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Political Otherness of the Bihari Community in Bangladesh

Mowsume Bhattacharjee, Junpeng Li

Jagannath University (Bangladesh), Central China Normal University (China)

The Bihari community in Bangladesh, consisting of de facto stateless individuals, has long been excluded politically, socially, and economically. This article explores the nature of the political otherness of the Bihari people, who have been the victims of divisive politics. The Bihari people are deprived of a series of fundamental rights, including citizenship status, voting rights, political representation, access to government facilities, freedom to participate in elections as a candidate, as well as access to passports, banking accounts, and insurance. This article investigates how political factors have contributed to the historical and contemporary forms of othering of the Bihari community. Based on six months’ fieldwork in three Bihari camps in Dhaka—Geneva Camp (Mohammadpur), Murapara Bihari Camp (Mirpur), and Kurmitola Bihari Camp (Mirpur), we inquire into the nature of such political otherness. Building on the theoretical insights from Robert Park, W. E. B. Du Bois, and Ruth Levitas, we identify the reasons underlying statelessness and explain the otherness of the Bihari community. Survey and interview data are collected from primary sources, supplemented with data from published and unpublished sources. We find that the Bihari people have neither political power nor access to political participation at the local or national level as electoral candidates due to their identity, residential location, lack of active citizenship status, and limited access to voting rights. Moreover, the Bihari identity and residence in Bihari camps are the principal obstacles to access to a passport, government services, bank accounts, and insurance facilities. This article concludes that the people of the Bihari community in Bangladesh are the victims of severe political exclusion, and such exclusion is responsible for the “otherness” of the Bihari people.



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