Excerpts from 'Biharis in Bangladesh'
Book by Dr. Mizan ur Rahman, professor in Faculty of Law, Dhaka University, Bangladesh.
 
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.

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 an all aspects of their life. Many of their inherent and inalienable rights are being breached;

“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.”

Tale of Jainab Bibi.

Jainab Bibi is a lady of 65 years of age. She lived in harmony and happiness with her family, consisting of her husband and 5 sons, at Mission Road of Dinajpur until the liberation war in 1971. Her brother-in-law along with his wife resided with them. Jainab’s husband was from a very well-off family having huge property that included homestead and agricultural land in Dinajpur. In 1971, Jainab lost all male members of her family allegedly in the hands of the Bengalis. The two female survivors were dispossessd from their home and agricultural land. After the war, Jainab’s sister-in-law could manage a dwelling place with the help of one of her relatives. But Jainab was left in a distressed situation: no shelter over her head, no source of income, and even no blood relations to stand by. She was drawn to begging from door to door for a living. She sleeps in a small room with thatched roofs, which even had no lavatory. In the dark tiny room, her only company is boundless misery!

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Besides, a very few individual camp-dwellers also have bank accounts in their own names. Shamin Alam(27 years old) who is a proprietor of a barber shop has thee accounts in his own name.

The daily income of a Bihari camp-living family, we can experience in almost every case that the amount varies from 30 to 40 taka (maximum) per day, which is not sufficient for their daily expenditures. They also have no savings.

It is evident in the fact that they suffer from severe malnutrition. They eat the least. Majority of them eat only once a day. They cannot fulfill their basic needs. Some of the girls and women of the camps also work as maidservants in rich families and, as we were told during our field visits, they get only 60-70 taka per month.

Biharis residing in the camps are one of the most poverty stricken people in Bangladesh. Their poverty is deep-rooted, infinitive and multi-faceted.

Birth rate is very high and their children are malnourished. The Biharis are the most distressed and deprived community in Bangladesh.

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Lack of opportunities in education is one of the key-factors preventing them from coming out of poverty. The prerequisites fro eradication of their poverty is to change the Bengalese’ traditionally fixed attitude towards them.

The camp dwellers commonly have no voting rights. But, there are alleged instances of casting fake votes on their parts. There are instances when a newly elected government excludes the common Bihari voters from a new list probably just because their votes have every possibility to be cast for the opposition side. The Biharis at Ispahani Camp #3 in Rangpur, for example, had been exercising their right to vote till 1991. But suddenly the new voter list that year did not include them. Again, a Bihari government employee at Mirpur, Dhaka, had been exercising his voting right since independence of Bangladesh. But after the termination of his job in government service in 1996, his voting right was cancelled.

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.

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The problem of Biharis should not be considered from the view point of politics, rather a humanitarian and human rights prespective is needed.

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 certificates are needed for getting job and a host of other reasons. He referred the case of 12-13 year old child could not be admitted in a orphanage due to lack of such a document.

“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 schools in fear of their identity being disclosed. Discrimination continues even after their admission. They are ignored in the class by the teachers and students.

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The adults do not want to remain illiterate any longer. Abdul Qaium, as the leader of Hathikhana camp in Saidpur told us that their first demand is to ensure education for their children.

It is pertinent to note that Bangladesh has ratified the CRC.

Abandonment by the husbands and divorce are rare among the Biharis.

A large family consisting of ten to twelve members lives in a room of eight by eight feet. At Hathikhana and Munshipara camps of Saidpur, people are living together with domestic birds and animals in one single room in an unhygienic condition. At Ispahani camp, Rangpur, we have seen some people set up tube wells in their eight by ten feet room as there is no place to set them up outside the house. They do their dish and cloth washing, wash their children in the same room where they live. They cook their food in the same room, where they live, thus making the whole environment very suffocating. In this camp, the rooms are built in rows; face to face; with a small pathway between the rows.

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There are several rows in this camp. The rows in which latrines are situated are comparatively cleaner than those in which there are no latrines. Children dispose in the drains in front of their rooms. Adults also dispose there at night where houses are situated far from the latrines. Drains full of dirty things (Human excrement) in front of their houses are just at the distance of one or two feet. One can easily imagine their misery during the rainy days when dirty water of the drains spills over (in to) their houses.

Most of the camp dewellers complain of diarrhea to be a common disease among them.
Cleaners of the city Corporations/municipalities do not enter into the camp. Lack of water and sewerage facilities contribute to conditions in which women can not take adequate care of themselves and their children’s health and hygiene, and thus are faced with various health problems. There is garbage everywhere with a stench in the air. In most camps there is no space to expand

Unique Displacement


Rasulan Bibi, aged eighty three years, is an inhabitant of Balures Camp, Saidpur. She migrated from India fleeing from the communal riots on the eve of partition of British India. Their family settled in Parbitipur. However, after independence of Bangladesh in 1971, she along with others was moved to Belures Camp. In the mean time, her husband died leaving a son and seven unmarried daughters. She struggled but managed to give her daughters in marriage giving a dowry of Tk 9,000 for each. Three of the daughters left for Pakistan in 1974. Since then, she is living with her son and four daughters with their husbands in a single room of 8 feet by 8 feet. Rasulan Bibi makes a desperate effort to guarantee conjugal privacy of her daughters by making partitions with sarees. She condemns herself as she thinks that her mere presence in that tiny room is an intrusion into her daughter’s private life.

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In most houses a bedstead is the only furniture which is hardly enough for eight or nine members of the family to sleep on. While interviewing the camp-dwellers, we came to know that some members sleep on the bedstead, some beneath it and some on the floor besides it.

Nevertheless, in case of any development program, these people are totally neglected.

They were victims of killing, ransacking, gang rape, forced marriage and various other crimes at that time (1971).

Might is Right: At Baroil colony, Dinajpur, Shamim Ahmed, a Bengalee, has a rice mill adjacent to the cultivable land belonging to one Arman, a Bihari resident of the same colony. Shamim Ahmed intended to expand his rice-mill for which he needed some extra land. He cast his eyes on Arman’s land. The market value of that land is Tk 2,500,000. But Shamim Ahmed induced Arman to sell it at a nominal price of Tk 200,000 only. When Jasim, another Bihari resident of the same colony came to know this, he demanded of Shamim to pay the market price for the land. A meeting was arranged to settle the transaction but Shamim resorted to intimidation. The meeting was abandoned. After a few days, Shamim began encroaching on Arman’s land. When the latter protested, Shamim threatened to evict him by force. At this point, Jasim along with a few other sympathizers stood in Shamim’s way.

Being furious at the audacity of a Bihari, Shamim filed a false case of extortion against Jasim. After three months of imprisonment, Jasim is now on bail and the case is still pending. Arman lost the last piece of land he had owned since long.

A report was published in the daily Prothom Alo on June 7, 2001 that City Corporation smashed with bulldozer 84 shops, 1 madrasa and 25 houses in Geneva Camp situated at Mirpur.on the 29th of April without giving any prior notice. This unlawful and inhuman eviction was committed in spite of 6 months injunction imposed by the High Court Division. There were also incidences of looting at the time of eviction, but the administration did not take any action in this respect.

Biharis are reluctant to acknowledge any incident of trafficking. We have found some cases which are similar to that of trafficking. At Chamra Godown Camp, Saidpur, one girl, Parveen, was taken to Pakistan by some people in the camp some ten years ago. But her relatives in Pakistan do not know her present whereabouts. These people are telling Parven’s sister that they have given her in marriage in Pakistan but are refusing to give her address. This raises doubts as to whether Parveen ever reached her destination or became a victim of trafficking.

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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 beings with common wishes and aspirations of a normal life.

Right after our independence many Bihari students were expelled from the schools. Role of the Biharis was the single largest reason for this. But after more than 30 years they are getting the same treatment from the school authorities. Another person complained that his son preferred to go to school for admission with his Bengalee neighbour to conceal his Bihari identity. That saved him (the son) from being humiliated by other boys and teachers.

Bihari businessmen face extortion of a larger magnitude than their Bengalee counterparts. They complain of lack or total absence of credit facilities.

 

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