PUCL Bulletin, February 2002

Minorities in Bangladesh Under Attack

By R.M. Pal

India, Pakistan and Bangladesh have the most fertile soil for communalism to grow and prosper. It was expected that after the partition of India in 1947 the hate campaign against minorities would disappear from both India and Pakistan. On the contrary the hate campaign has been on the increase in both countries since 1947. In India we have witnessed increasing communal riots over the years.

It was also expected that after the creation of Bangladesh in 1971 the Hindus, Buddhists and Christians would feel secure. That hope has been belied.
The minorities in Bangladesh came under attack immediately after a caretaker government was installed on 15 July 2001 in the run-up to the general election. Attacks on and persecution of minorities have been on the increase after Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) came to lead a coalition government in October 2001. There have been heart-rending reports of violence against mostly the Hindus. Thousands of people uprooted from their homes have been coming to West Bengal and Tripura.

Supporters of Jamait-e-Islami in Bangladesh (which is a partner in the Begum Khaleda Zia's coalition government) appear to be bent on terrorizing the minorities. They have indulged in cruel murders; they killed the Principal of a college in Chittagong in broad daylight.

The Home Minister, the Finance Minister and a junior Minister in the present government have dismissed reports of atrocities committed on minorities; they maintain that such reports were "politically motivated". (They forgot that their own Prime Minister, Begum Zia had assured the government of India that perpetrators of atrocities and cruelties would be severely dealt with). However, there are others including the Prime Minister and a senior Minister, Saifur Rehman who do not share these Ministers' perception. The Prime Minister has directed her staff to investigate incidents of atrocities. Mr. Saifur Rehman announced from public platforms that perpetrators of the cruelties would be severely dealt with. He also announced that the Durga Puja is not merely a festival of the Hindus, it is Bangladesh's own festival. He is reported to have told the Home Minister (a former Chief of Air Staff): "Do you know what's happening on the ground? Don't float in the air, have your feet firmly on the ground."

There are other reports which have appeared in the Bangladesh press and which clearly indicate the seriousness of atrocities committed on the minorities. For reasons of space I would restrict myself to a couple of reports. An article in The Daily Star of Dhaka by Mahfuzur Rahman details accounts of communal attacks. I give below a few extracts: "Press reports of the ugly resurgence of communalism suggest an unprecedented number of incidents of violence against Hindu Bengalees all over the country… There was no incident of provocation [like the demolition of the Babri Masjid in India]… Press reports from impartial sources speak of a vast number of assaults on Hindus by Muslim hoodlums … Frightened Hindus have fled their homes. A young Hindu girl was gang-raped in her own home while the other members of her family were beaten up and subdued. Many more reports of rape and mayhem have come to light. Leading groups of respected liberal intellectuals and NGOs have called the present spate of repression of minorities a national crisis, not a local problem… An advisor in the last caretaker government reportedly called communal riots a 'natural thing'."


On a petition made by a highly respected NGO in Bangladesh, Ain-O-Salish Kendra (Centre for Law and Counseling) the High Court in Dhaka came down heavily on the government for failing to prevent Muslim extremists from attacking Hindu homes, businesses and places of worship; and issued a notice to the government in this regard.

The German news agency, Deutsche Presse Agenter has reported: "Attacked minorities included Christians and Buddhists. Temples and Churches were ransacked across the country by Muslim extremists, according to news reports, touching off an exodus of Hindu families" (source, The Statesman).
There have been reports of demonstrations organized by human rights groups in Bangladesh against communal attacks on minorities.

The Amnesty International in its recent report has stated: "Successive governments have let down the minorities and the last two months show how vulnerable the Hindu community is. The government must live upto its responsibility to protect its citizens and must do it now."

Regrettably, the Jamait-e-Islami in Delhi, in spite of authentic reports, think differently. One of its publications, carried an article under the heading, "Propaganda of Anti-Minority Row in Bangladesh": "There is a hue and cry in Bangladesh over the reported inhuman torture of the minorities in the country. In most cases these reports were published in some irresponsible newspapers trying to defame the four-party ruling alliance government in Bangladesh". One should have expected the minorities in each of these countries to come to the rescue of the minorities of the neighbouring countries. It is regrettable that a section of our Muslim intellectuals and activists do not share this perception in the present context of happenings in Bangladesh.

Hindus, Buddhists and Christians in East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) have been the worst victims of partition-once in 1947 and then in 1971. (In fact minorities both in Pakistan and India have suffered). Political rulers in India-including the West Bengal government and the Union government-have no sympathy for the refugees coming from Bangladesh. The West Bengal Chief minister equates the influx of Hindu refugees with Muslims coming from Bangladesh to India, mostly for economic reason. Let us not forget the assurances that were given by our political leaders to the Hindus of Pakistan in 1947 (as also to the Muslims in India by Pakistani leaders). Gandhiji was emphatic that people leaving Pakistan must get shelter in India. Pandit Nehru stated on 15 August 1947: "We think also of our brothers and sisters who have been cut off from us by political boundaries and who unhappily cannot share at present in the freedom that has come. They are of us and will remain of us whatever may happen, and we shall be sharers in their good and ill fortune alike". Sardar Patel also spoke in the same vein: "Their future welfare must engage the most careful and serious attention of the government and the people of Indian union in the light of development that may take hereafter."
Deporting the refugees from West Bengal and Tripura will be an act of human rights violation. What the government of India must do is to negotiate with the government of Bangladesh and impress upon it that it is in the interest of Bangladesh that a healthy climate is created and the refugees return to Bangladesh on their own. The minorities in Bangladesh do not want to migrate to India; they only want an assurance of security from the Bangladesh government; they want nothing else. They left East Pakistan and then Bangladesh because of the absence of security.

The West Bengal government must remember that it is the bhadralok Hindus in Bengal like Jyoti Basu who wanted Bengal to be partitioned; after partition in 1947 they all migrated to West Bengal (leaving the poor and the plebian behind) and began to enjoy the fruits and benefits of partition-they became rulers of West Bengal. The poor Hindus, Buddhists and Christians who stayed back in East Pakistan did not want Bengal to be partitioned. The bhadralok Hindus in West Bengal have the moral duty and responsibility to come to the rescue of the poor from Bangladesh.

We hope Begum Zia will give serious thought to the plight of the minorities. If she does not come to their rescue they will be left with the only other option-to pray to God, if there were one, but then God has no time, as we all know, for poor victims! The only people who are making brave efforts to make life secure for the minorities in Bangladesh are the human rights activists in Bangladesh (as also human rights activists in Pakistan and India for minorities in their own countries), who, of course, are doing their best to establish a sane society which will be based on the values of tolerance. It is our fervent hope that they succeed.

Let the Bangladesh government (as also government of India and Pakistan) not forget that communalism is one of the worst forms of human rights violations and any country/government which encourages communalism and resultant violations of human rights, is only creating dissension and divisiveness-sure ingredients to destroy a country. Let these countries not forget that Pakistan fell apart in 1971 primarily because of massive human rights violations that its armed forces and law enforcement agencies, actively assisted by a section of the people (whom the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan calls 'Mullahs') perpetrated on the Bengalees. We hope Begum Khaleda Zia puts her foot down and stops the influx of minorities to India.-10 December 2001.

Post-script: As directed by Prime Minister Begum Zia, her Secretary submitted a report a few days ago which says that press reports about atrocities on minorities are baseless. Begum Zia has now gone back on her earlier stand. On the basis of a cooked up report by the Secretary (which has been dismissed by the responsible section of the Bangladesh Press and other thoughtful Bangladeshis as "hogwash" and that the whole world "already knows the real truth") the Prime Minister says that there was not much truth in reports of large scale atrocities on the minorities and their migration to India.
The press has also advised Begum Zia not to contradict the facts about atrocities since the facts are known, thanks to the electronic and print media in Bangladesh. We hope Begum Zia listens to the wise voice of human rights activists and the responsible section of the press of her own country who have given detailed accounts of the most horrendous incidents of atrocities perpetrated on minorities, and stops persecution of minorities -
- 21 December 2001

Home | Index