A Bangladeshi Hindu devotee worships Lord Ganesh in Dhaka, Bangladesh. (Allison Joyce/GettyImages)
Snapshot
  • “‘Below five per cent’ is a huge psychological and physical setback for non-Muslims in an increasingly Islamist country. Once our population falls below 5 per cent, we are doomed. We will have to convert or leave the country.”

Last week’s attack on Hindus at Thakurpara in Rangpur in which about 30 houses belonging to Hindus were torched and many more were looted follows a pattern. Islamist mobs, egged on by radical Wahhabi clerics, started burning and looting houses and attacking Hindus and temples after an alleged Facebook post by a Hindu defaming Islam. Investigations have revealed that the rumours about the Facebook post were patently false and spread by hardline Islamist clerics. Last year, too, false rumours about a fake Facebook post triggered widespread attacks on Hindus at Brahmanbaria that left hundreds of families homeless and 15 temples destroyed.

“False Facebook posts have become the latest weapon of these radicals to attack Hindus. No Hindu in Bangladesh will ever post anything defamatory or derogatory about Islam. Some Islamists hack into the accounts of Hindus and post such messages, and then publicise them to whip up anger and frenzy against Hindus,” said Hindu Mahajote secretary general Govinda Pramanik. “Hindus in Bangladesh are in panic and the Awami League government has not taken any measures to protect us,” he said.

According to the Bangladesh Jatiya Hindu Mahajote, attacks on Hindus have increased in recent years. But while such violence against Hindus get publicised, what escapes attention is the forced conversions, especially of women and children. What also escapes media attention is the forcible dispossession and eviction of Hindus from their lands and properties, denial of employment opportunities to the Hindus (especially in the villages) and other forms of acute discrimination.

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“Since the victims are poor, they find it extremely difficult to rebuild their homes and in many such cases, they migrate to other places. Those who own land feel vulnerable, are constantly threatened and face an uncertain future. As a result, they sell of their lands and houses at distress prices and go away to other places, including India. Thus, slowly, Hindus are driven away,” said Hindu Mahajote’s international affairs secretary Ripon Dey, who has been briefing senior Bharatiya Janata Party leaders about the plight of Hindus in Bangladesh.

The attack on Hindus in Bangladesh is a multi-pronged one, says Hindu Mahajote adviser and renowned academic Durga Das Bhattacharya. It could be something like eve-teasing of Hindu girls and women, boycott of petty Hindu traders and unofficial restrictions on Pujas and celebrating Hindu religious festivals imposed by the local imam. “These are all designed to harass Hindus with the ultimate objective of driving Hindus away from a place. And if Hindus get provoked and do something rash, it only makes the task of these fundamentalists easier,” said Bhattacharya, who was the vice chancellor of the prestigious National University Bangladesh.

Hindus constituted 33 per cent of the population of East Bengal (present-day Bangladesh) in 1901. “In 1911, the population of Hindus declined to 31 per cent and then to 30.6 per cent in 1921. In 1931, Hindus were 29.4 per cent of the population of East Bengal and this figure declined to 28 per cent in 1941. This shows that persecution of Hindus in Muslim-majority East Bengal started much before Independence and Partition. The forms of harassment and persecution of Hindus that we witness now – molestation of women, attacks on homes and mandirs, forcible takeover of properties and forcible conversions – have been happening during the British days too and, before that, since the Mughals and Muslims started ruling over Bengal. The difference is that earlier, it was not orchestrated and pre-planned, which is the case now,” said Tarun Roy, a leader of the Bangladesh Hindu Parishad.

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After Partition and the formation of East Pakistan, the number of Hindus in that country fell drastically to 22 per cent due to migration of thousands of Hindus, mostly the affluent, to India. In 1961, Hindus declined to 18.5 per cent of the population. Another wave of Hindu migration followed the launch of Operation Searchlight by the Pakistani army in East Pakistan in early 1971. This operation was directed against those seeking independence, but targeted mainly Hindus in that country. As a result, the percentage of Hindus fell to just 13.5 per cent of the newly-independent Bangladesh’s population in 1974. That persecution of Hindus did not stop even in Bangladesh, which was founded on so-called secular ideals, is evident from the fact that Hindus declined to 12.13 per cent of the country’s population in 1981, 10.5 per cent in 1991, 9.2 per cent in 2001 and to 8.96 per cent at the time of the last census in 2011. Right now, according to estimates, the percentage of Hindus would be around 8.5 per cent.

“According to Islamist literature and exhortations in Islamist periodicals published in Bangladesh, the aim is to reduce the percentage of Hindus to 6 per cent by 2031 and to below 5 per cent within the next few years. Once the number of Hindus goes to below 5 per cent of the country’s population, it is only a matter of time before such a small group are forcibly converted to Islam, killed, or driven out of the country. This is what the Wahhabi fundamentalists are aiming for and are working very methodically according to their script. They are following what their counterparts in Pakistan have managed to do: reduce the number of Hindus to an insignificant percentage of the total population and make them so weak and vulnerable that either they convert to Islam or flee the country,” said Mainak Mondal of Hindu Janajagruti Samiti of Bangladesh.

Mondal explained that when Hindus are reduced to a hopeless minority in Bangladesh, their vulnerability will increase manifold. “Now, despite being over 8 per cent of the country’s population, we derive whatever little strength we have from our numbers. ‘Below five per cent’ is a huge psychological and physical setback for non-Muslims in an increasingly Islamist country. Once our population falls below 5 per cent, we are doomed. We will have to convert or leave the country,” said Mondal.

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Hindus of Bangladesh felt safer when the Awami League government came to power in 2009. “But we have been badly let down by the Awami League (AL). AL leaders and activists, as well as people belonging to the Chhatra League (the AL’s students wing), have actively participated in attacks on Hindus. This news report, for instance, documents the involvement of AL leaders in planning and carrying out the attacks on Hindus at Rangpur,” said Mahajote’s Ripon Dey. While the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) has always had close ties with hardline Islamists, many AL leaders, said Dey and other Hindu leaders, also has close ties with many Wahhabis.

“The Awami League professes to be secular and Sheikh Hasina (AL leader and Prime Minister) may be earnest about protecting Hindus and other minorities, but many of her ministers and party colleagues are radical Islamists and anti-minority. Hasina is powerless to act against them. Large sections of the police force, the bureaucracy and the armed forces have also been Islamised, especially during the BNP rule and under the military dictators who ruled the country. They are very powerful and their agenda is to cleanse Bangladesh of Hindus and Buddhists,” said Mondal.

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