation Ward No. 45 in Dhaka city for data collection. I have visited the Geneva Camp to collect data from the residence in that camp. There are nine blocks in Geneva camp, which are alphabetically named. The camp is divided into two parts. Block A and B are located in one part and from block C to block I are in second part. The largest block is “C” and the smallest is “I”. I have visited almost every block for the collection of data and also visited the SPGRC office, the school named shurovi and the al-Falah Clinic.

1.6 Operational Definition of the Study :
Bihari:

Bihari, originally a Hindi word, literally means a person belonging to the Indian State of Bihar. In Bangladesh, ‘Bihari’ is a word usually considerd offensive for a non-local, speaking Urdu. Biharis did not come from the Indian State of Bihar alone. They came from other parts of India as well, and were largely distinguishable by their life-style that bound these people from their former homelands into an identifiable minority group with the commonly spoken and understood language of Urdu. In today’s Bangladesh, Biharis are the descendents of those optees and emigrants, who came to East Bengal after the great divide of India in 1947, many government employees under the British administration, were deputed to places in East Bengal.

Among them, a large number of people came from the province of Bihar to serve in the railways, in the police, judiciaries and other civil departments (Ilias, Ahmed; 2003). The International Convention on Biharis held in Geneva in 1982 referred to them as non-Bangladeshi or stranded Pakistanis. The “Bihari” are such people who opposed the independence of Bangladesh, wanted to go to Pakistan but could not do so due to complication in the repatriation process. (Farzana, 2008).

Stranded Pakistani:

This title was given to the Urdu-speaking community after Bangladesh’s War of Independence in 1971. During the War, many members of this community sided with West Pakistan, and after losing the War they opted for repatriation to what is currently known as Pakistan rather than staying in the newly formed nation of Bangladesh, former East Pakistan. While waiting for repatriation, they were interned in camps. Many never made it to Pakistan, however, and were stranded in the camps. As a result, those who were left behind were labeled as “Stranded Pakistanis”.

Human Rights:

By Human rights, we mean a basic freedom and dignity that every person is entitled to. This entitlement is derived simply from the person’s status as a human being. Human rights are the basic rights and freedoms to which all humans are entitled, often held to include the right to life and liberty, freedom of thought and expression, and equality before the law. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) gives recognition to the inherent dignity and to the equal and inalienable rights of every human.

The 1951 Convention on the Status of Refugees elaborates on Article 14 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which provides that “Everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution.” The Convention was the first in a series of treaties which turned the ideals of the Declaration into legally binding obligations. The language of the Convention is clear and compelling, defining a refugee as someone with a ‘well founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion.”

Refugee:

The term ‘refugee’ is a term of art, that is, a term with a continent verifiable according to principles of general international law. In the legal sense, the Convention Relating to the 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 1 (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 (Malik, Tuhin, 1998). 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;

2) Having lost his nationality he has voluntarily re0acquired it;

3) He has acquired a new nationality, and enjoys the protection of the country of his new nationality;

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 (III), 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; But the UNHCR doesn`t recognize them as refugee. Therefore, they were deprived of the benefits and opportunities extended to the refugees by the UNHCR. As a consequence, the stranded Biharis in Bangladesh faced multiple problems.

Geneva Camp:

After the partition of India and Pakistan the Indian Muslims were entering into Pakistan. Some went to West Pakistan and some went to East Pakistan (Bangladesh). Then about 8 million refugees came here from India and Bihari were 2 million in number. After the liberation war of 1971 they lost their houses.

On 10 March, 1971 the father of the nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman said addressing to nation, “Non-Bengali who live in Bangladesh are the son of this soil. Our supreme responsibility is to save the life and the property of all citizens whether he is Bengali or Non-Bengali.”

The act of January1, 1972 by the government order no.1 and the act of February 28, 1972 made extreme damage to them. They become helpless and shelter less. At that time International Committee for Red Cross (ICRC) came forward and made several camps in different places and brought them in camps for their safety. With this perspective the ICRC s the biggest camp ‘New Geneva Colony’ locally known as ‘Geneva Camp’ was formed at Mohammadpur in Dhaka. Since then a new movement of Bihari’s life starts without having fundamentals rights. The house given to each family by Red Cross was only 8 feet in wide and 8 feet in length. More than 25000 people started living in just only 44000 square feet area.

Human Security:

According to UNDP (1994) report, there are seven specific values of human security, such as economic, food, health, environmental, personal, community, and political security. Economic security refers to an individual’s enjoyment of a basic income, either through gainful employment or from a social safety net. Food security refers to an individual’s access to food via his or her assets, employment, or income. Health security refers to an individual’s freedom from various diseases and debilitating illnesses and his or her access to health care.

Environmental security refers to the integrity of land, air, and water, which make human habitation possible. Personal security refers to an individual’s freedom from crime and violence, especially women and children who are more vulnerable. Community security refers to cultural dignity and to inter-community peace within which an individual lives and grows. Finally, political security refers to protection against human rights violations. The Bihari community in Bangladesh is deprived of all the above-mentioned seven specific values.

1.7 Limitations of the Study :

As this research is a part of academic course so the sample size was small. Therefore, generalization of the findings is not logical. The research is confined only to Geneva Camp due to financial and time constraints. Better information can be achieved if the research could be conducted in other camps too. Due to internal clashes in these camps, the investigators may encounter some difficulties while interviewing.

Non cooperation from the respondents was another problem that the researcher had to suffer most during the period of data collection. I was not behaved cordially and cooperation was not offered from the respondents as they were tired of answering such types of interviews on several occasions. Hearing the fact that the study will solely meet up the academic purposes, they were much unwilling to respondent deliberately.


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