Bangladesh fails to register its Urdu-speaking citizens as voters

August 16th, 2008 - 12:29 pm ICT by IANS  

Dhaka, Aug 16 (IANS) Urdu-speaking non-Bengali citizens of Bangladesh will not be able to vote in the December parliamentary polls as the Election Commission has closed its voters’ list without enrolling them, despite a court order. “No step was taken to enrol them,” the New Age newspaper said after the poll body wrapped up its exercise Friday.

After years of litigation and petitioning various authorities, a high court order in May granted citizenship to about 160,000 people living in 161 make-shift camps across the country.

These people are called ‘Biharis’ in Bangladesh, since they or their forefathers migrated from India’s Bihar state at the time of India’s partition in 1947.

The violent separation from Pakistan in 1971, emergence of Bangladesh and many of these residents’ insistence that they be repatriated to Pakistan made them “stranded Pakistanis” in the new nation.

After years of negotiations between the two governments, Pakistan took in about 100,000 people.

An estimated 300,000 people have been under the supervision of the International Committee of Red Cross (ICRC) for over 36 years now and their plight has been commented upon by human rights bodies.

In its verdict delivered May 18, the High Court said the Urdu-speaking people who had been living in Bangladesh since independence and had expressed allegiance to its sovereignty were citizens of the country and entitled to be enrolled as voters.

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