MULTAN - Abdul Majeed Warsi, the youngest of his three brothers, is the only one of his siblings who survived the Khulna massacre in March 1971.
He was of 15 years when the mutiny erupted in the then East Pakistan, known as Bangladesh. Although he had future plans, the war turned his life upside down, depriving him of everything from the family to the land he lived on.
“The armed men of Mukti Bahini attacked the residential areas of West Pakistanis and Biharis in Chittagong, Jessore, Khulna and other areas, massacred them and threw the bodies into nearby rivers,” stated Mr Warsi, now in his late 50s, while recalling the ordeal.
“Our ordeal began in 1971 and it still goes on despite lapse of over four decades. For us, local land mafia and Housing Department are no less than Mukti Bahini. Bengalis rendered us homeless, these Pakistanis are denying us ownership rights of our houses too,” he lamented.
Giving further details, he stated, the first batch of Biharis was brought to Pakistan from Bangladesh under an agreement in 1974 and they were resettled in different areas of the country. “We had nothing when we came to Pakistan. When our ship docked at Karachi the local authorities questioned us about what we left in Bangladesh. Though we answered the question very honestly, we got nothing,” he lamented.
About 170,000 Biharis have so far been brought back to Pakistan from Bangladesh while about 200,000 more are still there. Those, who were repatriated from Bangladesh, were resettled in different areas of the country. In Punjab, the government set up Bihari Colonies in Multan, Mian Channu, Khanewal, Chichawatni, Sahiwal, Muzaffargarh, Chakwal, Attock, Ahmad Pur East, Dera Ghazi Khan, Sialkot and Faisalabad.
Although the repatriated Biharis were allotted 3.5-marla houses in these colonies, the majority of the allottees or occupants have not been given ownership rights as yet. The Biharis are also faced with many other problems like unemployment, poverty, lack of basic facilities like sewerage and water supply at their colonies. Instead of giving up, the Biharis have joined the political course to successfully face these challenges and they are famous for their active participation in political process. For instance, at least three Biharis were elected as vice chairmen from Multan, Gujranwala and Lahore as well as six councillors Bahawalpur, Sahiwal, Attock and Lahore in recent local government election.
Sheikh Imran Ali, a young Bihari, who got elected as Vice Chairman from UC-13 Multan, said that it was not just the issue of ownership rights which haunted the Biharis since long, there were many others too. “Majority of the Bihari Colonies are deprived of all basic facilities as they were established at places away from main cities. The Chakwal, Attock, Mian Channu and Ahmad Pur East are its big example,” he pointed out. He said that 150 houses were constructed at Mian Channu colony and all were still vacant.
Pinpointing other issues, he said, the Bihari Colonies in Dera Ghazi Khan, Sialkot, Ahmad Pur East, Sheikhupura and Faisalabad were still without sewerage system. “They have open drainage system which is causing contamination of drinking water and serious health issues. The decades old decaying water supply lines are submerged in sewerage channels at many spots,” he added.
“When the houses were allotted, the allottees were asked to sign a paper and get the ownership. However, the paper was not ownership letter but a loan form of House Building Finance Corporation (HBFC),” he stated. He added that all those signed the paper, were told that the HBFC had released loan for the construction of their house and now they would have to repay this loan.
Nazarul Islam, another member of Bihari community, said the Biharis remained in camps for 26 months in Qasimpur Colony of Multan after being brought back to Pakistan in 1974. “We got houses after a long struggle. But the poor management and corrupt practices of the officials of Housing Department have deprived us of our ownership rights,” he said.
He said that in some cases wrong names of the allottees were mentioned in papers while in other cases people other than the actual allottees were in occupation of the flats. He said that the Housing officials made different demands like evidence of migration, parents’ identification and bribe. “It’s a criminal nexus consisted of Biharis’ so called leaders, who only obliged their blue-eyed persons, politicians, officials of DCO office and Housing Department,” he pointed out. He said very a few people succeeded in getting ownership rights while majority was deprived of its legal right.
Another Bihari Abdus Salaam pointed out that about 200,000 Biharis were still stranded in Bangladesh and the government should make an effort to bring them back. “If we can host five million Afghanis, who brought a number of complications with them, why can’t we bring those back, who migrated twice for Pakistan,” he added.
Faseehuddin said on the occasion that the slogan of Pakistan was raised by a Bihari Maulvi Fazal Haq while Pakistani flag was also hoisted by a Bihari for the first time. “We migrated twice, first when Pakistan was created and second when the debacle of Dhaka took place. Despite two migrations, we are still homeless,” he lamented.
Abdul Salaam lamented that the government left the Biharis stranded in Bangladesh. “Why can’t we host just a few thousand Biharis if we can host five million Afghans for decades?” he raised a question. He regretted that the Biharis were living in camps in Bangladesh and the living conditions were the worst.
Young Bihari Nazarul Islam raised an important issue, claiming the NADRA officials demanded migration proof if they applied for a new NIC or wanted to get the existing one renewed. “The Biharis living in Karachi, Gujranwala and Lahore are facing this issue. Although majority of the Biharis have computerised NICs, but they face this issue when they go to NADRA office for their renewal,” he added.
Another youth namely Ismael pointed out that the majority of the Bihari youngsters were jobless. “We have at least one graduate or post graduate in each home. Our boys and girls are studying at colleges and universities but they don’t get jobs after passing out. It’s a serious issue which should be addressed at the earliest,” he lamented.