In what should be an eye-opener for India, over 9 hundred thousand Bangladeshi Hindus have vanished from the country during the past decade. This has been reported officially by the Bangladesh Statistical Bureau (BSB) and the National Population Research and Training Institute (NPRTI) of the neighbouring country.
Widely reported in the Bangladeshi media, the issue was raised by speakers at a discussion on Role of Media in Strengthening Relations between Bangladesh and India on August 17 in Dhaka organised as part of the Track-II initiative. This correspondent had taken part in the discussion.
According to the two reputed institutions of Bangladesh, the findings are alarming because these were based on the census reports of Bangladesh of 2001 and 2011. It was reported that despite a rise in the Hindu population, their percentage had gone down.
Currently, Hindus account for 8.5 per cent of the total population of the country. However, in the 2001 census, the Hindu population of Bangladesh was 9.2 per cent. The Muslim population was 89.7 per cent in 2001, but increased to 90.4 per cent.
The two census reports identified 15 districts in the country where the Hindu population has decreased alarmingly. The institutions were quoted by the speakers as having claimed that the ‘missing population have not shifted anywhere in the country’.
A noted human rights activist, who declined to be quoted, told this newspaper that the 9 hundred thousand population has migrated to neighbouring India. At a closed-door session, he expressed the apprehension that if the BNP, backed by the fundamentalist Islamic forces returns to power, then the rate of illegal migration from Bangladesh would increase manifold. “Already the houses and farms of those who have fled the country have been looted and taken over,” he said.
If the minority community flees, then the Enemy Property Act comes into play and mischievous elements take full advantage of the situation, he said.
In Gopalganj city, even senior functionaries of various political parties forcibly occupied the houses and lands of Hindus, the media have reported in the country.
According to the 2001 census report, the Hindu population was 1.16 crore, as the rate of growth of the Hindu population during the previous 10 years was 1.37 per cent. Going by the rate of growth, the Hindu population of Bangladesh should have been over 1.22 crore, which is 9 lakh less than the expected population, according to a study conducted by BSB.
It cited the case of Borishal Division. The Hindu population in six districts of that division namely, Borishal, Bhola, Jhalkathi, Perojpur, Patuakhali and Barguwa, the Hindu population did not show any increase. In the 2001 census, the Hindu population was estimated at 8.16 lakh, but in the 2011 census, the population went down to 7.62 lakh. Khulna Division also reported the same pattern.
In Dhaka Division, three districts of Madaripur, Gopalganj and Kishoreganj showed no increase in the Hindu population.
The BSB study has shown that since independence of the country, the Hindu population in Bangladesh has continuously declined, while the population of other minority groups like Buddhists and Christians has remained the same.
According to the census figures, the Muslim population in 1974 was 85.4 per cent, while the Hindus accounted for 13.5 per cent. In 2011, the Muslim population was 90.4 per cent, while the Hindu population declined to 8.5 per cent.
Prof Anisujjaman was quoted as having said that absence of security and evil designs of miscreants had led to the situation.
A senior Awami League leader said that cordial relations between India and Bangladesh have been hurt because of the communal tensions. The Jamat-e-Islami is responsible for the planned attacks and regular incidents, he said.
A veteran journalist and keen observer of Indo-Bangladesh relations commented that the Enemy Property Act has acted as a pressure on the Hindu population for long. Besides, demands to declare Islam as the national religion of Bangladesh have further scared the Hindu population, leaving them with little option but to flee to neighbouring India.