Violation of Hindus Rights in Bangladesh
The title of this thesis paper clearly indicates that the rights and existence of the minorities, particularly the Hindus, in Bangladesh are at risk. The real situation in Bangladesh is now known to all of us. The overall situation prevailing in Bangladesh since the general election on October 1, 2001 is now nakedly exposed to the national and international media and to the civilized societies around the world. In the backdrop of such a situation (will be unfolded in a moment), a BIG question mark has appeared in the horizon on whether the Hindus will be able to continue living in Bangladesh enjoying their rights as citizen. Since Hindus in East Bengal turned Bangladesh participated in all nationalistic movements right from the beginning of our glorious Language Movement in 1948, 1952 and 1966 to the heroic War of Liberation in 1971 along with their co-linguistic brothers and sisters belonging to the major religious group of Bangladesh their hopes and aspirations have naturally become very high.The so-called Bangladeshi nationalism in Bangladesh’s politics is a revival of two-nation theory. Here ” Bangladeshi ” means the Muslim citizens of the land, others like Hindu, Buddhists, Christians and tribal origins are aligning citizens, they would be absorbed in the majority community by conversion or make them compelled to leave Bangladesh. This has created a great divide in the society of Bangladesh. In Bangladesh, being a Hindu means being a victim of oppression, torture and discrimination. The educated Hindus, who could play a leadership role in the community, left the country. The poor, who lacked leadership qualities Stayed back. Eminent personalities of the minorities who stayed on in Bangladesh live in the cities, so there are none to look after them in times of distress.
What happened in the early fifties happened again in Bangladesh in 1992 and 2001. As a result the silent migration of Hindus from this country could not be stopped. The state failed to provide security to the minorities despite equal rights guaranteed to them in the constitution. The self-contradictory “State Religion Provision” and “Vested Property Act” compromised making the
State pledge meaningless. The current problem will be critically analyzed, and suggestions will be made to resolve this problem.
To prepare the term paper there have been used some methods and these are: searching internet, collecting some books which are related with Hindu law and also Hindu Human rights in Bangladesh, some newspapers which have some articles relating to Hindu law and also Hindu Human rights in Bangladesh, finding out some journals those are related to the Hindu peoples rights, and visiting to some public libraries to collect data on the Hindu Law and violation of Hindu Human Rights in Bangladesh.
Background of Hindus in Bangladesh
The Hindu community has many similar issues as the Muslim community of Bangladesh. These include women’s rights, dowry, poverty and others. Issues unique to the Hindu community include maintenance of Hindu culture and temples in Bangladesh. Small sects of Islamists constantly try to politically and socially isolate the Hindus of Bangladesh. Because Hindus of Bangladesh are scattered all over the areas (except in Narayanganj), they cannot unite politically. However, Hindus became sway voters in various elections. Hindus have usually voted in large mass for Awami League and communist parties, as these are the only parties which have a nominal commitment to secularism; the alternatives are the increasingly pro-Islamist centrist parties such as the Bangladesh Nationalist Party and Jatiya Party (which both incorporate Muslim identity into their version of Bangladeshi nationalism or the outright Islamist Jamaat-e-Islami Bangladesh (an offshoot of the Pakistan-based Jamaat-e-Islami) which seeks to establish Islamic law under which there would be separate provisions for Hindus as non-Muslims.
The Pakistan period (1947-1971)
The establishment of Pakistan in 1947 on the basis of the Two-nation theory was a time of great upheaval for the Hindus of the area that is now Bangladesh. Because the Pakistani government endorsed Islamists, the Hindus directly faced state sponsored persecutions during that time.
On 3rd January, 1964, an unprovoked carnage of the Hindus took place in major cities of East Pakistan. In the city of Khulna alone thousands of Hindus were killed in one night. It was aided and abetted by the then Government of Pakistan. A false rumor was spread that the Hindus in India stole the sacred hair of the Prophet Mohammed from the Hazarat Bal Mosque in Kashmir. This ignited the passion of the Muslims to go berserk and as a result scores of Hindus got killed. It was followed by a mass exodus of the hapless Hindus from East Pakistan to India.
However, in the lead up to the 1971 Bangladesh Liberation War, the Hindus and Muslims united under one banner to liberate the nation. Unlike during the Pakistan era, when state symbolism emphasized Islamic solidarity, the iconography of the Liberation War emphasized the unity of Bengalis irrespective of religious identity. For instance, a popular song by Gauriprasanna Majumdar during the war had as its chorus: Banglar Hindu, Banglar Buddha, Banglar Christian, Banglar Musalman, Amra Sabai Bangali (Translation: “Hindus, Buddhists, Christians and Muslims of Bengal – we are all Bengalis”)
Bangladesh liberation and 1971 Bangladesh atrocities (1971)
The Bangladesh Liberation War resulted in one of the largest genocides of the 20th century. While estimates of the number of casualties vary between 300,000 and 3,000,000, it is reasonably certain that Hindus bore a disproportionate brunt of the Pakistan Army’s onslaught against the Bengali population of what was East Pakistan. An article in Time magazine dated August 2, 1971, stated “The Hindus, who account for three-fourths of the refugees and a majority of the dead, have borne the brunt of the Muslim militaryhatred.
Senator Edward Kennedy wrote in a report that was part of Senate Committee testimony dated November 1, 1971, “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“. In the same report, Senator Kennedy reported that 80% of the refugees in India were Hindus and according to numerous international relief agencies such as UNESCO and WHO the number of East Pakistani refugees at their peak in India was close to 10 million. Given that the Hindu population in East Pakistan was around 11 million in 1971, this suggests that up to 8 million, or more than 70% of the Hindu population had fled the country. The Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Sydney Schanberg covered the start of the war and wrote extensively on the suffering of the East Bengalis, including the Hindus both during and after the conflict. In a syndicated column “The Pakistani Slaughter That Nixon Ignored”, he wrote about his return to liberated Bangladesh in 1972. “Other reminders were the yellow “H”s the Pakistanis had painted on the homes of Hindus, particular targets of the Muslim army“ (by “Muslim army”, meaning the Pakistan army, which had targeted Bengali Muslims as well).
The initial post-independence period (1972-75)
In the first constitution of the newly independent country, secularism and equality of all citizens irrespective of religious identity was enshrined. On his return to liberated Bangladesh, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman in his first speech to the nation specifically recognized the disproportionate suffering of the Hindu population during the Bangladesh Liberation War. On a visit to Kolkata, India in February 1972, Mujib visited the refugee camps that were still hosting several million Bangladeshi Hindus and appealed to them to return to Bangladesh and to help rebuilding the country.
Despite the public commitment of Sheikh Mujib and his government to re-establishing secularism and rights of non-Muslim religious groups, two significant aspects of his rule remain controversial as relates to the conditions of Hindus in Bangladesh. The first was his refusal to return the premises of the Ramna Kali Mandir, historically the most important temple in Dhaka, to the religious body that owned the property. This centuries old Hindu temple was demolished by the Pakistan army during the Bangladesh Liberation War and around one hundred devotees murdered. Under the provisions of the Enemy Property Act it was determined that ownership of the property could not be established as there were no surviving members to claim inherited rights, and the land was handed over to the Dhaka Club.
Secondly, state-authorized confiscation of Hindu owned property under the provisions of the Enemy Property Act was rampant during Mujib’s rule, and as per the research conducted by Abul Barkat of Dhaka University, the Awami League party of Sheikh Mujib was the largest beneficiary of Hindu property transfer in the past 35 years of Bangladeshi independence. This was enabled considerably because of the particular turmoil and displacement suffered by Bangladeshi Hindus, who were the primary target of the Pakistan army’s genocide, as well documented by international publications such as TIME magazine and the New York Times, and by the declassified Hamidur Rahman Commission Report. With almost 8 million displaced Hindus and between 200,000 and 2 million Hindu victims of genocide, it was difficult to establish direct ownership of property within legally specified time frames. This caused much bitterness among Bangladeshi Hindus, particularly given the public stance of the regime’s commitment to secularism and communal harmony. Largely because of these and other factors, such as the lack of attention to the Human Rights Violations of Hindus in the country, the Hindu population of Bangladesh started to decline through migration.
The Rahman and Hussein regimes (1975-1990)
President Ziaur Rahman abandoned the constitutional provision for secularism and began to introduce Islamic symbolism in all spheres of national life (such as official seals and the constitutional preamble). Zia brought back the multi-party system thus allowing organizations such as and Jamaat-e-Islami Bangladesh (an offshoot of the Islamist Jamaat-e-Islami in Pakistan) to regroup and contest elections.
In 1988 President Hussein Mohammed Ershad declared Islam to be the State Religion of Bangladesh. Though the move was protested by students and left-leaning political parties and minority groups, to this date neither the regimes of the BNP or Awami League has challenged this change and it remains in place.
In 1990, the Ershad regime was widely blamed for negligence (and some human rights analysis allege active participation) in the anti-Hindu riots following the Babri Mosque incident in India, the largest communal disturbances since Bangladesh independence, as a means of diverting attention from the rapidly increasing opposition to his rule. Many temples and Hindu areas were attacked, including, for the first time since 1971, the Dhakeshwari temple. The atrocities were brought to the West’s attention by many Bangladeshis, including Taslima Nasrin and her book Lajja which translated into English means “shame”.
Return to democracy (1991-present)
Hindus were first attacked in mass on 1992 by the Islamic fundamentalists. More than 200 temples were destroyed. Hindus were attacked and many were raped and killed. the events are widely seen as a repercussion against the razing of the Babri Mosque in India. Taslima Nasrin wrote her novel Lajja (The Shame) based on this persecution of Hindus by Islamic extremists. The novel centers on the suffering of the patriotic anti-Indian and pro-Communist Datta family, where the daughter gets raped and killed while financially they end up losing everything.
Prominent political leaders frequently fall back on “Hindu bashing” in an attempt to appeal to extremist sentiment and to stir up communal passions. In one of the most notorious utterances of a mainstream Bangladeshi figure, the current Prime Minister Khaleda Zia, while leader of the opposition in 1996, declared that the country was at risk of hearing “uludhhwani” (a Hindu custom involving women’s ululation) from mosques, replacing the azaan (Muslim call to prayer).
After the election of 2001, when a right-wing coalition including two Islamist parties (Jamaat-e-Islami Bangladesh) and Islami Oikya Jote, led by the pro-Islamic right wing Bangladesh Nationalist Party came to power, many Hindus and liberal secularist Muslims were attacked by a section of the governing regime. Thousands of Bangladeshi Hindus were believed to have fled to neighboring India to escape the violence unleashed by activists sympathetic to the new government. Many Bangladeshi Muslims played an active role in documenting atrocities against Hindus during this period.
The new government also clamped down on attempts by the media to document alleged atrocities against non-Muslim minorities following the election. Severe pressure was put on newspapers and other media outside of government control through threats of violence and other intimidation. Most prominently, the Muslim journalist and human rights activist Shahriyar Kabir was arrested on charges of treason on his return from India where he had been interviewing Hindu refugees from Bangladesh; this was ruled illegal by the Bangladesh High Court and he was subsequently freed.
The fundamentalists and right-wing parties such as the Bangladesh National Party and Jatiya Party often portray Hindus as being sympathetic to India, and transferring economic resources to India, contributing to a widespread perception that Bangladeshi Hindus are disloyal to the state. Also, the right wing parties claim the Hindus to be backing the Awami League.
As widely documented in international media, Bangladesh authorities have had to increase security to enable Bangladeshi Hindus to worship freely following widespread attacks on places of worship and devotees.
Even after the decline of Hindu population in Bangladesh from 13.5% in 1974, just after the independence, Hindus were at around 9.2% of the population in 2001 according to government estimates following the census. However, Hindus accounted for only 4 members of the 300 member parliament following the 2001 elections through direct election; this went up to 5 following a by-election victory in 2004. Significantly, of the 45 seats reserved for women that are directly nominated by the Prime Minister, not a single one was allotted to a Hindu. Several Hindu advocacy groups in Bangladesh have demanded a return to a communal electorate system as existed during the Pakistan period, to enable a more equitable representation in parliament, or a reserved quota as exists for women for Hindu and other minority candidates.
What really happened?
Bangladesh, that emerged out of ocean of bloods on 16 December 1971, and over three million deaths, as a secular democratic country. The movement of Bangladesh was against use of religion in state affairs, a practice perfected in Pakistan that Bangladesh was part of. For twenty-three years of Pakistani rule over Bangladesh, religion, and in this case Islam, was used to rule, dominate and discriminate. Bangalees, the inhabitants of Bangladesh, that formed Pakistan’s majority population, faced discrimination and exploitation, in politics, economics, in social and other aspects. Thus, de-linking religion and state, and to establish a secular society emanated out of bitter experiences of bangalees, for mixing politics and Islam.
Unfortunately, democracy could not take firm roots in Bangladesh, and the nation remained, over better part of its life, under military and quasi-military rules. Since 1990, following tenacious campaign for democracy, electoral democracy has been restored. But as we know, only election is not democracy. Democracy is a society based on rule of law and human rights, and that has been missing, particularly since October 2001, following the last round of general election that put a four-party coalition government in power including two Islamic parties; Jamaat-i-Islam, and an alliance of Islamic parties, Islamic Okkyo Jote (Islamic Unity).
The minorities, mainly the Hindus, and the opposition activists became instant targets of the victorious coalition government. Scores of Hindus were attacked, killed; raped, tortured, burnt, houses looted, and displaced. And all happened under the very nose of the government, and with impunity. The Islamist coalition sent clear message to the minorities and the opposition of the things coming and that is preciously what has happened since. The coalition of the BNP (Bangladesh Nationalist Party); a party with pro-Islamic and anti-independence approach; apparently has no political or ethical ideology) and Zamat (Zamat-e-Islam); the real anti-independence Islamic fundamentalist party) celebrated their win by harassing, torturing, killing, raping the Hindus and looting and putting their properties on fire at the greatest extent that the country have ever witnessed. This heinous attack was also targeted to AL (Awami League; the pro-independence party) supporters who lost the election. However the degree and extent of atrocities toward the Hindus are beyond imagination.
The most awful was the current government, whose solemn duty is to protect its people (that’s what the “oath” is all about, isn’t it?), regardless of who voted for it or not, turned its blind face on it. Unfortunately, that’s the understanding of our great (!) National leaders about democracy and these are the people who will be making or changing laws for the country sitting in the national parliament. Even the Home Minister, despite admitting ‘some incidents’ occurred at ‘personal levels’, had, in a wholesale manner termed the press reports of repression on Hindus as exaggerated, unfounded and purposive propaganda against the government.
Reason(s) behind the attack:
Ironically, the key reason (rather the “excuse”) behind this attack is the perceived allegiance of Hindus to AL, which has a non-communal, non-discriminatory and tolerant approach to all religious communities in the country. It has been alleged that Hindus never vote for other parties such as BNP or Zamat. Hence, those parties think that Hindus are no more required in the political game of the country. Rather, the strength of AL as the major and oldest party will be shrunk if its bona fide supporters (i.e., Hindus – being approximately 9% of total population) are eliminated or kicked out from the country. Apart from the political gain, those miscreants are making personal gains by taking forceful and illegal possessions of the properties belong to Hindus.
Effect of the atrocities:
Thousands of Hindus have been killed, families destroyed and their belongings have been snatched away by BNP and Zamat supporters, even by their elected MPs. Tens of thousands of Hindu families who own the soil for generations have left behind all their movables and immovable and fled to neighboring India just to save their lives. Still hundreds of Hindu families leaving the country everyday and arriving India simply with empty hands and relying on the pity of the Indian government. Yet the rest are staying back just by bearing the primitive tortures of the attackers who are being patronized and indemnified by the ruling government.
Despite numerous national and international appeals (e.g., Amnesty International, Human Rights Commission etc), atrocities are still being continued and the attackers are changing their techniques (e.g., personal threats, intimidation, ransom and so on). This raises a serious concern for the existence of the Hindus in Bangladesh. While we discuss the problem the proportion of the Hindu population is dropping sharply and for those who are still staying back, facing a more risky and challenging future.
Going further back:
The communal conflict is not a new phenomenon in Bangladesh, rather century old. The Islamic fundamentalists have been instigating the riot since the Bengal was undivided. In 1946, when Muslim League was demanding a separate land for Muslims, its leader Khaja Nazimuddin instigated the riot by saying “…our action is not against the Indian government but against the Hindus…” In excess of 1.5 million people were killed in that fierce riot. The riot reoccurred in 1964 during the Indo-Pak war.
Probably the dirtiest manifestation of the communal hatred by the Islamic fundamentalists was in 1971, during the liberation war of Bangladesh. The empty-headed Pakistani “mullahs” backed by the like-minded army spread a misconception that they were the “real Muslims”, but their brothers in Bangladesh (the then East Pakistan) were influenced and misguided by Hindus both in Bangladesh and India. So, they started crusading against those Hindus as well as the misguided Muslims through the worst genocide in the history. However, Bangladesh fought against them heroically and achieved its independence sacrificing three million precious lives.
A quick note for the reader (if not familiar with the history of Bangladesh) is that those Bangladeshi collaborators (called “the Rajakars” – its popular meaning is “the betrayers”) of 1971 war, enthusiastically and voluntarily formed strong armed brigades to help Pak army kill, loot, rape, abduct their fellow citizens in Bangladesh. They (Zamat-e-Islam) are the main coalition for the present BNP government. Moments after the winning of election, those criminals and perpetrators resumed the tasks, which they couldn’t finish in 1971.
Riots and violence have dramatically changed the demographic compositions in the Indian subcontinent. Following figures obtained from an independent survey show the changes in Hindu population:
We don’t need to be a constitution expert or conduct an extensive research to prove that the constitution of Bangladesh has granted equal rights to its entire citizen. While it does so, regardless of their race or religion, the current discriminatory, state-sponsored attacks violating the birthrights of its citizen raises the biggest question before the government of the day. The supreme law of Bangladesh, its constitution, is based on four principles namely, ‘absolute trust and faith in the almighty Allah’ (initially this was ‘secularism’, which was amended by the succeeding pro-Islamic government), ‘nationalism’, ‘democracy’ and ‘socialism – meaning economic and social justice’. It clearly says that the fundamental aim of the state is to realize a society in which the rule of law, fundamental human rights and freedom, equality and justice will be ensured.
Article 2A of the Constitution clearly states “…all religions may be practiced in peace and harmony in the Republic.” In Part III, Article 27 affirms that “…all citizens are equal before the law and are entitled to equal protection of law…” Article 36 provides that “…every person has the right to move freely throughout Bangladesh, to reside and settle in any place in Bangladesh…”
Provisions as an Islamic State:
In June 1988, Ershad government amended the Constitution declaring Islam as official religion. Regardless his motivation (surely political anyway!) in doing so, if we assume Bangladesh is truly an Islamic state then the nation’s views and actions must be guided by the teachings and directions of the holly Quran and Hadis. We note that the rights of practicing other religions were also reiterated with this amendment.
The Quran says, “… let there be no hostility except against those who practice oppression…” [2/al-Bakara/193]. The Hadis says “…whoever persecuted a non-Muslim, usurped his rights or took work from him beyond his capacity, or took something from him with evil intentions; I shall be a complainant against him on the Day of Resurrection.” [Sunan Abu Dawood, vol 2, No. 3046]. These are only a few among hundreds of such teachings and directives.
International instruments obligatory upon Bangladesh
The principle of non-discrimination is recognized in all international human rights instruments. The UN Declaration on the Rights of Persons Belonging to National or Ethnic, Religious and Linguistic Minorities makes it obligatory on the part of states to encourage conditions for the promotion of communitarian identity. The ILO Convention No. 169 of 1989 concerning Indigenous and Tribal Peoples in Independent Countries calls for the recognition of collective land rights and rights over natural resources and rights in connection with the removal and relocation from lands of the indigenous and tribal peoples. The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination addresses the issue of racial and religious discrimination more specifically. Bangladesh, as a signatory to the above instruments, is obligated to protect cultural identities, religious freedom and land rights of its minority communities. Most of the rights specified in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights are covered in the Constitution of Bangladesh as fundamental rights and the rights contained in the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights are recognized as fundamental principles of state policy. But, as a whole, the overall situation is not improving because of a serious shift in government policy.
The Constitution of Bangladesh is itself the safeguard of minority rights. Article 28(1) of the Constitution of 1972 affirms the fundamental right to equality irrespective of “religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth”. Originally, it enunciated secularism as a fundamental principle of state policy. All fundamental rights regarding right to life, property, food and security are fundamental rights guaranteed by the Constitution of Bangladesh.
Article 11 explicitly maintains that the state shall be a democracy in which fundamental human rights and freedom and respect for the dignity and worth of the human person shall be guaranteed. Article 15 entrusts the state with the responsibility to provide the basic necessities of life, including food, clothing, shelter, education and medical care, to its citizens. The right to work and social security is also guaranteed by the same provision. Article 19(1) ensures equality of opportunity to all its citizens; Article 20(1) establishes work as a right and duty.
Article 27 provides for equality before law and Article 28(1), as already mentioned, prohibits any form of discrimination on grounds of religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth. Article 41 stipulates freedom of religion and Article 42 provides for the right to property.
Apart from the Constitution, the state is also bound by numerous international instruments, more specifically by the UN Charter, to respect and undertake measures to protect the human rights of its citizens. This recognition is owed to a history of the people’s struggle against Pakistan’s military bureaucracy which encouraged the politicization of religion and promoted communalism. Article 12 had provided an interpretation of secularism that reflected Bangladesh’s multi-religious society and maintained the separation of state and religion. This was deleted in 1977 and a series of constitutional changes, introduced first in 1977, by General Ziaur Rahman, and later in 1988, by General HM Ershad, have explicitly eradicated the constitutional principle of secularism and thus contributed to religious intolerance.
The Fifth Amendment to the Constitution, adopted in 1977, replaced the word “secularism” with “Absolute trust and faith in the almighty Allah” in Article 8(1) and amended Article 8(1A) to state, “Absolute trust and faith in the almighty Allah shall be the basis of all actions.” In 1988 the eighth amendment declared Islam the state religion and in a new Article 2(A), also acknowledged that “other religions may be practiced in peace and harmony in the republic.” Political and religious extremists used these amendments to weaken the principles of minority protection. Human rights continue to be violated in general but these violations are more acute and widespread in the case of the most vulnerable sections of society, which include women and the minorities, both ethnic and religious. The violations occur due to systemic and sub systemic factors. The law that poses a serious threat to minorities in Bangladesh is the Vested Property Act. This has been the most damaging law, affecting the rights of minorities to enjoyment of their land and right to property .Their insecurity has been further enhanced with their relative exclusion from opportunities in education and employment.
The decline of the Hindu population
This is one of the largest massive destruction of Hindus in past 60 years after Pakistan being even larger. How systemically, by torture, fear, violence and death, converted Muslim majority has dealt with their Hindu brothers is a tale of horror, many times bigger than Jewish persecution of Muslims for last 1400 years. The world has never understood but Bangladesh is not poor because of its lack of resources but because of its mentally retarded leaders and blind followers of faith who are persecuting their Hindu brothers for past so many decades. Bangladesh will never ever rise economically and will remain one of the poorest lands of the world for their malicious, malefic and evil spirit and their following of satanic faith that propels them to destroy, kill and bring forth death. Bangladesh will be a black spot on the humanity’s map for thousands of years to come for Allah will never bless this ignorant and moronic bunch of losers.
Data indicate that the number of incidents of human rights abuse against Hindus during the 2006 calendar year continued at a higher rate than in 2004 and 2005, and the unstable political situation worsened by preparations for a general election enabled the Islamic fundamentalist and extremist forces to instigate attacks against the Hindu citizens caught between seeking support from the Awami League and avoiding identification as partisan backers. The total number of attacks, culled from data available for just nine months in 2006, was about the same number for the twelve month period preceding it.
In a paper published by the Ekatturer Ghatak Dalal Nirmul Committee (the committee for annihilation of collaborators of 1971), it is reported that at least 10,000 cases of human rights abuse against minorities have taken place in Bangladesh since the BNP, with Khaleda Zia as president, came to power in 2001. The 2,760 page paper alleges that the attacks against religious minorities and ethnic sects, which began during the 2001 general elections, “have not stopped even after 1,500 days.” The editor of the report, Shahriar Kabir, said that people did not disclose many of the incidents fearing further attacks and harassment. Shahriar Kabir was held in detention and subjected to torture between late November 2001 and late January 2002 after he visited India to interview Bangladeshi Hindu families who had fled persecution in Bangladesh after the general elections of October 2001.
Bangladesh continued to use discriminatory laws against its minority populations, especially Hindus. No attempt was made in 2006 year to revamp the Vested Property Return Bill (VPRB/2001), which was a subterfuge that promised to jettison the Vested Property Act (VPA/1972) and Enemy Property Act (EPA/1965) that officially designated Hindus as “enemies” and was used to confiscate land and property belonging to Hindus.
According to a study by Abul Barkat of Dhaka University, nearly 200,000 Hindu families have lost or been robbed of 122,000 bighas of land (a bigha equals 1333.33 sq. meters or 1594.65 sq. yards, or 0.33 acres), including their houses, in the six years since the Vested Property Act was annulled in 2001 to return the “vested” property to their original owners.
Barkat calculated that nearly 1.2 million or 44 per cent of the 2.7 million Hindu households in the country were affected by the Enemy Property Act 1965 and its post-independence version, the Vested Property Act 1974. At the current market price, the value of the 2.2 million acres of land that the Hindu families were robbed of is Tk 2.52 billion ($1 = 70 Tk), which is more than half of the country’s gross domestic product.
When reviewing the 2001 Vested Property Return Act Barkat found that no list of the people evicted or the quantum of land grabbed on the basis of the Vested Property Act. Instead, he found that politically powerful people had grabbed most of the land during the reign of the BNP-led alliance government between 2001 and 2006. Forty-five per cent of the land grabbers were affiliated with the BNP, 31 per cent were Awami League members, eight per cent were affiliated with the Jamaat-e-Islami and six per cent were with the Jatiya Party and other political organizations.
According to Barkat, “the affected Hindu families met with more incidents of violence and repression in the immediate-past five years of the BNP-led government than in the previous five years of the Awami League government.” His research indicates that political elements, locally influential people in collaboration with the land administration, trickery by land officials and employees themselves, use of force, fake documentation, and death or exile of original owners was how land grabbing and perpetuation of the ‘vested properties’ regime continued. Barkat points out that 53 per cent of the family displacement and 74 per cent of the land grabbing occurred before the country’s independence in 1971. The list of atrocities against Hindus, documents the concerted, calculated campaign by the Bangladeshi government to rob Hindus of their land and property.
The gang rape of women, hounding of young women and girls, murder of men and women, beatings, harassment, kidnappings, acid thrown on individuals, attacks on temples, looting of gold and jewelry, and illegal occupation of land constitute the daily litany of human rights abuses against the Bangladesh Hindu minority, tribal groups, and to a lesser extent against Christians and Buddhists. In all, 461 incidents of human rights abuses against Hindus were recorded by BHBCOP, with data unavailable for August, September and December 2006.
The State Department report on Bangladesh says the following summarizing religious freedom and conditions prevailing in 2006: “There was no change in the status of respect for religious freedom during the period covered by this report. Citizens were generally free to practice the religion of their choice; however, government officials, including the police, were often ineffective in upholding law and order and were sometimes slow to assist religious minority victims of harassment and violence. The Government and many civil society leaders stated that violence against religious minorities normally had political or economic motivations and could not be attributed only to religion.” What this summary ignores is the daily litany of violence and the climate of fear that prevails in the country, which we have detailed painstakingly.
Descriptions of a few incidents to highlight the Hindu and minority plight in Bangladesh:
1. On November 8, 2006 a group of BNP men raped a 15-year-old Hindu girl in front of her parents. The family lodged a complaint with the police on the same day, but instead of getting justice, the family was harassed and fled to Dhaka to escape further violence.
2. Kina Chakma, an adviser to the west zone branch of the committee of Sachetan Nagorik, an organization of Anti-Hill Tracts Peace Treaty, and vice president of the Rangamati Jurachuri Upazila was found dead near the Upazila Peragacha Primary School.
3. Rape has been used to shame Hindu society and to drive Hindus out of Bangladesh. A recent thesis provides detailed information about gang rape as a form of genocide in Bangladesh.
4. “Two Hindus were killed and 10 others injured three of them critically, as alleged grabbers of minority community lands attacked them in Churer Bhita village in Dhubaura upazila yesterday. The dead are Bimol Chandra Sutradhar, 26, son of Gouranga Chandra Sutradhar, and Haridas Sutradhar, 35, son of Chandra Kumar Sutradhar. Police and locals said Omar Ali, an alleged land grabber, along with 25 men equipped with sharp weapons attacked them when they were cultivating boro on a 40-decimal piece of land around 7:00 a.m.”
As in the past two years we have relied on Bangladesh-based human rights organizations for data on human rights abuses. The chief provider of information was the Bangladesh Hindu Bouddha Christian Oikiya Parishad – Bangladesh Hindu, Buddhist and Christian Unity Council (BHBCOP).
5. Ariful, a BNP leader of Moulavibazaar district wanted to make Baganbari (Garden house) by occupying Debottor (Deity’s) property.
6. Family of Bidhu Bushan, a minority in Sunamganj district ostracized for 18 days, a case lodged against Panchait (village assembly of arbitrators).
7. A minority gold trader of Jikargacha Upazila of Jessore district committed suicide after he was ruined by the political perpetrators.
8. Setting up of an office of BNP on the land of a minority businessman in Durgapur Upazila of Netrokona district alleged.
9. Two Hindu minorities of Bajitpur Upazila of Kishoreganj district make an appeal to the authority for the recovery of their lands from a local named Angur Maih.
10. Terrorists carried attack in minority Palli (village) of Parbatipur of Dinajpur district, shallow machine looted and 20 injured.
This is an unending story of Hindus in Bangladesh. Here I have just pointed out few of the headline of those stories published in the local dailies during the month of March only that would tell of its saddest thoughts of humiliation of Hindus.
Violations of Constitution and UN covenants
The Constitution of Bangladesh is designed to protect human rights to all persons living in the country, regardless of race, religion, or sex. Article 11 of the Constitution explicitly states, “The Republic shall be a democracy in which fundamental human rights and freedoms and respect for the dignity and worth of the human person shall be guaranteed.” Article 28 provides that “The State shall not discriminate against any citizen on grounds only of religion, race caste, sex or place of birth,” while Article 31 states that the protection of the law is “the inalienable right of every citizen, wherever he may be.”
The violence against Bangladeshi journalists, the rape of Hindu and tribal women, and the attacks against minorities and human rights activists have all gone unchecked despite the constitutional assurance of equal protection under the law. Moreover, the constitution provides freedom of religion to all of its citizens in Article 41, which states, “Every citizen has the right to profess, practice or propagates any religion and every religious community or denomination has the right to establish, maintain and manage its religious institutions.
In addition to Bangladesh’s constitutional human right guarantees, its accession to the United Nation’s International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (CCPR) took place on January 1, 1999. According to Article 2 of the CCPR, “Each State Party to the present Covenant undertakes to respect and to ensure to all individuals within its territory and subject to its jurisdiction the rights recognized in the present Covenant, without distinction of any kind, such as race, color, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.” Similar to Article 41 of Bangladesh’s Constitution, CCPR Article 18 states, “Everyone shall have the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion. This right shall include freedom to have or to adopt a religion or belief of his choice, and freedom, either individually or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in worship, observance, practice and teaching.” And most importantly, Article 27 maintains, “In those States in which ethnic, religious or linguistic minorities exist, persons belonging to such minorities shall not be denied the right, in community with the other members of their group, to enjoy their own culture, to profess and practice their own religion, or to use their own language.” As demonstrated throughout this report, far from being protected, the ethnic and religious minorities within Bangladesh are being harassed, pillaged, raped, and driven from their homes with no corrective action by the government. Although Bangladesh agreed to this international covenant over seven years ago, its government has yet to enforce the rights to which the CCPR aims to provide.
Bangladesh has also agreed to the UN’s International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms for Racial Discrimination, which defines “racial discrimination” as “any distinction, exclusion, restriction or preference based on race, color, descent, or national or ethnic origin which has the purpose or effect of nullifying or impairing the recognition, enjoyment or exercise, on an equal footing, of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the political, economic, social, cultural or any other field of public life.”
Article 2 of the Convention states, “Each State Party undertakes to engage in no act or practice of racial discrimination against persons, groups of persons or institutions and to ensure that all public authorities and public institutions, national and local, shall act in conformity with this obligation.”
The VPRB/2001 is in clear violation of Article 2 of the Convention as it is a form of racial discrimination, which directly targets minority groups within Bangladesh, particularly Hindus. Again, no attempts have been made by the Bangladesh government to rectify this discrimination.
Persecution of Hindus in Bangladesh
In 2008 Hindus were targeted due to inter-communal disagreements, quarrels over land or other disputes. Hindus were physically attacked, had their houses looted, temples destroyed and many women were raped.
Due to corruption, ignorance, and discriminatory attitudes, the police were often uncooperative when Hindu minorities attempt to obtain justice for crimes committed against them. In many cases, the police did not assist the victims to receive medical and/or legal assistance. The police sometimes discouraged the victims from reporting about the crimes, or they did not investigate cases before accepting counter cases that led to the detention of the victims. Sometimes they recorded the case under a lower criminal charge than the actual crime deserved. The ordinance No.16 of 2001 (Vested property Return Act) passed by the Awami League government was still not implemented. The Vested Property Act does not only have a legal implication, it also creates an ambience were violence against Hindus is tolerated.
Occurrences of land grabbing, assault and murder against Hindus:-
A Hindu’s land attacked by 50 armed persons:
On 16 February 2008, about 50 armed people tried to commandeer the land of a Dhaka citizen. The owner and residents were severely injured and taken to a local hospital. The land in question had previously been the subject of a civil litigation that awarded ownership of the property to the assaulted victim. The owner filed a report against all 50 suspects, 24 of which have been arrested. The case is now pending trial. (GHRD 19-02-2008.)
Police inaction led to murder of a Hindu in Khulna:
In Balarampur, a Hindu populated village in the Khulna district, a 50-year old Hindu man was killed for attempting to mediate a land dispute between his Muslim neighbours. On 27 April, his body was found hanging from a tree after being strangled to death. He had received many threats and reported them to the local chairman who did not take any measures.
Only after GHRD representatives investigated the situation did police authorities change the case to murder. Perpetrators have since been identified.
A Hindu family attacked in their home in Narayanganj:
On the morning of 18 September 2008, a group of men armed with various sharp weapons attacked the home of a Hindu family in Doudpur Union, P.S. Rupganj, Narayanganj.Gold ornaments amounting to Taka 95 000 were stolen and the family’s Goddess ‘Sawraswati’ was damaged. Most members of the family were injured, including a four year old boy and his mother, who was sexually assaulted and hit with iron rods and an axe.
After the police refused to cooperate and instead accepted a counter complaint against the family from one of the perpetrators, GHRD representatives intervened, helping to initiate an investigation (GHRD).
A man and his family intimidated by police to give up their land:
The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) reported on a family who had been asked by the Paikgachha police to give up their land without any lawful reason, after the husband had been held in detention for 12 hours on 31 March 2008. On 29 March 2008, the police informed the father of the family that he must surrender land. His refusal to do so resulted in his arbitrary arrest on false grounds of robbery and extortion, reversed only if he cooperated in giving up possession of his land.
Only after intervention by the Officer-in-Charge (OC) was he released. Since the incident the SI of police has continued to intimidate the family, insisting that they follow his instructions and give up their land. He and his family live in constant fear of their lives as well as of their property. Police authorities in Bangladesh often abuse their power, affecting many families in the area. (AHRC)
Family house burned following a dispute over land:
On 23 March 2008, following a dispute over land, students and teachers of a Qwami madrasa (Islamic school) attacked a family house in Raiganj upazila. After damaging the furniture and looting valuables, they set the house on fire and beat up the family living inside, causing injuries to five people. The family had been threatened of being killed before and were abducted by the perpetrators, who wanted to evict them from the land. 
Hindus continuously evicted from their land:
Hindus of Sonaidanga beel in the Sinajganj district are continually under threat of being evicted from their land and are harassed with false cases to expedite their evacuation. From the 56.68 acres in their possession for a long time, only 28.36 acres of that land remain in their ownership.
Victims have complained several times to the local police and administration but no step has yet been taken to stop or punish the alleged perpetrators. A team of human rights activists including (among others) local organizations and Transparency International of Bangladesh visited the area on Sunday 4 May in order to talk with victims and evaluate the situation.
Destruction of Hindus religious sites
Hindu families attacked next to the Radha Govinda Temple in the Noakhali district:
On 15 February 2008, three houses belonging to Hindu families, located next to the Radha Govinda Temple in the Parusurampur village, were attacked while religious services were being conducted. Hindu worshippers, women and children were seriously injured and taken to the local hospital. The police arrested the two suspects.
A Hindu Goddess temple demolished and desecrated:
On 20 March 2008, during a celebration, some men entered the Murthi (a Hindu goddess) of Siddeswari Temple in the Munshiganj district and asked an illegal tax (jiizia tax) from all worshippers.As the Hindu worshippers were not able to pay such an amount, the perpetrators demolished and desecrated the Temple. On suspicion, the police arrested a member of the municipality but eventually released him.
Structure of 15 Vaishnava Graveyard of a Hindu orphanage destroyed in the Patuakhali district:
The structure of 15 Vaishnava Graveyard of a Hindu orphanage was destroyed on 14 April 2007 in the Patuakhali district. The perpetrators have not yet been identified.
No Captures for Desecration of Hindu Minority Temples Narayanpur, Barisal: two temples were looted and demolished. On the night of 03 September 2008 the Murthi of Goddess, a Hindu idol in the Roy Bahadur Kali Temple, was demolished and desecrated in Hari Narayanpur at Noakhali.
A sense of discontentment prevails in Noakhali district. High officials in the district have begun investigations with the community registering a case against possible offenders.
500 year old Hindu temple destroyed:
On 8 August, a private Hindu temple belonging to the head teacher of Chaitanyya High School of Gaila, Agailjhara Upazila, Barisal district was demolished, looted and desecrated by unknown perpetrators. This temple was 500 years old. The local Hindu community, including non communal forces, has condemned this incident.
Then why Hindus and other minorities should be killed, tortured or pushed out of their country? Why we should be deprived of staying on our homeland exercising our full birthrights and enjoy a normal peaceful life like the Muslims?
Sure, the answer will be “yes we can and we should”. However, you will come up with this answer only if you don’t belong to that bullheaded transgressor fundamentalist community. But the reality is NOT “what it should be” rather just the opposite. And the situation has aggravated to such an extent that it has now been an imperative to do something about it.
Clearly there are two alternatives: Stay or Leave. Let’s examine the last one first.
Leaving the country!
For the sake of argument, if we assume that the Hindus have to leave their country, then what would be their immigrating destination? Silly question, definitely India! Obviously, this has to be agreed and arranged by both the countries. Now what if India doesn’t agree to accept this bulk of population? And why India would do so? Currently no such agreement exists between the two countries in this regard. Furthermore, this is absolutely an internal problem of Bangladesh, which has to be solved by them without involving its neighbors.
For India, it’s absolutely impossible to agree and accept such a proposal, as it has always been a secular country since the partition and wouldn’t change its national identity. This will be simply axing own feet. Because as a multi-racial and multi-religious state India will loose its own integrity and constitutional power to unify the huge nation. So we are left with the other option. It’s worth noting here that regardless of the above fact, solution to such a problem can never be found by escaping from the country.
Stay on the scene and fight out!
Yes. What else can Hindus do? Put it this way: would they be better off being helpless refugees in a different country? The whole generation will lose their establishments, inheritance, dignity, morale and courage and return to square one in their lives. Then what reasons left to live their life? No one would want to do that! Let’s raise another question: If a community can’t encounter and fight back the odds in a given situation, what guarantees are there that they will do the same in a different situation? Even if they can, they may be threatened by another or different type of problems.
In a brainstorming discussion on this issue, one participant came up with an idea that a geographic boundary (e.g., a district) is allocated solely for Hindus. Needless to say that the proposal had no merit. Citizens in a country can never be separated and relocated (like cows and goats) in such a way. That wouldn’t make sense simply to anyone. The consideration to stay might sound very tough to some members of our Hindu community, especially to those who have lost a lot and families are devastated. However rest assured, the other option is tougher!
A dissident reader must be wondering, what we should do to protect us and live an honorable life in our country. Well, that’s the real challenge we have to face as a minority. Unfortunately, thoughts like “it’s a curse to born in a minority community” wouldn’t help us at all. Let’s get up and face it.
To make an honourable living for Hindus in Bangladesh, we must have to change firstly, our own attitude and then the others to let them think that we are in no way weaker or vulnerable. Numbers of issues have to be ensured in national and international arena.
But to solve the problem it is only the concerned state that can do it. To address the problem we should examine ins and outs:
at national levels
First of all, an effective and fully representative committee for Hindus should be formed that can raise the voices of all concerned. Combined with other community leaders, intellectuals, professionals, cultural groups and peace-loving citizens; a concerted effort should be made to create mass awareness about the rights of individuals including the minorities.
Outlining the conditions and requirements for a peaceful, tolerant, just and harmonious society, the forum can put forward some specified demands before the government.
They can be as follows:
1) Reinstate and enforce constitutional rights for every citizen in the state
2) Legislative measures that introduce higher maximum penalties for racially motivated crimes, regardless of the offender’s position or status
3) Establishment of new advisory bodies on matters relevant to combating racism and intolerance
4) Establishment of human rights institutions and ombuds persons for ethnic and racial equality
5) Monitor and apply punitive measures for speeches that create any type of racial hatred
6) National bodies to advise the government on early warnings and measures to prevent problems from escalating into conflicts and identify cases where there is a lack of an adequate legislative basis for defining and criminalizing all forms of racial discrimination
7) Most importantly, the rule of law is reinstated
8) Make necessary amendments to the Vested Property Return Act 2001 and the Vested Property Return (Amendment) Act 2002 and make these amendments fruitful.
9) Take administrative measures to ensure return of ‘vested property’.
10) Compensate all families whose land has been seized over the last 34 years in cases where land cannot be returned.
11) Ensure the inclusion of all minority voters in voter lists and make all elections fear-free.
12) Maintain data on employment according to religion and ethnicity in government, private sector, media, NGOs and education.
13) Formulate affirmative action programmes for employment of minorities in the public and private sector.