A QUIET CASE OF ETHNIC CLEANSING
PART TWO: ISLAMIST ATTACKS AND GOVERNMENT COLLUSION
Dr. Richard L. Benkin
This is the second installment of
a four-part series about the ongoing persecution and ethnic cleansing of the
millions-strong Bangladeshi Hindus. Most
of the direct attacks come from Islamist radicals who are assuming an every
prominent role in Bangladeshi society, government, and police. But their ability to continue their
systematic destruction of the Hindu community is possible only through the
government’s inaction (at best) or tacit approval. Part One explored the historical roots of
this genocide-in-waiting. This second part
reviews current actions by radicals and governments.
The ethnic cleansing of
Bangladeshi Hindus has intensified in recent years. Although no human rights NGO or the UN Human
Rights Commission has taken up this matter; several individual South Asians,
some authors and journalists, and a few ersatz organizations have attempted to
do something to bring this matter to light.
Some Muslims, Shoaib Choudhury in particular and fundamentalist leader
Kazi Azizul Huq, are raising the issue as well.
In February 2007, I received a fax from a Hindu living outside of
His parents had been forced out of Bangladesh
and his family had fled to the Indian state of West Bengal
His story is not very different from what I
have heard from many Bangladeshi Hindus, except that Bikash Halder decided that
he could not let his own two children or those of his co-religionists grow up
in a world no different from the one he knew.
He had heard of me from my human rights work in
and located a Hindu attorney in Dhaka, whom Shoaib Choudhury and I work with
and whom I had met when I was in Dhaka
His message was that Bangladeshi
Hindus were suffering, and they needed my help.
I had received a number of reports to the effect but had not been
involved beyond some protests to the Bangladeshis about their treatment of
minorities and some speeches I had made while in the country.
It is difficult to get exact
figures on the number of Bangladeshi Hindus and their descendants living in India
since so much of the movement takes place under the legal radar. Complicating matters further is the fact that
there has been extensive movement of economic refugees across the border, as
well as deliberate “infiltration” (to use the term current in
of Bangladeshi Muslims into West Bengal
Even so, after more contact with Halder and
others, the full and frightening extent of their condition became clear.
So, at the request of several individuals and
groups working for the refugees, I traveled to West Bengal and elsewhere in
where I spent the better part of February 2008.
I visited over a dozen refugee camps (some semi-legal, most illegal);
spoke with dozens of refugees; held private and clandestine meetings with
informants; and addressed public forums on the plight of the refugees and what
we could do working together.
Numerous refugees testified about
“atrocities” committed by Islamist radicals inside Bangladesh. These included beatings, murders,
mutilations, ritualized gang rapes, and forced eviction from their lands. In camp after camp, informants told of one or
another relative or neighbor being murdered by the radicals as a warning (often
repeated explicitly) to abandon their property and leave the area. Most of the camps I visited were in the
northern part of West Bengal, and so the vast majority of refugees had fled
from areas in
northwestern or western districts.
Another common incident the refugees related involved the random
abduction of young Hindu women and girls.
These unfortunate females were raped and held by one of their captors
then forcibly married to him.
Now, to be
sure, the women were left with little choice, even without the physical
restraint and intimidation that was applied to them.
In these traditional villages, rape victims
are considered to have shamed their families and so are not welcomed back or
Regardless of how heinous we
find such attitudes, they play right into the radicals’ calculations.
For the process insures that all offspring
will then be raised as Muslims in an all-Muslim environment, and a potential source
of Hindu offspring will be prevented from fulfilling that role.
The logic is not out of keeping with how
radicals target Christians in certain areas of the
and in other traditional societies.
also parallels the practice of Palestinian terrorists.
During periods of frequent suicide bombings,
they would deliberately target Israeli venues that are populated heavily by
women of childbearing age, teenagers, and other young people.
There is extensive statistical evidence to
support this, and to believe this documented pattern is a coincidence and not a
deliberate and genocidal plan would be naďve.
One informant told me of an
incident—and he said this sort of thing was very common in Bangladesh—whereby
a chicken of his roamed into the yard of a Muslim neighbor. The neighbor seized the chicken and ate
it. When the owner of the bird
confronted him about this, the neighbor replied that he did it because he was
Muslim and could. In fact, despite
Bangladeshi assurances to the contrary, Hindus and other religious minorities
do not enjoy equal rights in that country.
When government representatives point to formalistic laws that guarantee
equal rights, I tend to respond by likening them to one of the most
beautifully-written documents I ever read; to wit, the Stalinist constitution
of the Soviet Union. While it went on
about freedom and equality, the circumstances on the ground were anything but
free and equal. Thus, the refugees also
reported an almost universal pattern whereby they would go to the local
Bangladeshi authorities for help and protection after an attack or threat. Yet, not one person reported receiving any
help; in fact, the common response they reported from the officials was for
them to abandon their property and quit
Others who have faced religious or political
persecution in Bangladesh
report identical experiences with the authorities.
My own experiences with them are
Further, there is a good deal
of anecdotal evidence from victims of numerous incidents in which not only
Islamists but also members of the local government actually participated in the
Kazi Azizul Huq of the Khalefat
said that I needed to take care in accepting stories of Islamist attacks. No doubt, he said, they do occur, but he
asserted that many of the Hindus have left voluntarily even abandoning or
selling their lands. Huq is a
fundamentalist Muslim and a good man who supports action to protect Bangladeshi
minorities and other similar action. And
no doubt, some of the refugees really did leave
of their own volition for economic reasons.
But it is also clear that most “voluntary” transactions by Hindus are
often less than voluntarily; some not voluntary at all.
If one lacks basic rights and protections
that all citizens of society can expect, then they are not in control of their
If they have seen others
attacked and the authorities refuse to protect them; or heard those same
authorities tell them to leave the country; the decision to emigrate is
undertaken independent of any truly free will.
Let us remember that countless German Jews voluntarily
transferred their properties in the 1930s.
These anti-minority actions have been taking place for
decades with impunity. The rest of the
world has turned a deaf ear to their cries, a blind eye to their
suffering. Refugees told me about
attacks going back to a time when
was still East Pakistan
More frightening, except for the few years
after Bangladeshi independence, the attacks have proceeded rather almost
My own informants are by no
means the only source of evidence for the persecution of religious minorities
Two organizations with chapters in North
America, Europe, and of course South Asia
Rights Congress for Bangladesh Minorities and the Bangladesh Hindu Buddhist
Christian Unity Council—have been documenting atrocities against Bangladeshi
minorities for years.
They also have
been trying valiantly to inform people of the dire situation of their
Bangladeshi co-religionists; but there has been no effective response to their
As a Jewish man, I cannot help
but be struck by these cries for help and draw parallels to similar cries of my
own people in
during the 1930s.
They, too, tried to warn the world about a
rising dictator and dangerous with genocidal designs on them.
Their co-religionists elsewhere tried to
sound that alarm bell, too; but then, too, there was no effective response.
The consequences proved disastrous not only
for Jewry but for the rest of the world, as well.
Dr. Richard L. Benkin is an
independent human rights activist who first gained notoriety for his successful
fight to free Bangladeshi journalist Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury from
imprisonment and torture in 2005. Since
then, he has continued to advocate for Mr. Choudhury’s rights—are constantly
under attack by the government of
for other human rights issues. Most
recently, he took a fact finding trip to West
Bengal and other areas in India to
confirm the ethnic cleansing of Bangladeshi Hindus and the severity of their
current situation even in India.
Dr. Benkin is
available for talks and seminars:
Part I: The Roots of Ethnic Cleansing
Part III: Rightless and Vulnerable
Part IV: What Must be Done