New Delhi: Communal violence directed at Hindus in Bangladesh are turning into a matter of serious concern.
Reports reaching the Indian Capital say Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, who recently concluded a four-day visit to India, is taking stock of the situation.
What is more worrisome is that as many as 79 Hindus have been killed in Bangladesh in the last six months.
The recent census of Bangladesh shows that percent of Hindu population has dwindled to 7 percent only.
On the occasion of Janmashtami, Hasina told the Hindus, who are a minority community in Bangladesh, that they have the same rights as her.
She urged leaders of the Hindu community and believers of other faiths not to think of themselves as minorities, saying everyone irrespective of their religions will enjoy equal rights in Bangladesh, a Muslim-majority country.
“We want people of all faiths to live with equal rights. You are people of this country, you have equal rights here, you have the same rights as I have,” said Hasina.
“You would always think that you are the citizens of this country and you will enjoy equal rights. We also want to see you in that way. Please don’t undermine yourselves. You were born in this country; you are the citizens of this country.”
Her reaction was almost a month after temples, shops, and houses of Hindus were vandalised in southwestern Bangladesh.
This year too, there have been a number of incidents where idols of Durga have been damaged. The July attacks were the latest in the wave of communal violence directed at Hindus in Bangladesh. Reports say temples were stoned and furniture inside the temple compound was broken. Few houses of Hindus were burnt.
Reports accessed by this reporter show in the last six months alone, there have been 501 organised attacks on Hindus. As many as 56 temples were attacked and there have been 50 cases of idol thefts. In addition, cops in the hinterland registered cases where 13 members of the Hindu community members were raped.
There were 10 incidents of gang rape and cops registered cases where three Hindu women were killed after the rape. There have been complaints in the police station about 19 rape attempts and nearly 100 cases of forcible conversion. As many as 21 community leaders were tried for conversions.
Bangladesh erupted into widespread violence during last year’s Durga Puja festival. Security forces were deployed in 22 districts in the country after dozens of Hindu temples were attacked after news spread that a copy of the Quran, Islamic holy book, was desecrated.
In October, 2019, Biplab Chandra, a Hindu, reported that his Facebook account was hacked, and ‘anti-Muslim’ posts shared. While Chandra was at the police station reporting the hacking, the hackers had reportedly called Biplab and asked for ransom. Using the ‘anti-Muslim’ posts as an excuse, Muslims in the area later torched 12 houses of Hindus in Burhanuddin area in Bhola district.
This year, the anti-Hindu violence began in Comilla and spread elsewhere. About 10 Hindu temples and shrines were attacked and vandalised by the crowds, who threw stones and smashed statues of the Hindu gods [in Comilla]. More than 200 special shrines set up for the Durga Puja were attacked, with about 150 Hindus injured and two killed.
Top officials of the Ministry of External Affairs told this reporter that incidents of violence against minority Hindus have become routine in Bangladesh.
“These attacks are alarming, India is keeping a watch,” said the official on conditions of anonymity.
During Hasina’s visit to India, a number of human rights organisations staged a rally in the heart of Delhi, demanding her personal assurance to stop the atrocities on minority Hindus and Buddhists of Bangladesh.
“We feel the Indian government has failed in its duty to protect the Hindus of Bangladesh. While one comment in an insignificant TV show can organize a number of Muslim countries to threat India, our government does not show that courage for Hindu cause. During the devastating attacks on Durga Puja festivals last year, the response of the Indian government was too feeble,” the protesters said in a statement.
“We want to remind Sheikh Hasina that Bangladesh was created in the blood of thousands of Indian soldiers and 2.5 million lives of Bengali Hindus,” said the statement.
“India fought against Pakistan in 1971 and East Pakistan from the clutches of the barbarous soldiers of the Pakistani Army who committed genocide and tried to wipe out the Hindus. Now, militant Bengali Muslim Jihadists are trying to drive out the Hindus and other ethnic minorities again to make it a monolithic Islamic country,” the statement further said.
A few videos accessed by this reporter show the way such attacks are happening, mostly in the hinterland. At times, Hindu families are ostracised in towns, villages. On some occasions, Hindu teachers are being beaten and paraded in the schools with garlands of shoes. Cops in Dhaka, Narayanganj, Gopalganj, Narail, Savar and other places admit such incidents are on the rise.
Worse, even if cases are filed by the police, no conviction for communal harassment by Muslims has taken place for long. Along with members of the Hindu community, members of the Buddhist Chakma community are also continuously harassed, attacked and converted. Reports of such attacks are routinely published in newspapers in Bangladesh.
What is alarming is some historical figures.
The population of the religious and ethnic minorities, specifically the Hindus in Bangladesh have declined from 33% in 1951 (as estimated) to 8.5% in 2011 (as per population census). And now it hovers around 7 percent as per both official and unofficial estimates.
And it is due to power conflict, strife and turmoil, communal politics, violence and riots based on the two nation’s theory since the partition of Bengal in 1947 which is still in existence, especially in the hinterland.
A report by Bangladesh Minority Council states that over the past 45 years, a silent ethnic cleansing of Hindus has been going on in Bangladesh
What is distressing is the fact that a migration of 2 crores (20 million) Hindus and other minorities is not a realistic idea, rather they should live in Bangladesh safely with dignity.
It was on December 9, 2019, Home Minister Amit Shah had tabled the Citizenship Amendment Bill in the Lok Sabha. During his speech on the bill, Shah highlighted the injustice, persecution and violence that the minority Hindus, Sikhs, Jains, Buddhists and Parsis in Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan are subjected to. Shah mentioned an incident in 2001 in Bhola where, under a well-articulated attack, over 200 Hindu women were raped and tortured by Muslim men.
The Bhola rape and violence incident occurred just after the Bangladesh National Party under Begum Khalida Zia came to power. After the election victory, the BNP and Jamaat-e-Islami goons had wreaked havoc over Hindus in Bangladesh.
Bhola is an island district in southern Bangladesh.
Years later, a Judicial Commission inquiry in Bangladesh had concluded that over 25,000 leaders and local party workers of the then ruling BNP and Jamaat-e-Islami were involved in the attack against Hindus and other minorities that had led to hundreds of deaths, injuries and had forced the Hindus to flee into India.
(Shantanu Guha Ray is a Wharton-trained journalist and award-winning author. He lives in Delhi with his wife and two pets. He won the 2018 Crossword award for his book, Target, which probed the NSEL payment crisis.)