Again, Bangladesh’s Hindu community is under extreme attack. Following the recent general election, hundreds of Hindus including women and children in Jessore, Gaibandha, Thakurgaon, Dinajpur, Rangpur, Bogra, Lalmonirhat, Rajshahi, and Chittagong district had to flee their homes. To save their lives, some of them had to flee by swimming across rivers in the cold weather.
By Niamat Ullah Sarker*
In the evening of Election Day (5 January, 2014), the Hindu villagers in Abhayanagar upazila of Jessore district had to pay a high price just for exercising their democratic right to vote. Some 600 Hindus, including women and children, had to flee their village by swimming across the Bhairab River where more than 130 houses were vandalized and at least 10 houses were burnt down.
Almost all the leading newspapers and electronic media are condemning Jamaat-e-Islami (a religion based political party) and their allied Shibir for that heinous attack. The victims are also claiming that Jamaat-Shibir attacked them in a brutal fashion. This type of attack has been occurring repeatedly after every election; such social havoc started from the electoral triumph of the Bangladesh National Party (BNP)-Jamaat alliance in October 2001.
The politics of attacking minorities is an old phenomenon. Following the so-called two-nation theory, at the time of the partition of India in August 1947, very large number of Hindus left their homes in Pakistan and at that time, the survival of the Hindu minority living in East-Pakistan became a concern for very clear reasons.
After 1947, just when the people of East-Pakistan had stood against the oppression of the violent rulers, the Pakistani dictators killed thousands of Hindus, fired their houses, and in general stoked communal divisions under the name of religion. Three years later, in 1950, the communal riots led to a fresh group of Hindus leaving what was then East Pakistan with a destination leading to neighboring West Bengal in India.
After a nine-months-long-epic struggle for independence, with rivers of blood flowing, the dream of living with equal rights and dignity for the Hindu community made sense because they had paid the ultimate price for achieving the independence of Bangladesh from Pakistan. The newly independent state took the name “Bangladesh”, leaving behind the “East-Pakistan” name.
In November 1, 1971 Edward Kennedy gave a report on international relations to his senate committee where he wrote: “Hardest hit have been members of the Hindu community who have been robbed of their lands and shops, systematically slaughtered, and in some places, painted with yellow patches marked “H”. All of this has been officially sanctioned, ordered and implemented under martial law from Islamabad.”
The Pakistan army sought retribution by going after Bangladesh’s Hindus in 1971, a horror that was to go on for nine long months. The Pakistani soldiers not only killed such renown and valued Hindu citizens as Govinda Chandra Dev, Jyotirmoy Guhathakurta, Dhirendranath Dutta and others but also shot down hundreds of Hindu students who resided at Jagannath Hall of Dhaka University.
After the independence of 1971, the persecution against this minority stopped. But, it restarted after 1975 under the military government and an authoritarian ruler. The situation has remained unchanged for many years, other than changing a property law to ‘vested property’ from ‘enemy property’.
Things should have been different in an independent Bangladesh. But unfortunately, the Hindu community had become the target of attack starting in post-1975 circumstances, in many instances, through the willowy and not-so- willowy encouragement of the ruling classes and powerful elites. After the independence of Bangladesh, many Hindus left Bangladesh and over these past four decades most trekked off to India. Others, who were more fortunate, with academic excellence or economic strength, have migrated to the developed world to live permanently.
In 1971, the country’s Hindu population was numbered as high as 25 percent of the total population, but today, this number has declined awfully to less than 10 per cent of the total population. Their homes have been smashed for more than four decades; Hindu-owned property has been robbed systematically; Hindu temples have been wrecked; while Hindus have been looked upon as Indian agents by some fanatic communities.
The Hindu minority has been politically victimised in Bangladesh. This minority persecution came to a height during the 1991 election. The horror has seen the torturing of minority voters, vandalizing of their properties, setting fire to their houses, raping of their girls, women and children.
And this situation has been continuous not only to the Hindu minority but also to other minor communities living in Bangladesh. But, it is a matter of fact that most times it is the Hindu minority that is politically targeted. They have been forced to leave their house and property so that the extremist forces, that have not reconciled themselves with the principles and morals of Bangladesh’s bloody War of Independence, can grab these properties.
Following every election in the recent past, such attacks were carried. After the election of 2008, minorities were attacked. But, neither government nor the election commission acted on this and systematically avoided this sad matter.
It is not that minorities are under attack only during elections or after elections. In the recent past, there have been incidences of attacks on minorities. Last year on November 28, houses and shops of the Hindu community were looted and torched; children and women were beaten up. In December 2013, 55 Hindu families fled an area during countrywide blockades by the opposition party.
There are other stories of Buddhist minority persecution. In 2012, the ultra-extremist and religious fundamentalist forces attacked Ramu, Patiya and Cox’s Bazar where Buddhist villages where vandalized, setting fire to houses and setting fire to Buddhist temples, to the ruination of precious and ancient Buddha statuary.
International support to the Bangladeshi Hindu community was not apparent nor strong enough for their survival. They could only flee to India, although there is a very strong possibility they would be shot by border forces of the Border Security Force (BSF) besides that they likely had to leave all of their property at the border. Really, the only proper way for minorities better future is to strengthen their organizational power and unity. Leaving the country is not a solution.
Bangladesh has to prove that the country is a secular geographical entity by reassuring its Hindus, Christians, Buddhists and its indigenous people’s rights. The dominant groups have to believe that it is home to its entirety of peoples. An attack on one community should be considered as a shot to humiliate the entire community. The hoodlums and criminal gangs responsible for attacks must be brought to book. Any attacks on any minority should be dealt with promptly using an iron hand. The state must ensure that it does not fail again. If it fails again without response from the people of Bangladesh it is they themselves who will be responsible for fueling ethnic cleansing.”
*Niamat Ullah Sarker, Student of Department of Development Studies, University of Dhaka, Bangladesh