Bihari groups demand voting right as citizens
Speakers at a community consultation demanded voting rights and national identity cards for the camp based Urdu speaking community in Bangladesh. They observed that the 160,000 Urdu speaking people languishing in 116 settlements in different parts of the country are citizens of Bangladesh and should enjoy all basic rights including that of voting.
The consultation on Voter List and National ID Card: Inclusion of Camp Based Urdu-speaking Community was held at the National Press Club in the city on Tuesday. The programme was organised by the Refugee and Migratory Movements Research Unit (RMMRU) of Dhaka University under the aegis of the Development Research Centre on Migration, Globalisation and Poverty. It was moderated by Dr. C. R. Abrar, Professor at the Dept. of International Relations, University of Dhaka and Coordinator, RMMRU and was attended by representatives of nine camp based Bihari organisations including those from Mymensingh, Syedpur, Khulna and Chittagong.
In his introductory statement, Dr. Abrar observed that a growing number of the younger generation of the camp dwelling Biharis now consider themselves to be Bangladeshis and their eligibility under the laws of citizenship of Bangladesh has been further cemented by pronouncements of the higher judiciary in their favour. He regretted that in practice, however, very little has changed and effective citizenship rights have never been realised. Dr. Abrar noted that if the members of the community are not included in the national identity card scheme, they will miss out from whatever little livelihood opportunities that exist for them now.
Ahmed Ilias, Executive Director, Al-Falah Bangladesh, an NGO working for the social and economic rehabilitation of the Urdu speaking people in Bangladesh stated that the National Election Commission should take note of the High Court's judgement and take necessary steps to enroll camp dwellers as voters.
Md. Ashraful Huq Babu of Shamsul Haque Foundation said that if any Urdu speaking person does not want to stay in Bangladesh, that person has every right to go any other country of his/her choice but it would not affect the right of other members of that community to get enrolled in the voter list as citizens.
Mohammad Hasan of Association of Young Generation of Urdu-Speaking Community stated that the non-inclusion in the national identity card scheme will have serious humanitarian repercussions for the community.
Shahid Ali Bablu and Sadaqat Khan of Stranded Pakistani Youth Rehabilitation Movement lauded the effort of the current caretaker government in ensuring the voting right of the indigenous people, residents of enclaves and members of diaspora groups. They urged that the government should consider according voting rights to the camp based Bihari community in the same spirit.
Mohammad Moshtaque of Bihari Welfare Mission drew attention to the fact that ICRC form that Biharis had filled up in the early 1970s did not accord right to repatriation to Pakistan and that the final acceptance of option rested with respective governments.
Among others, Ejaz Ahmed Siddiqui of Bangladesh Mohajir Welfare and Development Centre, M. Firoz Khan of Anjuman-e-Ittehad, Mymensingh, S. M. Salim of Al-Hera, Khulna, M. Z. Azam, of Bangladesh Non-local Welfare and Development Organisation, Chittagong and Mohammad Khaled of AYGUSC spoke on the occasion.