Hindus, facing existential attacks in Bangladesh

Source: News Bharati English  |  12/10/2013 2:17:59 PM

(Special article - Global Human Rights day)



By Dr. Richard L. Benkin

Pakistan’s 1951 census counted Hindus to be a third of the East Pakistan population. Today, in that same territory now known as Bangladesh, Hindus are about one in fifteen. That is a tragic fact—that Hindus are disappearing in another ancestral land of theirs. Two things make it even worse:

- That their disappearance is the result of atrocities including murder, gang rape, land seizures, child abduction, forced conversion, religious desecration, and more; which continue to occur at an average rate of at least one per week.

- Every Bangladeshi government—from the first government under Sheikh Mujibar Rahman through the current one under his daughter Sheikh Hasina Wajed—has been complicit in these atrocities and in the deliberate attempt to eliminate Hinduism from their nation.

One nine-day period in May 2012 saw a Hindu community leader murdered in broad daylight, the abduction of a child walking to a Hindufestival, and gang rapes of two Hindu women. Four horrific actions in nine days andthe government took it as nine normal days in Bangladesh. In July 2013 alone: Hindu human rights advocate Rabindra Ghosh was attacked multiple times and harassed by an Awami League MP; a Hindu college student was abducted and murdered so his girlfriend could be forced to marry Muslims, and after she refused, police arrested her and let the perpetrators go; Hindu land seizures by a Member of Parliament were exposed, and the government protected the MP allowing him to continue committing crimes while remaining in office; police covered up massive attacks on Hindu communities that involved, rape, looting, arson, and assault, and they also tried to extort “protection money” from the Hindu communities. And these are only the atrocities we confirmed with our limited resources and at least two independent witnesses.

More disturbing news: Evidence keeps coming to me about a disturbing trend that indicates how ingrained anti-Hindu atrocities are in Bangladesh. For several years, Bangladesh has seen an influx of Rohingya Muslims fleeing inter-religious conflict in neighboring Myanmar. According to several credible and independent sources, an unknown number of these refugees have joined with the radical groups and engaged in anti-Hindu activities. If Bangladesh is not actively supporting anti-Hindu ethnic cleansing, it is at the very least enabling it by looking the other way when it happens ad sending even its newest residents a message that such actions will go unpunished in Bangladesh. Stay tuned for more information.

Imagine the horror of living under constant threat, having friends and family members brutalized or worse. Now imagine how much more horrifying it is to live like that knowing that the rest of the world simply does not care, which it is like for Hindus in Bangladesh.

Bangladeshi officials are so confident that their crimes will go unnoticed that they do not even try to be credible in their denials. Akaramul Qadar, the Bangladeshi ambassador to the United States for instance, tried to tell me that the reason why Hindus are disappearing from Bangladesh is voluntary: “They cannot find suitable matches for their children [in Bangladesh] so they go to India where there are more Hindus.” Bangladeshi Home Minister Muhiuddin Khan Alamgir would not even acknowledge that Hindus are disappearing instead implying to me that, as an American, I should mind my own business because “33 people were killed in Connecticut,” reference to a criminal act that the US government did prosecute.
That might be changing, however, and the change is coming from half way around the world.

The United States is one of the top importers of Bangladeshi garments. In 2012, the US had a $4.4 billion trade deficit with Bangladesh; through October of this year, the deficit is on track to be even worse. Companies like Wal-Mart and all major jeans makers buy heavily from Bangladesh. Several other countries from Asia and Latin America export garments to the US and would love to grab a bigger piece of the large US market; countries that would move in quickly if the Bangladeshis were no longer competitive and not be ready to cede their new market share if the Bangladeshis decide to do the right thing. If discussions going on in Washington now bear fruit, Bangladeshi garments will be harder to get and more expensive when purchased unless that country stops it ethnic cleansing of Hindus. That would be a serious blow to the current Bangladesh government that is just clinging to power as next year’s election looms. That severe economic blow could spell the end of its reign—and the Awami League knows it.

Are the Bangladeshis reacting already?

For the past year, I have been following the case of one young Hindu woman who was abducted when her family refused demands by local Muslim thugs and a few government officials to abandon their family land. When I was in the Bangladeshi capital of Dhaka earlier this year, I met with her family, who told me about the incident and the government’s complicity. They asked for my help and by this time were not even interested in getting justice so long as their daughter was returned to them unharmed. Thus far, the government had turned a deaf ear to their pleas; and even after I submitted the evidence they provided to the Home Minister—as he asked me to do—he ignored it and the girl remained missing.

Recently, however, I received word from associates inside Bangladesh who spoke with the young woman’s sister. After we raised the issue, the case evidently came to the attention of Sheikh Hasina. The family met with her, and she said she would direct the local government to take action to retrieve the young woman. That is particularly interesting because it suggests that even the Prime Minister understood that the problem was complicity by the government; that it would take nothing more than appropriate action to save the woman. As is the modus operandi of the Bangladeshi government, words never translated into action and the woman is still missing. While Sheikh Hasina’s action is better than the inaction of the Home Minister and the ridiculous prattling of the Ambassador; it is far from enough and far too little for us to stop pressing at full speed with our efforts. The government’s wish to appear civilized, however, could be the beginning of a turning point in our struggle.

More initiatives are underway in the United States, including a move to have individual localities recognize the ethnic cleansing of Hindus and how the media and others have been ignoring it. The first success came on October 1, 2013, when the Chicago suburb of Mount Prospect did so, noting, “scant attention is being paid to the plight of Bangladeshi Hindus who live each day in fear of atrocities being committed against them for their religious beliefs.”

Ultimately, it is up to the Bangladeshi government to choose between injustice and the radicals they fear or justice for all citizens and the ideals that Bangladeshi voters want them to have the courage to maintain.

[An Appeal- Anyone wishing to help by contacting Members of the US Congress, letting Bangladesh’s large customers like Wal-Mart and Levis that their purchases support ethnic cleansing, or convincing their local government to do as Mount Prospect did should feel free to contact me at drrbenkin@comcast.net.]

(Author is an American human rights activist fighting to defend Hindus in Bangladesh. His book, A Quiet Case of Ethnic Cleansing: the Murder of Bangladesh’s Hindus, is about to enter its second printing.)