OPED | Tuesday, July 21, 2009 | Email | Print |
A terrifying existence
Richard L Benkin
Why this silence on organised anti-Hindu violence in Bangladesh?
began trickling out of Bangladesh this spring about an anti-Hindu
violence in the heart of its capital carried out in three stages: March
30, April 17, and April 29. A community of approximately 400 Hindus was
reportedly going about its business when “hundreds of Muslims” suddenly
descended on them and demanded they quit the homes where they and their
families had lived for the past 150 years. Witnesses also report that
police watched passively while attackers beat residents and destroyed a
And although every Hindu, as well as the international community, should have reacted with horror and outrage, neither did.
Bangladeshi Government denied that any such thing happened, and local
police captain Tofazzal Hossain declared, “No demolition of temple
occurred. There was no temple there, only a few idols.” Yet, sources
for the charge — Global Human Rights Defence at The Hague and the
Bangladesh Hindu, Buddhist, Christian Unity Council, as well as several
local human rights groups and newspapers — are highly credible,
prompting our two-month investigation that confirms something terrible
did occur, even if not exactly as described by initial reports.
while not all 400 Hindus were made homeless, a significant number were,
which is tragic enough, especially since many remain so months later.
Nor has the Bangladeshi Government even bothered to deny that Hindus
were beaten, some religious desecration occurred, or that police were
present during the attacks. We also confirmed that the area attacked
was located directly behind the Sutrapur Police Station in Dhaka and
the Shiv Mandir only about 18 m from it; yet, the police did nothing to
stop its destruction.
This is not about one terrible event, but
about a system of legalised ethnic cleansing that has proceeded
non-stop for decades and which places every one of Bangladesh’s
13,000,000-15,000,000 Hindus at risk. For despite Government
protestations to the contrary, normal legal protections are suspended
for Hindus and other minorities in Bangladesh who are often subject to
arbitrary actions by the Muslim majority.
Two Hindus, Jogesh
Chandra and Taraknath Das, originally owned the land in Sutrapur. They
migrated to India in 1947 but before doing so, gifted it to the
remaining Hindus; most of them their former servants. A local Muslim,
Mahbubur Rahman, tried for years to seize it but could not produce the
necessary legal fiction. But after Rahman’s death, his brother and
nephews determined to do what he could not because they were
They used their position to
prevail upon police to demand written proof of ownership from the
Hindus, which all parties knew they could not provide given their
impoverished state and the nature of partition-era transactions.
Nevertheless, that was all the Government needed to secretly void the
Hindus’ title using Bangladesh’s Vested Property Act. This empowers the
Government to declare any ‘non-Muslim’ land vested once its ownership
is questioned, no mater how flimsy the pretext, and award it to any
Muslim who then can seize it, as was done in Sutrapur.
police refused to pursue any prosecution in the matter, even though at
least three separate crimes were committed: Land seizure, beatings, and
religious destruction. The GHRD and other groups have lodged formal
protests and brought the matter to Dhaka’s Metropolitan Police
Commissioner, but he also “refused to take any action against the
perpetrators of crime,” according to GHRD’s Jenny Lundstrom.
did the cover-up stop there. Mr Zakir Hossain, chief executive of local
human rights group, Nagorik Uddyog, told me that his organisation
appealed to the Bangladeshi Parliament and Awami League MP Shuranjit
Sengupta, but neither he nor his party has taken any action. All of the
Bangladeshi officials I contacted refused to comment on the incident.
would appear that these enforcers of the law have become enforcers of
lawlessness, abetting crimes against minorities and sending a message
that Bangladesh is a country where the law gives Muslims preferential
treatment even if it means ignoring elementary standards of justice.
explains how Muslims have been able to seize 75 per cent of all
Hindu-owned land in Bangladesh. It also means that the reduction of
Hindus from almost 30 per cent of the population to nine per cent has
been no accident but a deliberate process of ethnic cleansing, which if
unchecked, will rid Bangladesh of its remaining Hindu population in our
lifetime. And nobody seems to care; the world’s self-appointed human
rights arbiters remain shamefully silent.
Meanwhile, dozens of
Hindu victims from Sutrapur, including mothers and their children,
remain homeless. The lucky ones are flopping in different slums each
night, but for others, as one victim put it, “We are now passing a
miserable life with no home and very little to eat.”
Perhaps Americans and Europeans will think of her the next time they purchase a garment labelled, “Made in Bangladesh.”
-- The writer campaigns for minority rights in Bangladesh.
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