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
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
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.
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
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