This was contributed by Narayan Ukil, the IndiaFacts reporter from Bangladesh.
The title of this article clearly indicates that the rights and existence of Hindus in Bangladesh are at risk. The real situation in Bangladesh is now known to all of us. The overall situation prevailing in Bangladesh since the general election on October 1, 2001 and January 5 of 2013 is now exposed to the national and international media and to the civilized societies around the world.In the backdrop of such a situation, a big question mark has appeared on the horizon on whether Hindus will be able to continue living in Bangladesh enjoying their rights as citizens.
The current problem will be critically analyzed, and suggestions will be made to resolve this problem
What really happened?
The coalition of the BNP (Bangladesh Nationalist Party, a party with pro-Islamic and anti-freedom tendencies. BNP apparently has no political or ethical ideology and the Jamaat (Jamaat-e-Islam, the real Islamic fundamentalist party) celebrated their win by harassing, torturing, killing, raping the Hindus and looting and setting their properties on fire on a scale, which the country has never witnessed so far. This heinous attack was also targeted against AL (Awami League, the pro-independence party) supporters who lost the election. However the degree and extent of atrocities toward the Hindus are beyond imagination.
The most awful was the current government, whose solemn duty is to protect its people regardless of who voted for it or not. Unfortunately, that’s the understanding of our great national leaders about democracy and these are the people who will be making or changing laws for the country sitting in the national parliament. Even the Home Minister, despite admitting ‘some incidents’ occurred at ‘personal levels’, had, in a wholesale manner termed the press reports of repression on Hindus as exaggerated, unfounded and purposive propaganda against the government.
Reason(s) behind the attack
Ironically, the key reason (rather the “excuse”) behind this attack is the perceived allegiance of Hindus to AL, which has a non-communal, non-discriminatory and tolerant approach to all religious communities in the country. It has been alleged that Hindus never vote for other parties such as BNP or Jamaat. Hence, those parties think that Hindus are no more required in the political game of the country. Rather, the strength of AL as the major and oldest party will be shrunk if its bona fide supporters (i.e, Hindus – being approximately 9% of total population) are eliminated or kicked out from the country. Apart from the political gain, those political miscreants are making personal gains by taking forceful and illegal possessions of the properties belong to Hindus.
Effect of the atrocities
Thousands of Hindus have been killed, families destroyed and their belongings have been snatched away by BNP and Jamaat supporters, even by their elected MPs. Tens of thousands of Hindu families who’ve owned the land for generations have left behind all their movable and immovable properties and fled to neighboring India just to save their lives. Still hundreds of Hindu families are leaving the country every day and arriving in India with empty hands and relying on the pity of the Indian government. Yet the rest are staying back just by bearing primitive tortures of the attackers who are being patronised and indemnified by the ruling government.
Despite numerous national and international appeals (Amnesty International, Human Rights Commission etc), atrocities are still being perpetrated and the attackers are changing their techniques (for example, personal threats, intimidation, ransom and so on). This raises a serious existential concern for Hindus in Bangladesh. While we discuss the problem, the proportion of the Hindu population is dropping sharply and those who still remain, face a more risky and challenging future.
In fact this is the third major attack on Hindus since the overthrow of the first government (AL) in power in independent Bangladesh in 1975. The government of the day was headed by the then president Bangobondhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, who was mercilessly assassinated along with all his family members.
The military dictator, the shameless and self-proclaimed president Hussein M Ershad started communal riots for the first time in 1990 to gain political advantage. Thereafter, the BNP government led by Begum Khaleda Zia did the same after it came to power in 1991.
The communal conflict is not a new phenomenon in Bangladesh. It dates back to a century. Islamic fundamentalists have been instigating unprovoked riots since the time of an undivided Bengal. In 1946, when Muslim League was demanding a separate land for Muslims, its leader Khaja Nazimuddin instigated riots with the war cry of “…our action is not against the Indian government but against the Hindus…” In excess of 1.5 million people was killed in those fierce riots. The riot reoccurred in 1965 during the Indo-Pak war.
Probably the dirtiest manifestation of communal hatred by the Islamic fundamentalists was in 1971, during the liberation war of Bangladesh. The empty-headed Pakistani mullahs backed by the like-minded army spread a misconception that they were the “real Muslims”, but their brothers in Bangladesh (the then East Pakistan) were influenced and misguided by Hindus both in Bangladesh and India. So, they started crusading against those Hindus as well as the misguided Muslims and unleashed one of the bloodiest genocides in history. However, Bangladesh fought against them heroically and achieved its independence after sacrificing three million precious lives.
A quick note for the reader (for those not familiar with the history of Bangladesh) is that those Bangladeshi collaborators (called “the Rajakars” – its popular meaning is “the betrayers”) of 1971 war, enthusiastically and voluntarily formed strong-armed brigades to help Pak army kill, loot, rape, abduct their fellow citizens in Bangladesh. They, the Jamaat -e-Islam are today the main coalition block for the present BNP government. Moments after the winning of election, those criminals and perpetrators resumed the dirty task, which they couldn’t finish in 1971.
Riots and violence have dramatically changed the demographic composition in the Indian subcontinent. The following figures obtained from an independent survey show the changes in Hindu population:
Year Bangladesh Pakistan
1941 Appr. 30% Appr. 25%
1948 Appr. 25% Appr. 17%
1991 Appr. 10% Appr. 1.5%
2001 Appr. 8.5% Not available
2014 Appr . 5.5% Not available
You don’t need to be a Constitutional expert or conduct an extensive research to prove that the constitution of Bangladesh has granted equal rights to its citizenry. While it does so, regardless of their race or religion, the current discriminatory, state-sponsored attacks violating the birth rights of its citizens raises the biggest question before the government of the day.
The supreme law of Bangladesh, its constitution, is based on four principles namely, ‘absolute trust and faith in the almighty Allah’ (initially this was ‘secularism’, which was amended by the succeeding pro-Islamic government), ‘nationalism’, ‘democracy’ and ‘socialism – meaning economic and social justice’. It clearly says that the fundamental aim of the state is to realise a society in which the rule of law, fundamental human rights and freedom, equality and justice will be ensured.
Article 2A of the Constitution clearly states “…all religions may be practiced in peace and harmony in the Republic.” Part III, Article 27 affirms that “…all citizens are equal before the law and are entitled to equal protection of law…” Article 36 provides that “…every person has the right to move freely throughout Bangladesh, to reside and settle in any place in Bangladesh…”
Provisions as an Islamic state
In June 1988, the Ershad Government amended the Constitution declaring Islam as official religion. Regardless of his motivation for doing so, if we assume Bangladesh is truly an Islamic state then the nation’s views and actions must be guided by the teachings and directions of the Quran and the Hadis. We note that the rights of practicing other religions were also reiterated with this amendment.
The Quran says, “… let there be no hostility except against those who practice oppression…” [2/al-Bakara/193]. The Hadis says “…whoever persecuted a non-Muslim, usurped his rights or took work from him beyond his capacity, or took something from him with evil intentions, I shall be a complainant against him on the Day of Resurrection.” [Sunan Abu Dawood, vol 2, No. 3046].
These are only a few among hundreds of such teachings and directives.
If this is supposedly the case, why should Hindus and other minorities be killed, tortured and pushed out of their own country? Why they should be deprived of staying on in their homeland exercising their full birth right and enjoy a normal peaceful life like Muslims?
The answer will be “yes, they can and they should”. However, this common sense answer will occur to you only if you don’t belong to that bull-headed transgressor fundamentalist community. But the reality is not “what it should be” but rather, just the opposite. And the situation has aggravated to such an extent that it has now become imperative to do something about it.
Clearly there are two alternatives: Stay or Leave. Let’s examine the second one first.
Leaving the country
For the sake of argument, if we assume that the Hindus have to leave their country, then what would be their immigrating destination? Definitely India. Obviously, this has to be agreed and arranged by both the countries. Now what if India doesn’t agree to accept this bulk of population? And why India would do so? Currently no such agreement exists between the two countries in this regard.
Furthermore, this is absolutely an internal problem of Bangladesh, which has to be solved by them without involving its neighbours.
If we go back to history for a flash and look at Afghanistan, Pakistan and other Islamic countries, we see that social unrests are engulfing all of them. Racial hatred is rampant in these countries. If all other religions are wiped out from Bangladesh and only Muslims live here, wouldn’t be it worse than Afghanistan? Who can guarantee it won’t?
Again, let’s make another utopian assumption: mutual talks between Bangladesh and India start toward exchanging population. Remember, these countries will never do this mistake again, if they have any sense to learn from history—recall the bloody history of the Partition. The main leader and advocate of Pakistan, M A Jinnah, admitted within months of partition that creating a separate country on the basis of religion was his biggest political mistake.
The recent influx of Hindus from Bangladesh, who ran away only with their lives, has already created enough heated debate in Indian politics. And while attending the SAARC summit in Kathmandu on 4 Jan 2002, the Indian Prime Minister asked his Bangladeshi counterpart to take necessary actions to stop this violence. This in fact meant: stop migrations to India. But now the Narendra Modi-led government has shown concern for the Bangladeshi Hindus who are migrating to India seeking asylum.
However, it is worth pondering that that in West Bengal, there is supposedly a secular rule by Mamata Banerjee. In reality she has brazenly cultivated the Muslim vote bank and has shown extreme antipathy towards the Bangladeshi Hindus who’ve taken shelter in her state. Bangladeshi Hindus who lost everything and migrated to West Bengal do not get any recognition from the West Bengal government nor do get ration cards and other basic civil facilities. Mamata Banerjee’s claim is that the Hindus who come from Bangladesh never will support the Muslim-loving Trinamul Congress and if the Bengali Hindu migrants get all facilities, they will support the BJP because they were tortured by the Muslims of Bangladesh.
Stay and fight it out
What else can Hindus do? Let’s put it this way: would they be better off being helpless refugees in a different country? The whole generation will lose their establishments, inheritance, dignity, morale and courage and return to Zero.
Let’s raise another question: If a community can’t encounter and fight back the odds in a given situation, what guarantees are there that they will do the same in a different situation? Even if they can, they may be threatened by another or different type of problems.
In a brainstorming discussion on this issue, one participant came up with an idea that a geographic boundary (for example, a district) be allocated solely for Hindus. Needless to say that the proposal had no merit. Citizens in a country can never be separated and relocated in such a way.
The consideration to stay might sound very tough to some members of the Hindu community, especially to those who have lost a lot and families are devastated. However rest assured, the other option is tougher.
Fight The Battle
Akin to winning a battle, the task we are setting ourselves for is definitely challenging. There are so many issues to address, matters to accomplish, opinions to confront and resistance to overcome. Of these, two things must be tackled on priority. We have to ensure: (a) a consensus on the action programs to be undertaken and (b) programs are carried out, campaigns are made effectively and consistently.
Diagnose the weaknesses and problems
The Macro picture
Since the first elected government was ousted in 1975, Bangladesh has gone through massive political turmoil. There was no democratic or representative government until 1991. Unfortunately, the following two governments, although fairly elected, failed to produce a healthy, sustainable democracy. Still our Parliament House remains as the main architectural piece of attraction rather than a decisive venue for politics and governance.
In every sphere of our society, including the national institutions, legal and constitutional bodies, and public offices have completely failed to live up to popular expectations and uphold high democratic standards. Rampant corruption, inefficiency, lack of discipline and accountability have been the characteristics of our services and institutions. Among the thousands you can name, the most dangerous is the abuse of the law enforcement agencies and interference in matters of the judiciary. Bribing has fuelled this and has become cancerous to the society.
Like other developed nations, Bangladesh has abundant constitutional provisions and statutory laws to guarantee the freedom of its institutions and rights of the citizen. Sadly these are abused or defied every day by millions and a culture of non-abiding of laws has developed in our society.
The micro picture: Repression of Hindus
In the last four decades, human rights abuses against Hindus and other minorities in Bangladesh have largely gone unreported or strictly censored by the ruling government. That peculiarly invented so-called “Bangladeshi Nationalism” has failed to accommodate the minorities with propriety.
The continuance of the Enemy Property (Custodian and Registration) Order II of 1965 of the then East Pakistan Government, albeit under a new name for about thirty years in independent Bangladesh, testifies to the deplorable trend. The infamous Vested Property Act was repealed only last year, after a long time. Perhaps, the AL government wanted to merely express, before they lost power, their gratitude to Hindus for their loyalty.
Repressive laws like Section 54 of the Code of Criminal Procedure that allows police to arrest individuals without warrant or a magistrate’s permission are presently being used more frequently toward Hindus to harass, intimidate and abduct.
Finally, the sense of insecurity and helplessness has crippled the Hindu community for the last half a century. On no occasion have Hindus unified themselves and resisted the evil in the past. This has instigated the communal demons and perpetrators to intimidate, harass and exploit us.
If you review the recent communal violence, you wouldn’t see any, except from some non-communal, generous intellectuals and personalities, effective and timely resistance from any political or social group. Regrettably, no initiatives were taken from AL, which was highly disappointing.
In no aspect the Hindus are inferior or undermined in the common laws. Then why they are they treated like this? Hindus can fight back, regain the lost regime and prove that we can do something about it, instead of fleeing to India.
To make an honourable living for Hindus in Bangladesh, Hindu must first change their own attitudes and then the others to let them think that they are in no way weaker or vulnerable. A number of issues have to be discussed both in the national and international arena.
At the national level
First of all, an effective and fully representative committee for Hindus should be formed that can raise the voices of all concerned. Combined with leaders, intellectuals, professionals, cultural groups and peace-loving citizens of other community leaders, a concerted effort should be made to create mass awareness about the rights of minorities.
Outlining the conditions and requirements for a peaceful, tolerant, just and harmonious society, the forum can put forward some specific demands before the government. They can be as follows:
1) reinstate and enforce constitutional rights for every citizen in the state
2) legislative measures that introduce higher maximum penalties for racially motivated crimes, regardless of the offender’s position or status
3) establishment of new advisory bodies on matters relevant to combating racism and intolerance
4) establishment of human rights institutions and ombudspersons for ethnic and racial equality
5) monitor and apply punitive measures for speeches that create any type of racial hatred
6) national bodies to advise the government on early warnings and measures to prevent problems from escalating into conflicts and identify cases where there is a lack of an adequate legislative basis for defining and criminalising all forms of racial discrimination
7) most importantly, the rule of law is reinstated
In addition, it is imperative that the minorities broaden their political affiliations and create a stronger and wider base in the society. A cautious reminder is that after the last general election, the AL might rethink about diversifying its political base. This means, a lesser reliance will be given on the minority votes. AL must have realised that this is about time to reset their political strategies to adjust with the changed political environment.
At the international level
A group of suitably qualified individuals from the minorities can be selected to deal with lobbying and advocacy at international levels. The following actions can be taken:
1) Establish and continue effective communication and liaison with:
– Amnesty International
– United Nations Commission on Human Rights and Committee on Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD). CERD meets twice a year to review State party reports as well as shadow reports submitted by NGOs.
2) Assert strong influence on the respective foreign governments by the migrant Bangladeshis to create conducive environments for minorities. To this end a broad consensus can be made involving migrants from all communities. This will flow onto the Donor’s Consortium that can have compelling power over the aid recipients.
3) Foreign missions and international NGOs can initiate more surveillance and close follow ups to report the violence and discriminations to the international communities.
4) Every year a research and analysis report on Hindu persecution in Bangladesh should submitted to the United Nations, European Union, and to the all Donor agencies which will influence the government to create the appropriate policies regarding Hindu Human Rights situation and the Donor will get a chance to apply pressure on the Bangladesh Government to ensure Hindu Rights are protected.
The torture, suffering and devastation that have torn Hindus in Bangladesh for last 50 years can never be expressed in words. It can only be felt by someone who has been affected. Therefore, it is a matter of urgency to do something to end this boundless sufferings and torture.
However, this detailed discussion has revealed that the problems can be addressed and solved not by fighting shy of or escaping from the scene but by resisting unitedly through various national and international support networks.
If we don’t unite and act now, we will never do so. That will let the others cause more sufferings to us. We shouldn’t forget that we are not inferior and that we are capable of protecting ourselves. We deserve the same rights as others, and like all others will exercise them, when and if necessary, in an appropriate manner.