Pakistani Bengalis (Urdu: پاکستانی بنگالی ) are Pakistani citizens who migrated from East Bengal or East Pakistan prior to 1971, or illegal immigrants who migrated from Bangladesh after 1971. Most Pakistani Bengalis, are bilingual speaking both Urdu and Bengali, and are mainly settled in Karachi.
The founding members of the Pakistani Bengali community were early migrants from East Bengal who arrived in Sind during the early 20th century. This community of early Bengali settlers assimilated into Pakistani culture and adopted Urdu or became bilingual Bengali speakers.
After Pakistan's independence in 1947, a large influx of Bengalis arrived in Karachi from East Pakistan to West Pakistan. In 1971, some Bengalis opted to return to the newly independent Bangladesh while others opted to remain in Pakistan.
Thousands of illegal Bangladeshi immigrants arrived in Pakistan in the 1980s, while Bangladesh was battling extreme poverty. By 1995, continuous migration of Bangladeshis crossed the 2,500,000 mark. During the administration of Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, some top advisers became concerned with the large Bangladeshi migrant population, afraid they could become the second largest group in Karachi after Urdu-speaking Muhajir people and disturb sensitive demographics. Accordingly, Bhutto ordered a crackdown and deportation on Bangladeshi immigrants. Benazir Bhutto's action strained and created tensions in Bangladesh–Pakistan relations, with Khaleda Zia, who was in power in Dhaka during the time, refusing to accept the deportees and reportedly sending two planeloads back towards Pakistan and Muslim political parties in Pakistan criticising Bhutto and dubbing the crackdown as anti-Islamic. She was ultimately forced to abandon the order.
According to Shaikh Muhammad Feroze, chairman of the Pakistani Bengali Action Committee, over 200 settlements of Bengali-speaking people exist in Pakistan (mainly in Sindh) of which 132 are in Karachi while other smaller communities exist in Thatta, Badin, Hyderabad, Tando Adam and Lahore. There are numerous Bengali colonies in Karachi, often called "Mini Bangladesh" (or East Pakistan Colony in memorandum), such as Machar Colony, Musa Colony and Chittagong Colony. Colorful Bengali signboards, Bhashani caps, lungis and kurtas are often seen in these areas of Karachi and remains unique. The Chittagong Colony has a bazaar, which is famous throughout Pakistan as the center for Dhaka cloth. In more recent times, the Bengali population has seen a decline as the perilous journey from Bangladesh has been fraught with danger and tense borders. Furthermore, given the tense ethnic rivalries and lack of social welcome in Pakistan Bengalis have now been traveling elsewhere.
Shaikh Muhammad Feroze, the chairman of the committee, said during a press conference on Friday that political parties and the government should acknowledge the sacrifices of their ancestors. 'We live in Sindh and feel proud to be called Sindhis rather than Bengalis. We appeal to Sindhi nationalists and Sindhis to help us in our struggle,' he added. He said that Bengali-speaking people were not given educational rights as they did not possess national identity cards. 'Our children can’t get an education after matriculation because colleges ask for the identity cards but the National Database Registration Authority has never accepted us as Pakistani citizens.' Shaikh said that over three million Bengalis and Biharis were grateful to the government for accepting them as Pakistani citizens. 'We postponed a hunger strike planned for March 25 after the government made decisions,' he added. 'We can go on a hunger strike, if our rights are not given.' He claimed that there were 200 settlements of Bengali-speaking people across the country, including 132 in Karachi. They populate different parts of Pakistan, including Thatta, Badin, Hyderabad, Tando Adam and Lahore.