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Stranded Pakistanis in Bangladesh

The Stranded Pakistanis are Urdu-speaking Muslim migrants with homelands in present-day India and Pakistan who settled in East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) following the partition of India in 1947.

This identification can encompass several groups of people. First among them is "Biharis". Although most of this population belonged to State of Bihar in 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 creation of Bangladesh is "Stranded Pakistanis". In Urdu media in Pakistan and elsewhere this was translated as "Mehsooreen" or the "Besieged". Another common term is "Non-Bengalis", which includes not only the Urdu-speaking but also Punjabis, Pathans and Baloch living in Bangladesh. 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 judgement by the Dhaka High Court gave them right of citizenship. The judgement does not cover refugees who were adults at the time of Bangladesh Liberation War. In March 2015, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Pakistan said that more than 170,000 Biharis had been repatriated back to Pakistan and the remaining 'stranded Pakistanis’ are not its responsibility but rather the responsibility of Bangladesh.


During the reign of British India, there was an Urdu-speaking Muslim minority in the Hindu majority state of Bihar. There was extensive violence between Hindus, Sikhs and Muslims in 1946 which killed 5,000-10,000 people and injured around 15,000.  After the independence of Pakistan in 1947, the Bihari Muslims, many of whom were fleeing the violence that took place during independence, fled to East Pakistan.

The Indian Muslim leader Muhammad Ali Jinnah said on killings of Muslim, "I am really proud of the Bihar Moslems who sacrificed so much. Their sacrifices will not go in vain. They have brought the Pakistan goal nearer and have shown readiness to make any sacrifice for its attainment." Jinnah urged educated and skilled Bihari Muslims, especially railway workers, to relocate to East Pakistan and assist in the construction and running of the new country. 

The Urdu-speaking in Bangladesh arrived in several waves. Immediately after creation of Pakistan there were no restrictions on movement of population across the Indo-Pakistan border for several years. Persons who remained in Pakistan (East or West) of their own free will or moved to these territories became Pakistanis. Pakistan's Citizenship Act (1951) and Citizenship Regulations (1953) defined matters relating to citizenship of Pakistan. Urdu-speakers in East Pakistan were citizens of Pakistan either by naturalization, birth or ancestry.

According to the census of 1962, the number of Urdu-speakers permanently living in East Pakistan had swelled to about 500,000. The Urdu-speakers identified themselves more with West Pakistan, where Urdu is more widely spoken.

For many years after creation of Pakistan, West Pakistanis dominated the executive and the military. The leadership of the All India Muslim League moved to West Pakistan and Karachi was declared the capital of the new state. The headquarters of the Armed Forces were also located in West Pakistan. They held a disproportionate number of positions in this region of the new country, because the Pakistani government made Urdu (which was the mother tongue of many Biharis), the only official national language of the new state. This led to much resentment from the native Bengalis, the majority in East Pakistan, who had to acquire a new language and many were feeling themselves at a disadvantage on their own soil.

Independence of Bangladesh 

In 1971, the Bangladesh Liberation War broke out between Bengali guerrillas and the Pakistani government. Not sharing the ethno-linguistic heritage of the Bengali people, who formed an overwhelming majority in the eastern wing, the Biharis sided with the Pakistani side and opposed the Bengali peoples' agitation for independence from Pakistan, viewing the Bengali struggle as an illegitimate rebellion. During the nine-month-long Bangladesh Liberation War they were active as local collaborators of Pakistan Army and made lots of armed groups like Razakars, Al-Badr and Al-Shams. These groups are held responsible for conducting mass killing campaigns against Bengali nationalists, civilians, religious and ethnic minorities (known as the 1971 Bangladesh genocide). With covert and later overt support from India, East Pakistan became the independent state of Bangladesh. During the war, the Bengalis made "many attacks on the Bihari community as they were seen as symbols of Pakistani domination." 

Their opposition to Bangladesh Liberation War, support for the Pakistani army and participation in pro-Pakistani militias, led to considerable hostility and retaliation from the Bengalis, and became stranded after the independence of Bangladesh and were relocated to refugee camps, where their descendants have been born. They have since appealed the Pakistani government for the right to settle in Pakistan. Their petition has only met with marginal support from the Pakistani authorities, who have allowed only a small number of the "Stranded Pakistanis" to settle in Pakistan.

In 2003 a Bangladesh high court ruled that 10 Biharis were entitled to citizenship and voting rights. In 2008 the High Court in Dhaka ruled that 150,000 Biharis, who were minors at the time of the war, could be given citizenship in Bangladesh and voting rights. This is also to be extended to those Bihari born since the war, giving them a path to citizenship rights in Bangladesh at last.

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