December 16 marks the 38th anniversary of the breakup of Pakistan when the Eastern wing of the country emerged as Bangladesh after an India-backed secessionist movement. The occasion calls for highlighting the plight of about 250,000 so-called Biharis or stranded Pakistanis still languishing in unsanitary camps in Bangladesh.
Who are the so-called Biharis or stranded Pakistanis?
In pre-independence India, the Biharis were an Urdu-speaking Muslim minority in the Hindu dominated province of Bihar. In 1947, at the time of independence or partition, the Biharis moved to what was then East Pakistan. When the civil war broke out in East Pakistan, the Biharis, who consider themselves Pakistani, sided with the Pakistan army.
More than one million Urdu-speaking Biharis (also called stranded Pakistanis) were left behind as the Pakistani army and civilians were evacuated since the East Pakistan became an independent state, Bangladesh. All properties belonging to non-Bengalis were confiscated by the executive order of the interim President of Bangladesh. At the same time, there were summary executions by firing squads, mass decapitations, rape and mutilation. In the wake of revenge killings they fled their homes and sought sanctuary in some 166 Red Cross camps while awaiting repatriation to Pakistan. By the end of 1972 there were over one million displaced persons in these camps, which were so squalid that one UN official declared in desperation that the site he had visited could be described as nothing more than a concentration camp.