Bihar’s Bengali refugees finally get crucial rights

May 29th, 2009 - 12:24 pm ICT by IANS  

Patna, May 29 (IANS) It has taken nearly six decades for Bihar to provide basic rights to thousands of impoverished Bengali refugees who settled in the state after fleeing the erstwhile East Pakistan at the time of India’s partition.
The government has finally decided to issue caste certificates and ryoti rights (allowing people to purchase land) to Bengali refugees in the four north Bihar districts of East and West Champaran, Sitamarhi and Purnea.

Official sources at the Chief Minister Nitish Kumar’s office said the government had considered the longtime demand of the Bihar Bengali Association.

“The association convinced Nitish Kumar of the problems being faced by Bengali refugees and directed the departments and district magistrates concerned to provide constitutional rights to them,” an official said.

The government’s decision is a big relief to over 300,000 Bengali refugees, most of whom belong to the backward castes.

“It will certainly help Bengali refugees living in the state. Nitish Kumar was shocked to know that thousands of Bengali refugee settlers had been denied basic rights for decades,” Dileep Sinha, president of the association, told IANS.

He along with other members held a high level meeting with Nitish Kumar Wednesday evening.

In the absence of caste certificates, the poor and the poorest among the Bengali refugees were not eligible for welfare schemes and state and central government jobs.

“Nitish Kumar had also asked the association to conduct a socio-economic survey of the Bengali refugee families in the state and submit a report,” Sinha said. “The survey will help the government know their real socio-economic condition and on the basis of that the government is likely to launch special schemes for their development.”

Thousands of Bengalis had fled their native villages as India’s partition resulted in the creation of East Pakistan - modern day Bangladesh - and came to Bihar. According to official records, Bengali refugees settled down in Bihar in the late 1940s and early 1950s.

Jabir Hussain, former Bihar minorities commission chairman, had highlighted their plight in the 1990s and fought for their rights. It was he who drew attention towards the issue of granting Indian citizenship to these refugees in 1993 and succeeded.

The state minorities commission learnt that the issue of citizenship of Bengali refugees was treated as ‘doubtful’ and ‘undecided’ despite their living in the state for decades.

Over a million Bengalis used to live in the state at one time. The community dominated Bihar socially, politically and economically. But after independence, large numbers of the Bengali population migrated to other states.

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