Politics

Dhaka And Its Islamist Apologists Are Wrong: Religious Persecution Is A Way of Life For Minorities In Bangladesh

Sheikh Hasina, Prime Minister of Bangladesh (Mary Altaffer-Pool/Getty Images)
Snapshot
  • Bangladesh is peddling lies about its treatment of minorities.

    Apart from harassment and rapes of Hindu women and their forcible conversion to Islam, Hindus are displaced from their properties and lands, temples are desecrated and demolished, and Hindus face economic, social  and job discrimination.

Dhaka issued a statement in the context of the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) that persecution of minorities is a ‘thing of the past’ in that country. This was taken as gospel truth by Dhaka’s apologists in India who are opposing the CAA.

But the reality in Bangladesh is totally different. Persecution, both overt and covert, and in myriad forms is a way of life for the minorities of that Islamic nation.

Apart from harassment and rapes of Hindu women and their forcible conversion to Islam, Hindus are displaced from their properties and lands, temples are desecrated and demolished, and Hindus face economic, social  and job discrimination.

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The Bangladesh Jatiyo Hindu Mahajote (Bangladesh National Hindu Alliance), which keeps a watch and count of atrocities against Hindus, says that in the first 11 months of 2018, as many as 1,792 cases of persecution of Hindus were registered (read this and this).

The Mahajote, an umbrella body of 24 Hindu organisations in Bangladesh, says that during this period, 50 temples and Hindu religious institutions were attacked.

Hindus were displaced from 2734.81 acres of homestead and farmland. The damning list for 2019 is under compilation now.

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The latest major attack on Hindus in Bangladesh took place just two months ago (read this and this) at Bhola in Barishal province of south Bangladesh.

Mahajote’s international affairs secretary, Ripon Dey, told Swarajya over the phone from Dhaka that the attacks on a temple and scores of Hindu homes at Bhola followed an eerily sinister pattern.

“A Hindu boy’s Facebook account was hacked and some comments insulting the Prophet were posted on his timeline. Meanwhile, the boy himself lodged a complaint that his Facebook account had been hacked and the police sent his mobile phone for forensic examination. But a huge group of Islamist radicals clashed with the police, demanding that the boy be handed over to them. The police opened fire and a few people were killed. The mob then went on a rampage and destroyed a temple and scores of Hindu houses and business establishments,” said Dey.

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“Exactly the same thing happened at Brahmanbaria (in Chittagong province of eastern Bangladesh) a year ago and at Rangpur (northern Bangladesh) two years ago. Radical elements, many of who are now part of the ruling Awami League, engineer these attacks on Hindus,” Dey added.

Apart from major attacks on Hindus, like the one at Bhola, minor attacks happen almost everyday all over the country, say Mahajote leaders.

“Land-owning Hindu families in rural areas are targeted in a very calculated and sinister fashion. The womenfolk of such families are harassed by Muslim men, their agricultural produce stolen, stones are pelted at their houses at night and they are made to live in constant fear.

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“Ultimately, they sell off their lands and properties at distress prices and migrate to urban areas. There are tens of thousands of such instances. Complaints to the authorities against such persecution and harassment does not help, and often invites retaliation,” Dey added.

The ruling Awami League blames the Opposition for the attacks on Hindus. But, say Mahajote leaders, there is no Opposition in Bangladesh today.

“The Opposition is decimated and all the Islamist radicals who were part of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party and its Islamist ally, the Jamaat-e-Islam, have joined the Awami League. Under the patronage of the administration and even top League leaders, they target Hindus on a regular basis,” said a Mahajote leader who requested anonymity fearing consequences.

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The Bangladesh Hindu Buddhist Christian Unity Council, another major body working for rights and protection of minorities in that country, also says that persecution of minorities is a regular affair in Bangladesh.

“The frequency of major attacks may have come down since the Awami League (AL) came to power, but they continue. There are many radical Islamists in the AL,” said a leader of the Council. The council’s website provides a list of recent attacks and persecution of minorities.

The most common form of persecution now, said the Council leader, is land grabs (like this). Hindus are forced to sign on stamp papers in the presence of conniving officials ‘selling’ their lands at throwaway prices to influential Muslims who are very often connected to the ruling party.

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It is not only Hindus who face attacks and persecution. This website of the Hindu Janajagruti Samiti list numerous cases of crimes against minorities in Bangladesh, like the brutal murder of a Chakma Buddhist family by Rohingya Muslims on 1 October this year, the desecration of a temple in mid-September this year, attacks on Hindu families on 25 August 2019, kidnapping of a minor Hindu girl on 11 August year, and the rape and murder of a Hindu school teacher by Islamists in end-July this year, among numerous such cases.

Mahajote leaders say that while action is taken in some cases against the attackers, the administration remains unmoved in most cases. “Only those cases which get highlighted in the national media draw action, but thousands of cases are not reported by the victims due to fear of retaliation, and so they do not get any justice,” said Ripon Dey.

He says that even in cases which get highlighted, like the attacks on Hindus in Bhola two months ago, the victims get little succour. “Most of the time the victims are left to fend for themselves. They do not get any compensation and no rehabilitation package is ever extended to them. As a result, the hapless victims leave their destroyed homes and lands fearing more attacks,” he said.

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Given the continuing attacks and atrocities on minorities, especially Hindus, in Bangladesh, the whitewashing of this widespread persecution by those opposing the CAA would only encourage and embolden Islamist radicals in Bangladesh to target minorities more blatantly and frequently.

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