How A Top Cop In Bangladesh Robbed Hindus Of Their Properties Under Sheikh Hasina’s Nose

Jaideep Mazumdar

Jun 13, 2024, 01:42 PM | Updated 01:41 PM IST

Hindus protest persecution in Bangladesh.
Hindus protest persecution in Bangladesh.
  • A top cop in Bangladesh illicitly seized Hindu properties, all under Prime Minister Hasina's administration, without any significant repercussions.
  • The big news from Bangladesh currently is about a former police chief of the country, Benazir Ahmed, who is accused of amassing properties worth hundreds of crores of Bangladeshi Taka. 

    Ahmed, who is suspected to have fled the country with the help of senior leaders of the ruling Awami League (AL), is being investigated by the country’s Anti-Corruption Commission and a Dhaka court ordered confiscation of most of his properties on Wednesday (12 June). 

    But the most heinous part of the appalling account of Ahmed’s graft is how he forced hundreds of Hindus in Gopalganj, which is Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s home district and also her parliamentary constituency, and the neighbouring district of Madaripur to sell hundreds of acres of fertile farmlands at a pittance to build a luxury resort. 

    Ahmed is a highly controversial officer and is widely known to be very close to the Awami League, including Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina. He was given many plum postings by the AL government, including that of the commissioner of Dhaka Metropolitan Police and Director General of Bangladesh’s elite Rapid Action Battalion (RAB).

    As head of RAB, he led a brutal crackdown on opposition leaders and activists opposed to Sheikh Hasina. Blatant human rights abuses, alleged fake encounters and forced disappearances of hundreds marked his tenure as RAC chief. His inglorious record invited sanctions by the US Treasury Department on him and six other serving and retired brass of RAB (read this). 

    Benazir Ahmed’s proximity to the ruling AL allowed him to misuse his powers very blatantly. According to media reports, Ahmed dispossessed dozens of Hindu families of an estimated 606 bighas (a little over 375 acres) in Gopalganj and its neighbouring Madaripur districts.

    Gopalganj district has three parliamentary constituencies; one is held by Sheikh Hasina and another one by her cousin, Sheikh Fazlul Karim Salim. A senior AL leader and member of its presidium, Mohammad Faruk Khan, is the third MP from Gopalganj district. Madaripur is also an AL stronghold. 

    Incidentally, Gopalganj was a Hindu-majority district in 1947 with Hindus forming nearly 60 per cent of the population. Today, Hindus form just a little over 25 per cent of the district’s population. 

    According to this report published in The Daily Star, Bangladesh’s largest-circulated English daily, Ahmed used his juniors in the police force and the RAB to force Hindu families to sell their farmlands and homestead lands at throwaway prices. 

    Hindus who initially refused to sell their lands were eventually forced to do so under pressure and dirty tactics. The Daily Star report quoted a Hindu farmer stating that Ahmed’s men dumped huge quantities of sand on his fertile farmland, thus rendering it uncultivable. He was then forced to sell off his land at a quarter of the prevailing market rate. 

    Most of all this happened when Benazir Ahmed was the RAB chief between January 2015 and April 2020. Ironically, he was conferred Bangladesh’s ‘Integrity Award’ for his ‘professional integrity’ for 2020-21 by then Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan Kamal in June 2022.

    Benazir Ahmed’s men, including local police officers, often used strong-arm tactics to force Hindus to sell their lands to him at prices which were a quarter or even less than market rates. 

    Ahmed’s men would also pump slush and water on farmlands of Hindus who were unwilling to sell their lands and destroy standing crops. 

    The hundreds of Hindus who lost their lands at Machkandi and Bairagitol villages in Gopalganj district have been reduced to penury. The expose in The Daily Star named a Hindu family who, having been forced to sell off their land at a throwaway price to Ahmed, migrated to India about a year ago. 

    This person (Prashanta Baul) was tracked down by the reporter to Thakurnagar in Bengal’s North 24 Parganas district. He told the newspaper that he was forced to migrate with his wife and four children because he had nothing left “back home” (in Bangladesh). 

    Ahmed has built a luxury resort spread over the 606 bighas of land that he forcibly acquired from helpless Hindus in Gopalganj. That resort, named Savanna Eco Resort, has been confiscated by the Anti-Corruption Commission. 

    The dispossession of their lands forced all the Hindus into penury. Many newspapers in Bangladesh have, over the past one week, tracked down the dispossessed families and documented their sad plight. Many of them now live in slums and work as daily labourers, earning a pittance. 

    Leaders of the Bangladesh Hindu Buddhist Christian Unity Council told Swarajya over phone from Dhaka that there is no way that Prime Minister Hasina and the top leadership of the Awami League could have been unaware of Ahmed’s blatant landgrab. 

    “The Prime Minister keeps close tabs on everything that happens in Gopalganj and such a huge land grab, and that too by such a prominent person, could not have gone unreported to her. But she took no action,” said an office-bearer of the council who declined to be named out of fear of being persecuted by the ruling party there. 

    An office-bearer of the Bangladesh Jatiya Hindu Mahajote (an organisation that works for protecting rights of Hindus) told Swarajya that such land grabs happen routinely all over the country. 

    “This happened on a largescale and came to light because the accused person was so highly-placed. And the exposure of the forcible acquisition of land by Ahmed from Hindus happened only because he was being investigated for largescale corruption. Otherwise, it would never have been reported. Such land grabs, including by leaders and functionaries of the Awami League, happen all over the country every day and that’s one of the major reasons that dispossessed Hindus who have been reduced to penury flee the country,” said the Mahajote leader. 

    “Apart from religious persecution, dispossession of land and properties is the primary reason behind Hindus being forced to migrate to India. That is why the population of Hindus has been declining sharply in Bangladesh,” said the council leader. 

    Hindus formed a quarter of the population of East Bengal in 1947, and came down to 22 per cent in 1951. Since then, the proportion of Hindus has been declining and Hindus now form about 7.7 per cent of the population of Bangladesh. At the time of formation of the country in 1971 (when it broke away from Pakistan with India’s help), Hindus formed about 14 per cent of the population. 

    The persecution of Hindus, religious and otherwise, that was widespread in East Pakistan, has continued in Islamic Bangladesh. 

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