Many still consider Pakistan homeland | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, May 27, 2008 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:00 AM, May 27, 2008

HC Verdict on Urdu-speaking People

Many still consider Pakistan homeland

The High Court (HC) verdict of awarding Bangladeshi citizenship to stranded Urdu-speaking people could not settle the long-standing debate as many of them still want to return to Pakistan.
These people, totalling around three lakh, living in different designated housing camps across the country, are now divided into two groups -- one group wants to be rehabilitated in Bangladesh while the other still wants to go back to Pakistan after being deprived of their rights in the last 37 years.
A number of camp residents interviewed by this correspondent appealed to the government to make arrangements for repatriating the willing stranded Pakistanis to their homeland in Pakistan.
They argued that the Urdu speakers would never be able to live in this country with honour as there is no assurance that the ongoing humiliation and discrimination against them would cease to exist in future.
Opponents of this view, on the other hand, say the stranded Urdu speakers, who were born and raised in Bangladesh, have every right to enjoy their birthrights to live like a regular citizen of this country where they would not be forced to live in housing camps.
Accommodations in the camps are so scarce that many families, with even a dozen family members, are being compelled to cram the family members into an eight-by-eight-foot room, said many of them with disappointment.
Abdul Jabbar Khan, president of Stranded Pakistanis General Repatriation Committee (SPGRC), said, "We want a permanent solution. The government of Bangladesh wanted our opinion on the citizenship issue in 1972 and later in 1992. We said that we wanted to go back to Pakistan. Since then, 1.27 lakh people have been repatriated to Pakistan at different times."
"The issue of Stranded Pakistanis involves both Bangladesh and Pakistan. Then how the government [of Bangladesh] would implement the verdict of the High Court without any accord with Pakistan or without considering the opinions of the people whose interests are involved with the decision," he said suggesting that the matter should be resolved at the International Court.
Many camp residents regretted the fact that even after 37 years after the liberation, the governments of Bangladesh and Pakistan did not take any clear and decisive measure to settle their issue of citizenship and their repatriation.
When the government of Bangladesh cannot even provide shelter to a large number of present Bangladeshi citizens who do not have homes, how will it ensure facilities and opportunities for the new citizens, they wondered speculating that awarding Bangladeshi citizenship to the Urdu speakers would only allow the government to evict them from the camps.
"If we, the stranded Pakistanis, get Bangladeshi citizenship, will we get back our properties that we lost during the Liberation War?" questioned a camp resident near Wapda Colony, saying that they would file an appeal against the HC verdict.
A stranded Pakistani living in Morapara camp at Mirpur 12 said, "If our conditions do not change, then what's the point of getting Bangladeshi citizenship?"
Most stranded Pakistanis have been living here since before the Liberation War and after the country was liberated, they have been deprived of various basic rights including education, employment and residency, he said adding that this is the reason why many of them still dream of returning to Pakistan hoping for a better future.
Members of SPGRC said, the HC verdict that was announced on May 18 was given following a writ petition filed by only 11 members of Stranded Pakistanis Youth Rehabilitation Movement (SPYRM) and the verdict by no means reflect the demand of the stranded Pakistani community.
An HC bench comprising Justices Mohammad Abdur Rashid and Ashfaqul Islam on May 18 ruled that about 3 lakh stranded Pakistanis, mostly known as Biharis who live in different camps in the country, are citizens of Bangladesh.
It also directed the Election Commission (EC) to include the petitioners' names in the national voter roll.
Sadakat Khan, president of SPYRM, told The Daily Star, "We had been continuing our movement to be enlisted in the voter roll since 1998. During the period of Awami League and BNP, we sent letters to the EC in this regard. We filed a writ petition with the High Court on November 26 last year as we came to know that we would be deprived of availing 22 services if we are not enlisted in the voter roll or get National ID cards"
According to a survey conducted in 2006 by the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), there are 1.70 lakh Urdu speakers in the camps who are eligible to be voters, he added.
These eligible Urdu speakers should have the right to avail education, government services, business licences, passports, etc., Sadakat said alleging that the members of SPGRC and presidium members of the organisation do not even live in the housing camps meant for stranded Pakistanis.
"They had been living outside the camps like regular Bangladeshi citizens for a long time and whenever the issue of providing citizenship to the residents of 116 camps comes to the forefront, they go against it only to serve their evil interests."
During the Liberation War in 1971, a large number of the Urdu-speaking people living in the country collaborated with occupation forces of Pakistan and participated in genocide against Bangalees. After the independence, many of them failed to return to Pakistan and have been living in 116 designated housing camps across the country.

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