An early spring morning in Stoke-on-Trent sees Keshubhai, an elderly Asian gentleman, on his knees scrubbing the shutters of his shop. Keshubhai is clearly distressed – both by the unwelcome early morning exercise of scrubbing clean his shop shutters and also by the fact he is running late in opening up his shop. The early morning joggers, dog walkers and late-shift cab drivers are now starting to gather round behind Keshubhai. ‘Why don’t you phone the police?’ inquires one of his regular customers. ‘Oh it is no use’ laments Keshubhai. The message left by the racist vandals is clear for all to see. ‘Pakis Out’ and ‘BNP’ – short for the right-wing British National Party, have been spray-painted across the shutters of the local cornershop.
Stoke-on-Trent, a town situated in between Birmingham and Manchester was once famous for its pottery industry. It has now gained fame for something entirely different. In recent council elections gone by, the British National Party has gained a foothold into the local council. Racial tensions from neighboring areas perhaps compounded by fears of an influx of asylum seekers have nudged members of the local community to vote in the British National Party who unabashedly talk of the re-patriation of ethnic minorities.
Keshubhai however, remains positive. A devout Hindu, he thanks the almighty. ‘It could have been worse!’ he says philosophically. ‘I could have been attacked by these racist thugs whilst closing’ he adds. ‘If it gets worse then I’ll probably sell the shop and move to a safer area’.
Five thousand or so miles away in a remote district of the Bangladeshi city of Chittagong, there is a similar story, only this time it is far more sinister and a solution may prove to be far from simple. Pronab Das, a Bengali Hindu and resident of this village since his birth has seen many changes. He was born during the era of the British Raj, saw the creation of East Pakistan and then after 1971, Bangladesh. His being a ‘minority’ in a Muslim country, till now had never been an issue as this village has been his home all his life. ‘We are living in troubled times’ he sighs. The arrival of a new government last year was greeted in some parts of Bangladesh by the raping of 225 Hindu women. Ironically, a woman, Khaleda Begum, heads the new government.
The government in question is a BNP Government – only this time it is short for Bangladesh National Party. Both parties have in common, the same vitriolic hatred of minorities – only in Bangladesh they are the democratically elected majority. The Bangladesh National Party openly calls for ‘Talibanisation’ of the state. It would seem that the first step to achieving this target is by ridding the nation of its indigenous Hindu minority. The figures speak for themselves – in 1971 at the time of the liberation of Bangladesh from East Pakistan, the Hindu population accounted for 15% of the total population. Thirty years on, it is now estimated at just 7%.
Bangladeshi Hindus like Pronab Das aren’t surprised. Bangladesh has proved never to have been a level playing ground as far as the Hindus are concerned. The ‘Vested Property Act’ previously named the ‘Enemy Property Act’ has seen upto 40% of Hindu land snatched away forcibly. Another deeply alarming statistic is that since the new government has come into power, of all the rape crimes registered in Bangladesh, 98% have been registered by Hindu women.
The future is bleak for the indigenous Hindus of Bangladesh. They can not just ‘move to a safer area’, as no area within the People’s Republic of Bangladesh is safe. The perpetrators of these horrific crimes go unpunished, the calls for ‘Talibanisation’ of the state increasingly grow louder and the apathetic silence from across the border makes one’s blood run cold at though of the future of the Bangladeshi Hindus.
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