The Bihari People in Bangladesh

The Bihari are spread out across a wide area, with this unique ethnic group found in West Bengal, Pakistan, North India, Maharashtra and Bangladesh. They have a rich history and spread out to various destinations in search of work, working in rubber plantations and in sugar cane fields in countries such as South Africa, Surinam, Fiji and Trinidad and Tobago. In 1947 the partition of India took place and a large number of Islamic Bihari people moved to East Bengal, which eventually became Bangladesh.

If the mythological stories of the Bihari people are true, the group originated from one of the five children of Queen Sudeshna, referred to as Bihar. Magadha, which is the ancient name for Bihar, was known as a pre-Aryans stronghold, and many opposed the emperor and Brahmanical culture. In all the confusion, two religions came to the forefront, namely Buddhism and Jainism. The Maurya Empire in India rose out of Magadha, with the ruler Ashoka being viewed as one of the greatest leaders who lived.

After moving to East Bengal in 1947, the Biharis settled into the province that was next to the Bihar Province of India. Unfortunately, their settled life was disrupted by the war between East Pakistan, now Bangladesh, and West Pakistan. They decided to take the part of West Pakistan and after Bangladesh won its independence in 1971, the Bihari found themselves deserted as the Pakistani army left them behind. They felt unwelcome in both countries, as the Bangladesh side held it against the Bihari people for taking Pakistan’s side and Pakistan did not want the Bihari to swarm them after their troops evacuated from Bangladesh. They were also unable to return to India, leaving the Bihari’s stateless.

After thirty-three years there are still displaced Bihari’s living in Bangladesh in small camps scattered across the country. Some have been able to get citizenship in Bangladesh, while others wait patiently, and a small number have immigrated to Pakistan. In 2008 a court ruling found that a large number were eligible to become Bangladesh citizens and get voting privileges. The Bihari have their own unique culture and traditions, such as traditional meals that include rotis, boiled rice dishes, maize and mustard oil being a main cooking ingredient.