The Biharis in Bangladesh
The predicament of the Bihari community in Bangladesh contains some of the ingredients of classical tragedy. Although there is still time to work out a solution, there seems a frightening atmosphere of inevitability about the festering situation in which they are poised, together with a danger that the Biharis’ own pessimism may prove to be a self-fulfilling prophecy. If a disaster occurs, the world cannot claim it has not received advance warning. Remedial action, however, is yet possible; and the total number involved is far smaller than that of the refugees from Bengal during the war. Pakistan, India and Bangladesh all share the responsibility to find a constructive outcome, though international assistance can help to bring this about.
Mahatma Gandhi, who did all he could to stop the earlier communal slaughter in Bihar at the time of Partition, declared that civilisation is to be judged by its treatment of minorities. The tragedy of the Biharis is that no country is anxious to have the remaining ones who have not yet been settled. Their dilemma is compounded by their lack of any political leverage or allies. Their only hope is by appealing to humanitarian concerns. Twice over an attacked minority which supported the losing side, the Biharis’ own morale is now so low that they themselves are making little effort to solve their problems. Some of them have greeted outside visitors with the request “Give us poison”. Nevertheless, many Biharis have middle-class skills which, once they come to terms with their changed situation and the present bitterness fades, could enable them to play useful parts in society. Indeed, in this respect – as also in their knowledge of how to seek international sympathy – they are better placed than many other minorities in the world.
Please note that the terminology in the fields of minority rights and indigenous peoples’ rights has changed over time. MRG strives to reflect these changes as well as respect the right to self-identification on the part of minorities and indigenous peoples. At the same time, after over 50 years’ work, we know that our archive is of considerable interest to activists and researchers. Therefore, we make available as much of our back catalogue as possible, while being aware that the language used may not reflect current thinking on these issues.