CASE OF ETHNIC CLEANSING
THREE: RIGHTLESS AND
Dr. Richard L.
This is the third installment of
a four-part series about the ongoing persecution and ethnic cleansing of the
millions-strong Bangladeshi Hindus.
Previous installments established the historical roots of this relentless
and racist attack, as well as the deadly combination of the Islamists’ incessant
attacks and government’s tacit agreement.
These persecuted Hindus sought refuse in neighboring
not received as one would expect they would from the largest Hindu nation in the
Despite their often shocking
conditions and continued persecution, the recently-passed Indian budget did not
even address their plight—although it did include funds to pay for Muslim
’s al Aqsa
Part Three explores this
and other aspects of
Though Hindus were being harried
and persecuted in their own country of
seemed them that at least there was a safe haven for them if necessary just
across the border.
India is the
largest Hindu majority country in the world and the nation that 80 to 85 percent
of the world’s Hindus call home.
Unfortunately for the victims, it did not work out that way. To be sure,
country to which they fled, and the Indians did not station troops on the border
to keep them out; but their reception has offered them anything but succor and
The Indian state that
the West and Northwest is West Bengal
. West Bengal
their logical destination not only because of
proximity, not only because of its Hindu majority, but because of their common
Bengali ethnicity as well.
was a single entity until 1905.
Acting in the role of a colonial
Solomon, that year the British cut the baby (Bengal
Both chunks even to this day
are well over 90 percent Bengali; that is, composed overwhelmingly of a single
refugees were not welcomed by the West Bengali or the Indian government.
More to the point, their legal status
was and to this day largely remains tenuous.
This makes them extremely vulnerable to
the machinations of corrupt and anti-democratic Bengali leaders.
Since 1971, the state of
West Bengal has had a communist government. Though elected democratically, the CPI/M
(Communist Party of India/Marxist) has consolidated power over the years and
assured continuous re-election by decidedly undemocratic means. This has included election rigging and
other means of out and out fraud, intimidation, beatings, and even murder. (This, too, has been well-documented by
several authors and journalists.)
That means trying to predict or analyze West Bengali government actions
premised on democratic principles will lead one down a fruitless path. The CPI/M stays in power by whatever
means it can acquire. One problem
for the refugees is that many of the people advocating for them are openly
anti-Communist. For instance, a
local Congress Party official accompanied me to many of the refugee camps—though
somewhat unofficially. On the other hand, we often found our potential
informants warned ahead of our arrival not to discuss any matters that would
reflect poorly on West Bengali leaders and even current leaders in
In one camp, a man identifying himself
as a local CPI/M official confronted me and essentially told me I had no
business going to these camps and seeking to help the refugees.
“Only the CPI/M has a right to solve our
problems,” he told me.
that any decent government would care more about solving people’s problems than
about who solves them.
camp, the refugees were hesitant to answer when I asked about ongoing
cross-border raids by Bangladeshi Islamists, reports of which continued to come
Finally, one elderly woman
stood up and said, “I’m not afraid of anyone,” and she began talking about the
ongoing violence in
Asia, the specter of cooperation between Communists and Islamists
has been growing steadily. Dubbed
by me the Red-Green Alliance, it has been responsible for strengthening
anti-democratic forces throughout the region. In one example, Maoist insurgents in
safe haven for Al Qaeda forces on the run from coalition troops.
In exchange, Pakistani intelligence (the
ISI) engineered an agreement that brought the Maoists into the new Nepalese
Prior to that, they
were hunted outlaws, insurgents on the margins of Nepalese society.
But just this past April, they parlayed
their newly found legitimacy into an election victory that swept them into
After the elderly woman
above opened up, others came forward to testify that the
government has turned a blind eye to cross-border attacks by
But it gets
The border between
Bangladesh and West Bengal is a porous one, made even more so by the penchant
for local police to look the other way when contraband and unauthorized
individuals cross into India.
communist have not acted to oppose the progressive denuding of many border area
villages of their Hindu population.
Illegal immigrants from
continuously augment the number of Muslims in these villages.
Many of the infiltrators are involved
with Islamist groups and are provided with support and comfort among the
villages’ Muslim political leaders.
In many cases, these are the villages
surrounding the camps I visited, and refugees tell of attacks by villagers
accompanying Bangladeshi Islamists.
Again, all of this is done without interference or reaction from the West
More and more
Bangladeshi Muslims have been slipping into
and finding a warm reception.
Several student volunteers from West Bengal
periodic inspections of the border areas and have confirmed the
Their actions have
been the subject of a Hindi-language documentary as well.
I spent much of my time in the
so-called “Chicken’s Neck” area, also known as the Siliguri corridor, a stretch
of Indian territory that
and Bhutan. Its southern point connects with the
rest of West Bengal and touches the border with
Bangladesh. Its north is capped by
it close to the Chinese (i.e., Tibetan) frontier. It also connects the Indian state of
Assam (and hence
other northeast states) with the rest of
India. This has been a high traffic area for
smuggling arms, drugs, and a variety of contraband; it is also notorious for the
movement of both Maoist and Islamist terrorists and wanted insurgents across the
various borders. I was able to
observe smuggling first-hand.
People crossed unmolested into
official and unofficial points, coming from
During the dry season (which is when I
was there), the area is characterized by dry or nearly-dry river beds that often
form international borders.
provide interlopers with miles of unpatrolled border crossings.
Many people even set up camp in
Those who would allege that
border integrity is intact often point to the fact that several contingents of
Indian and Bengali police and military are stationed in the area; for instance,
the Assam Rifles, Border Security Force (BSF), Indian army divisions, and
West Bengal police.
The infamy of the area for smuggling exposes the disingenuous nature of
this defense. Additionally, I
personally observed the ineffectiveness of these forces. Many of them remain in their barracks or
traveling the road seemingly without end.
I also watched people cross freely between
large covered trucks or with large covered bundles.
The BSF took no action.
Well, actually they did at one border
point in the town of
While the unmolested crossing was taking
place, they stopped me and threatened to confiscate my video camera if I did not
put it away.
At first, I was not
sure why they were insistent that I stop taking videos of the area until I
watched the open smuggling of goods from now-communist
I was perplexed as to why the BSF took
no action and asked several West Bengali and Assamese colleagues and
They made a point of
saying that the Indian forces in the area are not corrupt; but they claim that
the responsibility for interdicting smugglers is that of the local police and so
take no action.
The local police in
are thoroughly corrupt and do nothing to stop
the illicit movement.
This is the
case along much of the unpatrolled India-Bangladeshi border, which facilitates
easy infiltration as well as the cross border attacks on refugees living in the
Although several of the longer
term Bangladeshi or East Pakistani (depending on the time of their flight)
Hindus living in these areas have found a path to legitimacy or semi-legitimacy;
most have not. The people I met
inhabit various ersatz dwellings along the border area. They include abandoned railway stations,
roadside huts, and other makeshift communities. Some appear more stable; many do
not. But even the best dwellings
seem secure enough only for the dry season and vulnerable to the elements during
seasonal monsoons. But more than
their dwellings, their lack of legal standing makes them quite vulnerable to
manipulation by many forces in the area, especially by the West Bengali
government and the ruling CPI/M.
According to several witnesses, the authorities are aware of the illegal
communities and tell the residents that they will not be evicted but only if
they do as they are told. In some
cases, refugees testified, they are ordered to attend pro-CPI/M rallies. In others, they said, they were told
that a number of them would be given “voter cards,” but they would be filled out
by the CPI/M. Any objections by the
refugees would result in severe reprisals.
Similarly, many of the refugee children are allowed to attend local
schools—again, only insofar as the community cooperates with the
authorities. At times, however, the
land on which they are squatting simply becomes desirable to someone else,
whether one of the authorities or others, a relative, or someone who is willing
to give local officials more than the refugees can afford. When that happens, the refugees are told
they have to leave and find other dwellings on their own. I visited one group of refugees, living
in a cluster of huts by one roadside in northern
who had recently been told to vacate their dwellings.
They were not sure where they would end
up, but commented that there are many areas of abandoned huts alongside Bengali
They believed they would
find something—until someone else desired that plot of land.
When I asked about appealing to local
authorities about this, they shrugged that their lack of legal status makes such
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
Bangladesh—and 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
Dr. Benkin is
available for talks and seminars:
Part I: The Roots of Ethnic Cleansing
Part II: Islamist Attacks and Government Collusion
Part IV: What Must be Done