A horror picture of sufferings, persecution and ethnic-cleansing of Hindus and other minorities in moderate Islamic Bangladesh… [warning: some grusome images inside!!]
“The dead, it is said, do not live to tell the tale, but this is not true in ethnic cleansing. The dead do tell the tale; it is the living who are reluctant to speak.” — Horowitz, 2001, p. 224
We now know the Holocaust of the Jews, Hitler’s “Final Solution of the Jewish Question”, which is written in history with human blood. The “Final Solution” of some kind of a different by murderers of different religious belief in a country has been occurring over the last four decades. I am talking about the ethnic cleansing of the Hindus in Bangladesh. And yes, as Horowitz said, listen carefully to every dead human. Each one of them has a tragic story to tell; pay attention and you will hear an unmistakable whisper in their silence, the stories of their suffering and injustice caused to them because of their minority status in a Muslim majority country. Those who are still fortunate enough to live for few more days are in mental wreck so much so that they are all living dead. Today not only the victims, but also the humanity itself cries bitterly for your attention.
Government of Bangladesh has published many Census documents. In 1941, 28.3% of the population was minorities. Out of this, of Hindu was 11.88 million, while 588 thousand was other religious and ethnic minorities, like Buddhist, Christian and animist. As per the 1991 Census, the Muslim majority increased by 219.5%, while the Hindu community increased by 4.5%. If usual increase rate prevailed, the number of the Hindu community would have been 32.5 million in 1991, but the actual figure is 12.5 million. It means twenty million Hindu souls were missing. (Samad, 1998)
Is the Bangladesh Government ready to give a satisfactory explanation, how those twenty million souls had vanished in fifty years?
Did they vanish into thin air like a Houdini magic?
No! In the course of Bangladesh’s 1971 war of independence, a large number of Hindus were targeted for extermination, like the Jews in Hitler’s Germany, by the Islamist Pakistani government and their Bengali collaborators. Many of those twenty million Hindus were put to permanent rest in mass-graves in unknown places or mass cremated anonymously and unceremoniously or their dead-bodies thrown into the rivers. Many of them were forcefully converted to Islam. Many of their women were brutally raped and reduced to prostitution. And yet, many of them were victims of forced exodus to neighboring India, after Muslim hooligans evicted them penniless from their homes and properties.
Sadly, most of these atrocities had approval of the Government of Bangladesh. The so-called Muslim intellectuals and ‘secular’ politicians deliberately promoted the view and made the common Bangladeshi Muslims believe that the ethnic minorities are migrants and not ‘Bhumiputra’ (son of the soil). The Home Ministry had instructed the commercial banks to control withdrawal of substantial cash money against account holders of Hindu community and to stop disbursement of business loans to Hindu community in the districts adjoining the India-Bangladesh border (Samad, 1998). It’s an unwritten law in Bangladesh, that the religious minorities cannot be given sensitive positions, like head of state, chief of armed forces, governor of Bangladesh Bank, Ambassador in a Bangladesh Mission, or secretary in the ministry of Defence, Home, Foreign Affairs and Finance. Minorities are deliberately discriminated in recruitment in civil and military jobs, business and trade, bank loans and credit (Shaha, 1998, p. 5). The mainstream political parties also cannot accept that their leader could be from among the minority community. It is rare to find a religious minority at the helms of affairs in Bangladesh.
Can the Government of Bangladesh deny the fact that the Minorities are “Legally identified enemies” in their homeland, where they are living for many generations?
It’s a shame! Instead of protecting the minorities, the Government of Bangladesh had always tried to hide the whole gamut of torture, rape and murder incidents behind a fabric of lies.
The Bangladeshi Government officially encourages forced conversion to Islam by giving incentive. As per B.D. government religious ministry circular number 2/a-7/91-92 dated 28 November 1991, the new Muslims are paid cash doles through budgetary allocations in the name of so-called rehabilitation (Press Release, nd).
For writing this article, the present author had interviewed many Bangladeshi refugees and liberal Muslims, gone through their websites and newspapers, and read many books and articles. This article will enumerate many facts, which the World is unaware of.
To begin with, let’s see how much freedom Bangladeshi government has given to minorities. The Constitution of 1972 pronounced secularism as a fundamental principal of state policy. Article 41 guarantees freedom of religion in Bangladesh and Article 12 has provided an interpretation of the principle of secularism that made Bangladesh a multi-religious society and maintained separation between state and religion. But this Article was discarded in 1977 and subsequent constitutional changes under military rulers compromised the principle of secularism and gave rise to religion-based politics. Under General Ziaur Rahman (1976–1981), the 5th amendment of the constitution was effected. Under this amendment, the principle of “secularism” was replaced by “faith in Almighty Allah” [Article 8 (1)]; and the amended Article 8 .1(a) states: “absolute trust and faith in the Almighty Allah should be the basis of all actions”. Gen. H. M. Ershed through the 8th Amendment declared Islam as the state religion. The constitution, in fact, makes its beginning with the words Bismillah-ar-rahman-ar-rahim.
While Articles 27–29 confirms equal opportunities for all citizens, Article 44 equivocally guarantees the enforcement of fundamental rights, and Sections 295–298 of the Penal Code give protection from offences against religious places or practices, the reality is far too different. Minorities are never adequately represented. In the seventh Parliament, there were only 11 male and three female members belonging to minority communities. Taken together minority groups occupied only 4.24 percent seats in Parliament, though they form 12% of the total population. Democracy is a rich man’s game in Bangladesh. Business is the primary or secondary occupation of about 75% of the elected representatives (Barman et al, nd).
The political parties, despite electoral promises written in election manifestos, failed to stand shoulder to shoulder with the minorities. Not a single political party has ever come forward for a cause of the minorities (Shaha, 1998, p.5). Ain O Shalish Kendra (1999, p.192) reported:
The constitutional amendments have introduced an overt bias towards Muslims in public policy and practice and encouraged discrimination against other religious communities… with the increasing politicization of Islam by the state and political organizations, religious minorities fear that an escalation of religious discrimination may stigmatize them as second class citizens and lead to religious intolerance.
Bangladesh is on her way to become a ‘Talibanistan’ and the state religion Islam is helping the process by killing and displacing minorities, be it the Hindus, Christians, Buddhists or Animists. Islamic extremists often target temples, churches, and libraries etc. of minorities in an effort to eradicate their cultural memory. Islamic extremists have already formed a shadow government in Bangladesh. Roads of Bangladesh are shacked with the slogan “We are Taliban and Bangla Will be Afghan”. It’s long since democracy had died in Bangladesh and the Islamic theocracy had triumphed. In the near future, Bangladesh will become a major threat to world peace and security.
Ethnic cleansing of Minorities in Bangladesh (then East Pakistan) started in 1946 with the infamous Noakhali carnage (10th October 1946). In the full-moon night of Kojagari Lakshi Puja (a Hindu festival), 218 Hindus were slaughtered, over 10,000 Hindu houses were looted, more than 2000 Hindus were forcibly converted to Islam and several thousand Hindu women were raped and hundreds of Hindu temples were destroyed. The sad part is that Mr. Burrows, the then Governor of state, said that it was only natural that Hindu women would be raped by hundreds of Muslims because they are prettier than Muslim women (Roy, 2007, p. 120,165).
During the infamous genocide of 1971, which continued for nine months, by the then Muslim East Pakistan Army, up to three million Bangladeshis were slaughtered, ten million Hindus fled as refugees to India (Kennedy, 1971, p. 6-7) and two hundred thousand women were raped (Roy, 2007, p. 298). The neighboring Muslims of the Hindu families use to mark a yellow “H” on the Hindu houses to guide the marauding army to their targets like the Jewish holocaust (Schanberg, 1994). The bulk of the victims of the 1971 East Pakistan holocaust were Hindus, about 80%, followed by Muslims (15%) and Christians (5%) (Roy, 2007, p. 312).
Minority oppression has increased tremendously after the October 2001 National Election in Bangladesh. The thugs of the pro-Islam Bangladesh Nationalist Party and their Islamic ally, Jamaat-e-Islami, beat up the Hindus, Christians and Buddhists. Their political involvement is strongly opposed by the nationalist-Islamist political parties, with many Hindus being prevented from voting in elections, through intimidation or exclusion from voter-lists (The Daily Star. January 4, 2006). Often the Hindus are warned that if they want to vote their women would be violated; they would be made to leave Bangladesh. A third method is physically preventing the Hindus from voting. The nationalist-Islamist party thugs act as vigilantes to prevent Hindus from going to polling centers, mainly in rural areas (Roy, 2007, pp. 359, 152). The government does nothing to ensure a free and fair election.
Kidnapping and rape of women and children, forced marriage of minor girls, extortion of money as Jizya tax, forced conversion and murder of members of the minority communities are a day-to-day happening. Hindu widows are often forced to kill one of her cow by her own hand, cook the beef and eat it and become Muslim (Roy, 2007. p 120,125).
Many families migrate out of their “Homeland” since time immemorial for physical safety. And there is no end in sight. It is because this ‘Hindu Holocaust’ is fully intentional and approved or connived by the government, aiming to wipe out the entire minority to turn Bangladesh purely Islamic. The situation is so alarming that, while describing the plight of minorities in Bangladesh, The published an article (Nov. 29, 2003) with the heading: “Bangladesh’s religious minorities: Safe only in the departure lounge”. (cited Dutta, 2005). A list of prominent incidents from various sources are given below:
Hindu women (from age 8 to 70) are often subjected to gang rape. About 200 Hindu women were gang raped by Muslims in Char Fashion, Bhola, in one night at a single spot (The Daily Star, Nov. 16, 2001)
The Islamic terrorists have levied Jizya taxes on the minority Christians and have told the Christians to give them their wives, sisters and daughters for sex if they failed to pay the tax. (Source: Christian Solidarity Worldwide, Dec. 13, 2001).
The Muslim thugs gang-raped mother and daughter together on the same bed with the parents and children forced to watch; and they have raped mothers in front of their children (The Daily Janakantha, Feb. 5, 2002; April 22, 2002).
On February 8, 1989, about 400 Muslims from the neighboring villages attacked the Hindu community of the village of Sobahan, in Daudkandi, Comilla. The Muslims reminded them that, “the government has declared Islam to be the state religion, and therefore you have to either convert to Islam or leave the country.” They set ablaze every Hindu household after looting, razed the temples, and then gang-raped women. (Source: ‘Baishammer Shikar Bangladesher Hindu Sampradaya (The Hindus of Bangladesh: Victim of Discrimination), Matiur Rahman & Azizul Huq eds., 1990, cited Dutta, 2005).
Often the commanding officer of police stations personally conducts violence against minorities. As example, Tofazzal Hossain, Officer-in-Charge, “led a procession at the dead of night that ransacked two Ashrams (place of religious retreat for Hindus), a temple of Goddess Kali, and three houses at Gopalpur when seven to eight people were injured in mass beating.” (The Daily Star, June 3, 2003).
On August 28, 2004, the Paramilitary forces, together with local extremists, burned down 400 dwelling houses in Mahalchari, Chittagong Hill Tracts, after looting the villages, gang raping their women and destroying Buddhist temples. These indigenous Buddhist people represented 97% of the population in 1947, by 2001 they accounted for less than 50% (US Department of State’s Country Report on Human Rights Practices, 2004).
The police rarely allow rape victims of minority groups to press charges against their rapists. Typically, if a rape victim goes to the police and insist on action, they are given the “run around” for a few days so the rape evidence disappears. The police officers themselves will then persecute the victims. The victims frequently face death-threats or kidnapping if they try to file charges (The Daily Janakantha, Feb. 16, 2002).
Eleven members of same family roasted alive (which includes a child of four day) in village Southern Shadhanpur on 19 November 2003 (Bando, 2004, p. 13)
Several thousand Hindu temples have already been systematically destroyed (352 in 1992 alone). Delwar Hossain Sayedee, the Jamaat-e-Islami leader decreed that all statues except those of Muslim worshipers should be destroyed (Baldwin, 2002). The Sanskrit and Hindu religious University (Saraswata Samaj) in Dhaka, in operation before independence of Bangladesh in 1971, was closed after the independence. It’s land and assets was confiscated by the government of Bangladesh in a bid to wipe out Hindu educational system, whereas millions of dollars are spent for the development of Madrassas (Roy, 2008).
Following table summarizes the atrocities of various types and their consequences:
The Bangladesh government can seize the land of these ‘legally identified enemies’ at any time lawfully and force them to emigrate. In Bangladesh, it is legal to capture the land of a Hindu and to give it to Muslims. It is Vested Property Act (VPA), which is same as was Enemy Property Act (EPA) in Pakistan. In 1965, when Indo-Pakistani War ended in a shameful defeat for Pakistan; in an undisguised act of revenge, Pakistan passed the EPA, which was deliberately aimed at its Hindu population. This act empowered the government to declare their land and possessions as enemy property and confiscate it. After independence, the new nation, Bangladesh, rewrote the EPA as the Vested Property Act, explicitly stating that only the law’s title had changed, not its content. This had caused much horror to the Hindus and other religious minorities, who were now ‘outsiders’, nay enemy of state, in their own country. At the time of Bangladesh independence, nearly one in five citizens was a Hindu; today the proportion is less than one in ten. The Vested Property Act and fear of communal violence are the two main reasons behind the emigration of Hindus to India (Ain O Salish Kendra, 1999, p. 192)
How inhuman the Vested Property Act (VPA) is and how insulting would such a law be?
Just imagine for a moment that the U.S. or the Canadian law empowers the government to seize the land and property of non-Christians and give it to Christians, or Indian Government or Israeli Government is empowered to seize the lands of Muslims and give it to the Hindus or to the Jews, respectively. It’s not difficult to imagine the kind of international outcry would, quite justifiably, be heard from every human right groups, NGOs, media, and governments around the world. Every right-minded citizen will raise an outcry.
Fortunately, no such inhuman law exists in the civilized world sparing us of deafening protests from those advocacy groups. But distressfully, both Pakistan and Bangladesh have such a barbaric law on the books for several decades. The only difference between their law and the hypothetical one above is that they are Muslim-majority countries and the laws address property of non-Muslims.
The seized lands under VPA have benefited every major political party in Bangladesh. Between 2001 and 2006, 45% of the spoils went to the center-right BNP, 31% to the center-left Awami League (the figures were reversed when the Awami League was in power), 15% to Islamist parties, and the rest to Jatiya and others (Benkin, nd). Till 1998, more than 2 million acres of land have been taken over from Hindus under VPA (Barkat & Jaman, 1998).
As per another newspaper report, the Adivashi (aboriginal) community already had lost about 80% of their land to the local hooligans, supported by strong political backing, as they are poor and ignorant of their rights. They have hardly any knowledge about the legal provisions and documents related to land property. Therefore, they easily fall prey to opportunists (Bhoumic & Dhar, 1999). The survival of the Garo tribes of Mymensingh is already under threat, because the government had taken their natural forest for rubber plantation. As per another report (Barkat & Shafiquzzaman, 1996, p. 7), from 1964 onwards, on an average basis 538 Hindus have ‘vanished’ each day because of this act. The same report calculated that the vanishing-rate has not been uniform over periods: in 1964-71, it averaged 703 per day; between 1971 and 1981, it was 537; and in 1981-91, the figure stood at 439 (Trivedi, 2007). Another report estimates that more than 500 Hindus crossing over the border every day (Chowdhury, 1998, p. 214). Professor Abul Barkat of Dhaka University undertook the most authoritative study of the VPA and concluded that by 1997, 40 percent of Hindu families in Bangladesh had been affected by it and more than half of all Hindu-owned land already had been confiscated under the act (Benkin, 2008).
Here’s another common method of land grabbing. Bangladeshi Muslims are mostly landless agricultural laborers, whereas many Hindus are rich farmers, owning a large tract of agricultural lands, tilled by Muslim peasants. At a time, when the Hindus suffer from extreme insecurity, some Muslims would appear as their protectors in exchange of land, to be sold to them for a pittance. After some time, they would disappear, and their place will be taken by another bunch of similar protectors, who would ask for some more land. This way, eventually the Hindu will loose all his land and leave the country to become as refugee in India. The idea is to take over as much of his land with proper documentation for as little money as possible (Roy, 2007, p. 165).
Though during 2001, the Supreme Court of Bangladesh had directed the government to return the land, confiscated under this Act, to real owners, but no Hindus got their land back. There are two reasons behind this.
Firstly, the Ruling Party has no intention to abolish such a law. The VPA is still in force and actively being used right at this time. In 2001, at the conclusion of its term in office, the Awami League passed the Vested Property Return Act. Everyone considers that this was an empty gesture, which the AL government knew would never be implemented. They had five years to do something, but did not act. It was a cynical action, and in fact the Awami League received as much spoils from the VPA as did its rival, the Bangladesh Nationalist Party. Therefore, no land has been returned. (Benkin, 2009).
Secondly, corruption has touched almost every level of the legal system and there is widespread abuse of legal process. Such malpractices, contrary to judicial independence, are undermining public confidence in the administration of justice. The clerks and peons often under bribe misplace records, remove documents and sometimes even destroy them. Even the Judges in Bangladesh as a normal (mal) practice receive bribe or other undue advantages (Talukder, 1994, p. 101). Police is also identified as the most corrupt category in the country. In fact, Berlin-based Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index 2001 and 2002 each identified Bangladesh as the most corrupt country in the world. In this scenario, it is not difficult to imagine, not many Hindus will be benefited by the Law in spite of Court decision.
How silly, a Bangladeshi official even justified the VPA as a form of “protection” for the Hindu minority! Again how silly it is when, Kazi Azizul Huq of the Khalefat Andolin Bangladesh said that many of the Hindus have left “voluntarily” even abandoning or selling their lands (Benkin, nd). Did the World forget that countless German Jews “voluntarily” transferred their properties in the 1930s?
What a terrible irony! In 1971, the new Bangladesh was greatly indebted to India, without whose support it never could achieve independence.
International human rights organizations are yet to acknowledge the full extent of the ethnic-cleansing in Bangladesh, because the facts often go unreported. Often Human Rights Investigators are detained. Media is often censored and / or purchased. Honest journalists are often murdered. Hence, the World is blissfully ignorant and their inaction encourages the perpetrators to continue doing it with impunity. But in spite of this, Amnesty International has procured significant factual data and the State Department-supported U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom has gathered limited documentation. Foreign diplomats in Bangladesh have set up a “Fact-Finding Commission” to investigate such atrocities and repression.
Very recently, Bangladeshi newspapers have started featuring stories on minority oppressions. To suppress facts of minority oppressions, Islamic fundamentalists have killed many Journalists and prominent members of minority community as well as liberal Muslims, while many have been jailed.
Bertil Lintner, a Hong-Kong based senior journalist for the Far Eastern Economic Review and a contributing writer for The Wall Street Journal, with much frustration, described how authorities initially declined to grant him a visa to visit Bangladesh after his first reports created a furor. He also received threats over email that said he would suffer the same fate as journalist Daniel Pearl [kidnapped & killed by militants in Pakistan] if he ventured to visit Bangladesh again. Linter lamented that rising Islamic fundamentalism and religious intolerance are posing trouble for the regions and beyond (Guha Mozumder, 2003).
William Sloan, president of the Canadian branch of the American Association of Jurors, visited Bangladesh and described his horror on seeing Hindu victims of torture. One man’s fingers had been cut off, another’s hand was amputated, still more were blinded and others had iron rods nailed through their legs or abdomen. He also recalled the desperate stories of women and children who had been gang-raped, often in front of their fathers or husbands (Baldwin, 2002)
Taslima Nasrin, appalled by what she witnessed, described the horrifying experience of one Hindu family in her 1993 novel, Shame. Muslim clerics threatened her life with fatwa. Fearing for her life, she fled to Europe, where she still lives.
Abdul Ghaffar Chowdhury, a columnist and liberal activist from London lamented that “After seeing what is happening to the minorities, I am ashamed to say I am a Muslim,” (Guha Mozumder, 2003)
It is shocking that the Hindus in India, who share the same ancestral root, culture and religion, are completely apathetic to their coreligionists in Bangladesh. It is utter disgrace and real shame to Indians (particularly those old, fossilized and spineless Indian politicians) that they silently watch the cleansing of Hindus from Islamic Bangladesh. When Indians remain silent about the sufferings of their coreligionists, what can be expected from the international community? It’s not time for Indians to maintain a hands-off policy. How we can ignore the continuous influx of Hindu refugees on Indian soil? The basic cause is that the spineless Indian politicians typically lack the courage to ignore Muslim vote-bank politics in India and publicly address this problem.
The Hindu refugees should be given strong legal protection in India. This will assure them their human rights, education for their children, freedom of movement, and better employment opportunities. Many of them are well-educated and have potential for creative contribution to the society. Often they were wealthy people in Bangladesh but now reduced to wandering day-laborers or rickshaw-pullers; or in worst situation, to digging through garbage dumps for food with their skins sticking like paper to their skeletons and the bones protruding. They fit every classic definition of a refugee community. The Muslim nation of Bangladesh gave them nothing except pain and suffering but they have something to expect from the civilized nation, India, world’s second-largest democracy. The great nation of India, throughout her recorded history, never refused protection to anyone; then why this apathy? If given chances, they will prosper.
Like a cruel joke of Allah, many Muslims are also taking shelter in India in guise of Hindu refugees for better living standard and for promoting Islamic terrorism. They need to be positively identified and pushed back to Bangladesh.
Indian Government should also put pressure to repeal the racist Vested Property Act in Bangladesh. This callous law offends every principle of human dignity. With this Act in force, ethnic cleansing in Bangladesh remains legal. Also, the refugees need to get suitable compensation for their loss of property under this act. Until the Indian government, who has to open borders to the victims of the horrendous Act, takes any action, the international community is not going to anything. The time for empty speeches, lame excuses and official meetings that lead nowhere is over. Bangladesh must be made not only to act, but to act fast. We need to focus on the results rather than efforts. To achieve this, the Indian politicians must put aside their individual egos and recognize that our goal and the welfare of the Bangladeshi Hindus are far more important than any of us as individuals. If we can accomplish something for the people, it is not at all important who gets the credit for it or the praise. But regretfully, too many of Indian politicians still put themselves or their organizations above a noble cause, which is, of course, a betrayal to the cause itself. The Indian politicians must organize an umbrella organization that coordinates action to stop ethnic cleansing in neighboring countries. No person or group needs to give up their independence, but if we are to succeed in helping these people, we must be organized and united. It is not just Hindus but also Sikhs, Christians and others in India who, if they believe in equality, should insist in public that India’s neighbors show respect for the human rights of minorities.
Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, the civilized world should demand an end to this human tragedy. Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and others often have urged for setting up international monitors of human rights violation in various parts of the world, but they have been silent on this matter. The United Nations, NATO, and other international organizations, likewise, can be found in all sorts of international trouble spots. But they, too, have been silent on this issue.
Through this article, all right-thinking common citizens of every country, the honest and upright journalists, prominent political leaders, global opinion makers, human rights groups, and people seated in positions of authority, European Union and the United Nations are appealed to pay their kind attention to the sufferings of minorities in Bangladesh at the earliest. The oppressors must be handed due justice for the ethnic-cleansing, murder and violation of human rights of people from minority communities in Bangladesh. Humankind has witnessed numberless incidents of ethnic cleansing in history. Open the 1400 years of recorded history of Islam: blood dips from every page of it. Whatever is happening in Muslim Bangladesh is nothing new. In modern times, the civilized world, quite sadly, has been consistent in combating them in timely manner. Generally nothing is done until dead-bodies are piled up too high to be obscure. If left unchecked, the Bangladeshi Muslims will very soon add another glorious chapter to the Islamic history by completely cleansing the minorities from its soil. Would they succeed? Let’s wait and see.
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The author can be contacted at counter.jihad (at) yahoo.co.uk