Stranded Pakistanis in Bangladesh

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Stranded Pakistanis in Bangladesh
উদ্বাস্তু পাকিস্তানি
محصور پاکستانی
Total population
Regions with significant populations
Urdu, Bengali and Bihari languages
Related ethnic groups
Other Indo-Aryan peoples

Stranded Pakistanis in Bangladesh (Urdu: محصور پاکستانی, mahsūr pākistānī, Bengali: উদ্বাস্তু পাকিস্তানি, romanizedudbāstu pākistāni) are Urdu-speaking Muslim migrants with homelands in present-day Bihar (then part of British India) who settled in East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) following the partition of India in 1947.[4][5][6][7][2][8]

This identification can encompass several groups of people. The first among them are Bihari Muslims. Although most of this population belonged to the Bihar Province of British India, there are many from other Indian states such as U.P. (United Provinces or later Uttar Pradesh). There are still others who had settled in what is now known as Bangladesh in the late 19th century. The second term of reference for this group coined by themselves after the creation of Bangladesh is "Stranded Pakistanis". In Urdu media in Pakistan and elsewhere this was translated as "Mehsooreen" or the "Besieged".[citation needed] Henceforth any of the above terms may be used to identify this group depending on the context and history.

Biharis were stateless until 2008 when a judgment by the Dhaka High Court gave them right to Bangladeshi citizenship. The judgment does not cover refugees who were adults at the time of Bangladesh Liberation War.[1] In March 2015, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Pakistan said that more than 170,000 Biharis had been repatriated to Pakistan and the remaining 'stranded Pakistanis' are not its responsibility but rather the responsibility of Bangladesh.[3]


In pre-independence British India, there was an Urdu-speaking Muslim minority in the Hindu majority state of Bihar.[9] In 1947, at the time of partition of India, many Bihari Muslims, many of whom were fleeing the violence that took place during partition, fled to the newly independent East Pakistan, while others went to West Pakistan where they are commonly known as Muhajirs. They held a disproportionate number of positions in the new country because Urdu was made the national language of the new state and as such was, for many Biharis, their mother tongue.[2]

Independence of Bangladesh[edit]

In 1971, when the Bangladesh Liberation War broke out between West Pakistan and East Pakistan, the Biharis sided with West Pakistan, opposed the Bengali demand of making Bengali an official language, and chose to maintain Urdu as the state language as for many Bihari, it was their mother tongue. With covert and later overt Indian support, including massive financial assistance, East Pakistan became the independent state of Bangladesh. During the war, there were many attacks on the Bihari community as they were seen as symbols of West Pakistani domination.[10][11] These attacks included rape, murder, and looting.[12][13]

Refugee crisis[edit]

Due to their initial pro-Pakistan stance, the Biharis were consistent in their wish to be repatriated to Pakistan. Initially, 83,000 Biharis (58,000 former civil servants and military personnel), members of divided families and 25,000 hardship cases were evacuated to Pakistan. The remaining Biharis were now left behind as the Pakistan Army and Pakistani civilians evacuated, and they found themselves unwelcome in both countries. The Pakistani government, at the time, was "struggling to accommodate thousands of Afghan refugees".[14] Additionally, the Pakistani government believed that since Bangladesh was still the successor state of East Pakistan, it had to fulfil its duty in absorbing these refugees just as (West) Pakistan did with the many millions of refugees (incidentally, including some Bengalis) who fled to West Pakistan. Some groups in Pakistan have urged the Pakistan government to accept the Biharis, which is also a key talking point of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement.[15][16]

In an agreement in 1974 Pakistan accepted 170,000 Bihari refugees; however, the repatriation process subsequently stalled.[17]

Post-independence Bangladesh scorned the Biharis for supporting the Pakistan Army. With neither country offering citizenship, the Biharis were stateless. Organisations like Refugees International urged the governments of Pakistan and Bangladesh to "grant citizenship to the hundreds of thousands of people who remain without effective nationality".[18]

In 2006 a report estimated between 240,000 and 300,000 Biharis lived in 66 crowded camps in Dhaka and 13 other regions across Bangladesh.[19] In 2003, a case came before a high court in which ten Biharis were awarded citizenship according to the court's interpretation of the constitution. Subsequently, however, little progress was made in expanding that ruling to others. Many Pakistanis and international observers believe the plight of the Biharis has been politicized with political parties giving the refugees false hopes and impracticable expectations. In recent years, several court rulings in Bangladesh have awarded citizenship to Biharis living in Bengali refugee camps, as the majority of these refugees were born there. International observers believe that Bangladesh, as the successor state needs to fulfil its international obligations and grant citizenship to this officially stateless ethnic group or arrange for the peaceful repatriation to their native state of Bihar, over the border in India from where they originally hail from.

In a visit to Bangladesh in 2002 Pakistani president Pervez Musharraf said while he had every sympathy for the plight of thousands of people in Bangladesh known as 'stranded Pakistanis', he could not allow them to emigrate to Pakistan as Pakistan was in no position to absorb such a large number of refugees.[14] He encouraged his Bengali counterpart not to politicize the issue and accept the refugees as citizens being the successor state of East Pakistan. Pakistani government officials have threatened to deport the more than 1.5 million illegal Bengali refugees living in its country if the issue is not resolved acceptably.[14]

Bangladeshi citizenship[edit]

In May 2003 a High Court ruling in Bangladesh allowed ten Biharis to obtain citizenship and voting rights;[20] the ruling also exposed a generation gap amongst Biharis, with younger Biharis tending to be "elated" with the ruling but with many older people "despair[ing] at the enthusiasm" of the younger generation.[21] Many Biharis now seek greater civil rights and citizenship in Bangladesh.[22]

In popular culture[edit]

  • Of Martyrs and Marigolds, a novel by Aquila Ismail, highlights the atrocities committed by Bengali nationalists against Biharis during the Bangladesh Liberation War.[23]
  • In 2007, prominent Bangladeshi filmmaker Tanvir Mokammel made a documentary film titled The Promised Land.[24] The film highlights the current stateless status of Biharis and their despair of not being able to settle in Pakistan., which they see as a betrayal of Pak government.[25]
  • Salman Rushdie's acclaimed fiction novel Midnight Children details the atrocities of the Bangladesh Liberation War and Genocide, specifically in the beginning of Book 3; his protagonist Saleem Sinai takes a farcical part in Operation Searchlight as a human bloodhound.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "Citizenship for Bihari refugees". BBC News. 19 May 2008. Retrieved 26 April 2015.
  2. ^ a b c "SC rejects plea regarding repatriation of stranded Pakistanis in Bangladesh". The Express Tribune. 31 March 2015. Retrieved 26 April 2015.
  3. ^ a b "Stranded Pakistanis in Bangladesh not Pakistan's responsibility, FO tells SC". The Express Tribune. 30 March 2015. Retrieved 26 April 2015.
  4. ^ "Stranded Pakistanis Dreaming of Deliverance". The New York Times. 13 May 2000. Retrieved 26 April 2015.
  5. ^ "Vote for 'stranded Pakistanis'". BBC News. 6 May 2003. Retrieved 26 April 2015.
  6. ^ "'Stranded Pakistanis' living in camps in Bangladesh – in pictures". The Guardian. 11 August 2014. Retrieved 26 April 2015.
  7. ^ "SC rejects plea for repatriation of stranded Pakistanis". Dawn. 1 April 2015. Retrieved 26 April 2015.
  8. ^ "Repatriation of stranded Pakistanis". Daily Sun. Dhaka. 22 February 2015. Retrieved 26 April 2015.
  9. ^ Bangladesh: Stateless Biharis Grasp for a Resolution and Their Rights - Refugees international Archived 21 March 2007 at the Wayback Machine
  10. ^ Chronology for Biharis in Bangladesh - Minorities at Risk, University of Maryland Archived 2 June 2010 at the Wayback Machine
  11. ^ Rangan, Kasturi (22 December 1971). "Bengalis Hunt Down Biharis, Who Aided Foe". The New York Times. Retrieved 2 February 2018.
  12. ^ "The Untold Stories of the Independence War in Bangladesh". Retrieved 20 March 2022.
  13. ^ Khan, Engr Imtiaz Alam (15 December 2019). "HISTORY: THE FALL OF DHAKA FROM BIHARI EYES". DAWN.COM. Retrieved 20 March 2022.
  14. ^ a b c "Musharraf wraps up Bangladesh visit". 31 July 2002. Archived from the original on 4 May 2004. Retrieved 16 March 2019. The president said while he had every sympathy for the plight of thousands of people in Bangladesh known as 'stranded Pakistanis', he could not allow them to emigrate to Pakistan. The president said he would do everything possible to resolve the issue, but at the moment, Pakistan is still struggling to accommodate thousands of Afghan refugees.
  15. ^ PRC Wants Urgent Steps for Biharis’ Repatriation - Arab News
  16. ^ MQM demands issuance of CNICs to Biharis-2004 : Dawn
  17. ^ Bangladesh State and the Refugee Phenomenon : South Asian forum for Human Rights - The Bihari Refugees
  18. ^ Citizens of Nowhere: The Stateless Biharis of Bangladesh - Refugees International 2006 report Archived 14 June 2007 at the Wayback Machine
  19. ^ Refugees International (see below)
  20. ^ Vote for 'stranded Pakistanis' - BBC News 6 May 2003
  21. ^ Mixed feelings over Bihari ruling - BBC News 28 May 2003
  22. ^ Bangladesh: Stateless Biharis Grasp for a Resolution and Their Rights -Refugees International Archived 21 March 2007 at the Wayback Machine
  23. ^ Zehra, Batool (26 February 2012). "The other side of history". The Express Tribune. Retrieved 30 December 2015.
  24. ^ ""The Promised Land": Tanvir Mokammel's moving documentary on Biharis". The Daily Star. 30 November 2007. Retrieved 29 April 2019.
  25. ^ "Swapnabhumi". The International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam. Retrieved 17 December 2015.

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